What Screen Protector is Right For You?

Screen protectors are a must for many smartphone and tablet owners today.  Between the promise of extra protection for the original screen and a wide range of additional features, it’s easy to see why.

Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a screen protector, you’re likely to encounter a lot of misinformation regarding what these thin pieces of glass or plastic can actually do for your device.

Today, we’re going to take an in-depth look at screen protectors and some of the features they offer.  We’ll also talk about things you should consider before making your purchase.

However, before we get started, we want to say this: If you want to protect your device from damage, get a case.  

A screen protector may protect or your screen from dings or scratches, but it won’t protect or device from damage if you drop it.  Even if the screen protector manages to absorb a facedown impact, internal parts may be damaged as the kinetic energy moves through your device.

Now that the important safety warning is out of the way, let’s take a look at what you’re likely to find when you shop for a screen protector.

  1. What Kinds of Screen Protectors Are Out There?
    1. Tempered Glass
    2. PET
    3. TPU
  2. Common Types of Screen Protectors
    1. Pure Protection
    2. Matte / Anti-glare
    3. Mirrored Screens
    4. Privacy Filters
    5. Paperlike
  3. Features to Consider
    1. Anti-Fingerprint / Oleophobic Coating
    2. Antimicrobial Coating
    3. Anti-glare / Anti-reflective Coating
  4. Features to Ignore
    1. Ultra-Clear or High Transparency Coating
    2. Hardness Rating
  5. Final Considerations Before Buying
    1. What about a case?
    2. How are you planning to use your device?
    3. How difficult is the installation process?
  6. Over to You

01. What Kinds of Screen Protectors Are Out There?

If you walk into a typical retail store in search of a screen protector, you’ll probably run into one (or all) of the screen protector types below.  

Tempered Glass

Description:  Tempered glass is treated in thermal and chemical environments to provide added durability and strength, and it’s used in many everyday objects (other than screen protectors) that you’re familiar with including vehicle windows and glass doors.  

Tempered glass is usually laminated and is designed to withstand scratches and impacts, which is why it’s commonly used to protect phone and tablet screens.  Whether your smartphone rubs against loose change in your pocket or you drop something onto the surface of your tablet, tempered glass can absorb the impact and protect your original screen from damage.

One thing you’ll need to watch for with tempered glass is its tendency to crack.  Because of the stress placed on the glass during the tempering process, tempered glass is likely to ctrack from one end to the other if the edge of the glass is damaged.

The other major drawback to tempered glass is its thickness.  If you’re looking to keep your device thin and trim, an extra millimeter of glass may not be for you.  There’s also a (low) possibility that thick, tempered glass could interfere with your ability to touch and tap your screen, forcing you to remove the glass simply to maintain functionality.

Typical Price Range:  Between $5 - $30, depending on brand

PET

Description:  Polyethylene terephthalate or PET is a plastic screen protector comprised of polyester film.  On one side, the film is covered with a scratch-resistant coating. The other side carries a silicone adhesive.

PET screen protectors are thin and highly transparent.  Your device may feel different when you touch the screen due to the matte coating, but the protector is hardly noticeable while in use.  The coating may also act as an anti-glare protector, absorbing and diffusing light so that it doesn’t bounce off of your original screen.

The major drawback to PET screen protectors is pretty straightforward:  While these protectors can sit on top of your screen and protect it from scratches, it doesn’t offer any additional or extra protection.  PET is a thin, plastic protector. It can absorb scratches that might otherwise damage your original screen, but it won’t have a hardness rating that exceeds your naked screen.  If you’re looking for maximum protection, you won’t find it here.

Typical Price Range:  $5 - $30, depending on brand

TPU

Description:  Thermoplastic polyurethane or TPU is a plastic screen protector comprised of polyurethane.  This material is flexible, transparent, and resistant to oil, grease, and abrasion.  When you’re shopping for screen protectors, these are often key features that you’ll want to consider.

Like other plastic screen protectors, TPU protectors are thin and have a high degree of transparency.  Because TPU also has a natural elasticity and abrasion resistance, it can cover most phones and stand up to dings and scratches without interfering with touch resistance.

However, TPU screen protectors are a nightmare to apply.  This typically involves a spray solution, a squeegee, and some cloth.  While many companies go to great lengths to make TPU installation as hassle-free as possible, it’s still frustrating compared to other screen protection options on the list.

Typical Price Range:  $7 — $30, depending on brand

02. Common Types of Screen Protectors

Without a doubt, you can find a variety of different screen protectors out there.  Here are a few of the most common protectors that you’ll see on the market today.

Pure Protection

This type of screen protector is all about protection.  

Usually made from tempered glass, these protectors are all about protecting your devices from scuffs, dings, and the occasional drop.  They tend to be thicker than the PET and TPU screen protectors and are less flexible to the touch.

These protectors can come with a variety of common features, including an anti-glare coating, but they often come with the downside of adding additional thickness to your device.  It’s not much — a few millimeters, at most — but it can be enough that form-fitting cases no longer work.

Matte / Anti-glare

This is probably the most basic screen protector out there: a thin plastic film (PET or TPU) with a matte or anti-glare coating.  It’s a cheap and effective way to protect your screen from scratches while keeping the glare out of your eyes.

The features on this type of screen protector often appear in other protectors designed for different things, but this is the most basic (and one of the most common) types of protectors out there.

If you’re looking for a no-frills solutions that keeps the light out of your eyes, this is the way to go.

Mirrored Screens

This is a premium screen protector that turns your phone screen into a mirror when the backlight is off.  This can be useful if you find yourself in need of a mirror and you don’t want to carry one around with you.

You’ll find mirrored screen options most commonly on tempered glass screen protectors and occasionally on PET or TPU protectors, as well.

As with privacy filters, expect to pay a little more for this functionality.

Privacy Filters

If you’re tired of people looking at your screen, a privacy filter may be right for you.  This screen protector obscures your phone screen unless you’re looking at it from directly overhead.

Privacy coating can be applied to TPU, PET, and tempered glass screen protectors and protectors offering this feature are always clearly marked as “Privacy Screen” or “Anti-Spy” protectors.

Privacy screens are usually considered to be premium screen protectors, so expect to pay a little more for this functionality.

Paperlike

If you like to draw on an iPad, Paperlike is the only screen protector for you.  

This protector sits on top of your devices and transforms the touch and feel of the screen to something similar to a sheet of paper.  That’s excellent for artists who want to draw in a digital medium but prefer the resistance of natural paper to drawing on a slick pane of glass.

Made from PET plastic, the Paperlike protector adds extra functionality without the added bulk.  You won’t have any trouble fitting your device into your favorite case — just don’t forget your Apple Pencil!

03. Features to Consider

While you’ll usually find three or four types of screen protector materials, some screen protectors that you consider will offer specialized features.  This may include a common feature, like anti-glare or oleophobic coating (see below).

Here are the most common features you’re likely to see when considering a screen protector:

Anti-Fingerprint / Oleophobic Coating

An anti-fingerprint or oleophobic coating is common for most touchscreen devices.  It’s designed to reduce smudging and blotting on your phone screen from the oils in your fingers.

Many regular screen protectors also offer this feature, and it’s one worth considering.  

An oleophobic coating can enhance optical clarity by minimizing the impact oils have on your browsing experience, but you’ll still have to clean your screen eventually.  This coating eventually wears off, too, so you may see a reduction in effectiveness over time.

Antimicrobial Coating

Designed to reduce the growth of surface bacteria and mold, an antibacterial or antimicrobial coating is common on most touchscreen devices and screen protectors alike.

Most antimicrobial coatings have a long lifespan, so it’s a great feature to have if your cleanliness and good hygiene are determining factors in your purchasing decision.  

Even if antimicrobial protection isn’t a huge selling point for you, it’s likely that you’ll end up purchasing a screen protector with this feature.  It’s commonly offered on both glass and plastic screen protectors as part of the standard battery of features.

Anti-glare / Anti-reflective Coating

As the name suggests, an anti-reflective or anti-glare coating cuts down on bothersome reflections caused by bright lights.  Many top phone brands (Apple iPhone/iPad, Samsung Galaxy) are already equipped with an anti-glare coating but other brands may not offer it as a standard feature for their glass screens.

The anti-glare coating works by diffusing the light that impacts the screen.  So instead of seeing a direct reflection of the fluorescent lighting in your office building or the sun outside, you’ll see a soft spot of light that isn’t as distracting.

The anti-reflective coating often (but not always!) gives the screen protector a matte feel, so you can expect your touchscreen surface to feel a little different after you apply it.

If you don’t want this feature, pay careful attention to the screen protector packaging.  This is a common feature for most regular screen protectors and it may be difficult to avoid.

04. Features to Ignore

When shopping for additional screen protection, you’re likely to come across some marketing language that doesn’t actually tell you anything about the product.  

These “features” are designed to sell the product, even though they don’t actually do anything.  When companies include this language, it doesn’t mean they’re selling a bad product — but you can ignore these terms while making your final selection.

Ultra-Clear or High Transparency Coating

Clarity is important when selecting your screen protector, and it’s a big selling point for brands who want you to believe that you won’t even notice the screen protector after you put it on.

This is just marketing.  While you can check user reviews to make sure that users can still see their screens after applying the screen protector, you’ll find that everyone can still see and use their smartphone or tablet.

Here’s a better rule of thumb to consider before purchasing:  The thicker the protector, the more you’ll notice it. PET and TPU screen protectors are much thinner than tempered glass, so you’re less likely to notice them once they’ve been applied.

This is different from matte screen protectors, where you’ll always have a diffusion of light.

Hardness Rating

Many brands will advertise a “hardness rating” for their screen protectors.  This is particularly true with tempered glass protectors, which often advertise a “9H” hardness rating for extra protection.

This is a reference to the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, which was designed in the early 1800s to help geologists identify which minerals could visibly scratch other minerals.

That’s great when you’re in the field and trying to identify minerals, but the Mohs scale isn’t effective once minerals are altered from their natural state because the manufacturing and production process can introduce additional stressors to a new product.

The Mohs scale wasn’t designed to help with that.

This is marketing language that you can and should ignore when considering which mobile accessory to purchase.  No screen protector is impervious to drops, dings, or scratches. A solid impact in the right place can and will damage your device.

05. Final Considerations Before Buying

So far, we’ve talked about the types of screen protectors and some of the common features to consider (and avoid) when considering which screen protector is right for you.

Let’s take a minute to consider a few things beyond the screen protectors themselves that may factor into your final decision.

What about a case?

Before you go all-in on a screen protector, remember what we said at the top:  If you want to protect your device from damage, get a case.  

A screen protector may prevent scratching and scuffing, but a case offers far better protection.  Some cases even come with built-in screen protectors, so you might not even need additional screen protection once you buy it!

You’ll also need to be sure that the case won’t interfere with your screen protector. Some cases have a lip that covers the edge of the touchscreen.  Be sure that you’re able to apply your screen protector and that it won’t interfere with the protection that a case offers. For cases that are designed to fit perfectly around a device, a PET or TPU screen protector may work well even if a tempered glass protector is too thick.

If you’re planning to buy a case for your smartphone or tablet, figure that out before you grab your screen protector.

How are you planning to use your device?

Some specialized screen protectors may actually improve how you use your device.  For example, our Paperlike screen protector is designed to simulate the experience of drawing on paper.  This is excellent if you’re an artist, student or avid note taker who uses the Apple Pencil to draw or write on your iPad. It’s not necessary if you only watch youtube videos.

Other screen protectors may offer specialized features that can improve how you interact with your device.  Be sure to consider this before you buy.

How difficult is the installation process?

Screen protectors have a reputation for difficulty during the application process.  While some screen protectors (PET) offer a quick and easy way to apply the protector to the screen, this process can get complicated.

Some tempered glass and most TPU screen protectors use a liquid adhesive to stick the screen protector to your device.  When purchasing these protection products, take a minute to decide whether or not you’re up for the challenge and what options you have if the installation process fails.

  • When purchasing, did you get another screen protector in the package for a second try?
  • If you’re using a liquid adhesive, do you have enough full adhesive to attempt the application process multiple times?
  • Will adhesive from a liquid or low-quality screen protector leave a residue on your screen (potentially requiring a screen replacement) if you decide to take the screen protector off?
  • Is there a good instruction or installation video you can watch?
  • Does the company have a replacement policy if the installation process fails?

For most users, the application process is the most difficult part of screen protector ownership.  Applying adhesives and eliminating air bubbles trapped between the original phone screen and the screen protector can be a tedious process for the uninitiated.

06. Over to You

Between clever marketing and misinformation, it can be difficult to know which screen protector is right for you, but we’ve done our best to tell you everything you need to know before you buy the next one.

Good luck out there!