Screen protectors are a partial solution
A shattered smartphone screen is always a sad sight. Makers of screen protectors, the plastic or glass films that can be adhered to a smartphone display, say that their products will safeguard your screen from scratches and cracks when it falls face down.
But screen protectors are an incomplete solution.
A majority of broken smartphone screens come from impact on the corners and edges, according to a survey of smartphone owners by iFixit, a company that sells components for repairing electronics. When a smartphone’s corners or edges hit the ground, the impact is in a concentrated area and more likely to cause shattering, whereas if it had fallen face down on the ground, the impact would have been spread out over the width of the screen.
On the other hand, screen protectors help protect screens from scratches, which weaken the structural integrity of a display and may eventually lead to large cracks. But don’t expect them to save your phone if you drop it on the pavement.
Kyle Wiens, the chief executive of iFixit, said that people who care about the longevity of their phone should consider a screen protector because scratches from house keys in your pocket or general wear and tear are commonplace.
“Every glass phone I’ve ever had has had scratches on it,” he said. “I think it’s inevitable.”
Fortunately, screen protectors are relatively cheap. After testing eight products, The Wirecutter recommended $8 glass screen protectors from TechMatte. The TechMatte screen protectors were extremely scratch-resilient compared to others, including protectors that cost more than $40.
Why you should buy a case
For overall device protection, a case, which covers the corners, edges and back of a smartphone, is your best bet. A good case will protect your phone from scratches and absorb impact in those areas when your device is dropped.
There are hundreds of cases available composed of different materials, including plastic and leather. The Wirecutter recommends $11 Silk cases, which are slim, inexpensive and composed of a flexible plastic that is easy to grip.
There are trade-offs to cases and glass protectors. A case adds a bit of bulk to the device, making it heavier and heftier in your pocket, and a screen protector adds some thickness.
If you were to go with just one accessory, a case is more important than a screen protector given the case’s reach over more parts of the phone.
“We’d definitely recommend a case before the screen protector,” said Nick Guy, the mobile accessories reviewer for The Wirecutter. “We don’t think most people need a glass protector, but because they’re so affordable, there’s no serious downside to having one.”
Skip the extended warranty
Many smartphone manufacturers and vendors sell an extended warranty that can replace or repair your phone if it is damaged. The downside is that the cost of the warranty programs — roughly $80 a year — often exceeds the cost of doing individual repairs for broken devices.
Consider SquareTrade’s iPhone warranty program. The cost of two years of coverage, which covers drops, spills and malfunctions, is about $150.
“That’s so expensive because if you drop it once and get it fixed locally, it’ll cost less than that,” Mr. Wiens of iFixit said.
If you cracked your screen, the cost of repairing it at some San Francisco repair shops would be about $110. Paying $150 would be worth it only if you expect to break your phone screen multiple times over two years.
Eric Arnum, the editor of WarrantyWeek, a newsletter that publishes market research on warranties, added that extended warranty programs, including those offered by SquareTrade, Best Buy and Apple, do not cover device loss or theft — two common perils for smartphones since people carry them around everywhere.
That’s where insurance comes in. Device protection plans that offer coverage for lost or stolen cellphones are insurance programs, and often these plans also include protection for damaged items. By contrast, warranty programs cover only damages or defects. The insurance programs offered by carriers like AT&T, Verizon and Sprint include loss, theft and damage protection, but they are nearly double the cost of SquareTrade’s warranty program.
“If it works when you open the box, chances are it’s going to work fine for a long time,” Mr. Arnum said. “You really have to ask yourself, Are these perils that you want to insure?”
To Mr. Arnum, the answer is obvious: If you are going to pay for coverage at all, opt for an insurance program that includes loss and theft coverage.
Probably the strongest argument against paying for any protection coverage is it does not address one major problem with smartphone longevity: the battery. Warranties and insurance programs do not offer to replace batteries free once they run out of capacity, which happens roughly every two years.
“It’s like expecting your car warranty to cover your tires wearing out,” Mr. Wiens said. Fortunately, repair shops typically charge between $40 to $80 to replace a worn-out battery with a fresh one — a worthwhile price to pay to give your smartphone a second life.Continue reading the main story
Smartphones are expensive — you wouldn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on one and end up with a scratched screen. Many people still buy screen protectors to protect those screens, but they’ve become less necessary.
Screen protectors were once practically mandatory, but advances in glass and coatings have made them unnecessary for most people. You don’t have to buy a screen protector when you get a new phone.
Screen Protectors 101
A screen protector is a sheet of clear plastic you adhere to your smartphone’s screen. The plastic is cut to fit the exact shape of your device along with holes for buttons and the speaker — that’s why you buy different screen protectors for different devices.
To apply a screen protector, you generally clean your device’s screen with a microfiber cloth, apply a bit of soapy water to the screen protector, and then press it on top of the screen. You need to position the protector properly so it fits, and you also need to ensure the screen protector is applied flat on the screen. You wouldn’t want any unsightly bubbles or cracks appearing under the protector.
You end up with a plastic shield over your device’s screen. If your screen would be scratched, the screen protector will be scratched instead. It’s easier to replace the plastic if it gets scratched than to replace the glass on your device’s screen!
Gorilla Glass Explained
There was a time when screen protectors were a good idea, but modern devices have more advanced screen protection built-in. Most smartphones you’ll buy use Corning’s Gorilla Glass. This is a toughened, hard glass with high scratch resistance. Corning has actually been releasing new versions of Gorilla Glass over the years — Gorilla Glass 3 was introduced in 2013 and Corning boasted it was up to 40% more scratch resistant than Gorilla Glass 2.
Your smartphone’s screen is already fairly scratch resistant — assuming you have a recent smartphone and not one that is five years old.
If you’re already using a screen protector, you may see a scratch or two on your screen protector and think it’s doing a good job. This isn’t necessarily true — materials that would scratch a plastic screen protector won’t necessarily scratch your phone’s glass screen.
Even the keys in your pocket shouldn’t be able to scratch a modern Gorilla Glass display. Gorilla Glass is harder than the metal used in keys, coins, and other common household metal items. Take keys or even a household knife to a modern smartphone’s Gorilla Glass display and you shouldn’t see any scratches — you’ll find plenty of videos of people attempting to scratch their screens with knives on YouTube.
Screen protectors change the experience of using your smartphone’s touch screen — they may seem softer or more grippy. Placing another sheet of plastic between you and the screen will change how your device’s screen looks, especially if the screen protector discolors over time. A screen protector may pick up unsightly scratches that wouldn’t have actually scratched your smartphone’s screen.
This is all assuming you apply the screen protector properly — if you’re not careful, you may end up with bubbles and cracks under your screen protector and you may have to apply a new one.
So, When Do You Need a Screen Protector?
Some common materials can scratch Gorilla Glass. The biggest culprit is sand — if you go to the beach and end up with some sand in your pocket, that sand can rub against your smartphone’s glass screen and scratch it. Hard rocks work similarly — if you drop your smartphone on the ground and it skids along concrete or rocks, there’s a good chance its display will be scratched (among other damage). Other types of glass, rare metals, and very-hard materials like diamonds can also scratch a Gorilla Glass screen.
So, if you spend a lot of time at the beach, you might want a screen protector anyway.
Screen protectors also boast anti-fingerprint coatings, but modern smartphones have “oleophobic” coatings that repel the oil on your fingers, reducing unsightly fingerprints. Even if you have fingerprints building up, you just need to give the screen a quick wipe — ideally with a microfiber cloth.
Screen protectors aren’t a must-buy item anymore. You can safely use a modern smartphone with a “naked” screen, and — even if you put it in the same pocket with your keys and coins — it should be fine. Of course, you’ll probably want to keep your keys and coins in another pocket — there’s a chance they could scratch some other part of your phone.
Image Credit: William Hook on Flickr, CalypsoCrystal on Flickr, Chris Young on Flickr, Michael Coghlan on Flickr