Protecting the Metal MacBook: InvisibleShield, Part 2
Published: Thursday, November 20, 2008
As you’re no doubt already aware, iLounge—unlike other publications—is not willing to tell readers to rush out and buy the things we review. Our belief is that you’re smart enough to know whether something meets your needs and budget, and it’s our role to provide both facts and informed opinions to help you make your own decision. By the same token, if we really like or love something—the marks of our “recommended” or “highly recommended” ratings—we’ll tell you as much right away. Our high recommendations are rare, and the number of products receiving C, D, or F grades hit an all-time high this year.
Those words are a necessary prelude to our more detailed look at ZAGG’s InvisibleShield for the metal 13” MacBook ($55). After posting some pictures and a handful of details on the initial installation process yesterday, a couple of readers chimed in to knock the price and/or concept behind this product, which provides a clear layer of film coverage that renders Apple’s aluminum design largely scratch-proof. “$55 for 25 cents worth of plastic,” said one, while noting the value of screen protectors; “A 55 dollar piece of plastic to ruin the looks of your macbook?!,” opined the other. “That’s like putting plastic over your couch. Come on people get a life.”
We’re fairly certain that ZAGG and its most dismissive critics are never going to agree: it is very obvious that people are buying, using, and enjoying these clear film protectors, even though the prices are unquestionably high. So InvisibleShield is a classic “eye of the beholder” product, one that some people may see as worthless, but other people will welcome with open arms. Our own perspective is someplace in the middle, but as you’ll see from the review that follows, there are very good reasons to like film covers like this one. Read on for the details.
In 2007, we named one company’s iPod and iPhone film protectors as the best accessory we had seen all year. That decision was not made lightly: we had sifted that year through hundreds of me-too cases and overpriced electronic accessories, and in our view, the items that we found most useful and reasonably priced weren’t the flashiest designs, or from the biggest accessory company, or even the biggest film protector maker. We picked items that we felt were reasonably priced—users got two full film sets for $25—and let Apple’s designs shine through while legitimately protecting them from damage. By comparison, the larger versions for MacBooks aren’t as mainstream in price, but they offer the same type of protection for even more expensive devices.
As yesterday’s comments demonstrate, the $55 price of ZAGG’s InvisibleShield for MacBook is going to be its major issue for most buyers. Just this morning, Speck announced SeeThru Satin, a complete hard plastic, soft touch rubber-finished shell for the MacBook at a $50 asking price, with its glossy predecessor SeeThru at the same price. There’s no question that ZAGG is asking more for a product that does less, and frankly, we’re in the boat with those who think that clear film is generally too expensive given what it does.
But we still really, really like it. Anyone who suggests that InvisibleShield is like putting plastic on a couch has obviously never actually compared all the different protective options on their own computers, or just doesn’t care if their machines get scratched up. We’ve tried the hardshells, the neoprene sleeves, the microfiber jackets, and the leather bags. Trust us—we’ve seen more of these than you’ll find in any Apple Store, and we’re very aware of their advantages and disadvantages. We’re also seriously adverse to scratches and other damage to our MacBooks, and highly committed to keeping them in as close to perfect shape as possible. Your needs obviously may vary.
InvisibleShield comes a substantial part of the way towards offering a great protective solution for MacBook owners. The package includes separate pieces of film for the computer’s top, bottom, bottom battery compartment, sides, and interior, save for the keyboard and the screen. You also get a squeegee and two bottles of applicator spray, which are basically just mist-dispensed soapy water. You wet the film, place it properly on your MacBook, work air and water bubbles out with the squeegee, and let it dry. Hours later, the computer’s mostly covered with the film, and ready to use.
Unfortunately, the installation process is not nearly that easy—a phrase, a sentence, or a paragraph could not do justice to the amount of time we actually have spent trying to get the alignment and bubbles taken care of on this particular installation. Though we’ve spent a half-hour or an hour installing iPod or iPhone film protectors, this MacBook one gave us an all-new appreciation for the InvisibleShield kiosks we’ve seen outside of Apple Stores. Unless you’re seriously skilled, you’ll want a professional, or at least, a very competent assistant, to help you get the pieces properly on your machine. We thought we were pretty good at installing film before we started; this kit proved us wrong.
The results, as seen in these photographs, generally speak for themselves. ZAGG’s film set doesn’t attempt to cover every millimeter of the MacBook, allowing certain thin strips of metal to be exposed because they’d probably just make the installation that much more difficult. But the entire top, entire bottom, and most of the front, back, and sides get covered. ZAGG’s only major coverage failing is that it hasn’t attempted to craft side pieces that fully protect the top or bottom of the DVD drive or the ports; the film stops short of each.
From an installation standpoint, InvisibleShield’s biggest issue is the top-of-device sticker. It’s huge, has no obvious micro-perforations or alignment markers, and is less than easy to get straight on the MacBook’s tapered corners. We went back three times trying to get its alignment and bubbles worked out, and ultimately got to a point where the sticker—even after washing—had little pieces of unremovable dust and a thin bit of overhang on one of the top surface’s edges. This wasn’t entirely satisfactory to us, and is ultimately a reason why ZAGG, like some of its more price-aggressive competitors, should include a second set of film in the package. We would have used the first piece of film for training, and then gotten it right with a completely clean second piece; we had similar issues with a couple of the side pieces. Since there’s only one set in the box, the pieces that are installed are a little blemished, which doesn’t feel quite right given the asking price.
However, we have to say that when the covered MacBook is considered in its entirety, the result is unquestionably a net positive. Unlike the hard shells we’ve tested, the scratch-proof film adds no discernible thickness or weight to the MacBook, yet provides the same degree of confidence that we’re not going to rip up its body if we toss it into a bag and use it on the road. Does it look like a plastic-covered couch? Not any more than an encased iPod looks like a doll in a dress. Here, the beauty and color of Apple’s design is preserved intact, only with gloss rather than a matte finish. That’s not a show stopper for us.
It may be for you. If you don’t mind scratching up your computer, your iPhone, or your iPod, or if you want something that adds to the device’s looks rather than just preserving them in clear plastic, there’s no need for an InvisibleShield or one of its competitors. But from our standpoint, this form of coverage is as practical and useful as they come. Tweaks to ZAGG’s pricing, protection, and installation would unquestionably make InvisibleShields easier to recommend to a wider swath of MacBook users.
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