They have fancy names and come from well-known companies in the iPod and iPhone accessory industry. Their packages and web sites tout unique finishes and multi-layer technologies that enable them to protect your brand new iPad’s screen while permitting unimpaired access to its touch controls. But is it really worth spending $25 for a piece or two of plastic film?
We’re in the middle of testing a bunch of different and competing screen films right now, but since we’ve had inquiries from readers, we wanted to offer an interim answer—we’d say “yes”—and some useful information for people who are trying to decide between the increasingly numerous options that are out there now.
1. Your unprotected iPad’s screen is going to show scratches. One of our iPads went without screen protection for a week before getting its first cover, while the other was bare only for a couple of days. Both screens already have small but visible surface scratches; the one that went unprotected longer has more of them. They’re similar to ones we saw on the oil-resistant iPhone 3GS screen, which is to say not deep or wide enough to impair use or enjoyment of the iPad, but they probably will impact resale value at some point.
2. There are in fact differences, and major ones, between competing brands. We would love to be able to tell you that Incipio’s Anti-Glare Screen Protector—which includes two sheets of film for the same $25 price charged by Power Support for its Anti-Glare Film—is equally useful, or that the $23 Steinheil Anti-Fingerprint Film from United SGP offers a better value for the money. So far, that’s not the case.
Power Support’s film thus far is the best of the bunch on quality, which isn’t a surprise given that this Japanese company has been as quality-obsessed as anyone in the film-manufacturing business for years. Its Anti-Glare film has the best overall combination of optical clarity and fingerprint resistance we’ve seen; the screen can go for days without being wiped down if you choose. We found the film to be easier to apply than we’d expected, particularly when it came time to work the air bubbles out. But Power Support includes nothing more in its package than the single sheet of film, leaving you to supply your own microfiber cloth and applicator card—not a dealbreaker, but for $25, this film is as light on frills as we’ve seen.
Incipio’s Anti-Glare Film includes two sheets of film, a cloth, and an applicator for the same price. It was the first on the market, fit the iPad properly—though it was tailored so close to the screen’s edges that we found it a little challenging to install—and we were extremely thankful to have something protective for the iPad so early in its life. But over a week of use, we found that this film picked up fingerprints at a much higher rate than Power Support’s version, and showed oil smudges, both of which needed to be wiped off with frequency. You pay half the price per sheet and wind up with a lower quality experience.
Another film we’ve tested is United SGP’s Steinheil Anti-Fingerprint Film. It sells for a little less than Power Support’s, includes a bottle of LCD cleaning spray, a cloth, and a rubber squeegee. This was the easiest of all of the films to install, tailored to fit just within the iPad’s edges, and like the Power Support film, it’s made in Japan—the precision of its cuts and the quality of the film are both impressive. It’s designed to reduce the evidence of fingerprints, as well as reducing glare. SGP accomplishes this by using a coating that is noticeably milkier than Power Support’s, which gives text and other on-screen content a softer, blurrier look. Those seeking maximum anti-glare and anti-fingerprint protection may find it here, but at the cost of screen clarity.
3. Touch responsiveness is diminished only a tiny bit. Expect only a modest diminution of touch sensitivity when using these films with most cases. We can’t say this about every generic option out there, and we’ve seen little hints of further reduced responsiveness under limited circumstances when combining some of these films with Apple’s iPad Case, but for the most part, film helps a lot more than it hurts.
There are other options that we’re testing right now (see Speck and Simplism for examples), and we’ll have more to say on them in the near future. For the time being, our recommendation would be to check out Power Support’s film if you’re looking for the highest-quality protector, and consider other options if you’re willing to accept some compromises in the name of saving dollars or getting more film for the same price. You can obviously save even more cash if you’re willing to let your iPad’s screen get scratched up, or use a flip-style case with a part-time screen flap built in. Many protective options are available in our iPad Accessory Gallery.