On iPhone and iPad Screen Protection: Why It Matters + Some iPhone 4 Results

Almost every time we post an article dealing with iPhone or iPad cases, there are subsequent (and semi-heated) discussions in the comments threads regarding the merits of film-based screen protection. Over time, the comments have largely polarized into three perspectives:

“I love my screen protector,”

“I use and like screen protectors but have trouble getting them to be bubble- and dust-free like the ones in your photos,” and

“I hate screen protectors, they look dirty and terrible and my iPhone/iPad is impervious to scratching so it doesn’t need it anyway.”

Okay, “hate screen protector” guys, consider your point made, vote registered, and voice heard. You hate them. Got it.

But for everyone else—those of us who really don’t like having to wipe down our screens every day or two because of all of the fingerprints, or are concerned about scratches, dirt and the like—we’re posting a quick update on two things that might be of interest. First, the current state of iPhone 4 anti-glare screen protection, and second, how to apply a screen protector without making it look crappy.

On iPhone and iPad Screen Protection: Why It Matters + Some iPhone 4 Results
Power Support Anti-Glare

We’ve had the chance now to test iPhone 4 anti-glare films from United SGP, Incipio, SwitchEasy, Griffin, and Cygnett, and the results have been consistent with past ones we’ve seen on iPads, earlier iPhones, and iPods: the United SGP film is better than its competitors. At least, for now—Power Support’s film for iPad is spectacular and likely to be a rival on the iPhone 4 given past experiences, but the iPhone 4 version still isn’t available.


On iPhone and iPad Screen Protection: Why It Matters + Some iPhone 4 Results
United SGP Steinheil Anti-Fingerprint

Most of the companies that sell film—the vast majority, really—buy the material from Chinese factories that are willing to churn cut pieces out at very low prices, guaranteeing high profits while skimping on quality. Almost every case that comes with free film uses Chinese stuff. The consequential issues we see most often are prismatic effects, or rainbow glittering on the screen, and edges that are either cut too precisely or not precisely enough to the curves and holes on a given device’s face. If the film’s not cut properly, aligning the film on the screen can be difficult, overlapping onto the black plastic edges of the iPhone 4 or iPad screens in a way that makes the film peel off over time. Some film solutions also have unusually large holes that offer too little protection or otherwise look weird after they’ve been applied, no matter how well you’ve installed them. By comparison, higher-end film is almost invariably made in Japan and a little more expensive as a result: United SGP sources its film from Japan and then finishes it in Korea, while Power Support’s film is purely Japanese. Properly cut film makes alignment easier and the film stays on almost indefinitely. The film is thicker, and consequently more durable, as well as optically superior to the cheaper stuff. We’ve had the same piece of Power Support film on one of our iPads now for three months of very active daily use and it’s in perfect shape.


On iPhone and iPad Screen Protection: Why It Matters + Some iPhone 4 Results
Griffin’s Screen Care Kit (Matte)

What is the real value of keeping a piece of protective film on an iPad or iPhone for months? Well, in the case of the iPad, it means that we literally haven’t had to wipe the screen down because of fingerprints more than once per month, if even that often. Anti-glare film basically removes the need for daily or every-other-day smudge cleaning, which is the major reason we prefer it to the glossy and mirrored films that are also sold for these devices. Additionally, iPad anti-glare film can limit the driver-blinding sunlight reflections a passenger’s iPad can give off in a car. We haven’t seen one that’s perfect in this regard, but most of the anti-glare films we’ve tried offer better results than the glossy uncovered iPad screen, for sure. For the iPhone, it means not needing to worry if a coin, a key, or some other metal item accidentally winds up in the same pocket as the glass device. This does happen, and if it does, scratching can result. As hard as the glass on new iPhones is said to be, the oleophobic coating is softer and can show marks. If you don’t care, you don’t care, but if you do, a layer of film can make the difference between thin hairline marks and pristine surfaces.


On iPhone and iPad Screen Protection: Why It Matters + Some iPhone 4 Results
Incipio’s Anti-Glare Screen Protector

The other thing we wanted to share was some advice for avoiding imperfections during the installation process, which we originally posted as a (buried) comment to an earlier article. First was to (a) buy properly made film, followed by (b) prepping your screen by using tape and a wipe to completely remove all dust before the film is applied. It helps to apply film to a just-purchased device, but proper cleaning with complete dust removal can make application just as problem-free. For iPads in particular, step (c) was to turn the iPad to horizontal orientation, use the Home button hole to get the initial proper alignment, and gently adjust the angle of the other side – before plunking the film down – to make sure the film doesn’t hit the iPad’s surface and then need to be pulled up and pushed down. Finally, step (d): apply the film and work the air bubbles out. Anything that’s small and remains there is most likely a dust speck you missed. With good film, you can gently pull up the film and tweeze it out, sometimes made easier with a little moisture on a finger—properly made film is hard enough that it won’t bend during this process. Cheaper film will get ruined, so it might just be best to accept the imperfection as is.

Hopefully, this will help those of you who are interested in screen protection for your new iPhones and iPads. We’ll follow up with responses to questions in the comments thread below.

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