So who’s the big winner in the battle of the MacBook clear full-body film protectors? The surprising answer: no one. After trying NLU Products’ $50 BodyGuardz and ZAGG’s $55 InvisibleShield, we’re here to report that while both products have strengths and weaknesses, neither delivers the ideal level of protection and quality we were hoping for. We’ve discussed InvisibleShield at length in a prior article; this one looks mostly at the BodyGuardz. Now updated with Final Impressions.
For their respective prices, each company sells you a tube containing several pieces of pre-cut film shaped to fit your MacBook or MacBook Pro computer, as well as a water and soap spray solution to wet the films’ adhesive backing, and a squeegee to work out the air and water bubbles that naturally result from the application process. Notably, NLU’s film packages looked more professionally assembled than ZAGG’s, and we had no issues getting exactly the right films from NLU; ZAGG seemed confused, twice, by references to the prior-generation MacBook Pro film.
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On the flip side, NLU’s film covered less surface area than ZAGG’s. In the name of protecting the MacBook’s top Apple logo, which it said might come off if its film was removed, NLU leaves the logo entirely exposed. InvisibleShield covers it, and we had no issue whatsoever removing the InvisibleShield film from the logo safely when we swapped films; we definitely preferred ZAGG’s approach in this regard.
NLU tries a bit harder on the new MacBook’s sides, with a smarter one-piece front sticker and better-cut left and right pieces, though neither company covers as much of the MacBook’s metal as it could; some ports are left completely unprotected in both companies’ products. ZAGG does a better job with film for the MacBook’s back, and has a little extra coverage on the bottom, as well.
But NLU’s MacBook film, critically, is more precisely cut than ZAGG’s. This is noticeable on the bottom, where each of Apple’s cut elements—rubber feet, the battery compartment hinge, and screws—has just the right distance from the film, rather than a little too much. On the top, the InvisibleShield film began to have issues at its edges because it was slightly oversized relative to the new Mac’s curved corners; BodyGuardz fits the top better, if offering a little less coverage at the edges. Neither company’s film is immune to post-installation air bubbles, unfortunately, and no matter how we tried, we couldn’t get the film to look completely perfect in this regard; it’s a case of just getting as close as possible and then crossing your fingers.
One issue that we’re going to report back on in a couple of weeks is the persistence of the film in its current state. After a few weeks of use, the InvisibleShield we installed began to yellow and peel at certain of its edges, sometimes under the surface, and sometimes where they got gunked up from touching the insides of our carrying bags. NLU claims that its film won’t discolor, and thus far, it looks great, though it has lots of extra places where it could conceivably begin to peel when given the same length of testing as the InvisibleShield. The BodyGuardz are cut with holes for the battery indicator lights, IR sensor, and the Apple logo, each presenting a potential peeling trouble spot and point of possible scratching. Updated January 20, 2009: Three weeks after installation of the BodyGuardz, we’ve experienced zero peeling and zero discoloration of the film on either of the laptops we’ve installed it on. Other than the omissions in protection noted herein, the BodyGuardz film is definitely superior in our view.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the NLU film obviously varies in coverage and design from model to model. Whereas the MacBook version uses discrete stripe-like side pieces that tend not to wrap around multiple edges of that model, the prior-generation MacBook Pro version includes three-way corner protectors that we actually preferred in some ways, as the newer film leaves the MacBook’s thin side ridges fully exposed. Both of the BodyGuardz films were deficient in side port coverage, but the newer one went further than its predecessor.
It’s fairly obvious at this stage that both NLU and ZAGG could stand to improve their film protectors for the MacBook family of computers. The differences between using these film covers and the hard plastic shells offered by Incase and Speck are very significant—all the bulkiness and occasional creaking sounds disappear when you move over to film, a huge advantage, but the extent of coverage is compromised, especially in the NLU design. Additionally, between the presence of air bubbles and the fact that you’re paying $50 or $55 for a few sheets of film, there’s no escaping from the criticism that these solutions cost a lot for what they are and deliver aesthetic results that aren’t for everyone.
This sense is accentuated by little issues, including the presence of black dust inside NLU’s package that thankfully was removable and didn’t interfere with our installation—but could have—and both companies’ failure to include microfiber or other cloths to absorb the excess moisture that builds up when installing film sheets of these sizes. It feels like you’re getting do-it-yourself kits for these prices, and takes around 40 minutes of installation time, not including getting your MacBook prepped to add the film cleanly and safely, finding cloths, and so on. Little improvements to these packages, such as moisture cloths, moisture and air bubble release seams, and a second “just in case” top film sheet at the very least, could go a long way towards a better overall experience; more body coverage would be our top request, though.
Clear protective film is an option that we’d very much like to be able to recommend to our readers for both iPods and MacBook computers, as the thin, convenient form factor and anti-scratch protection are significant benefits for expensive and highly scratchable metal products. For now, however, it looks like the major players still have some fine-tuning left to do in order to make their computer covers as impressive as their iPod and iPhone ones; paying $50 for something that only gets you part of the way towards protection, and then, with too much potential for unsightly bubbles or discoloration, will for the time being keep MacBook film as a niche rather than the mainstream product it could easily become.