We’ve made no secret of the fact that we’ve come to prefer clear full-body film protectors to cases for our iPods and iPhones over the past couple of years; these thin, transparent adhesive covers allow the designs of Apple’s devices to shine through, adding less bulk and guaranteeing greater accessory compatibility than most of the cases out there. Today, we’re reviewing three film sets for the iPhone 3G: FullBodyFilms’ Protection Pack for iPhone 3G ($17), NLU Products’ BodyGuardz for iPhone 3G ($25), and Zagg’s Full Body InvisibleShield for iPhone 3G ($25).
First, let’s share some good news about all three of these products: no matter which one you pick, you’ll get film that covers both the front and back of your iPhone 3G very significantly against scratches. All three companies leave only small parts of the device exposed, including the headphone and Dock Connector ports, speakers, microphone, camera, side, and top buttons, but other than these parts—and some little holes at the corners—most of your iPhone will be strongly protected. Because they add virtually nothing to the iPhone 3G’s thickness, you can use any of them with snug accessories such as Apple’s iPhone 3G Dock or cables of any size; unlike cases that sometimes work and sometimes don’t with given add-ons, there’s no need to remove these film protectors once installed.
However, each of the companies differs a bit in how much film and the type of frills you get in the package, as well as how clear the film actually looks once applied. Though the text is the same from review to review, the photos shown in this review are specifically for the version of the film in the title above, showing what comes in each package and how the film looks immediately after installation, then after it has dried to its final appearance.
Of the three options, NLU’s BodyGuardz offers the most film and frills for its asking price. You get two pieces of rear film and two pieces of front film in each box, each front or rear piece identical to the other. As such, one box gives you enough film to cover two iPhone 3Gs, and NLU offers a lifetime replacement policy for its film; you get the first replacement after a request, and additional ones if you send back the previously damaged units. The company also includes a spray bottle of application solution, and a card-like squeegee to remove air and liquid bubbles during installation.
ZAGG’s InvisibleShield for iPhone 3G is, strictly speaking, the most expensive of these options given what comes in the package. You get four total items: a single piece of front protective film, a single piece of rear protective film, a rubber squeegee, and a sprayable water-based solution that wets down the film for application to the iPhone. The package explains Zagg’s philosophy: “One is all you will ever need. If your InvisibleShield ever gets damaged we will replace it for free… for life!” Though you’ll have an easier time with the NLU two-pack for the same price, we have no doubt that Zagg would make good on its warranty; the company has been around for a number of years, and the cost of sending you a second set is relatively small.
FullBodyFilms’ Protection Pack has the least exciting packaging and frills of the bunch, but the parts it includes are the best. You get two pieces of front static cling protective film—one completely clear and the other anti-glare—plus one piece of adhesive rear protective film, which is literally identical to NLU’s rear BodyGuardz piece, and applied with a little soapy water. Unfortunately, FullBodyFilms doesn’t include either the soapy water or a squeegee-type plastic card to help you work the air and water bubbles out; you can use a credit card and your own water to achieve the same end. Unlike the other companies, you also don’t get a replacement warranty for the film; if there’s an issue, you have to buy a new set yourself.
This year, the InvisibleShield has the edge on scope of protection. It is the only protector we’ve seen with a Home button cover, as well as volume button and camera covers, though for usability reasons, you’ll most likely want to take advantage of the perforations in the film to remove the latter two covers; the Home button cover diminishes sensitivity, but at least you have the choice of using it. Zagg has also tried to be as aggressive as possible at covering the iPhone 3G’s corners, and winds up with a little more protection here than on the other films, though there’s a cost.
Of the three, we found the InvisibleShield to be the most difficult to install and remove air bubbles from. A larger camera hole opening than on the NLU and FullBodyFilms rear films made precise alignment of the Zagg version trickier, and once it was on, we struggled unsuccessfully to use the soft rubber squeegee to work out front and rear bubbles. Some of the bubbles came out after the film dried, as shown in the last of the front and back pictures here, but many did not. A thin second piece also had to be installed separately to cover part of the device’s chrome bezel. Our U.K. editor had greater success in installing his InvisibleShield, but in our view, you should plan to use a plastic card like a credit card to work out the air bubbles, and consider pulling the whole thing off for a re-wetting if it doesn’t look right immediately after installation. We also noted that the InvisibleShield was, once again, the least optically clear of the three options, with a more noticeable texture on its front and rear surfaces.
BodyGuardz was in the middle of the pack on application and clarity. We found the single rear piece significantly easier to apply than the InvisibleShield, thanks to a camera hole opening that was precisely cut and served as a great starting point for the rest of the installation. Slight differences in the way the film was cut made the rest of the rear film easier to align, as well, and though the corners didn’t get exactly as much coverage as in the InvisibleShield, they were very close. Additionally, though the rear film isn’t completely texture-free, it was less conspicuous on the back of our iPhone 3G than Zagg’s, though they’re made from the same seriously scratch-resistant material. The front film was a snap to apply, and though it didn’t have the Home button coverage of the Zagg design, the texture was less obvious, and there were fewer air bubbles to be concerned about.
The best-looking and easiest applied film set of the bunch was the Protection Pack from FullBodyFilms. As noted before, the rear film is identical to the one in the NLU set, which meant that it was easier to apply than the InvisibleShield version and—when using our own credit card—had far fewer air bubbles. We wouldn’t call the final application perfect, but it’s so close that we didn’t mind. More importantly, FullBodyFilms’ front screen protectors are the best of the bunch. The anti-glare solution resists fingerprints and reflections, while the crystal clear version is virtually impossible to see on the iPhone 3G unless you look closely with a macro camera lens. It’s fantastic that you have the choice of these two protectors; both are better than the front film included with the Zagg and NLU alternatives.
Ultimately, you’ll have to decide for yourself whether NLU’s best-of-class replacement warranty or InvisibleShield’s best-of-class scope of coverage is enough to trump FullBodyFilms’ more aggressive pricing and superior combination of materials. Based on the overall look and pricing of each option, we’d pick the FullBodyFilms set first, with the NLU version as a very close second, and Zagg’s third, but if you value more protection or packed-in extras over clarity, we’d understand if you ranked them differently for your own personal needs. All three of these products offer compelling alternatives to iPhone 3G cases, and are worthy of your consideration.
Updated November 13, 2008: FullBodyFilms has added a new version of the Protection Pack to its web site, the Protection Pack for iPhone 3G with Reflect Film. This version contains three types of screen film—now including reflective mirrored film—and one type of rear film, letting you choose between your preferred face covers. It sells for a $1 premium over the standard Pack, or $18.
Company and Price
Compatible: iPhone 3G