Ask LH: Are Glass Screen Protectors Better Than Plastic Ones?

Ask LH: Are Glass Screen Protectors Better Than Plastic Ones?

Dear Lifehacker, I scratched the screen of my last phone and I want to avoid that on my new one. I’m not a fan of plastic screen guards, but I have been hearing a lot about glass screen protectors. Are they better than plastic? Thanks, Screen Scratcher

Photo by Spigen

Dear Scratcher,

Yup, you can get screen protectors made out of tempered glass. As with any technology, they have their own pros and cons. Let’s take a look at them:

The Differences Between Plastic And Glass

Price: Plastic screen protectors are much cheaper than tempered glass ones. Depending on the quality, you will pay anywhere between $1 and $15 for a single plastic protector. Glass protectors again start at around $2 for the cheapest variant and go up to $40 or more. The price difference is because of the quality of the plastic or glass, and technologies applied to it like an oleophobic coating (which reduces fingerprints).

Toughness: Tempered glass is almost always sturdier than plastic at the same price. Plastic protectors — especially the cheap models — also get scratched easily, unlike glass ones. Glass protectors are generally around 0.3-0.5 mm in thickness; plastic is around 0.1mm.

Feel: Most smartphones today have Gorilla Glass or some other scratch-resistant screen. When you add a plastic protector, you can feel the difference when you use your phone; especially in terms of how smoothly your finger glides. Tempered glass protectors feel more like the original screen.

Look: Because of their thickness, glass protectors will bulge out a bit more than plastic. This is especially noticeable on devices like the iPhone 5 or the HTC One. The protector is slightly raised from the flush finish of the sides, which can be an aesthetic issue for some. On the iPhone, this also means your Home button is recessed more than you’re used to. I know 0.5mm seems like a small number, but you can feel the difference.

Installation: If you’ve installed a plastic screen protector, you know how difficult the process is. There are different kinds of glass protectors (full-adhesive or bezel-adhesive), but generally, they are easier to install if you use a quality product. Of course, you’ll still have to clean the screen first.

Do I Need A Protector On My Glass Screen?

Screen protectors aren’t as necessary as they once were, but they can still be useful. Your Gorilla Glass screen can still get scratched with the sand in your pocket, and can crack if you drop your phone. The bad news is that tempered glass protectors are also fallible to the same issues, but it’s far easier to replace the glass protector than your phone’s screen itself. If you’ve had one too many scratches in the past, it’s a good way to protect your phone and get that superior glass feel.

Which Glass Protector Should I Get?

I’m not a fan of the cheaper variants (read: $10 and lesser) of tempered glass protectors because of bad experiences with them, but there are lots of people who are happy with those. Apart from the installation, I’ve found two problems with these. First, the oleophobic coating and the quality of the glass is just not good enough. You will see fingerprints, and you’ll be able to tell that it’s not as good as your actual phone. To me, that defeats the purpose of a glass protector. Second, I have trouble with multi-touch input while gaming when more than two fingers are involved. This isn’t a dealbreaker but it can be frustrating at times. If you are buying a tempered glass screen protector, it makes sense to spend a little money and go for the slightly more expensive ones. In no particular order, my recommendations would be the Zagg InvisibleShield, the Spigen Glas.t, or the Armorz Stealth Extreme R, based on several reviews around the web. Of these, the Spigen Glas.t offers a low-cost replacement policy for a year.

No matter what you buy, you have to be careful about one thing: Buy a protector made for your device. “It looks the same” or “it kind of fits” are traps and you’ll regret it. Those protectors will come loose eventually, or fit in a way where using them isn’t comfortable.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • I bought a cheap plastic one, from eBay, for my Ultrabook, when I first got it a year or so ago, and it’s still going great… Not even starting to get damaged, and I have no problems with touch or stylus..! Guess it depends on the user too..?

  • I open this comment with a disclaimer… I am an unabashed fan but in no way connected to Xtremeguard screen protectors. If looking for a plastic screen protector – just try them. They go on wet (follow the video, it’s simple) and you end up with no bubbles or loose corners. They actually seem to bond a little more each day over the first week after application. They are different to the standard peel and stick protectors. – a whole different material – and heaps better. They are tough, perfectly clear and they just work as you would want them to. There are regular coupon based discounts of up to 80‰ easily located searching “Xtremeguard coupon” I got mine for $9 delivered for my HTC M8. They are one of the few accessories that actually exceeded their marketing claims. (end of unpaid marketing rant)

  • I refuse to use any screen protector -plastic or otherwise- if it uses some form of adhesive

  • I’m trying an experiment as we speak. I’ve used plastic screen protectors for years – and now i’m going commando…

    There is a definite difference between plastic and glass. Plastic is more abrasive than the native glass screen on a phone. It’s not a big difference, but you do notice it.

    I’m working on Mirir’s assumption that screens have improved enough that screen protectors are no longer justified – in a year’s time i’ll either be pissed off or glad I went commando.

    • I haven’t needed a screen protector on any of my last 4 phones. That’s 4 phones over the past 6 years and I’ve never had a scratch. Ever since phones have been made with Gorilla Glass screens there’s no need for protectors.

      The downside of course is that these hardened glass screens are easier to smash or crack (as many an Iphone user has come to realise). But a screen protector will only protect from scratches. They do nothing to protect against cracks or smashing your screen.

    • I salute your exploring spirit sir!

      I’m anxious to hear about the outcome of your noble experiment!

  • Phones are so cheap now, and the glass is so tough, the phone is ready for replacement long before any damage to the screen. Bareback all the way ;-p

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