There's No Reason Not to Use a Screen Protector

Illustration for article titled Theres No Reason Not to Use a Screen Protector
Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

I used to laugh at my neurotic friends who used screen protectors.

You probably know the type of person I’m referring to. This person will refuse to unbox a new phone, tablet, or even a laptop without having first bought a case and an avalanche of other protective accessories. When it comes to screen protector application, this person probably cannot be disturbed because god help you if there’s one air bubble.

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I’m not that person, but I am here to say you need a screen protector, you reckless, sweet summer children.

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I used to be one of those people who rolled their eyes when it came to screen protector evangelists. I wasn’t a baby. I had fully functional fingers and was not dumb enough to keep my phone in a pocket or purse with keys or other sharp objects. And while I am a klutz of the highest caliber, in the approximately six years I’d had a smartphone and an entire lifetime of owning electronics, I had yet to ever scratch or crack a screen. I was that insufferable friend that pushed their glasses up their nose and said, “Well, actually, cracked screens happen because the phone hits a corner. All you need is a good case.”

Then, it happened to me. Last February, I upgraded to an iPhone XS Max, and yes, I ordered a sweet case to go along with it. My partner innocently asked me if I planned to get a screen protector. My actual response was: “Pfft. You don’t need those nowadays.” I drop my phone all the time. I’ve dropped it while eating pavement mid-run. I’ve watched it skitter out of my hands across an NYC subway platform and down into the absolutely filthy tracks. I’ve even dropped it into a questionable toilet at a bar in Bushwick. A screen protector was an extra expense and effort that, thus far, hadn’t proved necessary.

My partner, however, is firmly Team Screen Protector. I watched in bemusement as he dragged himself to the Apple Store on two occasions just to get them to place a Belkin tempered glass protector for him with a complicated-looking doodad. (“No air bubbles,” he said. “Perfect every time.”)

We bickered good-naturedly about this until a road trip to North Carolina a few months later. After a 12-hour drive, I opened our car door and: womp. My brand new iPhone in its “tough” case fell approximately three inches onto the asphalt. And my screen cracked.

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I swear to god, I’ve always been a religious case user so I really don’t know how this even happened SEEING AS I HAD A CASE ON IT.
I swear to god, I’ve always been a religious case user so I really don’t know how this even happened SEEING AS I HAD A CASE ON IT.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

It was a tiny crack in the bottom lefthand corner, which had definitely been covered by a case—a “tough” case with good reviews, one that covered all the edges. This teeny-tiny crack didn’t affect how I used the screen at all, nor did it obstruct my view. I could very easily ignore it, except now it was the only thing I could see—probably because I had just forked over a pile of moolah and this sort of damage wasn’t covered because my overconfident ass did not buy AppleCare.

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Truthfully, I probably would have forgotten about it if the crack didn’t grow over the next few days. It went from a tiny crack to a slightly longer hairline splinter that curved up the side of the screen. Two days later, I noticed a smaller, third crack had appeared. I tried to stay calm. I told myself these cracks were minor and extremely cosmetic. The next day, the third crack grew until it was even larger than the first two. If I swiped in that area, I could feel the raised ridges of shattered screen in a way I hadn’t before.

I was officially worried. In a two-week period, I had gone from one tiny bullet-hole of a crack at the edge of my phone to a pattern that was spreading. I took the iPhone to a Best Buy to see how much fixing these not-so-tiny cracks would cost, just in case these screen could be saved for a small, small fee.

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The price quoted was upwards of $200. I also could not retroactively buy AppleCare to try and get a better price, the blue-shirted Best Buy employee working the repair desk said. That, apparently, was fraud. I could have lied, but purchasing AppleCare at that point wasn’t exactly cheaper. After minimal googling, I learned a tempered glass screen protector three-pack could cost as little as $10. I felt like a colossal dingus.

So I bought a pack, though I was worried about what would happen if I put a protector on a cracked screen. Would the adhesive lift any pieces out if I didn’t apply it exactly right the first time? I was irrationally afraid that it might, and I tried desperately to remember if I’d ever seen a shattered screen where the pieces fell out. (Vainly, I also wondered if the screen protector over the front-facing camera would warp my selfies.) When it came time to apply the protector, I had morphed into one of the people I previously made fun of. There would be no air bubbles, no take two, and, hyperventilating, I told myself everything was going to be fine.

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It took a few attempts to apply the protector without dust particles or air bubbles getting in the way. Reapplying did not actually affect the crack in any way. The application was the hardest part.

Once it was on, I was shocked at how little I noticed the protector. In years past, screen protectors I’d used were grody as hell—they were cheap plastic things that collected oil from my fingers and had to be switched out often. Once Gorilla Glass became more common and scratches rarer, I gladly tossed screen protectors into the trash.

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But now I can’t even tell I’m using a screen protector at all. I haven’t ever had to reapply a new one. There is no gunky residue at the edges. Cleaning it is as easy as wiping it with a microfiber cloth—which I did to my naked screens anyway. I have to squint to even see it. I have since dropped my phone multiple times from higher heights and the cracks haven’t spread any further. These cracks still haunt me, but only because after a year of using a screen protector, I don’t know why I ever made such a fuss about using one.

I took this photo several years ago at a party with “Freddie.” I saved it because it was truly horrifying.
I took this photo several years ago at a party with “Freddie.” I saved it because it was truly horrifying.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo
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Given the choice between an expensive repair and a nigh invisible $10-$20 tempered glass screen protector, I don’t know why you wouldn’t get one. It might not completely prevent a major crack, but you would probably prevent annoying ones like mine. Do I know for certain that a screen protector would have prevented my cracked phone? No. But at least I’d have known I’d done everything I could to protect my expensive gadget. Or you could be like my chaotic evil friend—let’s call them Freddie—who solved their cracked screen problem with a whole lot of scotch tape. (If I recall correctly, this friend shattered this phone when it was nearly brand new and continued to use it like this for over a year until their free upgrade kicked in.)

I know too many of you monsters who go around using cracked screen phones, risking bloody fingers because you either cannot afford a new phone or screen repair. Please, I’m begging you. None of us is invincible. We all will eventually trip on the banana peel of life. If it hasn’t happened already, then one day a cracked screen is in your future. Just suck it up, buy a case, and use a screen protector.

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Here, look at my partner’s phone: It’s been dropped and battered by our cat, and it’s still pristine. I rest my case.

Also, what an excellent wallpaper.
Also, what an excellent wallpaper.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo
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Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.

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DISCUSSION

Uh, no you really don’t need one.

A single incident that happened by accident is not how I want to cower in fear of my electronics. If they break, then they break. If it’s important enough to me where I don’t want to be out the cost of replacing it, I better make sure I can afford to buy a replacement before I buy the original. Especially because it’s portable.

As an adult who grew up in the infancy of portable electronics I have had literally every iteration of the GameBoy, DS, iPod and iPhone and a decent smattering of cellular phones.

I have only ONE screen protector on my Switch which is there because the dock itself is known to scratch the screen.

Why do I not put them on there? Glare for one, the other is that I had a friend back in 2008 show me how he could run a knife all over his iPhone 3's screen and not have anything happen to it. That convinced me that the hype was hype.

Look, I know screens break all the time, and I’ve seen my fair share of shattered screens on friends and coworkers devices. I just do not understand how it got that way. The only iPhone I broke was my 5 on a corner which turned into a small chip on the glass. It could have been way worse. I get it.

But I reiterate, I don’t pretend my phone is something to be coddled. It serves a purpose as a tool and sometimes tools break. If I have to swaddle my tool in layers of protection, it loses functionality or is something I would hesitate to use as frequently due to perception of risk.  Would I want to replace it if it broke?  Not really, but you know... when stuff breaks, you gotta do what you gotta do.  Be more careful next time.