Congratulations on your awesome new phone! Black Friday and Cyber Monday brought some drop-dead amazing deals, and you finally pulled the trigger. Before you finish your setup, before you head out into the world, before you even stick your phone in a case, there’s one thing you need to buy and apply to that shiny new screen: a screen protector.
I hear those groans in the back, and I hear you. For many, a screen protector can seem superfluous and annoying. It’s this extra layer between you and your screen, and it’s something you’re going to feel every single second while using your phone. If the texture is wrong, it can mess up your perfect game or lead you to mis-swipe an item when making a purchase — or worse, instabuy something you didn’t mean to.
It also doesn’t help that installing screen protectors is often a frustrating affair unless you have access to a sterile clean room and the hands of a neurosurgeon. I’ve made a literal career out of cases, screen protectors, and accessories, and even I mess up screen protector installations about a third of the time.
This article was produced in partnership with Supcase, but its contents were not shown to the company beforehand. All content is written independently and meets Android Police’s stringent editorial standards.
But really, the benefits of a screen protector far outweigh the minuscule nuisances of installation. Even if you never drop your phone in the 2-5 years of owning it — and what did you sell to an eldritch deity for that superpower? — a screen protector applied early helps keep your phone in pristine condition for resale or trade-in. It helps the screen’s original oleophobic coating remain intact rather than being eaten up by the oils in your hands and the french fry grease on your fingers.
It also helps keep your screen free of microabrasions — those tiny little lines you see across the glass when you hold your phone up towards a light source — and potential warping of the screen. I used a review phone for two years without a protector, and once I finally put it on, there were consistently air bubbles over two buttons from my favorite Android games. (I tried five protectors from three brands; it happened with them all.)
The pitfalls of searching for screen protectors
When buying a screen protector, there are a few things to keep in mind, and the first one seems counterintuitive but is critical: You can’t blindly trust ratings and customer reviews. This isn’t just to drive you towards our lovely screen protector guides; screen protector reviews and ratings get bombed and manipulated for a multitude of reasons beyond the protector’s actual quality.
If you mess up a screen protector’s installation, the product is ruined; it doesn’t matter if it was improperly-worded directions, user error, or just that one damn dust spec that snuck in between pulling the dust-grabbing sticker away and aligning the protector on the guide. Many manufacturers sell screen protectors in multipacks specifically to avoid or cushion these complaints as “Well, the first one didn’t work, but the second one was fine.”
Tempered glass screen protectors offer better protection but also introduce a new crop of reasons to be blasted in a user review. If a glass screen protector is too thin, it’ll break too easily in transit, but if it’s too thick, it might not work with the fingerprint sensor. Even if it is thin enough, due to the quality control variances on under-screen fingerprint sensors, what may work perfectly fine with one Galaxy S23 may not work at all on the S23 next to it.
That’s assuming that the ratings and reviews on a product listing are reviews for this screen protector for your exact phone. A lot of screen protector companies either put multiple phones on the same listing or re-use old screen protector Amazon listings (like this shameless IQShield) for new models so that they start out with reviews and ratings.
This is why brand names and brand histories are important. Either buy protectors from known brands in the segment — Zagg InvisibleShield, Whitestone Dome, ArmorSuit, Supershieldz, UniqueMe, Spigen, and LK — or make sure to check not only your phone’s screen protector review but also others by the same brand and sold by the same vendor.
Glass or plastic?
Next, screen protectors come in two main flavors: films and tempered glass. Film screen protectors have some small degree of self-healing after small indents or scratches, they’re much more affordable and play better with curved or foldable screens. Because they’re thinner and less rigid than glass, it’s much easier for the corners of a film protector to peel up around the edges and trap/hold air bubbles.
Films can sometimes get a bad rap for looking and feeling cheap because the texture can vary so drastically from the natural glass of your phone, though brands like Zagg have made some headway with thicker hybrid films that feel more like glass than previous generations.
Tempered glass screen protectors offer significantly more impact resistance — basically, the glass screen protector shatters while your phone’s actual screen stays intact — but because of their rigidity, they can have issues with curved screens and are incompatible with curved displays. Tempered glass screen protectors can also interfere more with the fingerprint sensor and touch sensitivity of your phone. This can be partially mitigated by re-enrolling your fingerprints and turning up the touch sensitivity on your phone, and some screen protectors have a separate adhesive/texture used for the screen right over the fingerprint sensor to avoid interference. (Those circles are noticeable, though, which buyers will often downgrade a review score over.)
I recommend tempered glass if you’re more prone to dropping your phone, need that pure glass texture, or tend to change cases frequently, as cases can peel up film edges depending on how thick of a lip they have around the screen. Film protectors are ideal for phones with flexed screens, those that tend to scratch up protectors often, or for those concerned with slimness.
A word on built-in screen protectors
One way to avoid weird “seams” or gaps between the screen protector’s edge and the case’s lip is to buy a case with a screen protector built-in. There are many cases — mostly heavy-duty models like the i-Blason ArmorBox — that come with pre-installed plastic screen protectors that are firmly attached to the front frame of the case.
These technically fall under the film screen protector category, but they behave in some significantly different ways. Most noticeably, the screen protector actually sits a millimeter or two above the phone’s glass except for a circle of adhesive over the fingerprint scanner. Gaps play havoc with fingerprint sensors, especially ultrasonic ones, so these built-in protectors have the same special treatment over the sensor as tempered glass.
This means that you’ll have to see the same bubble, and the gap can also be detrimental to gaming and incompatible with the S Pen. So, if you tend to play on your phone a lot, you’ll want to look elsewhere, but if you treat your phone as a tool rather than a toy, a heavy-duty case with a built-in screen protector like the Supcase UB Pro lets you protect all angles of your phone for less.
Supcase UB Pro for Pixel 8 Pro
Adhesives, cures, and the installation processes that use them
There are almost as many screen protector installation methods as there are accessory makers out there, but screen protectors usually tend to adhere one of three ways:
- Adhesive-backed protectors have the adhesives already applied to the film or glass, so all you need to do is line things up and press down in proper directions.
- Cure-based protectors use a solution that is poured on the screen and then pushed to the edges by the protector before being cured with a UV Light. The most well-known of these is Whitestone Dome Glass.
- Wet-install protectors are essentially a precursor of cure-based protectors that use a solution between the protector and the glass to allow users to reposition the film immediately after application, then sit and let the solution dry and evaporate to bond it to the screen. They’re very rare to see these days as adhesive-backed protectors could get away from the old dot-matrix style and UV-cured protectors became mainstream.
When properly installed, cure-cased protectors will better bond with your screen, are less prone to air bubbles, and can look/feel invisible because they’ll lack the circles over the fingerprint sensors most other glass screen protectors need. However, the installation process can be complicated, and if you get the UV solution into the speaker, earpiece, or into the buttons, they can be difficult or near impossible to fix.
In short, it’s not for the faint of heart, but with properly-written directions and YouTube videos to follow along, they can be done semi-easily at home.
For the rest of us, adhesive-backed screen protectors have never had easier installation systems, with many having “one-touch” designs that will perfectly align everything and then apply the protector with a single swipe of your finger. If you’re skittish about installing a protector yourself, look for one-touch or “easy install” protectors with clear images of the setup in the listing. Even for those that aren’t, plastic installation alignment frames are all but standard these days and make the process worlds easier than it was five years ago.
Give it time before introducing a case
As a case queen, I’d love to tell you to stick your phone into a kickass case immediately, but after installing the screen protector, do yourself a favor and leave the phone naked and alone for a few hours. UV-cured or adhesive, a short rest will prevent anything from potentially shifting, smearing, or slightly lifting at the edges, which is something cases have been known to do to freshly-installed “edge to edge” screen protectors.
If you can, install the screen protector shortly before bed and then put a case back on in the morning. If not, try to give it at least 1-2 hours before you slip a case back on. And watch carefully while putting a case on. If a corner starts to peel immediately, take the case off immediately and decide if you’ll buy a new case or a new screen protector.
Properly picked protection will keep your screen scratch-less and spotless for years to come, and if your screen protector must give its life to defend your digital lifeline, thank it for its sacrifice and check its warranty. Many name-brand screen protectors come with lifetime warranties, though you’ll likely lack a protector for a week or two while the replacement gets sent to you.
Whitestone Dome Glass Screen Protector for Google Pixel 8
$25 $35 Save $10
Spigen Glas.tR EZ Fit For Galaxy S23
Excellent one-touch system
Armorsuit MilitaryShield Screen Protector for Galaxy S23 Ultra