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Smartphone screens make or break your experience. It is also the second most expensive element of the phone to replace. If you value your device, apply a screen protector to stop scratches and other damage.

What you might have trouble with is choosing which screen protector to use. There is a wide variety of them online, ranging from about $2 to $50. Jargon like “9H hardness” and “tempered glass” will throw you off more. So what should you buy? Here’s a quick guide to understanding screen protectors.

1. Do You Need a Screen Protector?

You’ve seen the ads for Gorilla Glass screens on your phone. So does your smartphone still need a screen protector? Yes it does, if you are willing to buy a good protector.

Most smartphones today boast of Gorilla Glass, Dragontrail, or other scratch-resistant glasses. This type of glass is resistant to scratches and cracks, but it’s not foolproof. Certain objects like beach sand can quickly damage your screen nonetheless. And unless you have a DIY fix-able phone like Fairphone Fairphone Review and Giveaway Fairphone Review and Giveaway The Fairphone was quietly put on pre-order last year for an initial European-only run of 25,000 units. Read More , you’ll be spending a big amount.

Screen protectors are just as vulnerable to such scratches and cracks. But they act as an added layer of security, which is sometimes all you need.

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2. Plastic vs. Tempered Glass

Mostly, you will find two types of screen protectors: plastic film and tempered glass.

Plastic film protectors have been around for a long time now, and you’ve probably seen these or applied them on your phone. They look like a little sheet of plastic. You need to stick them carefully, as they roll up easily. Plastic protectors are quite cheap, and you’ll find a pack of five for two bucks. That said, plastic protectors aren’t too sturdy, so they don’t help in case of falls and drops. They are decent for regular scratches, but tempered glass will be much more resilient. Plastic film comes in two kinds: wet-apply and dry-apply. Wet-apply offers more resilience but will look pitted, like an orange peel, after awhile.

Tempered glass protectors have become more popular in the last couple of years, especially with a big price drop. You can now find them for as low as $5, which is a small investment to protect a phone worth hundreds of dollars. Tempered glass protectors offer better resistance against scratches, and more importantly, insulates your screen a bit against drops. Tempered glass also more closely mimics the feel of your actual screen, which makes it much more pleasant to use.

Of the two, it makes more sense to buy a tempered glass protector today. You’ll be spending only a couple of bucks more to get much more protection.

3. What Is a Tempered Glass Protector?

Tempered glass protectors, as the name suggests, are made from glass. Tempering is a process of heating up the glass to form a sheet, and then rapidly cooling it. The result is a piece of glass that is a bit more durable.

The tell-tale sign of a tempered glass protector is that it’s hard and holds its shape. Its stiffness makes it easier to apply since you can carefully align it and then stick it on. On top of that, it’s far easier to pull off a tempered glass screen protector than replacing a damaged phone display The Guide To Replacing a Damaged Mobile Phone Display The Guide To Replacing a Damaged Mobile Phone Display If you have damaged the screen of your mobile phone – perhaps you dropped it or sat down while the device was in your pocket – you’ve immediately given yourself a headache. Can the phone... Read More .

4. Can Tempered Glass Protectors Bend?

Hold one in your hand and you will feel it bend a little. Your mind races to ask, “Wait a minute, if this is glass, how come it’s flexible?”

Newsflash: glass can bend.

Want to know something shocking? The screen on your iPhone, your iPad, your Android, your Nintendo Switch can all bend. If you don’t believe it, check out this quick demonstration by the 9to5Mac guys:

Of course, you absolutely should not try that at home. In fact, there are practical things to do if you break your screen 7 Practical Things You Should Do After Cracking Your Smartphone's Screen 7 Practical Things You Should Do After Cracking Your Smartphone's Screen Perhaps a runaway elephant stepped on your recently dropped phone in a parking lot adjacent to the local zoo. Read More .

Don’t think of these pieces of glass the way you think of the glasses in your kitchen or your coffee table. Those are much thicker than what you have here. The thinness and the tempering process makes these glasses tougher, which is why they can take a little more pressure before cracking.

5. What Is 9H Hardness? What Really Matters?

Once you start shopping for glass screen protectors online, you’ll see a few specifications pop up. Things like 9H hardness, military grade protection, oleophobic nano-coating, and so on. Here’s a quick rundown of what they mean, and what really matters.

9H Hardness — Contrary to popular opinion, this isn’t a measure of the Mohs Hardness test. 9H Hardness refers to the screen not getting scratched by a 9H pencil, the toughest of all standard pencils. It’s not a great test, to be honest, but it’s a decent parameter to find out if the manufacturer cares enough to test the protector. Oleophobic Nano-coating: This is the only specification that you should look for, to be honest. Unlike plastic film protectors, tempered glass retains fingerprint smudges. An oleophobic coating repels oil, which basically means your fingerprints won’t stick on. A swipe with a micro-fibre cloth will get rid of them.

tempered glass 9h hardness

Military Grade Protection — You’ll find this touted often, but it’s a gimmick. The screen protector’s toughness won’t always stop your screen from cracking upon the impact of a fall.

Privacy Layer — Apparently, reducing the viewing angles of a screen is now a “feature”, since people next to you can’t read it. Don’t fall for this one, folks.

Matte Display — Ah, the good old matte vs. glossy display argument. Depending on what kind of screen you prefer, pick the protector. Matte protectors aren’t as common as glossy ones, but they are available for most of the popular handsets.

The bottom line is that picking the right protector can be a long quest My Quest For The Best Nexus 5 Case (and Screen Protector) My Quest For The Best Nexus 5 Case (and Screen Protector) Looking to protect your Nexus 5? There's no such thing as "the best" case, but rather, there are cases that fulfill specific niches. Read More , but it’s worth it once you find the right one.

6. The Reality of Screen Protectors

Remember, protectors sit on top of the screen, even if it’s an edge-to-edge protector. They don’t surround the whole phone like a case does. So if your phone falls onto a corner, the screen and the protector will both crack from there. And as The Wirecutter points out, that’s the most common type of fall.

The four corners of your phone are the most vulnerable parts of your device. Just because the screen protector isn’t going to hurt by that fall doesn’t mean the actual screen won’t. The actual screen is held together by your phone’s body. When that takes an impact so does the screen.

Protectors help protect against everyday scratches and face-down falls Insane Tablet and Phone Touchscreen Repair Tips You Should Avoid Insane Tablet and Phone Touchscreen Repair Tips You Should Avoid These crazy-looking tips will just damage your screen even more. Read More . A tempered glass protector will crack before your actual screen cracks — if the face hits the ground first. More importantly, that $5 piece of glass will keep the screen safe from the keys in your pocket or other such accidental scratches.

Whether you buy tempered glass or plastic, protectors are not replacements for cases.

Do You Use a Protector?

Gorilla Glass is a tough layer to protect the screen of your smartphone already. For some people, that’s more than enough safety. A protector is never as comfortable as using the naked screen of your phone, and it doesn’t always sit flush with the body either. Aesthetically, it’s a problem.

But do you choose aesthetics over safety? Do you use a protector for your screen at all? If yes, did you go with glass or plastic?

Image Credits: Perfect Vectors/Shutterstock

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