The resurgence of plastic screen protectors: improved and more reliable than before

It’s irrelevant if you’re purchasing a top-tier flagship Android phone that epitomizes the best on the market, or something available in the budget space — a screen protector is essential. While some phones come with low-cost plastic screen protectors — like those from OnePlus — usually, if you’re buying after-market, tempered glass protectors are what you’re likely to add to your Amazon cart. These imitate the look and feel of your phone’s actual glass, albeit without the advancements of, say, Corning’s new Gorilla Glass technology.

However, I’ve spent the last year using protective films on both of my daily drivers, completely reverting back to this old-school accessory. If you haven’t taken a look at where these unassuming little sheets are these days, you’re in for a big surprise. Film screen protectors are better than ever before.

Tempered glass can be temperamental

I discovered firsthand with a manual install

Up close on the camera cutout of the Galaxy S23's Zagg screen protector

Aside from protective cases and covers, screen protectors are one of the most popular accessories for new phones, so much so that I cannot recall the last time I saw someone using an “unprotected” phone or tablet outside of foldables. You see, cracked screens and glass back panel replacements remain a costly affair, especially outside the one-year warranty most manufacturers offer. However, spending $10 on a sacrificial screen guard on any device, irrespective of its price tag, seems like a worthwhile investment.

These glass protectors are available at a range of price points, often even as official accessories from the device manufacturer. However, my only vivid memory of DIY-ing a tempered glass screen protector install on a Samsung Galaxy S5 is a harrowing one. After due research, I bought an affordable kit sans the installation kit which included a frame for perfect alignment. I spent close to 15 minutes lining it up, wiping the phone clean, and sticking it down, and the protector served me well for a long time.

The process revealed several downsides of such protectors, ranging from the dust accumulation around the very tangible edges, limited compatibility with rugged cases, and their general one-and-done nature where a single deep scratch or drop would shatter the protector and render it useless. Although accessory brands offer case-protector combos to mitigate compatibility risks, the tempered glass alone doesn’t protect the back of the phone, and nailing the installation is even harder — if not outright impossible — on curved displays, as I discovered with a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge a few years after the S5 experience.


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On newer devices like the Samsung Galaxy S24, there’s a good chance off-brand tempered glass could interfere with the ultrasonic fingerprint scanner. Official accessories from the device manufacturer won’t have issues, but they usually command a much higher price. And even devices with optical sensors, like Google’s Pixel 8 Pro, require you to enable a setting specific to screen protectors to improve fingerprint recognition.

After deliberating on all these difficulties with tempered glass, I chose to go back to the good old film-type protector with my Pixel 7 in 2022, and have since become a staunch advocate for their revival.

The resurgence of protective films

You should give it one more chance

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