Having a big scratch on your phone is like having an itch in your brain you just can’t reach. Plus, it lowers the resale value of the device when you want to upgrade.
A screen protector can keep the surface pristine, but buying one is more complicated than it should be. Let’s break down the difference between the different types, so you don’t waste your money.
These are the granddaddies of screen protectors. They don’t have the self-healing abilities of TPU, but they’re tougher in terms of scratch- and drop-protection, and these days you can get them pretty inexpensively.
Both angioma and Maxboost offer affordable glass protectors that measure between a 7 and 8 on the Mohs hardness scale, according to Wirecutter—and in our tests, they worked quite well. (Zagg’s glass protectors only measured between a 5 and 6, which it says is actually better for impact protection, even if it requires sacrificing some scratch defense.) Because glass protectors are thicker, however, they’re much more visible on your screen, which isn’t great if you prefer that melts-into-your-screen type of aesthetic.
These days you’ll also find liquid screen protectors on the market, which claim you can protect your phone just by swabbing a solution on your phone and then buffing it off. These protectors come with a host of quirks that make it hard to recommend. While it may provide some level of extra protection, the layer is so thin that tough scratches can likely still easily get through to the actual screen, which defeats the purpose of a screen protector.
Furthermore, you can’t just take this off and swap it with another screen protector—both Spigen and Qmadix say you cannot remove the product; it will merely wear off over time (though there’s no visible way to tell when). That makes it hard to test because you can’t just scratch it and peel the product off—it’s unclear whether you’d be scratching the protector or the screen underneath. Qmadix’s protector comes with a SquareTrade-esque $250 warranty, which is probably where most of your money goes. But all told, I’d recommend skipping the liquid stuff.
You’ll also find some hybrids between these different materials. Zagg’s HDX and Sapphire protectors have the self-healing properties of TPU with a slightly smoother feel. Again, they’re expensive, but Zagg’s warranty at least makes the price a bit easier to swallow.
In addition, you’ll find variations of the above with different “extra” features, like privacy filters (so people sitting next to you can’t see your screen), anti-glare surfaces (which are “matte” so you can see the screen easier in sunlight), or smudge resistance. If any of these things are important to you, you’ll want to include them in your search.
Just don’t pay too much attention to the hardness rating that brands advertise—most use the ASTM hardness scale, in which the hardest pencil (9H) is softer than tempered glass, making it a useless indicator of protection. The Mohs scale—which does not use an “H”—is much more useful, though it doesn’t sound as good on the box. If you’re unsure about the hardness of a specific brand, Google around to see if anyone has tested it themselves with a Mohs kit.
In my opinion, most people are probably best off with a tempered glass protector: they have the smoothest feel, prevent the most damage, and are available at pretty decent prices. If you’re really finicky about looks, you may like PET or TPU better (since they aren’t as visible once applied to your phone), especially since films like TPU can provide self-healing edge-to-edge protection on phones with curved screens. I’d avoid the liquid protection unless you know you aren’t going to use any of the others anyway, and want the warranty that Qmadix provides