The few seconds between dropping your phone on the pavement and picking it up again seem to drag on forever – a brief moment of panic during which your screen could either be shattered or not shattered. A sort of Schrodinger’s smartphone.
If you’ve survived the mild trauma of seeing your phone’s display turned into a beautiful kaleidoscope after taking a nose-dive off the kitchen counter, chances are you went straight out and bought a screen protector.
Made from layers of tempered glass or high-grade plastic, these thin adhesive sheets offer your phone additional scratch and impact protection. Plastic screen protectors tend to be more hard-wearing and disposable, so are good for toddlers and rough handling. Glass screen protectors are thicker, offer better protection and feel nicer under the fingers, and more like your phone’s original surface.
Most modern phone screens are already very resistant to everyday damage from loose coins and keys, but over time they can become scuffed by smaller, harder particles of sand and grit. Even if your phone doesn’t break when dropped, impacts can cause invisible microfractures that weaken the glass and make it more likely to crack next time. Screen protectors offer some protection against dropping, but to survive serious impacts a sturdy phone case is needed.
With screen replacements costing hundreds of pounds, it’s worth spending a little on protecting your device now to avoid a larger bill further down the road. The best screen protectors are thin enough to be barely visible, so as not to spoil the aesthetic of your device. Most come with mounting tools for achieving the perfect alignment.
Some offer features beyond protecting your phone from damage. There are oleophobic screen protectors to reduce smudges and fingerprints. There are privacy screen protectors to prevent nosy people around you from seeing what’s on your screen. You can buy ones that block your selfie camera, or paper-effect screen protectors to turn your iPad into an authentic-feeling sketchbook.
We tested these screen protectors on an iPhone 12 and Pixel 5, as well as the devices mentioned below. We used coins and the business end of a house key to test each screen protector’s resistance to everyday abuse, and considered how easy they were to apply to our device without bubbles or misalignment.
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The best screen protectors for 2021 are:
- Best overall – InvisibleShield glass elite visionguard+: £20, Amazon.co.uk
- Best protection – Belkin screenforce ultraglass: £19.62, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for style – PanzerGlass camslider fashion edition: £34.99, Panzerglass.co.uk
- Best for privacy – InvisibleShield glass elite privacy+: £29.99, Zagg.com
- Best for Apple Watch – PZOZ Apple watch protector: £10.99, Amazon.co.uk
- Best cheap screen protector – Eono premium tempered 3-pack: £7.99, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for iPad pro – Paperlike for iPad pro 12.9in: £34, Paperlike.com
- Best for Nintendo Switch lite – PanzerGlass for Nintendo switch lite: £29.99, Panzerglass.co.uk
InvisibleShield glass elite visionguard+
The InvisibleShield range of screen protectors is the best we’ve tested, and has options covering the top-selling iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, Samsung Galaxy and Google Pixel phones. The visionguard+ variety of screen protector is available across most of the range and, as well as offering the usual shatter and scratch protection, has a filter designed to reduce eye strain by blocking blue light at the upper end of the visual spectrum.
While using backlit devices near bedtime is known to negatively impact sleep quality, blue light itself has not been proven to be harmful to our eyes. Still, this screen protector can give you peace of mind if you’re concerned about your screen use, and doesn’t tint or distort the colours on display.
Belkin screenforce ultraglass
Best: For damage protection
Belkin is a well-respected name in peripherals and tech accessories, and its range of German-engineered screen protectors lives up to the brand’s reputation. The screenforce ultraglass is professionally packaged, and constructed from a very plausible sounding “double-ion exchange strengthened glass”. The screen protector is treated with an antimicrobial agent to kill off any germs hanging out on your phone, though Belkin is careful not to suggest this offers any additional health benefits to the user, so it’s probably best to keep washing your hands.
Belkin screen protectors come with their own reusable alignment tool, which is custom-made to fit your phone and ensures a neat and bubble-free application. Though we didn’t have to use it, the lifetime warranty covers cracks and damage to the screen protector, offering peace of mind in this perilous world of table edges and car keys.
PanzerGlass camslider fashion edition
Best: For style
PanzerGlass is the leading name in screen protection, offering tempered glass to fit a wide range of devices, including smartwatches, laptops, e-bike displays and some of the more obscure phones on the market. The company often collaborates with designers and artists to produce limited-edition phone cases, and recently teamed up with Swarovski to make the fashion edition of their popular camslider screen protector.
A single crystal adorns the top of this otherwise ordinary screen protector, which can be slid left and right to obscure the front-facing camera, adding a bit of unexpected sparkle to your dull little device. It’s perfect for those of us who are paranoid about phone hackers, but also enjoy shiny things. For added dazzle round the back, this screen protector is also available as part of a PopSockets x PanzerGlass kit (£29.99, Popsockets.co.uk).
InvisibleShield glass elite privacy+
Best: For privacy
It’s been a while since we’ve sat next to a stranger on a train, but when we do, the privacy+ screen protector will help keep our important WhatsApp messages, Instagram DMs and Bejeweled high-scores away from prying eyes. A privacy filter prevents light from leaving the screen beyond a certain angle, so that when your phone is viewed from anywhere other than straight-on, the display appears to be blacked out. Privacy screen protectors degrade the quality of the display, so they’re really only worth considering if you regularly view things in public that you wouldn’t want anyone else to see.
We like that all InvisibleShield screen protectors (including the visionguard+ model above) come with everything you need to achieve a neat and dust-free installation: including a microfibre cloth, a disinfecting wipe and plastic alignment tray.
PZOZ Apple watch protector
Best: For Apple Watch
This affordable screen protector snaps neatly over a 44mm Apple Watch, encasing your device behind a tough and scratch-resistant plastic shield. The fit is snug and discreet, allowing unfettered access to the crown and side buttons, and the protective layer doesn’t make the watch feel too bulky.
The material is noticeably different to the touch, and more plasticky than the Apple Watch glass. There’s also a tiny air gap between the screen protector and the screen, so you can’t get it wet without moisture becoming trapped underneath the case. But we like the PZOZ because it’s easily removable once your Apple Watch no longer needs protecting, which is ideal for those who do outdoor sports or work somewhere they might risk scratching their watch.
Eono premium tempered 3-pack
Best: Cheap screen protector
If you’re particularly accident prone, this pack of three tempered glass screen protectors from Amazon’s own-brand Eono brand presents unbeatable value at £7.99. Inside the box you’ll find a reusable mounting tool for aligning the screen protector with your chosen model of iPhone, ensuring you don’t end up with any wonky lines or tiny overhangs that can get snagged on clothing. Unfortunately for non-Apple users, however, Eono doesn’t make screen protectors for Android phones.
The stated scratch resistance is an impressive 9H — the scale only goes up to 10, the hardness of diamond. In the absence of a pocketful of loose diamonds, we found the screen protectors tough enough to deal with coins and keys. Eono screen protectors even come with extras you wouldn’t expect at this price: dust removal stickers, an aligner, a microfibre cloth and a tiny squeegee for working out those air bubbles.
Paperlike for iPad pro 12.9in
Best: For iPad pro
Paperlike is a screen protector designed to make using the Apple Pencil feel more like writing on a physical notebook. Made with artists in mind, Paperlike has a matte finish and a slightly rough, papery feel to it, offering more friction to the tip of the stylus as you drag it along the display. Pen strokes feel less slippery and more precise than on glass, and even sound like they’re being made on paper.
Because it’s engineered primarily to make drawing on the iPad more enjoyable, Paperlike doesn’t perform as well as other iPad screen protectors when it comes to general scratch prevention, and the papery matte effect also slightly alters how colours appear on the screen. But for professional illustrators who prefer the feel of pulped tree under their pens, Paperlike is an essential iPad enhancement.
PanzerGlass for Nintendo switch lite
Best: For Nintendo Switch lite
Defend your console against toddler tantrums and rogue house keys with this ultra-thin screen protector. The Nintendo Switch lite collects scratches as a hobby, so a screen protector is an essential purchase if you plan on ever taking it out of the house, or even looking at it too hard.
Large screen protectors like these are especially prone to catching air bubbles, but we found that, with some patience and a steady hand, the PanzerGlass went on more easily than most. There’s no alignment tool, but the screen protector fits neatly into the frame of the Switch lite, and is thin enough that it doesn’t interfere with touch controls or change the look or glossiness of the display.
The verdict: Best screen protector
For a premium screen protector to match your premium smartphone, we recommend the InvisibleShield glass elite visionguard+. If the kind of work you do puts your phone in constant danger, we recommend the Eono premium tempered screen protectors. They’re cheap but very effective and easy to replace when cracked or damaged.
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