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Monday, July 23, 2012

Matte Screen Protector

As much as I love my iPad, one of the few things I really dislike about it has always been the glossy screen. It looks great but it’s highly susceptible to both finger prints and glare. It was a poor choice for usability, and here’s why.

Touch screen devices are meant to be touched with fingers. Bodies naturally produce oils, so the natural state of your finger is to be slightly oily. Obviously this means that the screen is going to be exposed to lots of oils through normal use. This isn’t so much an issue on devices you put in your pocket like the iPhone or iPod because typically these devices are put into a pocket between uses. The device moving around in your pocket will naturally buff off any oily residue on the screen. This isn’t the case with the larger screened devices though.

The iPad is too big for a pocket, and it’s designed to be used for longer sustained times. So what can be done about the oils that get on the screen for the iPad? Well, there’s the Smart Cover, which buffs some of the oil off of most of the screen and leaves giant lines running down other parts of it.

Another option is to just keep a cleaning rag with you where ever you go. I wear glasses so I tend to have one handy with me anyway. This approach works pretty well. Aside from the fact that you look like a maniac trying to clean your device before using it.

Lastly, you could just learn to get used to it and ignore the prints all over your screen. This appeals to my inner nihilist. It certainly requires less effort than the other options, but if you have any respect for your gadgets you’ll likely steer clear of this one.

The other design concern is that the iPad is designed to be used laying more or less flat on a surface. Guess what’s usually directly above most surfaces that you would put your iPad on? Sources of glare: overhead lights, tall lamps, the sun, etc.

Having such a large reflective surface and pointing it towards source of glare results in poor usability.

Glossy screens do look much more vibrant though. They tend to produce an image that’s much more saturated, than glossy screens. This in turn makes people believe that they’re getting a better product. I know for the longest time I wanted a laptop with a glossy screen. And I do love the glossy screen on my MacBook Air. But a laptop has a totally different usage pattern from iPads.

So, for these reasons I decided to try out a matte iPad screen protector. Now, I’m not the kind of person that likes to put screen protectors on his devices. For the most part I find that screen protectors make the device less usable, come off easily[1], wreak havoc on accessories[2], and in general tend to be a kind of snake oil. I suppose they do protect the screen, but how often do you put items that are likely to scratch your devices right next to them? My guess is: if you care about your device, never. So, this is a screen protector only insofar as its a providing a matte finish on the screen.

In the few days that I’ve had it on I’ve really enjoyed it. Glare is totally gone. Fingerprints and smudges show up. I haven’t tried it outside, but since I never really used the iPad outside in the first place I don’t see it as a big use case for me. Bu the really interesting thing is that it makes the iPad feel new again. I don’t know why this is. I could be just that it looks so much different that it feels new and exciting, or it could be that this is what I always wanted. Time will tell.

If you’ve had issues with glare and oils on your iPad I highly recommend trying out a matte screen protector. I bought a cheap one at Walmart for $12, so it’s not exactly expensive to try it out. Putting the screen protector on can be pretty tricky. I takes lots of time and patience to get it right. Even after an hour or so of applying and re-applying the film I have a few bubbles around the bezel. I’m living with these for the time being. If I find that the matte screen protector is something I want to stick with longer term I’ll fiddle around with it some more.

For those of you looking at applying a screen protector, here are a few tips:

  • Wash your hands really well before working with the film. This will remove dust and excess oil from your hands during applicaton?
  • Clean the screen thoroughly using a screen cleaner and lint-free cloth.
  • Apply the film in an area that has little or no dust in the air. Applying the film in the bathroom after running a hot shower for a few minutes will cause dust in the air to become heavy and fall.
  • Use a pencil with some scotch tape, sticky side out, on it as a “dabber” to remove dust and hair from the screen and film that works its way in during application.
  • Use a credit card to push air bubbles to the sides.
  • Take the time to line up the cut outs before laying down the entire film.
  • Apply the film slowly, no need to rush.
  • Don’t feel as though you need to buy another screen protector if you get lots of dust underneath. Potentially remove the dust particles using the dabber. You only need to replace the film if it gets creased or loses its stickiness.

  1. In the past, I’ve found that screen protectors tend to come off fairly easily if you expose them to an environment that’s constantly rubbing the edges of the protector, pockets for example. If you put a screen protector on, then cover the edges of the screen protector with a case you won’t run into this issue. But you’ll have an abomination of a device.  ↩

  2. Try putting a Glif on an iPhone that has a screen protector on it to see what I mean. The screen protector needs to come off for the Glif to fit.  ↩