Screen Protection on Smartphones

Most smartphone displays are made of glass. Since we carry phones around a lot, they are susceptible to falls. When glass falls, it breaks and as such some sort of screen protection on smartphones is needed.

Most people alive today over the age of 20 got their first taste of smartphone technology via those old clunky GSM phones and their plastic screens from the early 2000’s. The most famous of them is the rugged and iconic Nokia 3310. Those phones were damn near indestructible then. It would take a damage of epic proportions to stop them. Fast forward twenty years to the 2020’s and phones are now fragile. Very fragile. So fragile that ruggedness is now advertised as a smartphone spec.

Phones today boast tall LCD/OLED screens with impressive pixel densities but with glass screens comes great fragilities. Glass is glass and glass breaks. As a smartphone user, it is important that you learn about the various methods of screen protection on smartphones. It could be the difference between replacing a shattered screen protector worth a few thousand naira (>$10) or an entire display that would cost ten times more.

Screen protection on smartphones refers to the measures taken to protect a screen from falls (drops) and scratches. This is usually done by placing a transparent material over the display to act as a shock absorber. Some phones come from the factory with some sort of protection (e.g. Gorilla glass) installed while others have none.

Regardless of this though, every user should be responsible for the safety of their displays and not be swayed by marketing.

There are several forms of screen protection on smartphones. They are:


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Thin film screen protector

These are made of either very thin plastic or poly ethane material. They are only designed to repel water or prevent scratches. They offer absolutely no protection against falls or other types of damage.


Plastic screen protector

These are made out of plastic and protect displays effectively against falls and other types of trauma damage. Plastic screen protectors are also reusable. They can be bought and installed by the user. The downsides are that they lose clarity over time and become hazy/ugly. They also scratch very easily, retain fingerprints due to a lack of oleophobic coating and could cause input lag.


Tempered glass

Tempered glass is made from normal glass by extreme heating and rapid cooling (thermal method) or by ion exchange of Sodium (Na+) and Potassium (K+) in an ion bath (chemical method). It is four times (4x) stronger than normal glass and protects against scratches, falls and trauma damage. They are bought and installed by the user. Tempered glass contains oleophobic coating that prevents fingerprint smudges. On the flip side though, tempered glass is very fragile at the edges and a impact fall to the edge of the screen is always fatal. Tempered glass sometimes can spontaneously break after a few years due to internal pressure within the glass lattice.

Tempered glass is marketed with H and D. H refers to hardness and scratch resistance while D refers to how curved the screen is. 9H is stronger than 7H while a 7D is more curved than 5D.


Liquid Screen Protector

This is simply liquid glass in the form of Silicon dioxide (SO2) that is applied across the screen surface. It is bought and installed by the user. It offers little to no protection against drops and falls but it can help prevent scratches and smudges. Liquid screen protectors are best used with another form of screen protection.


Sapphire glass

Sapphire glass is not made from Sapphire. It is produced by subjecting aluminum oxide powder to extreme heat and pressure. It is then compressed into thin sheets that are transparent. Sapphire glass is tougher and more durable (9 on the moh scale) than normal glass. It is also highly scratch resistant and can only be scratched by a diamond. Sapphire glass is however very expensive to produce and can still crack or shatter if the trauma force is hard enough.


Ceramic shield

This is made by putting ceramic nano-crystals inside a glass matrix under very high temperatures. The ceramic helps deflect cracks and chips. Corning also strengthens the glass via an ion exchange by making the ions in the crystal matrix bigger. This holds the glass together in the event of damage or scratches.

It is used on iPhones (factory installed) and Apple boasts it is tougher than any smartphone glass available today.


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Dragontrail glass

It is made by Asahi glass company (AGC). Dragontrail is made from an alkali-aluminosilicate sheet of glass engineered for thinness, lightness and damage resistance. It is also highly scratch resistant and has a Vickers hardness rating of 595 to 673.

It is factory installed can be found on the Gionee Marathon, Google Pixel 3a/3a XL, Samsung Galaxy M10, M20 and M30; Sony Xperia Z1, Z2, Z3, Z4 and Z5 etc.


Gorilla Glass

The Gorilla Glass brand is the most popular screen protector brand in the world. They can only be factory installed by the OEM. Gorilla glass is manufactured by Corning(R). It is made from a thin sheet of alkali-aluminosilicate glass and used for screen protection on many phones. It is light, thin and damage resistant. There are 9 generations of Gorilla Glass. Each one is thinner and stronger than the previous generation.

  1. Gorilla glass 1 – Feb, 2008
  2. Gorilla glass 2 – Jan, 2012
  3. Gorilla glass 3 – Jan, 2013
  4. Gorilla glass 4 – Nov, 2014
  5. Gorilla glass 5 – July, 2014
  6. Gorilla glass SR+ – Aug, 2016 (for wearables)
  7. Gorilla glass 6 – July, 2018
  8. Gorilla glass Dx/Dx+ – July, 2018 (for wearables and IOT devices)
  9. Gorilla glass Victus – July, 2020

Gorilla glass has a very high level of hardness and scratch resistance (622 to 701 on the Vickers scale).


Lotus glass

This is a Gorilla glass variant for OLED and next generation LCD displays. There are two variants of the Lotus glass: Lotus and Lotus XT.


Willow glass

This is another Gorilla glass variant that never really took off and was soon abandoned.


Xensation

Xensation screen protectors are made of lithium aluminosilicate. This glass is designed and manufactured by Schott. Xensation is designed to be ultrathin, ultralight, flexible, durable and scratch resistant. There are three variations of Xensation: Xflex (foldable glass), Xup and X3D.


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