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How to Apply a Screen Protector on Your Smartphone or Tablet

Tips and tricks for preventing scratches on your screen

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When you've already spent several hundreds of dollars on a new smartphone or tablet, shelling out even more money for a plastic cover to mask that beautiful display is a hard sell. Screen protectors (a.k.a. screen guards) are great in theory, but most people's experiences with them have been less than favorable: these sticky plastic films are difficult to apply, are magnets for dust, and tend to trap annoying bubbles. Honestly, nothing beats your brand new device's naked display. Despite these drawbacks, if you want to preserve your screen or insure it against everyday wear and tear, a screen protector--or vigilant, careful use of the device when not encased--is a must. Here are some tips on buying and applying screen protectors for your valuable new gadget.

Screen Protectors versus Device Cases

Some smartphone cases and tablet cases offer clear plastic screens you can view or interact through; most cases, however, don't offer any protection for the screen once the case is opened. Although device cases with built-in screen protectors seem like the ideal all-in-one solution, the plastic covers are often so thick they're not very usable, and the gap between the plastic and your device's display is a further hindrance to your touch intentions. A screen protector, because it lays right on top of the tablet or smartphone screen, doesn't shift or, in most cases, add any noticeable bulk. But there are downsides. Universally, screen protectors are a pain to apply.

What to Look for in a Screen Protector

Full Body Front and Back Protection: If you plan on reselling your smartphone or tablet, get a screen protector for both the front and back of your device. It's just as easy to scratch up and ruin the back of a smartphone as it is the back. Model-Specific Screen Protectors: Look for screen protectors made specifically for your device model, since these screen protectors come with the additional side and other customized films that universal protectors don't. Wrapsol is one of the few screen protector manufacturers I found with the custom protectors for my particular cell phone at the time (a Motorola Cliq, highly not recommended). Besides being strong enough to withstand daily abuse, the Wrapsol fit my phone perfectly and added texture to make the phone more comfortahle to use. Multiple Packs: Applying a screen protector isn't the hardest thing you'll do in your life, but it may be one of the most frustrating--because it should be really easy. Everyone thinks the alignment, dust, and bubbles problems won't be an issue because he or she has steady hands or has played Operation a bunch of times as a child, but these things are not designed to go on smoothly. That's why many of them come in 3-packs, so you can reapply. Anti-Glare: If you use your device in sunlight a lot, you may want to check out some so-called anti-glare screen protectors. While I personally haven't tried these kinds of screen guards yet, it makes sense to use a matt screen protector on a glossy (or matte) screen if glare is a concern for you.

Tips for Applying the Screen Protector

  • First and foremost, follow your chosen screen protector's instructions.
  • Find a clean place for your project and give yourself some time for your project (at least 10 minutes of applying and reapplying the film). You don't want to be smoking or cleaning your chalkboard right above your tablet while doing this, obviously. I've previously seen advice about applying the screen protector in the bathroom after taking a bath because the steam in the air would prevent dust from settling between your tablet and the screen protector. In my experience, this is just not so (maybe I need to take steamier showers, however).
  • Clean your tablet or smartphone screen. Most protectors come with a solution or spray and a cleaning cloth to do so. If not, use your own microfiber cloth to get your smartphone or tablet as clean as you can get it.
  • Align the protector at the top or bottom of your device (it doesn't really matter, but your instructions may have a preference), using the features on your device--the camera or home button--as a guide. Make sure both corners are level before pressing down.
  • Use a credit card or the card that came with your package to push bubbles out.
  • If there are giant bubbles, use a piece of tape to pull up one corner of the film and reapply it. Just make sure you don't touch the bottom of the sticky side of the film (otherwise you will be trapping little dust or particles permanently to the screen protector)!
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