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Screen protectors are supposed to protect your devices from nicks and scratches, as well as the stress of impacts which might otherwise lead to cracks or shattering. The fundamental principle behind their operation is that screen-protector glass or plastic "gives easier", in a sense, than the glass on, say, a phone or smartwatch, acting analogously to the "crumple zone" in a car.

It's well-known how screen protectors work (and, indeed, there are several such questions on SE), and its certainly arguable that they must, in fact, provide some protection, but how effective are they, actually?


We reduce the problem to the following:

Consider a phone and smartwatch, with "standard" chemically-strengthened glass or equivalent (Gorilla Glass, e.g.), at something like 0.1-0.3mm thick (I wasn't able to find much data on this, surprisingly)

Obviously, screen protectors aid in preventing nicks and scratches (anything between the screen and the outside world is bound to). So, instead, we focus on the protection they offer from cracking/shattering. Most screen protectors are 0.1-0.3mm thick, and are made of tempered glass or plastic.


I've tried running the numbers, however this involves some science I'm entirely unfamiliar with. I can think of a few complications, as well. Protection certainly depends upon the angle at which impact occurs. Similarly, many phones and smartwatches have curved edges (we can assume that the screen protector covers these), which may be weak-points. Also, phones require cut-outs for speakers, microphones, etc.

Note: originally posted on Physics SE. I received some answers regarding how screen protectors work, but bothing on their effectiveness. For those questions, I was directed here.

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I don't think of a screen protector as a mono layer, but a lamination. Deformable (softer) materials (possibly above and also) below the rigid layer (this layer also generally provides adhesion). That way point loads become distributed (potentially to the protector and also) to the device.

Example: a thin clear sticky low molecular weight polymer (1), an adhesive to stick it to the sacrificial glass, and the sacrificial glass.

(1) Think of a clear plastic toy you place against a window and gravity causes it to "crawl" down the window.

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Fitted 3 screen protectors to my phone - replaced 2 and no damage to screen, therefore two things are evident:

  1. dropped phone and damaged two protector screens

  2. no guarantee that dropping phone in those situations would have broken the original screen

My conclusion is that fitting the screens may reduce the risk of breaking the original screen.

However, when dropped will the phone always fall screen first? Much like the question about will the bread land butter side down? Answer is that is more likely as the cost of the carpet increases...

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  • $\begingroup$ This feels very anecdotal, and not a solid engineering answer... $\endgroup$ – Jonathan R Swift Dec 27 '20 at 8:49
  • $\begingroup$ @JonathanRSwift I will let you purchase a phone and do the testing. It was, and is, my personal phone so I don't intend to test to breakage but you are more than welcome. $\endgroup$ – Solar Mike Dec 27 '20 at 8:59

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