Saturday, December 10, 2011

ZAGG invisibleSHIELD Review for iPhone 4s

First and foremost... let me say that i never thought that I would end up being an iPhone user. I think the design is silly... sure the front of your device needs to be glass, but making the back of the device glass as well is basically just asking for trouble. That said... despite myself, I find that I am now one of the legion of Apple owners, and for the most part, I use my phone unprotected. Go figure, people are never as consistent as they say they are.

I applied ZAGG's invisibleShield on day one, though, mostly because it was a freebie that came with the phone. And for the most part, I am pretty happy with it. I just want to preface this review by saying that I think that the list retail price for the product is absurd and makes it a poor value, but that if you can get it for cheaper like I did, then it's a good buy. Considering the non-subsidized price for a smartphone, it makes sense to protect it from scratches, as there's still a lot of residual value left for the secondary market after you're done with it in a couple of years.

This seems to be one of those love-it or hate-it products. The material is some sort of viscoelastic polymer... it gives your device a faintly squishy gel-like texture that gives it a tacky texture...grippy, but somewhat inconvenient if you've got tight jean pockets or you are taking it in and out of a protective case. The upshot of this stuff is that it's self-healing.. if you dent it with your fingernail, the material will eventually flow back into place. Back in the day, I had a Toshiba e310 Pocket PC.... those things had 3.5 inches screens as well, but screen protectors were made out of vinyl. They would eventually get scratched over from the stylus that you would have to replace them on a regular basis. Not so with invisibleShield... it might not not as pristine as a naked phone, but it won't show scratches either. 

As you can see in the picture above, if you hold it at an oblique angle, the coating gives the phone something of an orange peel texture, but you don't actually notice this in real life use when you are looking at the phone dead-on. Besides from the obvious scratch protection, a screen protector is a good idea if you are concerned about preserving the oliophobic coating on the iPhone's screen... the anti-smudge will wear away eventually, but how important this is to you will vary. From my experience, the covering does not impede the touchscreen's ability to register inputs, nor should it. The capacitance sensor-bed is operating through a layer of glass, so a little extra plastic goo is not going to impede it's operation.

However, I think the number one complaint about this product is it's durability... and to be honest, I can totally see why. How well it remains attached to your phone depends entirely on how well you apply the product, and to do so, you have to have plenty of patience. I did mine at a leisurely pace of 30min, just to give you an idea of what is involved. The number one rule to remember is cleanliness. Your hands must be completely clean and free of any oil or fatty substance... oil or otherwise. Wash your finger tips in soapy water in between applications and it will go along way to making for a good installation. The second rule is to follow the instructions...precisely. You wet the material, apply and then squeegee. One thing that the instructions don't tell to do is to not stretch or tug the material while you apply it... it will distort and misalign. 
The area around the camera lens is the weakest part of the application. I suggest that when you apply the back film, lay down the corner nearest the camera first so that you don't have any mis-aligned edges on this part of the phone. If you miss the market slightly elsewhere, the adhesive is enoguh to keep the edge stuck to the phone.  I started at the other corner and it didn't quite line-up perfectly by the time I got to the camera, which means that dust has gotten in under the edges. This is the key to longevity, there's a little bit of tolerance if you don't lay down the edges of the material precisely, but those slight over lapping edges are prone to gather dust and unpeeling.

Another trick is to have paper towels on hand. When squeegeeing out the water from underneath the film, dab at the edges to soak up the water (as far as I can tell, the stuff in the application bottle is merely de-ionized water). The capillary action of the paper towel will help draw water out, speeding up the application process. And when you squeegee, be firm but not too firm... to much force and the film will slide off its mark.

Unfortunately I don't have time to do a second shot of what that corner of my phone looks like about two weeks after. It looks better now.


Remember, this is a 'self-healing' material. I've since discovered that if you let the phone rest on a flat surface, like a wood  table, the protective film flattens out a little. However, just as a word of warning, be carefully setting the device down on glass, porcelain, stone or certain plexiglasses... the  film has a way of adhering to those materials like a suction cup. It's not the end of the world, but it is a bit inconvenient to have to pry your phone loose, which will shorten the life of the adhesive.

There are a lot of competing products out there, but this is the one I have so far. So the take home message is that it's a good product if

  • You don't pay full price
  • You are patient and careful in applying the product
  • You don't put your phone in tight quarters where the friction and abrasion will slowly tug the material off.

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