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Tempered Glass vs Plastic Film: Which iPad screen protector is better?

iPads have such large, gorgeous displays, so it’s important to keep them looking their best with a screen protector. But, with both plastic film protectors and tempered glass protectors available for Apple’s big-screen tablet collection, which is best?

It’s not as simple a question as you might assume; while tempered glass certainly offers better overall protection for your iPad, film protectors can also serve a purpose for the right person, being much thinner, lightweight and cheaper than the premium alternative.

With that said, here are the key differences between tempered glass and plastic film protectors, and our verdict on which is better to protect your iPad screen.  

Plastic film protectors are near-invisible, but they’re not perfect

The biggest benefit to plastic film screen protectors is that they’re near-invisible once applied to a screen. They’re incredibly thin, offer 100% clarity and don’t add any real heft to your device while still protecting it from light damage. 

In fact, many 2024 smartphones come with one pre-applied as they cause such little impact on the overall screen experience – though the same can’t be said about the iPad, sadly. Still, that means you’re free to apply a plastic film screen protector on your iPad’s display without worry that it’ll have any negative effect on the look or feel of the screen. 

The biggest benefit to plastic film protectors is the cost; given that they’re just thin sheets of transparent plastic, it shouldn’t come as much surprise that they’re pretty cheap. 

You can pick up plastic screen protectors for the 10th-gen iPad for just £3.95 at Amazon at the time of writing, and alternatives for other iPads are just as affordable. This means that they’re not only an inexpensive initial investment that’ll help protect your iPad’s screen, but they’re cheap enough to replace once they get a little scratched. 

However, the thin, flexible nature of plastic film screen protectors means they only offer limited protection. A plastic film protector can protect your precious iPad from marks, light scratches and other cosmetic damage, but that’s about it; any hard impacts to the screen that’d crack a non-protected screen will cause similar damage with a plastic protector applied. 

That’s where tempered glass screen protectors come into play.

TR on iPad 10th gen
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

Tempered glass screen protectors are much more durable

Tempered glass screen protectors are a more premium alternative to plastic film protectors that offer way better protection, both from cosmetic damage and hard impacts to the screen. 

That’s possible because the glass used has been tempered to improve its durability. That means it’s essentially highly scratch-resistant, with a hardness rating of 9H which makes it almost as hard as diamond. That means that tempered glass protectors can confidently resist scratches from even sharp objects like keys, and that should translate to a largely mark-free iPad experience.

Tempered glass protectors don’t just protect the screen from incoming damage either; they can also help protect the screen if you drop your iPad. This is because tempered glass has excellent shatter resistance, helping to absorb the impact from the drop and prevent the screen from taking the brunt of the damage. 

It’s not going to protect it from all drops – if the corner of the iPad’s frame gets dented into the display from a drop, that’ll cause internal screen damage – but it’s certainly added peace of mind, especially when combined with a durable case. 

The use of glass also means that tempered screen protectors are very clear, not impacting the clarity of your iPad’s screen, while many also come with an oleophobic coating to help reduce the amount of fingerprints and smudges the protector picks up. 

You’ve also got other options when it comes to tempered screen protectors, like privacy glass that hides your screen activity from those around you, and textured alternatives that feel nicer to the touch, which further improve your tablet experience. 

Of course, with all these benefits comes increased cost, especially when it comes to larger tempered glass screen protectors for iPads – though they’re still relatively cheap in the grand scheme of things. These can cost upwards of £15 depending on the manufacturer you opt for, but it’s generally worth paying a little more for better quality. 

Tempered glass protectors are also quite thick, meaning they’ll be noticeable once applied to your iPad, and this could also cause potential compatibility issues with protective iPad cases, some of which reach right to the edge of the screen. 

It’s not necessarily a dealbreaker with the improved screen protection on offer, but it’s worth bearing in mind if you use a case or keyboard cover frequently. 

Which type of iPad screen protector is best?

Both plastic and tempered glass screen protectors have their merits, and the decision of which is best will depend entirely on your personal needs. 

If you just want a cheap screen protector to protect your iPad from cosmetic damage, or you already use a case and just want extra peace of mind, a plastic screen protector will likely fulfil your needs. It may not offer the best protection, but it’s slim, affordable and offers great screen clarity.

If, however, you want the best protection for your iPad screen, tempered glass is certainly the way to go. It’s a more expensive investment and they’re much thicker than plastic alternatives, but with 9H hardness and shatter resistance, it’ll not only stave off scratches and other marks but possibly even protect your screen from fall damage. 

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