While testing the TechRestore-modified MacBook Pro, I thought it’d be interesting to compare that machine’s matte screen with a stock (glossy-screen) MacBook Pro equipped with an anti-glare film. While there are many such films in development, I could find only one shipping right now: Power Support’s $35 MacBook Pro Anti-Glare Film. (Power Support also makes the film in a 13-inch version, for the same $35 price, to fit the new unibody MacBooks.)
I’ve used a few of Power Support’s iPhone cases that include film screen protectors, and they generally work quite well: They’re easy to apply, and I generally end up without obnoxious air bubbles. However, applying such a film to a 3.5-inch screen is a much simpler process than putting one on a 15-inch screen, so I was anxious to see how well the Power Support film worked on the MacBook Pro. If you’ve ever applied a screen film to an iPhone or iPod, the Power Support film for the MacBook Pro looks like a supersized version. The film itself comes adhered to a protective sheet of plastic, attached by the same static-cling force that will eventually hold it to the MacBook Pro’s screen.
(Side note: One of the challenges in selling an anti-glare film for the MacBook Pro is shipping your product. The film can’t be bent, rolled up, or otherwise reduced in size for shipping. As a result, the Power Support film arrived in a large—yet light—FedEx box; inside was a large Power Support envelope along with some padding to keep the envelope from bending; inside the envelope was the actual film.)
Your success with a film overlay hinges almost entirely on the application; more specifically, as you’ll see, on the first application. To apply the Power Support film, you start by cleaning the screen using a lint-free cloth and LCD cleaner, lightly dampening the cloth with the cleaner. Power Support suggests working in a dust-free area, which is good advice, if difficult to follow.
Once the MacBook Pro’s screen is clean, you peel back the top portion of the plastic backing, being very careful not to touch the back side of the film itself. There’s a hole in the top of the film for the iSight camera; using that as a guide, you position the film at the top of the screen, and then slowly and carefully peel away the backing paper. If you’re lucky and/or good, the film drops onto the screen, and sticks perfectly, free of air bubbles or other visual problems.
I was apparently neither lucky nor good, for there were a few—but only a few—bubbles trapped under the film. In my case, they were almost all near the top left of the screen, as seen in the photo at right. However, with two exceptions, I was able to use a soft cloth to press against the bubbles to move them out to a screen edge, where they vanished. Removing air bubbles in this manner is fairly easy, and not too time consuming if there aren’t many to deal with.
The exceptions were the two larger bubbles in the viewable area of the screen. These weren’t actually air bubbles, but rather bubbles created by bits of dust trapped between the film and the screen. Unfortunately, removing trapped particles is much more complicated than air bubbles.
Power Support includes instructions for removing bubbles caused by dust particles, so after I finished the comparisons below, I attempted to follow their advice to get a bubble-free application: I removed the film from the screen and then used a piece of tape to gently dab the dust particles off the film. While doing this, I noticed a couple other minor specks, so I dabbed them up as well.
Then it was time to reapply the film. Given my prior experience with iPhone films, I was apprehensive about this step—I’ve almost always had worse bubbling after reapplication than I did after the initial application. And sure enough, when I placed the film on the screen the second time, the result was really bad. I was able to remove many of the air bubbles, but quite a few new dust bubbles remained.
What caused the problems with the second application? I think (but this is just supposition) it’s related to how these screen films stick to the screens. They basically use a strong static charge that holds them in place. This works really well, but when the film comes off the screen, it seems the film is even more statically charged, and any dust in the area seems to be instantly attracted to the film. So if you’re going to remove and reapply one of these films, you really do have to find a completely dust-free environment if you want the best chance for success.
The photos and comparisons below were all based on my initial application of the film.
With the anti-glare film in place, the changes to the MacBook Pro’s reflectivity were obvious. No longer did every light in the room serve to turn the screen into a mirror; instead, the effect was much closer to that of the matte display in my own (pre-unibody) MacBook Pro (or in the TechRestore-modified MacBook Pro). While there was certainly some reflectivity, it was nowhere near as bad as it used to be.
To demonstrate the difference between the treated and untreated MacBook Pro, I took a picture of a light reflecting off the screen; in the image at right, the left-hand side is the untreated screen; the right-hand side is the MacBook Pro with the Power Support film. As you can see, the treated screen diffuses the bright light quite a bit compared to the stock machine.
Colors on the film-equipped screen were definitely muted compared to the non-treated one, but they were still a bit richer-looking than those on my previous-generation matte-screened machine—and more than bright enough for my (non-professional) eyes.
In short, I was quite happy with the performance of Power Support’s anti-glare film. In theory, it should allow a glossy display to provide much of the benefit of a matte screen. In practice, the film delivered on that promise, except for the issues with dust-related bubbles. Unfortunately, dust bubbles are difficult to remove and definitely impact the usability of your screen.
Glossy vs. film overlay vs. true matte screen
If you’re not a fan of glossy screens, but you’re considering purchasing a new 15-inch unibody MacBook Pro, you now have three screen options: use the computer stock and put up with the glare, apply an anti-glare film such as the Power Support model, or send the machine to TechRestore for a matte-screen conversion.
How do these options compare? Each has its pros and cons. Using the machine stock is the cheapest and easiest thing to do, but some of us find that impossible to do. The Power Support film works quite well, assuming you can apply it in a bubble-free manner. The TechRestore option is the most expensive, may cause some cosmetic damage to your machine, and may void your warranty…but provides you with a true matte screen.
To see how these three options look in the worst possible conditions, I set each laptop up across from a window on a sunny day and snapped some pictures. The results are seen at right (click for a much larger version). The top image is, of course, the stock MacBook Pro, doing its best impression of a mirror. Notice that there’s a reflection of yours truly clearly visible in the screen’s glass, and that the glare from the sun in the window has totally blown out part of the menu.
Next up—a bit later in the day, as I had to apply the film—is the same MacBook Pro with the Power Support Anti-Glare Film in place. The colors are muted compared to the stock screen, but the entire screen is visible, and the glare (now lower down on the display) is more diffused.
Finally, there’s the TechRestore matte screen. If you’re a long-time matte screen user, you know that direct sunlight is the one of the worst environments for a matte screen, and you can see some evidence of that here. The glare is lessened even more so than with the Power Support film, but the whole screen looks a bit washed out.
Which of these screen types you prefer—especially in this particular worst-case scenario—is really a matter of personal preference. I personally think the Power Support film did the best job, with the matte screen close behind. But then again, my personal bias is against reflections at all cost.
Which solution would I recommend to someone who really wants to remove the gloss from their new MacBook Pro? I would probably recommend they purchase two Power Support films, with the understanding that they’ll probably not get it completely right the first time. I have confidence that, had I had a second film available, I could have applied it without any dust bubbles—I would have learned from what happened the first time. This will cost $70, of course, but that’s still a third of what you’d pay for the TechRestore conversion.
Most users, assuming they can apply the film without bubble issues, will find that the film strikes a good balance between performance and expense. In fact, if there was a guarantee of a bubble- and dust-free installation, I would have rated the Power Support film even higher. As it stands now, though, if you don’t get the film applied just right the first time, there’s a chance you’ll wind up with a far-from-perfect solution.
That said, I’m still a big fan of the TechRestore conversion, if budget and peace-of-mind allow, because the finished result is not only glare-free, but also weighs less than the stock machine. Both solutions, though, are (to me, at least) miles ahead of staring at reflections of every light and object in the background of your work area.
Of course, the best solution would be for Apple to—as it did for nearly the last 20 years of Mac laptops—offer a true matte-screen (as an option, in this case) for those users who simply cannot put up with glossy displays.