If you own any of the later iPhone, Galaxy, or other water-resistant smartphones such as the iPhone XS or Galaxy S10, you’ve probably asked yourself, “Is my phone really waterproof?”
And the answer is, in a word: no.
That’s not to say that any amount of liquid will be harmful to your device – these phones are designed to take a quick dip hopefully without shorting out on you. But before you go duck taping it to your head like a GoPro while you snorkel off the coast of Fiji, there are a few things you should know.
Waterproof smartphones: What you need to know before buying one
What Is Waterproof, Water-Resistant, IP67, IP68 and other jargon when it comes to smartphones? We delve into the details.
When you hear the words “waterproof phone”, you almost hear the angels singing. You imagine diving into the pool to take funny underwater photos with your friends, or going for a run in pouring rain. Unfortunately, reality is quite different. “Waterproof” phones aren’t usually waterproof; instead, they are water resistant. And the difference is significant.
These “waterproof” phones you see do a good job of protecting against water disasters, like we saw in our Moto G water test. But that’s the point of water resistance—it’s a protection measure. It isn’t a radically new way to use the phone, as much as the ads want you to believe that.
What Is Waterproof, Water-Resistant, IP67, IP68 and other jargon?
The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) has issued a set of standards to check a smartphone’s ability to withstand water-related damage. These are called “International Protection” codes, or IP codes, and are usually appended with two digits. So you will see a rating like “IP67” on a phone.
The first of the two digits indicates the phone’s dust-proofing technology, i.e. the phone’s ability to protect itself against solid tiny objects. This digit is usually 5 or 6, and we aren’t really concerned with it here, so let’s just relegate it to “x”.
The second of the two digits indicates the phone’s water-resistance technology i.e. the phone’s ability to protect itself against water, and water only—the test does not account for other liquids.
IPx7 is the most common of these. The “7” rating indicates a phone can be dropped in water deeper than one metre, but as long as it is fished out soon, it will work fine.
IPx8 is more rare. The “8” rating indicates the phone can be dropped in water deeper than three metres, and continue to stay so without any damage to the phone.
However, neither test indicates that the phone should be functional while submerged. The tests have strict parameters that indicate whether the phone, after being dunked in those text conditions, can work well. Both tests are also careful to point out that this applies to fresh water only, does not include non-water liquids, and lets the manufacturer define certain conditions under which this rating can be applied.
A truly “waterproof” phone conjures the image of a handset able to withstand water or other liquid hazards in any condition, so it feels a bit disingenuous to call these “waterproof”. Instead, the preferred non-marketing term is “water-resistant”.
Are these phones really waterproof?
In technical terms, as long as the phone passes IEC’s IPx7 or IPx8 tests, the company is on legally solid footing to use the term “waterproof” in advertising, while mentioning the rating.
In regular usage terms, no, these phones aren’t really waterproof. These aren’t phones you can use indefinitely underwater without incurring some damage. The phones can even shut down while underwater, only to start back up and run smoothly once you have wiped and dried them thoroughly.
Most “waterproof” smartphones also have a lot of fine print. Usually, this includes the following:
Make sure the phone’s flaps and ports are sealed, if a seal has been provided.
Water is the only liquid they will guarantee against. Alcohol, juices, and other liquid spills are usually protected against as long as you rinse with fresh (or filtered) water and wipe the phone quickly. Still that’s at your risk.
The water is also only fresh water. You can’t go running into the inviting waves at a beach in Goa; the saltwater will not be kind to your phone.
The phone isn’t protected from water that is coming at a rapid force, like a waterfall, ocean waves, jet sprays, and so on. The touchscreen won’t work well when wet, and not at all when underwater.
Make sure you dry the phone before using it. While it will work, features like the speakers will always get affected.
So what is the waterproofing good for?
Like we said above, waterproofing is essentially a protection measure, not a feature to use your phone in unique ways. It’s meant to say, “Hey, you paid good money for this device, so in case it rains or you accidentally spill your coffee on it, we don’t want you to see it die. Dry it quickly and it will work fine.”
As our Moto G tests indicate, there are a few things you do get out of “waterproofing”. We used the phone to listen to music while in the shower, answer a few calls in the rain, and so on. But that’s about it. Don’t push your luck and go snorkelling with waterproof phones, even if the TV ads indicate otherwise.