Waterproof phones

How waterproof are your gadgets?

Do you bring your smartphone, tablet, activity tracker or smartwatch to shower, or even the pool? Have you used it under the rain? Be careful. Water resistance doesn’t mean the same thing for all devices. Losing a gadget to water damage is a pretty awful feeling. 

To know how resistant or waterproof your gadget is, it’s best to understand the numbers represented in its waterproof IP rating.

Understanding the jargon

IP Rating – All about dirt and water

The Ingress Protection Rating (or International Protection Rating) or IP rating is a standard drawn up by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) for manufacturers to use to define the levels of sealing effectiveness of electrical enclosures against intrusion from foreign bodies such as dirt and water. The rating ranges from 0-6. 
 
The rating is identified using the letters ‘I’ and ‘P’ followed by 2 digits (e.g. IP67, IP68). The first digit stands for the degree of protection against solid objects (e.g. dust). The second number represents the degree of protection against the entry of water or moisture. The rating ranges from 0-8.
 
When you come across an IP rating with an “X” in place of the first or second number, that means that device hasn’t been tested to protect against the entry of solid objects (the first number) or moisture (the second number). For example, a device with the rating IPX7 is protected from accidental submersion in 1m (about 3.3 feet) of water for up to 30 minutes, but it has not been tested against the entry of dust.
 
To get a better grasp of the rating system, check out the tables below which show what each code means in terms of solid and moisture protection:
 

SOLID PROTECTION

IP Code

Protection

Object Size

0

No Protection

N/A

1

Protection from contact with any large surface of the body, such as the back of a hand, but no protection against deliberate contact with a body part, such as a finger

Less than 50mm

2

Protection from fingers or similar objects

Less than 12.5mm

3

Protection from tools, thick wires or similar objects

Less than 2.5 mm

4

Protection from most wires, screws or similar objects

Less than 1mm

5

Partial protection from contact with harmful dust

N/A

6

Protection from contact with harmful dust

N/A

 

MOISTURE PROTECTION

IP Code

Protection

Test Duration

Usage

0

No protection

N/A

N/A

1

Protection against vertically dripping water

10 mins

Light Rain

2

Protection against vertically dripping water when device is tilted at an angle up to 15 degrees

10 mins

Light Rain

3

Protection against direct sprays of water when device is tilted at an angle up to 60 degrees

5 mins

Rain and spraying

4

Protection from sprays and splashing of water in all directions

5 mins

Rain, spraying and splashing

5

Protection from low-pressure water projected from a nozzle with a 6.3mm diameter opening in any direction

3 minutes from a distance of 3 meters

Rain, splashing and direct contact with most kitchen/bathroom faucets

6

Protection from water projected in powerful jets from a nozzle with a 12.5mm diameter opening in any direction

3 minutes from a distance of 3 meters

Rain, splashing, direct contact with kitchen/bathroom faucets, outdoor use in rough sea conditions

7

Protected from immersion in water with a depth of up to 1 meter (or 3.2ft) for up to 30 mins

30 mins

Rain, splashing and accidental submersion

8

Protected from immersion in water with a depth of more than 1 meter (manufacturer must specify exact depth)

Varies

Rain, splashing and accidental submersion

Following the table, if you’re currently using an iPhone 7 which is certified by Apple with an IP67 rating, your device is fully protected from dust (6) and can also withstand being submerged in 1m (about 3.2 feet) of static water for up to 30 mins (7). Simple? Not really. Before you take your phone into the shower or the pool, take note that devices aren’t required to pass every test leading up to the highest rating they achieve. Sometimes a smartphone rated with IP67 may not have been tested against dust protection levels 1 through 5, or water protection levels 1 through 6. Needless to say, it’s always best to stay on the safe side. 

Unless specified by the manufacturer (e.g. the device can be submerged in 1.5m (4.92ft) of fresh water for up to 30 mins), don’t try it especially if you read the manufacturer’s disclaimer saying, “Liquid damage isn’t covered under the phone’s standard warranty.”

Water pressure – Your gadget under water pressure 

No watch is truly waterproof. Many have fallen prey to this false claim. A watch may be able to withstand a certain degree of water exposure, but at a certain water pressure, it will begin to leak. 
 
Watchmakers use the ISO standards to rate water resistance in watches. However, most smartwatches and activity trackers don’t adhere to these standards and therefore aren’t ISO-certified. Instead they follow the IP code, although some companies, such as Garmin, Pebble and Polar, independently test their products to determine how much pressure they can withstand.
 
Pressure tests are measured in ATMs, which stands for atmospheres, and then converted to water depth to make the measurements easier to understand. Each ATM is equivalent to 10 meters or about 33 feet of static water pressure. Check the table below outlining the basic water-resistance levels used for smartwatches and the like:
 

Water Ratings

Protection

Usage

1 ATM

Withstands pressures equivalent to a depth of 10 meters

Improved resistance to rain and splashes. No showering or swimming.

3 ATM

Withstands pressures equivalent to a depth of 30 meters

Rain, splashing, accidental submersion and showering. No swimming.

5 ATM

Withstands pressures equivalent to a depth of 50 meters

Rain, splashing, accidental submersion, showering, surface swimming, shallow snorkeling

10 ATM

Withstands pressures equivalent to a depth of 100 meters

Rain, splashing, accidental submersion, showering, swimming and snorkeling. No deep water scuba diving or high-speed water sports.

20 ATM

Withstands pressures equivalent to a depth of 200 meters

Rain, splashing, accidental submersion, showering, swimming, snorkeling, surface diving and water sports. No deep water diving.

 

Unfortunately, because there is no universal testing method, real-world usage is different for every device. Depth during testing is measured in static pressure. Outside you can’t control water pressure. It can change quickly, such as when you move your arm to begin swimming. Whilst you may only be in 10 feet of water, the pressure created from your arm movement could be equal to that of a couple of ATMs. Your best option is still to check the device’s website and see what the manufacturer recommends before taking a smartwatch or fitness tracker in the shower or the pool.

Having discussed all of these, it’s still best to err on the side of caution. Here are important reminders you may want to keep in mind:

  • Most resistance testing is performed in fresh water. Devices aren’t guaranteed to hold up to salt water, unless specifically stated from the manufacturer.
  • Whilst showering with IP-rated devices isn’t recommended, the device won’t break if you forget to take it off. The device could begin to leak and become damaged with continued exposure however, and water damage may not be covered under the warranty.
  • Unless otherwise specified, most tests are carried out at temperatures between 15 and 35 degrees Celsius. (60 to 95 Fahrenheit). Higher temperatures in places like saunas, steam rooms and hot tubs could damage the device.
  • Leather watchbands are not water-resistant.
  • Make sure all flaps (such as those for charging ports) are closed before submerging your device.
  • Unless otherwise stated by the manufacturer, you should avoid pressing buttons on the device while it is underwater. This could allow water to enter into the casing and damage the device.
  • Make sure the device is completely dry before charging it.
  • Always refer to the manufacturer’s website before taking a phone, smartwatch or fitness tracker in the shower or the pool.

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