Waterproof phones – fact or fiction (smartphone guide update)
Several smartphone makers advertise waterproof phones, but what does that really mean? Well, there are quite a few loopholes in Ingress Protection IP67 and IP68 ratings (or, lately, IP69K), so let’s explain so you get a phone that meets your needs.
First, an IP 67 or 68 rating does not mean it is waterproof. It means water resistant under very specific circumstances.
What does an IP67 or IP68 mean?
The Ingress Protection (IP) rating is a standard from the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC 60529).
The first digit, 6, means no dust ingress; complete protection against contact (dust-tight). A vacuum must be applied – test duration of up to 8 hours based on airflow.
The second digit is water-resistance
- IP67, immersion in water up to 1 meter for 30 minutes.
- IP68 must be a clearly defined depth/time exceeding 1 meter for 30 minutes
- IP69K is IP68 plus protection against close-range, high-pressure, high-temperature spray downs.
The Catch-22 is that water is defined as clean, still (not flowing), fresh – not muddy, salt, icy, contaminated, chlorinated or any other liquid.
The ACCC is all over waterproof claims
The ACCC fined Samsung A$14m for false and misleading statements relating to the water resistance of the S7, S7 Edge, A5 (2017), A7 (2017), S8, S8 Plus and Note 8 Samsung Galaxy phones. There were more than 3.1 million of these sold in Australia. Simply put, it represented that you could use these waterproof phones anywhere.
Since then, it and other makers use the term water-resistant instead of waterproof and have fine print like, “*Based on test conditions for submersion in up to 1.5 metres of freshwater for up to 30 minutes. Please refer to the user manual for care instructions and limitations”.
Those conditions typically include
Test conditions: freshwater, 1.5 m, 30 minutes, 15-35 °C, 86-106 kPa
You must follow the guidelines below to maintain the water and dust resistance of your
- Do not immerse the device in water deeper than 1.5 m for more than 30 minutes.
- Do not expose the device to unclean water or other liquids, such as salty water,
swimming pool water, soapy water, oil, perfume, sunscreen, hand cleaner, chemical
products such as cosmetics or liquids that include alcohol.
- Do not expose the device to water moving with force.
- Do not use the device in places where the temperature is higher than the normal range or there is a lot of humidity, such as in a sauna.
- Do not drop the device or subject it to a heavy impact
The reality is that most IP67 and IP68 phones can survive a toilet incident, but if you exceed the limit by one centimetre or one minute, you are cactus.
Samsung is not alone – Apple copped a €10 million fine in Italy because, despite advertising IP68, water damage was not covered by warranty.
Most other phones have IP52 or IP54 ratings – a joke, really.
MIL-STD-810G or H may be closer to waterproof
MIL-STD-810G or H is a US Military standard. ‘G’ (2008), and ‘H’ (2019). The term can be much abused as there is a wide range of tests, and a claim may be on a subset of more than 30 tests. A MIL-STD-810H device should be more waterproof as long as the manufacturer states it survives:
- 504.2 Contamination by Fluids
- 512.5 Immersion
- 521.4 Icing/Freezing Rain
- 524.1 Freeze / Thaw
Phones with IP67 or IP68 ratings
The list is pretty small
- IP67: most iPhones from 7-11
- IP68 – 6m/30m iPhone 12 and 13
Apple advises that swimming or bathing, exposing it to high-pressure jets, and sauna/steam are exclusions. The warranty does not cover water damage.
Samsung (see disclaimer under Samsung fine print above)
- Fold 3, 4 or 5 (IPX8)
- Flip3, 4 or 5 (IPX8)
- S23/+/Ultra (or S22/21 Ultra)
- 20/S21 FE
- XCover 5/6/Pro
- Note 20
The warranty does not cover water damage.
Designed to comply with water protection rating when each device leaves the factory, but the device is not waterproof. The accessories are not water resistant. Water resistance is not a permanent condition and diminishes or is lost over time due to normal wear and tear, device repair, disassembly or damage. Dropping your device may result in loss of water resistance. Liquid damage voids the warranty. See each phone’s tech specs.
Splash, water and dust resistance may decrease over time as a result of normal wear. The IP68 rating means that the product has passed tests under the following conditions: (1) immersed in still, fresh water with a depth of 1.5 meters; (2) in water for 30 minutes; (3) in water where there is no more than 5°C difference between the water and product temperatures. All these tests were conducted in a lab environment. Do not charge a wet phone. Do not submerge the mobile phone completely underwater or expose it to seawater, chlorinated water or liquids such as drinks. The warranty does not cover Liquid damage.
This appears to be end-of-life. It claims an IP68 rating but provides no details or disclaimers.
Cat phones may be the only actual waterproof phones in Australia. The casing is sealed with a pressure-sensitive adhesive – significantly tougher and more durable than glues used in mass-market smartphones – that secures all openings against liquid or solid ingress.
A double-layered acoustic mesh protects the speaker and microphone ports to keep out dust and harmful particles. The aperture is offset to prevent a foreign object’s inadvertently puncturing the mesh. These are IP68 (1.5M/30min), IP69 (High-pressure hose) and MIL-STD-810H drop protection to 1.8m.
- Cat S62 Pro
- Cat S42 H+ Cat S42 H+ 4G – rugged, rubberised, and tradie-proof
- Cat B40 Cat B40 – a dumbphone with maximum attitude
Motorola ThinkPhone (Update)
This is a flagship-class phone with IP68/69K and MIL-STD-810H. Motorola ThinkPhone – for thinking people.
Nokia XR21 (Update)
We are currently reviewing this. It has IP68/69K/MIL-STD-8109H. Link to come.
CyberShack’s view – it is 2022 – why do we not have truly waterproof phones?
Apart from Cat, Motorola and Nokia, all the other phones are water-resistant, and even that definition has holes large enough to drive a truck through!
All you can do is buy a screen protector and a decent drop-resistant case. If you are around water, store the phone in a double Zip-lock plastic bag with a few ping pong balls or a foam block, as phones don’t float!