Imagine: you see an advertisement in which a motocross rider has an action camera on his helmet. You will go on a skiing holiday in a few months, so you are in the market for such a camera and you decide to buy it. Then you read the instruction manual at home and it says that you should not use it for sports in which the camera is exposed to vibrations. Pretty strange, isn’t it?
Yet that is approximately what Samsung has done. In recent years it has released many models with an ip67 or ip68 classification and showed them in advertisements in various situations that showed that. For example, in one advertisement someone was scrolling quietly on his phone under water and in another situation a surfer at sea was filmed up close with a smartphone. The manual then explicitly states that it is better not to use the phone in swimming or seawater and that it may break.
The Australian Consumer Association for this contradiction, but it is not just the South Korean manufacturer’s. Almost every more expensive smartphone model has an IP rating. Apple has been making waterproof telephones since the iPhone 7 from 2016, Google made the Pixel 2 waterproof for the first time in 2017 and Huawei has been doing this since the P20 Pro from 2018. It is a checkbox for a high-end telephone in 2019.
But what does an IP classification really say and what does a manufacturer guarantee if a telephone is broken by water? What exactly does the fine print say about watertightness? How exactly do manufacturers make telephones waterproof? We delved into the world of water-tightness of modern smartphones.
How telephones are water-resistant
Making a smartphone water-resistant is not an easy job. There are normally quite a few holes and cracks in the housing. You have buttons, ports, screw holes, speakers, microphones and, for example, the gap between screen and housing. Different techniques are needed to make everything as watertight as possible.
For example, glue or a rubbery substance is usually used between the screen and the housing. At buttons and ports we often see rubber rings that close that part off the inside of the device, where the pcb is located, alongside all sorts of other parts that don’t like water. Small gaskets are also used; indeed like in an engine block.
However, you cannot close everything airtight, because loudspeakers and microphones naturally work on the basis of air vibrations. Often there are gauze with very small holes. With sufficient pressure, water does come in, but the part itself, for example, is closed off with a rubber ring from the inside of the smartphone. That is why the speaker sounds muted temporarily when a telephone has had to endure a lot of water. It is also not handy to keep the interior of a smartphone completely airtight. The reason for this is that a pressure difference can arise between outside and inside and that in turn can result in liquid still pushing its way in. To prevent this, small membranes are placed, with very fine-meshed fabric, through which air, but no water can pass.
There are also less radical ways to get a smartphone water-resistant. Some smartphones in the lower price segment are treated with a nano-coating, such as various Motorola phones. The coating has a particularly high density, so that no liquid comes through. It makes them a lot less watertight than devices where the aforementioned measures have been taken because the coating can also come off, but a telephone will usually survive a heavy rain shower.
Yet no smartphone is really waterproof. For example, if the pressure becomes too high, rubber rings will give way and there is a chance that water will pass. That is why there is a certification for products that indicates how much water they can have and how.
Let’s look at the official certification that manufacturers use to indicate water and dust tightness: the ingress protection rating. The first digit of the IP certification stands for the degree of protection against the ingress of solids into the smartphone.
|IP0 x||No protection||–|
|IP1 x||Large items||Protection against accidental, superficial hand contact. Protected against the penetration of solid objects larger than 50 mm.|
|Ip2 x||Medium-sized objects||Protection against finger contact. Touch proof only for measuring devices. Protected against the penetration of solid objects larger than 12.5 mm.|
|Ipx x||Small items||Protection against contact with a tool. Touch proof only for measuring devices. Protected against the penetration of solid objects larger than 2.5 mm.|
|Ip4 x||Pointed objects||Protection against contact with a tool. Protected against contact with a wire. Protected against the penetration of solid objects larger than 1 mm.|
|Ip5 x||Dust protection||Safe to touch because the housing is completely sealed. No complete protection against dust, but sufficient to not hinder proper operation.|
|IP6 x||Dust-free||Safe to touch because the housing is completely sealed. Complete protection against dust.|
With the vast majority of smartphones that have an IP rating, it starts with a 6. That is the highest degree and in the case of the solids that is also what you would prefer in all cases.
|IP x 1||Drop-proof Type I||No damage if subject to falling drops.|
|IP x 2||Drop-proof Type II||No damage if subject to falling drops on a 15 ° tilted device.|
|IP x 3||Splash proof||No damage if sprayed (10 l / min) at an angle of -60 ° to 60 °.|
|IP x 4||Shatterproof||No damage if sprayed (10 l / min) at any angle.|
|IP x 5||Sprayproof||No damage if sprayed (12.5 l / min) at any angle.|
|IP x 6||Water-resistant||No water penetration if sprayed (100 l / min) at any angle.|
|IP x 7||Immersion proof||No water penetration when submerged (30 minutes at a maximum depth of 1 meter).|
|IP x 8||Waterproof||Remains usable under water under specified conditions deeper than 1 meter.|
The second number of the ip code stands for the water resistance, but higher is not always more desirable. If you have a phone with an ipx7 certification, that does not mean that it has also passed the tests associated with ipx5. So there is no certification for spraying or spraying, but only for immersion. It is therefore possible that a smartphone still works well if it is immersed under 1 meter of water in laboratory conditions, but that it becomes defective if a powerful jet is placed on it.
All tests that are done to obtain an IP certification take place under controlled conditions. They must also be very specific to have meaning. For example, if one test for ip67 differs from the other, that is of course not fair. However, this means that a smartphone can still suffer water damage if you throw it yourself in a bowl of tap water that is one meter deep. During the tests, the smartphones are carefully placed in a container of water of a specific composition. The speed at which a telephone moves through water can put more pressure on a certain point, causing water to enter. If you go swimming with a telephone, there will be more pressure on the waterproofing materials.
If you are going to swim in the sea, then it is a completely different story. The composition of the water is also important. Although both salt and freshwater can cause short circuits, saltwater causes much more corrosion and oxidation than freshwater. For example, a rubber ring can be damaged, but also metal parts. That can go very quickly and it is usually soon end of story for your smartphone when saltwater comes in.
What guarantees you get from manufacturers
For this article, we approached the major smartphone manufacturers that make IP certified smartphones to ask how they handle water damage. Every manufacturer has his own vision and guarantee. These are the manufacturers that sent a response.
Sony – Limited warranty
Sony has a reputation to uphold in the field of water-resistant smartphones. Perhaps that is why this is the only manufacturer that we know of with double IP certification on recent high-end smartphones. For example, Sony uses an IP65 / 68 rating for the Xperia 1. This means that the telephone will survive if sprayed with a maximum of 12.5 liters of water per minute at any angle, but also for 30 minutes at a depth of more than one meter; one and a half meters depth in the case of Sony.
Sony once had marketing material with images that, for example, were photographed in an underwater swimming pool with an Xperia device, but came back after, among other things, a lawsuit in the United States . Since then, it has been communicated, among other things, that the Xperia devices are carefully placed in a vessel with tap water and brought to a depth of 1.5 meters. After 30 minutes the device is carefully removed from the vessel and all functions and features are checked.
In principle, there is less pressure on the openings of the device than when you take pictures in a swimming pool underwater. There is also chlorine in regular swimming pool water, which can be extra harmful. The website of Sony now states that you cannot use an Xperia smartphone underwater and you must not ‘accidentally drop it into the water’. At the bottom of the page, it is also stated that the guarantee does not apply if a device is misused or treated incorrectly.
A Sony spokesperson tells us that a water damage defect will be treated exactly the same as any other defect. That would mean that the guarantee applies if the damage was caused by use that the device can withstand IP certification, and that use is mentioned in the guarantee conditions and on the website. This shows that you should never immerse an Xperia phone, but in the rain, if splashes occur during washing up or if you use the phone on a windy beach, the device should not break down. Is that okay? Then that is covered by the warranty, according to Sony itself.
To check whether this is also the case in practice, we have listened. We have indeed encountered cases where Sony provides a guarantee for water damage. If repair is no longer an option, then, for example, a new device is sent, but sometimes a refurbished copy. Yet we also heard of cases where no guarantee was provided because the phone was used improperly, although the user denies this. It, therefore, appears that it can be difficult in practice to claim a warranty for water damage.
Samsung – Limited warranty
On the smartphone page of Samsung it says: “Are you walking in the rain, working in a dusty room or does your phone fall into the toilet? No problem. Almost every Galaxy phone is water-resistant up to 1.5 meters water (30 minutes maximum) and dust-proof and proudly carries the ip68 certificate. This way your device is fully protected, while USB ports and earphone connections just stay open. No hassle with extra caps or caps. “
That sounds reassuring. After all, how often do you end up in a situation where your telephone is under water for half an hour and a half? However, this assumes a number of things, namely that all types of water are equal. To reassure us, Samsung phones should also be able to withstand pool and seawater, but the manual for the Galaxy S10, for example, says something else.
“If you immerse the device in any liquid other than freshwater, such as saltwater, ionized water or alcoholic beverages, water will get into the device faster. If the device comes into contact with other liquids, such as salt water, water from a swimming pool, soapy water, oil, perfume, sunscreen, hand cleansing cream or chemical products such as cosmetics, rinse the device with clean water and dry it thoroughly with a clean soft cloth. If you do not follow these instructions, the performance and appearance of the be affected. “
The safety instruction goes even further. “Keep the device dry,” it says. “Do not switch the device on when wet. If the device is already switched on, switch it off. Then dry the device with a towel and take it to a service center.”
However, these are advice. If a telephone has water damage while it has not been underwater for more than half an hour and a half, Samsung will provide a warranty. “If we find no damage on the outside of the device, the device will be repaired under the warranty conditions. A device must always be repaired by a Samsung authorized service partner in order to maintain the warranty. Only then will the device return to the original ip certification. “
Apple – No warranty
If you are not the most convenient with a glass of wine or a visit to the toilet, then wet your chest if you have an iPhone. This is not because your chest is better able to withstand water, because recent iPhones are watertight according to the ip67 and ip68 standards, but Apple does not provide any guarantee of damage due to liquid as standard. As with other manufacturers, iPhones has a water damage indicator on the inside, in this case in the sim tray. If it turns red, it has been in contact with water and Apple can see it. The manufacturer has an AppleCare + insurance policy and that means you are covered against liquid damage.
Apple advises not to swim with your iPhone, but also not to use it in the shower or to place it in a room with a lot of steam. According to Apple, the water resistance can also be influenced if, for example, sunscreen, soap or perfume is applied to the iPhone. The manufacturer has a fairly comprehensive description of what you should do if your phone does come into contact with things like that and also what you should do if it gets wet.
Anyway, it is confusing to say the least that a phone may have an IP certification, but there is no guarantee as to what an iPhone can handle based on that certification. So if a rubber cover is not mounted properly somewhere, and your iPhone gets wet inside and dies a wet death, then Apple finds that your problem and not theirs.
OnePlus – No guarantee
In their own words, OnePlus consciously chooses not to use an IP rating. The reason is initially that it costs money, as much as thirty dollars per device, according to OnePlus. You would not get more water tightness in return and no guarantee. “OnePlus devices are water-resistant for everyday use; you can play music in the bathroom while you are in the shower and use your smartphone in the rain. The OnePlus 7 and 7T Pro can withstand a puddle of water, but we do not recommend use the device in the bath or swim with it. Regarding water damage guarantee: no smartphone brand offers it, even manufacturers with an IP rating don’t give it. ” However, the latter is contradicted by other manufacturers, as you could have read.
In addition, OnePlus told that IP ratings are confusing for users and that they are misunderstood. The manufacturer also points out the ideal conditions for testing water resistance in a laboratory. “In reality, you probably drop your smartphone into the water at an angle or upside down, creating a lot of pressure at the point that the water first touches.” OnePlus says to have checked with users and says that “advice about what they can do with their smartphone is the most important”. “The term daily use used by us is simple and clear.” We can argue about the latter, because the definition of daily use will not be the same for everyone. Although it is still clear is that OnePlus devices must be able to withstand rain and a puddle of water, this manufacturer gives no guarantee.
Oppo – No guarantee
Sister company Oppo thinks differently, although not all Oppo telephones have IP certification. The R15 Pro has that for example. As we saw last year at the factory in Guangdong, the devices are being testedon watertightness. That is mainly about spraying and not about immersion. According to Oppo, the water spray rate is set at 30.5 ml per minute for 10 minutes, which simulates a moderate rain. In cities on the coast, the alkalinity level is higher and Oppo is also testing this by exposing smartphones to high humidity with a little salt spray for a long time. Not all Oppo telephones have an IP rating, but they should all survive a heavy rain shower according to the manufacturer. Yet Oppo also gives no guarantee whatsoever for damage caused by liquids.
Huawei – Limited warranty
Fortunately, Huawei responded at the last minute to our request for information and came with good news. However, the information is inconsistent with what is on the product pages of the various devices. For example, Huawei says about water resistance with the P30 Pro that the device has an IP68 certification and that means, according to Huawei, that it is splash, water and dust resistant.
Huawei emphasizes that the certification implies testing under controlled conditions and that “water and dust tightness are not permanent and the resistance may decrease as a result of normal wear and tear over time”. “Do not charge the phone when it is wet or in a humid environment. Consult the manual for cleaning and drying instructions. Immersion in liquid and resulting damage are not covered by the warranty.”
Further on it is also stated that ‘liquid damage’ is not covered by the warranty. That is probably a bit weird, but it is clear that Huawei covers itself against damage caused by liquids: it is not covered by the warranty to the left or to the right. The manufacturer, therefore, does not consider itself obliged to replace or repair appliances but says it does. Our question about warranty was answered as follows:
“In the event of damage due to liquids, only qualified technicians can make a judgment about the specific service solution. In all cases where we do not find any signs of misuse or the like (for example, fall damage), we regard it as a failure of the IP certification and therefore provide a guarantee ” In any case, that offers hope for practice, although Huawei can always say in conflicts that black-on-white states that you will not receive a guarantee for liquid damage.
One thing is crystal clear: if you buy a smartphone, you do not have to expect that you have a guarantee on all liquid-related damage. In fact, most manufacturers who sell water-resistant devices do not give any guarantee whatsoever for damage caused by any liquid, not even a simple rain shower.
For example, some manufacturers indicate that the water-tightness measures wear out and can therefore eventually let in water. We also regularly heard the story about the controlled conditions in which the laboratory tests take place and that this cannot be compared with practice. The IP certification is therefore only an indication of what a smartphone can have. If you drop an IP67-certified smartphone into the sink, the device may be under more pressure than under test conditions, where a phone is slowly brought to a depth of one meter.
Manufacturers often also cannot check what happened to a device, which is why they are careful with guarantees in this area. A manufacturer can see from water damage indicator stickers on the inside of a device that liquid has penetrated, but it is much more difficult to determine the cause of the leak and the type of liquid involved. The only manufacturers in this test who indicated to provide limited warranty are Sony and Samsung. Huawei says in a response to our questions to provide a warranty if there are no traces of abuse, but states on the various product pages that fluid damage is not covered by the warranty. So it remains a bit vague.
Whether you really get a guarantee is therefore the question. We also hear stories about manufacturers or sellers who blame the user for handling the product incorrectly. In that case, the right to warranty expires. It then seems the word of the user against that of the seller or manufacturer. In principle this is not the case , because the burden of proof lies legally, at least in the first six months after purchase, with the seller. Even with an additional guarantee, the burden of proof often lies with the seller or manufacturer. So that is something to check when the seller or manufacturer accuses you of a user error.
In most cases, however, you should view the IP certification of smartphones as a feature and not as a guarantee. From a consumer perspective that is pretty strange and even a bit misleading. After all, when you buy a smartphone that is advertised to be water-resistant to a meter depth for 30 minutes, it is not strange to think that you are protected against water damage that occurs during rain showers, for example. According to the manufacturers, however, you are not, because they often do not provide a guarantee against water damage, even if it is the result of a manufacturing defect.