Watertight? Check your smartphone’s rating

A quick visit to Google, inputting the term “phone in water”, provides plenty of advice from people who’ve learned the hard way how water resistant their phone was.

The stakes are raised when your phone is your main route to the internet

If you, like 3 billion other people, routinely access the net via your mobile device, it makes sense that the prospect of a little accident cutting off that access could cause concern. So it might be a good idea to own a smartphone that won’t be endangered by things like spilled drinks, a splash from a shower, or an accidental swim in a toilet.

Thankfully, since the first smartphones with claims to water resistance emerged five or so years ago, more and more devices are offering a pretty high degree of built-in resistance to water and dust.

To know what that degree is, you should look at a device’s IP (Ingress Protection, or International Protection Marking) rating.

The first digit shows the degree of protection from solid foreign objects and the second refers to moisture protection for an electrical enclosure. A Samsung Galaxy Note8 phone is IP68, for example. This denotes a level of 6 for solids (“dust tight”) and 8 for moisture (“water resistant in fresh water to a maximum depth of 1.5m for up to 30 minutes”.)

If there is an X for either number, this placeholder doesn’t mean no protection is offered. It just means it hasn’t been tested. IPX8, for example, would mean that dust protection is not officially known and moisture protection is level 8.

IP standards are published by the International Electrotechnical Commission, which aims to provide a little more clarity than ambiguous terms like “waterproof” or “water-resistant” might.

While some clarity is provided by the standards, there can still be uncertainty about the integrity of an enclosure. Being rated up to a certain level does not necessarily mean that a device will have been tested at and passed every one of the standards below that level. IP67, for example, means dust-tight and resistant while submerged for 1 metre up to 30 minutes. However, the device might not have been tested against level 6 for moisture ingress: powerful jets of water through a 12.5 mm nozzle.

There are limits to the strength of this guidance. Seals can erode over time. Laboratory conditions are, of course, different from those in real life.

Still, IP ratings of 67 and 68 are becoming increasingly common for smartphones. And they indicate that while you probably shouldn’t take your device swimming, your phone should survive a splash and won’t flunk an unlucky dunk. It’s taken some time, but the clumsy among us can now buy a little peace of mind next time we shop for a new phone.

This is, of course, good news, and means we can stop hoarding the packets of silica gel, or bags or rice, in case of emergencies. Not that those remedies for a wet phone were ever particularly effective.

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