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How much water can your phone handle before dying?

Worried about how waterproof your smartphone is? As the monsoon begins, it’s good to know your phone’s IP rating and what it actually means.

IP or Ingress Protection (or International Protection. The former sounds cooler though) ratings are a standard set by an agency called International Electrotechnical Commission which basically states that a certain rated product can withstand certain standard ingressions or intrusions of things like dust and water. Or to put it very simply, the higher the IP rating your phone has, the more abuse you can throw at it and expect it to be fine. Of course, if the last part doesn’t matter to you, then by all means, abuse your phone all you want 😛

The IP rating is usually a two digit number, with each of the digits meaning different things. The first digit signifies protection against solids and the other digit signifies liquids (usually water) protection. You can also have an IP rating with a suffix that means different things such as “f” for protection against oil and “W” for weather conditions. Although, these aren’t usually found on smartphones or pretty much most of the consumer-level devices, so it’s pretty rare to come across them. And just in case someone told you that IP ratings means you can drop your phone no problem, please don’t. Those are MIL spec ratings, a whole different ballgame.

IP rating
Credit: Ingress Protection: The System of Tests and Meaning of Codes, William Bisenieus

With the technical part out of the way, let’s get to what you came here for: your phone. Chances are, if you have a premium smartphone you also have a fairly high IP rating. Here are some of the commonly seen ratings and what they are officially rated to endure:

IP68 (Completely Dust Tight and Continuous Immersion in water more than 1m deep)

  • Samsung Galaxy S6 Active, S7, S7 Edge, S7 Active, S8, S8 Plus, A3, A5, A7
  • LG G6
  • Sony Xperia XZ, XZs, XZ Premium, XZ Compact, Z5, Z5 Compact, Z5 Premium, Z4 Ultra, Z4 Compact, Z4v, Z3, Z3+, Z3 Compact, Z3v, M2 Aqua, M4 Aqua, M5, M Ultra

IP67 (Completely Dust Tight and Temporary Immersion in water less than 1m deep)

  • iPhone 7 and 7 Plus
  • HTC U11
  • Motorola G Turbo
  • Samsung S4 Active, S5, S5 Active

IP58 (Dust Resistant and Continuous Immersion in water more than 1m deep)

  • Sony Xperia Z1, Z1s, Z1 Compact, Z2, Z2a, ZR, Z Ultra

IP57 (Dust Resistant and Continuous Immersion in water more than 1m deep)

  • Sony Xperia Z and Xperia V
  • HTC 10 Evo and Butterfly 3

Of course, not all phones have fancy pants IP ratings. This is probably due to the manufacturer cutting costs to keep the final selling price down. This ends up going in two ways – they call it splash proof (for example the Google Pixel and the Moto G4) or just test for the dust or liquid properties. The latter leads to an IP rating with an X in one of the digits, which is better than no rating, we suppose.

IP rating
Apparently, you can’t do this

“Hunky dory, my phone has a high enough IP rating! Time to take it into the shower with me or better yet, for a swim!” – Yeah…. Here’s the thing, manufacturer’s don’t want you to do that. Most warranties don’t cover water damage, even if their promotions showed people using phones underwater. For instance, Sony’s warranty page does exactly that. (here’s the link, but you need to scroll down all the way to the Basic care section for this little piece of fine print). They caution you that their tests were performed in lab conditions and your real use-case scenario might be too different. So different in fact, that you can end up damaging your device. Them dunking the phone into cold pure water to pass the certification is vastly different from a hot steamy (wink wink) environment in a shower or the chemicals in a swimming pool. So if you are debating between two phones the next time you are in the market buying one, don’t make your choice solely based on the IP rating. Because honestly, it doesn’t matter much at all. It’s just there to give +10 bragging rights and -20% panic when you’re caught out in rain. If you truly need a waterproof phone for those sick swimming pool photos, invest in a specialised case or something like the CAT phones (those specs for that kind of money make us wince though).

Just to make sure, we aren’t calling IP rating a marketing gimmick – it is a nice bonus to have on your next device but it’s nothing to get excited over. In the end, the only life proof phone out there is a disposable one (provided you have sufficiently deep pockets of course).

Prithvi Sudhan

Prithvi Sudhan