Sink or swim: The right way to use your waterproof smartphone

'Waterproof' is such a blanket term nowadays

The ACCC has put smartphone makers on notice for boldly advertising products as ‘waterproof’. Manufacturers are in part to blame for hiding relevant info in the fine print, but let’s not burn them at the stake for making smartphones resistant to some of the elements. Doing so could stunt progression in the industry as the fear of consumer backlash would outweigh the drive to innovate.

Making smartphones resistant to water is a large step forward. Infants are taught “electricity and water do not mix”, and yet here we are, with smartphones that will work even though droplets trickle down their screens.

Electronic devices are certified with an IP rating to help clarify what ‘waterproof’ actually means. The terms and conditions will vary from smartphone to smartphone, but there are general rules that should be followed regardless of brand and model.

Add more water

The IP rating of most smartphones deals with ordinary, run-of-the-mill freshwater. Using the majority of smartphones in the saltwater of a beach or the chlorinated water of a pool is out of the question. Samsung’s Galaxy S5 is one popular smartphone not suited for use in salt or chlorinated water.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet
Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

People who dare use a smartphone in these conditions should always rinse them in the sink before drying them off. Salt will erode any exposed ports -- consider how it causes rust in metal -- and it is best to rid any traces of it from a smartphone.

Chlorinated water can void a smartphone’s warranty. Many smartphones use seals to keep liquids out. Using them in chlorine for too long will eat away at these seals and ultimately lead to liquid damage, a void warranty and the need to buy another smartphone altogether.

A few smartphones can withstand “casual use in chlorinated pools...provided it’s rinsed in fresh water afterwards”, such as Sony’s Xperia Z3. Just be sure to wipe it dry with a clean cloth afterwards, but never use a hair dryer to speed the process up. Sony has a webpage dedicated to the general rules of using a ‘waterproof’ smartphone.

Sony Xperia Z3
Sony Xperia Z3

How do I know the fine details of my phone?

The first number in an IP rating pertains to dust resistance, while the second deals with how much water an electronic can tolerate.

The most recent smartphone to be released with a waterproof rating is the third generation Motorola Moto G. It has an IPX7 rating. No quantity is assigned for the first digit with the ‘X’ revealing it is not dust resistant. The second digit, a ‘7’, covers it for use in water “up to” one metre, but that doesn’t reveal a definitive depth and, more importantly, how long it can take on water pressure.

Finding this information involves going to the source. Buried in the fine print of Motorola’s website is the exact circumstances in which this smartphone can tolerate water. It reads:

“Designed to withstand immersion in up to 3 feet of fresh water for up to 30 minutes provided the back cover is properly sealed. Not designed to work while submerged underwater. Do not use while swimming, or subject it to pressurised streams of water. Not dust-proof.”
Motorola Moto G (3rd Gen)
Motorola Moto G (3rd Gen)

Sony’s flagship range of smartphones and tablets often have two IP ratings. The Xperia Z4 Tablet, which went on sale yesterday, has an IP65 and IP68 rating. The constant in both of these ratings has to do with the ‘IP6’, which asserts the slate is dustproof.

Read more: Sony returns to form with 4K Xperia Z5 Premium

The IP65 rating protects it “against low-pressure water jet spray for at least 3 minutes,” while the IP68 rating certifies it can be used in freshwater 1.5-metres deep for 30 minutes.

Every smartphone will have a paragraph, if not a dedicated webpage, detailing its precise waterproof credentials. Be sure to check it out before exposing it to the elements, or if you can, before buying the smartphone altogether.

And, finally...

Samsung Galaxy S5
Samsung Galaxy S5

Go through the routine checklist before exposing your smartphone to the elements. Make sure the back cover is on tightly and that all the seals protecting the ports are closed properly.

Some people may have dropped their smartphone and caused damage to the chassis. If there is a bulge or a gap in the chassis, then there’s a good chance that waterproof design can be breached by amorphous liquids.

Smartphone waterproofing has come a fair way in only a few years and no doubt it will continue to improve. Stick to the rules and it’ll be a blessing, making it possible to take photos of your children swimming in the pool or to answer an important call when hands are wet.

Forget them and the worst case can be realised: an unrepairable phone with a void warranty and the shackles of a long-term contract.

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Tony Ibrahim
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