Samsung is facing a lawsuit in Australia after the the country’s competition commission said the company misled consumers with false advertising over claims of water resistance. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said Samsung did not conduct sufficient testing to know the actual effects of fresh water or saltwater exposure on its phones. It also said Samsung’s advertisements showing the phones could be used in swimming pools and the sea were misleading.
Samsung on its part has denied claims of false advertising and said it intends to fight the case. While Samsung and the ACCC’s fight has just begun, water-resistance ratings on your phones can often be confusing. For many, the question will be what does water-resistance rating really mean?
Is an IP68 rated smartphone really safe to be used in a swimming pool? Can you take this phone to the beach and possibly for a dip in the ocean?
Here’s what you need to keep in mind about IP ratings.
Water-resistant, not waterproof
One is unlikely to hear any manufacturer use the term waterproof when it comes to smartphones. The reason: waterproof would mean that taking the phone for a swim without any protective gear would cause no damage at all. Except that’s not the case.
Smartphones have their limits when it comes to water damage and even an IP rating of IP68, which a lot of flagships sport these days, does not ensure complete protection. What you need to keep in mind is that the ratings, depending on how high or low, show a certain a level of protection.
For instance, on the Apple website, the iPhone XS has an important footnote. It reads, “iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max are splash, water, and dust resistant and were tested under controlled laboratory conditions with a rating of IP68 under IEC standard 60529 (maximum depth of 2 meters up to 30 minutes). Splash, water, and dust resistance are not permanent conditions and resistance might decrease as a result of normal wear. Do not attempt to charge a wet iPhone; refer to the user guide for cleaning and drying instructions. Liquid damage not covered under warranty.”
Apple’s detailed footnote makes it clear: Do not assume that water-resistance means you can just dunk the phone to the bottom of your swimming pool. But the rating should keep the phone safe should you accidentally get caught in heavy rain or spill water all over it.
What does “Liquid damage not covered” mean if the phone has a water-resistant rating? The IP rating is for water and only for water. If you spill coffee or alcohol or fruit juice, and there is damage, it is not covered under the rating.
Then what does IP68 or IP67 really mean?
IP stands for International Protection or sometimes Ingress Protection Ratings. These are given out by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). As the organisation explains on its website, “Smartphones are tested against IEC 60529, which rates their dust and water resistance using the IP (Ingress Protection) Rating code.”
Most phones have a rating of two digits: IP67 or IP68 is common on flagships. So if the phone has an IP rating of IP68, then it has a score of six (which is the highest possible) for dust protection, and eight for (water resistance), which is second highest. Dust resistance ratings go from a maximum of zero to six, for water damage ratings are from zero to nine.
A rating of one for water means the device will be protected against vertically falling drops of water. A rating of 5 or 6 as the second digit means that the device is protected against water jets and powerful water jets respectively. Water projected in jets will not cause any damage to the phone.
Coming to the number 7 and 8, number 7 is for protection against the effects of temporary immersion, while a ranking of 8 will provide protection against effects of continuous immersion in water. The number 9 would ensure that there is no harmful effect to the phone even under high pressure and high temperature water jets. No mainstream flagship phone has an IP69.
So do all phones with IP68 rating have same level of water resistance?
This is where it gets tricky. As the IEC website explains, the test can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. The website notes, “the IP rating of ‘8’ is specified by a test designed by the manufacturer and can vary. Some manufacturers may offer a protection against immersion for at least 30 minutes while others may offer protection after 1 hour of immersion.”
Apple’s iPhone XS offers water resistance up to a maximum depth of two metres and for a maximum period of 30 minutes. The Samsung Galaxy S10 series also has a rating of IP68, but the fineprint reads that this is “based on test conditions for submersion in up to 1.5 metres of freshwater for up to 30 minutes.
The warning in case of S10 also adds, “Not advised for beach or pool use. Water or dust damage not covered by warranty.” Google Pixel 3 which also has IP68 rating does not give out more details on the distance and time for immersion.
Huawei’s P30 Pro also has IP68 rating against harmful ingress of static water at up to 1.5 meters for up to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, the temperature difference between water and device must not more than 5K, according to the company website. They also warn that splash, water and dust resistance are not permanent and will decrease over normal use.
What happens if your phone gets wet in water?
If your phone were to get drenched in the rain, do not assume all is fine. This applies for all phones, with or without IP rating. Most companies advise that you should let it dry out and not start it at all till completely dry. Keep the phone switched off for a day or two at least. The period could be longer depending on where you live, environmental conditions, etc. Then take it to a service centre to check for potential damage and repairs if needed.
Remember all IP tests are for fresh water. In case of contact with salty water from the sea or oceans, there could be damage. Interestingly, a lot of smartphones are capable of claiming IP ratings, but don’t because it could lead to litigation as in the case of Samsung.