Many smartphones, tablets, activity trackers, smartwatches and even some wireless speakers are "water-resistant," but what does that actually mean? Can these devices be used in the rain? What about in the shower, or even the pool? Water resistance doesn't mean the same thing for all devices, so let's break things down.
The first thing you need to look for is a device's Ingress Protection Rating (or International Protection Rating), although it is more commonly referred to as an IP rating. Rating codes do not include hyphens or spaces, and consist of the letters IP followed by one or two digits. Two common ratings for consumer devices are IP67 and IP68. Read on to find out exactly what that means.
IP codes are a standard set forth by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). According to the organization, the codes are designed as a "system for classifying the degrees of protection provided by the enclosures of electrical equipment."
The first number in the rating code represents the degree of protection provided against the entry of foreign solid objects, such as fingers or dust. These protection levels range from 0 to 6.
The second number represents the degree of protection against the entry of moisture, with protection levels ranging from 0 through 8.
An IP code with an "X" in place of the first or second number means that a device hasn't been tested to protect against the entry of solid objects (the first number) or moisture (the second number). For example, a device with the rating IPX7 is protected from accidental submersion in 1 meter (3.3 feet) of water for up to 30 minutes, but it has not been tested against the entry of dust.
Below you will find a chart that outlines all of the protection levels set by the IEC.
|IP Code||Protection||Object size|
|1||Protection from contact with any large surface of the body, such as the back of a hand, but no protection against deliberate contact with a body part, such as a finger||Less than 50mm|
|2||Protection from fingers or similar objects||Less than 12.5mm|
|3||Protection from tools, thick wires or similar objects||Less than 2.5mm|
|4||Protection from most wires, screws or similar objects||Less than 1mm|
|5||Partial protection from contact with harmful dust||N/A|
|6||Protection from contact with harmful dust||N/A|
As an example, an electrical socket rated IP22 (typically the minimum requirement for electrical accessories designed for indoor use) is protected against insertion of fingers and won't be damaged by vertically dripping water. Since we are talking about our gadgets, however, you only need to pay attention to IP ratings above IP5X or IP6X (for resistance or protection from dust).
|IP Code||Protection||Test duration||Usage|
|1||Protection against vertically dripping water||10 mins||Light rain|
|2||Protection against vertically dripping water when device is tilted at an angle up to 15 degrees||10 mins||Light rain|
|3||Protection against direct sprays of water when device is tilted at an angle up to 60 degrees||5 mins||Rain and spraying|
|4||Protection from sprays and splashing of water in all directions.||5 mins||Rain, spraying and splashing|
|5||Protection from low-pressure water projected from a nozzle with a 6.3mm diameter opening in any direction||3 mins from a distance of 3 meters||Rain, splashing and direct contact with most kitchen/bathroom faucets|
|6||Protection from water projected in powerful jets from a nozzle with a 12.5mm diameter opening in any direction||3 mins from a distance of 3 meters||Rain, splashing, direct contact with kitchen/bathroom faucets, outdoor use in rough sea conditions|
|7||Protected from immersion in water with a depth of up to 1 meter (or 3.3 feet) for up to 30 mins||30 mins||Rain, splashing and accidental submersion|
|8||Protected from immersion in water with a depth of more than 1 meter (manufacturer must specify exact depth)||Varies||Rain, splashing and accidental submersion|
The iPhone 8 (£594 at Amazon.co.uk) and 8 Plus are certified with an IP67 rating, which means that they are fully protected from dust (6) and can also withstand being submerged in 1m (about 3.3 feet) of static water for up to 30 mins (7). Then there is the Samsung Galaxy S8, which is rated IP68. This means that like the iPhone 8 (and 8 Plus), the Galaxy S8 can withstand being submerged in static water, but the specific depth and duration must be disclosed by the company, which in this case is 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) for up to 30 minutes.
Not too complicated, right? Unfortunately it's not all cut and dried. Devices aren't required to pass every test leading up to the highest rating they achieve, although many companies do test them at varies levels. In some cases, however, a phone rated with IP67 may not have been tested against dust protection levels 1 through 5, or water protection levels 1 through 6.
For example, since the iPhone 8 doesn't include the IPX5 or IPX6 rating for withstanding water coming from a jet, you shouldn't take it in the shower or run it under the sink, unless Apple specifically states otherwise, which it didn't. In fact, the company has said that liquid damage isn't covered under the phone's standard warranty.
The Sony Xperia XZ, on the other hand, is certified with an IP65 and IP68 rating, which means it is protected from dust and against low-pressure water jets, such as a faucet, when all ports are closed. The company also specifies that the Z5 can be submerged in 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) of fresh water for up to 30 mins.
If anyone ever tells you that a watch is waterproof, it's a lie. No watch is truly waterproof, and in fact the International Organization for Standardization and Federal Trade Commission prohibit watches from being labeled as being "waterproof." While a watch may be able to withstand a certain degree of water exposure, there is always a limit to how much water pressure it can handle before it begins to leak. The term "waterproof" implies that a device will remain unscathed under even the most difficult of circumstances.
To help regulate and explain water resistance in watches, the ISO has set standards that have been adopted by many traditional watchmakers. Most smartwatches and activity trackers, however, don't actually adhere to these standards and therefore aren't ISO-certified. Consumer electronics tend to follow the IP code, although some companies, such as Garmin, Pebble and Polar, independently test their products to determine how much pressure they can withstand.
Pressure tests are measured in ATMs, which stands for atmospheres, and then converted to water depth to make the measurements easier to understand. Each ATM is equivalent to 10 meters (33 feet) of static water pressure. Below you will find a chart that outlines that basic water-resistance levels.
|1 ATM||Withstands pressures equivalent to a depth of 10 meters (33 feet)||Improved resistance to rain and splashes. No showering or swimming.|
|3 ATM||Withstands pressures equivalent to a depth of 30 meters (98 feet)||Rain, splashing, accidental submersion and showering. No swimming.|
|5 ATM||Withstands pressures equivalent to a depth of 50 meters (164 feet)||Rain, splashing, accidental submersion, showering, surface swimming, shallow snorkeling|
|10 ATM||Withstands pressures equivalent to a depth of 100 meters (328 feet)||Rain, splashing, accidental submersion, showering, swimming and snorkeling. No deep water scuba diving or high-speed water sports.|
|20 ATM||Withstands pressures equivalent to a depth of 200 meters (656 feet)||Rain, splashing, accidental submersion, showering, swimming, snorkeling, surface diving and water sports. No deep water diving.|
Unfortunately, because there is no universal testing method, real-world usage is different for every device. For example, while the Garmin Forerunner 735XT (£228 at Amazon.co.uk) has a water resistance rating of 5 ATM, Garmin states that the watch can be worn both in the shower and while swimming. Fitbit, on the other hand, recommends users to remove the device before swimming, despite being rated 5 ATM.
It should also be noted that even though 3 ATM is rated for a certain depth, that depth is measured in static pressure. Water pressure can change quickly, such as when you move your arm to begin swimming. While you may only be in 10 feet of water, the pressure created from your arm movement could be equal to that of a couple of ATMs.
As Garmin explains on its website, "Even if a device is above a depth it's rated for, it might still suffer water ingression if it is subjected to an activity that creates pressure on it that exceeds that depth rating."
As I said earlier, it's not all cut-and-dry. You should check the device's website and see what the company recommends before taking a smartwatch or fitness tracker in the shower or the pool.
Things to remember
- Most resistance testing is performed in fresh water. Devices aren't guaranteed to hold up to salt water, unless specifically stated from the manufacturer.
- While showering with IP-rated devices isn't recommended, the device won't break if you forget to take it off. The device could begin to leak and become damaged with continued exposure however, and water damage may not be covered under the warranty.
- Unless otherwise specified, most tests are carried out at temperatures between 15 and 35 degrees Celsius (60 to 95 Fahrenheit). Higher temperatures in places like saunas, steam rooms and hot tubs could damage the device. For example, the Pebble has been tested to work within the temperature range of -10 to 60 degrees C (14 to 140 F).
- For obvious reasons, leather watchbands are not water-resistant.
- Make sure all flaps (such as those for charging ports) are closed before submerging your device.
- Unless otherwise stated by the manufacturer, you should avoid pressing buttons on the device while it is underwater. This could allow water to enter into the casing and damage the device.
- Make sure the device is completely dry before charging it.
- Always refer to the manufacturer's website before taking a phone, smartwatch or fitness tracker in the shower or the pool.
Editors' note, Sept. 13, 2017: This article was originally published in April 2015. It has since been updated to include information on new devices.
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