How tough is your phone?

How tough is your phone?
Attention: Fragile!

Mobile phones have become indispensable in our daily routine, but most of them are fragile and therefore, we can easily end up without our handsets when they are needed the most. Say, if a tsunami sweeps over your house and you find your handset splashed with water, a fat chance you have of using it to call for help. In most cases, the development and relevant application of advanced technologies (with all the ensuant extra features) has failed to improve the durability and hardiness of modern devices, not to mention the end result is sometimes… even worse. Our old “bricks” could withstand much more physical abuse before finally succumbing to their wounds. What takes to render a modern, touch sensitive screen handset virtually unusable is a punch in the face. Fortunately, there are specially designed cell phones that are better prepared to take the vicissitudes of life.

Rugged, but so ugly!

Most rugged cell phones look rather unappealing. Of course, rubber coatings, special closing mechanisms and isolating solutions cannot be expected to make it to the latest Armani fashion plates. Still, it´s exactly the unattractive overall look that dissuades most people from purchasing handsets that might come in pretty handy at times. At the same time, using a sturdy device is highly desirable, if not virtually mandatory, for people with certain professional occupation, say, construction workers, plumbers, phoneArena employees, etc. That´s why we need to give credit where credit is due and give it up to manufacturers, rolling out cell phones such as the Exilim C721 for an instance, that is currently offered by Verizon Wireless – Casio has managed to design a handset that not only looks great, but meets military standards as well. Actually…

What does “measures up to military standards” mean?

Bulletproof to a volley of .45 caliber shots, fired less than 10 meters away? Remains functional after a landmine blast? Starts glowing in the dark if the bearer closes in on terrorists or an orc encampment? Well, not exactly. Military standard is quite vast a notion, but in this case it actually stands for a variety of tests, performed to certify that certain device aspects have been found able to withstand the force of the adverse effects the item has been subjected to. The applicable standard that is officially approved for use by all departments and agencies of the Department of Defense in the US is, as of now, MIL-STD-810 rev.F and includes a total of 23 lab tests, tailored to examine the item's resistance to a variety of conditions the device is expected to experience throughout its service life, such as high/low pressure, temperature shocks, solar radiation, extreme humidity, fungus exposure, ballistic/acoustic/vibration/etc shocks, leakage and so forth. Naturally, the military don’t provide information on the exact nature of the tests.

Of course, devices are not necessarily subjected to all available tests. For an instance, the i-mate 810-F that is being sold with a lifetime warranty has passed the pressure, temperature, humidity, leakage and shock tests.

Certainly, different test designations are in use in Europe, although it won´t be too far-fetched to assume the scope of tests is similar.

Environmental protection index, a.k.a. „IP”

The abbreviation stands for “Ingress of Protection” and reflects the degree of resistance, provided against environmental effects. The letters are typically followed by two digits - the first one shows the level of protection that the enclosure provides against access to hazardous parts and ingress of solid foreign objects, while the second demonstrates the protection of the equipment inside the enclosure against humidity and harmful inflow of liquids. Higher values indicate better protection and therefore, safer devices. Here is how the different values, regulated by the International Electrotechnical Commission are to be interpreted (IEC 60529):

LevelObject size protected againstEffective against
0-No protection against contact and ingress of objects
1>50 mmAny large surface of the body, such as the back of a hand, but no protection against deliberate contact with a body part
2>12.5 mmFingers or similar objects
3>2.5 mmTools, thick wires, etc.
41 mmMost wires, screws, etc.
5Dust protectedIngress of dust is not entirely prevented, but it must not enter in sufficient quantity to interfere with the satisfactory operation of the equipment; complete protection against contact
6Dust tightNo ingress of dust; complete protection against contact

LevelProtected againstDetails
0Not protected-
1Dripping water Dripping water (vertically falling drops) shall have no harmful effect.
2Dripping water when tilted up to 15° Vertically dripping water shall have no harmful effect when the enclosure is tilted at an angle up to 15° from its normal position.
3Spraying water Water falling as a spray at any angle up to 60° from the vertical shall have no harmful effect.
4Splashing water Water splashing against the enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effect.
5Water jets Water projected by a nozzle against enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effects.
6Powerful water jets Water projected in powerful jets against the enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effects.
7Immersion up to 1 m Ingress of water in harmful quantity shall not be possible when the enclosure is immersed in water under defined conditions of pressure and time (up to 1 m of submersion).
8Immersion beyond 1 m The equipment is suitable for continuous immersion in water under conditions which shall be specified by the manufacturer.

As a whole, compliance to IP22 or IP2X (protected against insertion of relatively big objects and vertically dripping water) is a mandatory requirement for all electrical accessories designed for indoor use, including cell phones. Most values have corresponding equivalents under the NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) standard, adopted in the US. Say, IP10 is equivalent to 1, IP11 to 2, IP54 to 13 etc. Unfortunately, the IP doesn’t provide insight on the item´s resistance to mechanical impacts, which is reflected by a separate IK number as specified in EN50102.

Actually, how tough, exactly, do you take your phone to be?

Most probably, the answer is “Not much”. Aside from the small number of devices that meet the military standards or have a high protection index (IP54 or higher), most handsets will, almost instantaneously, fail if used in conditions that can be hardly defined as “really extreme” even in daily life (pelting rain, intense heat or scorching sunlight on a beach, etc). Unfortunately, sometimes the advertised level of protection is nothing, but ad jiggery-pokery, like when it turns out the claimed water-proof ability is nothing more than a mild splash-resistance. That´s why if you ever come to need a rugged cell phone, you better wait until some reviews have appeared, so as to make sure you can get unbiased information about how tough your future phone is.

We do hope that manufacturers pay more attention to the degree their handsets are protected against environmental effects and that these features won´t come at the expense of overall look and appeal. Now, what´s that rumor of a water-resistant Arte floating about?

source: Wikipedia, here, here

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