Water-proof or water-resistant? Can your new Galaxy S5 or Xperia Z2 truly swim, or is secretly afraid of the water?

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Water-proof or water-resistant? Can your new Galaxy S5 or Xperia Z2 truly swim, or is secretly afraid of the water?

Yesterday, Archos CEO Loic Poirier gave us an entertaining, but unfortunate example of how imprecise information can deceive smartphone owners. You, too, might be boasting left and right that your phone is "dust-resistant" and "water-proof". But, are you aware of how much protection your phone really has? If you are, good for you. Otherwise, you are in danger of being misled by the liberal use that both smartphone ads and journalists make of such classifications.

Marketing 101


Water-proof or water-resistant? Can your new Galaxy S5 or Xperia Z2 truly swim, or is secretly afraid of the water?
See, what ads usually do is simply state that the phone is dust and water-resistant or -proof. They also specify which IP-rating the device complies to - often in small print, and in a place you won't be necessarily looking at. We presume this information is included out of courtesy to legal obligations, otherwise smartphone ads practically assume that consumers can instantly decode what "IP57" stands for.

Of course, user manuals usually specify the exact usage scenarios and conditions you should avoid if you want to keep your phone alive. Alas, this is done only after you purchased a “waterproof” phone that actually might be afraid of the water. And besides, user manuals are anecdotal for going over people's heads for some reason.

Yet, with more and more of today's flagship smartphones gaining attention for their toughness, we fear this misinformation could result in many “drowned" devices. If Archos' CEO himself couldn't figure out how much he can push his company's IP54-certified phone, what chance does the average user have?

Obviously, we can't make marketing people change the way they present information. Their task is to sell, not educate. Also, we are not an authority that can "coin" the difference between "water-proof" and "water-resistant", because that's something the International Electrotechnical Comission, which published the IP standard, should do. For some reason, it still hasn't, and that's growing into a problem. 

The problem


Water-proof or water-resistant? Can your new Galaxy S5 or Xperia Z2 truly swim, or is secretly afraid of the water?
See, although the IP standard provides a clear system for rating the toughness of electronics, it is essentially left open to interpretation. For example, let's say a marketer is writing copy for a phone that's IP54-compliant. This translates to "ingress of dust is not entirely prevented, but it doesn't interfere with the operation" and "water splashing against the enclosure shall have no harmful effect". Although the IP54 certification isn't entirely immune to dust, and is completely helpless against immersion in water, its presence and the lack of regulation lets the marketer boldly call the phone "dust and water-proof". Or “-resistant”. Or "-tight". Whatever!

Likewise, here's a real-life example: last year's Sony Xperia Z, which is rated IP57, is known as "waterproof". But, according to the IP standard guidelines, the “7” in “57” means the Xperia Z is good to survive 30 minutes immersed in up to 1m of water. Anything beyond this doesn't guarantee an outcome in which you won't be better off feeding your dead phone to the fishes.

The solution


Water-proof or water-resistant? Can your new Galaxy S5 or Xperia Z2 truly swim, or is secretly afraid of the water?
To help you be absolutely sure that your new extra-tough smartphone is really up for the challenge, we'll introduce you to how the IPxx code works. Don't worry, it's actually very simple:

  • IP stands for Ingress Protection
  • The first digit indicates the level of dust protection
  • The second digit indicates the level of water protection
  • If there's an "x" in place of the left digit, this means no dust protection, only water protection
  • If there's an "x" in place of the right digit, this means no water protection, only dust protection

Use this scheme with the information from the tables below, and you will know exactly how much your phone is protected. For example, you can figure out that the new Samsung Galaxy S5, which is rated IP67, is "dust-tight" and good for "immersion of up to 1m". Likewise, the Sony Xperia Z2 is rated IP58, which stands for "dust-protected" and "immersion beyond 1m" with no time limits. Turns out this one's a tough swimmer!

Dust protection levels


LevelObject size protection againstEffective against
0No 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
4>1 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 (dust proof)
6Dust tightNo ingress of dust; complete protection against contact (dust tight)

Water protection levels


LevelProtected againstTesting forDetails
0
1Dripping waterDripping water (vertically falling drops) shall have no harmful effect.Test duration: 10 minutes
Water equivalent to 1 mm rainfall per minute
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.Test duration: 10 minutes
Water equivalent to 3 mm rainfall per minute
3Spraying waterWater falling as a spray at any angle up to 60° from the vertical shall have no harmful effect.Test duration: 5 minutes
Water volume: 0.7 litres per minute
Pressure: 80–100 kPa
4Splashing of waterWater splashing against the enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effect.Test duration: 5 minutes
Water volume: 10 litres per minute
Pressure: 80–100 kPa
5Water jetsWater projected by a nozzle (6.3 mm) against enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effects.Test duration: at least 15 minutes
Water volume: 12.5 litres per minute
Pressure: 30 kPa at distance of 3 m
6Water jetsWater projected in powerful jets (12.5 mm nozzle) against the enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effects.Test duration: at least 3 minutes
Water volume: 100 litres per minute
Pressure: 100 kPa at distance of 3 m
6KPowerful water jets with increased pressureWater projected in powerful jets (12.5 mm nozzle) against the enclosure from any direction, under elevated pressure, shall have no harmful effects.Test duration: at least 3 minutes
Water volume: 75 litres per minute
Pressure: 1000 kPa at distance of 3 m
7Immersion up to 1mIngress 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).Test duration: 30 minutes
Immersion at depth of at least 1 m measured at bottom of device, and at least 15 cm measured at top of device
8Immersion beyond 1mThe equipment is suitable for continuous immersion in water under conditions which shall be specified by the manufacturer. Normally, this will mean that the equipment is hermetically sealed. It can also mean that water can enter, but only in non-harmful ways.Test duration: continuous immersion in water
Depth specified by manufacturer, generally up to 3 m
9KPowerful high temperature water jetsProtected against close-range high pressure, high temperature spray downs.

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