Waterproofing technology in Smartphones

Have you ever been to the pool and felt like capturing some cool underwater shots but you couldn’t because your phone wasn’t waterproof? Or maybe you went on a ride to a rain covered hill station to only find that you couldn’t take a picture of that gorgeous valley just because your phone may get damaged in the rains. Well, to solve just that, we now have various degrees of IP ratings for smartphones and other electronic gadgets that allow you to use your smartphones in water as well.

So what exactly are IP ratings? And why would they help you on your next trip to a rainy place?

The IP rating is short for Ingress Protection (or International Protection) are basically set of ratings by international standard IEC 60529 that define the protection against the ingress of foreign materials like dust, tools and moisture.

Now IP ratings have different levels based on how much protection they offer and the rating is given on the basis of two numbers with the IP code as follows.

IPXX- The IP here stands for Ingress protection and the first X denotes the value of protection against solid entry while the second X denotes the value of protection again liquid entry. The first X goes from 0-6, while the second one goes from 0-9.

The standard ratings for ingress by solid foreign objects and dust:

  • IP0X: This rating basically means the gadget offers no protection again any foreign objects.

  • IP1X: This rating means the gadget is protected from solids above 50mm, like the back of a human hand. It basically protects the gadget from accidental contact, but not voluntary contacts, like a person deliberately inserting their hand or finger.

  • IP2X: This rating prevents solids above 12.5mm from entering the gadget. Basically preventing your finger from touching hazardous parts and damaging them.

  • IP3X: Prevents entry of objects greater than 2.5mm, like screwdrivers and other tools.  

  • IP4X: Prevents the entry of small objects the size of 1mm or larger. These can include wires.

  • IP5X: This rating prevents the entry of solids like a wire but also prevent dust from entering into hazardous parts but it is not completely dust-tight.  

  • IP6X: This rating is similar to IP5X but totally seals off the entry of dust into it. This is the highest rating for solid ingress.

The different ratings for liquid ingress protection.

  • IPX0: This rating means the product has no protection against liquids.

  • IPX1: This rating protects the gadget against vertically dripping liquid. It is tested for 10 minutes with water equivalent to 1mm of rainfall.

  • IPX2: This rating ensures protection from liquid dripping even at a 15-degree angle. It is tested using water that is simulated to match rainfall of 3mm for 10 minutes.

  • IPX3: This rating is meant to give protection from spraying liquid. The test consists of water sprayed at  0.7 litres per minute (at 80-100kPa pressure) at a 60-degree angle for 5 minutes.

  • IPX4: This rating is an extension of the previous rating to include water splashing. The testing includes water splashing at 10 litres per minutes with a pressure of 80-100kPa for 5 minutes.

  • IPX5: This rating tests the gadgets for protection against liquid jets. This test is conducted with water jets of 6.3mm diameter with the water volume at 12.5 litres per minute and pressure of 30 kPa at a distance of 3 m. The test lasts for 3 minutes.

  • IPX6: This rating adds to the previous rating by spraying the water from a 12.5mm jet at 100kPa pressure from 3m at 100 litres per minute for 3 minutes.

  • IPX7: This rating tests ingress protection when the gadget is immersed into liquid. The testing involves immersing the gadget in a metre of water for 30 minutes.  

  • IPX8: This rating adds to the previous test by immersing the gadget in water for a longer duration and at a greater depth. The testing is conducted at 3m depth for a time period is chosen in agreement with the manufacturer.

  • IPX9: This rating is for protection against close-range, high-temperature and high-pressure jets. This testing is conducted on a turntable with water sprayed from four angles. The water is set to 80 degrees Celsius with a pressure of 10Mpa, the volume of 14-16 litres per minute and run for 30 seconds for each angle (2 minutes total).

If a manufacturer tests the device for only one of the parameters i.e. either solid or liquid ingress then that rating awarded will have the letter X for the correction tests that's not conducted. Eg: The JBL Flip 4 Bluetooth speaker has an IPX7 rating, which means it is not tested for solid ingress but can withstand immersion in water up to 1 meter for 30 minutes. While the LG G7 ThinQ supports IP68 rating as it has been tested for both solid and liquid ingress.

Waterproofing: An important part of our smartphones

Some facts to remember about IP ratings:

  • For IP ratings with a missing number like IPX7 it doesn’t mean that the gadget doesn’t have dust protection, it merely means it's not tested for the same by the manufacturer.

  • The ratings are given for fresh water only, dipping even an IP68 rated phone in salt water (or any other chemical)  will hasten its meeting with its maker.

  • The waterproofing of a smartphone isn’t permanent with everyday use, wear and tear and drops can reduce your phones water resistance.

  • The most important fact about IP ratings is that they are not cumulative. What this means is an IP68 rated phone (tested for immersion) may not hold against a spray jet (IP66). So it is up to the manufacturer to include the info about all the tests they have conducted on the phone. Take the Sony XZ3 for example as it comes with an IP68 and an IP65 rating. Which means it can be immersed in water and sprayed with water jets.

  • No phone manufacturers will include liquid damage in their warranty terms, even if the phone has a high IP rating.

  • You will also see some smartphones like the OnePlus 6T or the Poco F1 or most Motorola phones come with this splashproof label. What this means is the phone can withstand mild splashes of water, but these should not be brought in contact with a jet of water or immersed in water.

  • Did you know the electrical sockets we use at our home also have an IP rating of IP22.  

  • The Nomu S10 Pro is the only IP69 rated smartphone, as even flagships, today have only up to IP68 rating.  

Popular smartphones and gadgets with IP ratings.

Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL: While the Pixel is popular for its smooth stock software and excellent cameras, it also comes with class-leading IP68 protection despite having a glass body. This allows you to enjoy your vacations, come rain or shine and not worry about your prized Pixel 3 or 3 XL.

iPhone XS and XS Max: Being amongst the most expensive smartphones out there, it was bound for the iPhones to have water resistance ratings some day. While the last generation iPhone X came with the IP67 rating, this generation of iPhones improves upon that with an IP68 rating. The immersion protection due to the IP68 means you can take some cool underwater shots in your pool without having to worry about water damage.

Waterproofing and Samsung

Samsung Galaxy S9, S9+, Note 9: Samsung flagship phones have had IP ratings since the S5 that was launched in 2013. This has continued on their premium S9 and S9+ series which have IP68 along with their innovative variable aperture camera and Super AMOLED display to go on the top.

Their business-friendly Note 9 too has IP68 protection despite having the headphone jack and stylus. In fact, the Note 9’s stylus too has an IP rating. Cool right?

LG G7 ThinQ: The G7 ThinQ is another under-rated smartphone that brings the IP68 rating to the sub Rs.30,000 segment. And that's not the only party piece, you get a 1000nits display,  a Quad DAC, an amazing speaker, and a wide-angle camera as well.

Sony XZ3: Given how unpopular Sony smartphones are nowadays. its easy for most to not know about this smartphone, but it does have something rare in its segment- a dual IP rating of IP68 and IP65. This makes it resistant against immersion as well as jet sprays.

In fact, Sony has had quite the legacy with IP rated phones as they were the first to introduce it on a smartphone. Launched way back in 2013, the Xperia Z was one of the first smartphones to have an IP rating. In fact, it too had two ratings- IP55 and IP57.  

Moto X4: While the smartphones we talked above are premium ones, the Moto X4 brings the IP68 waterproofing to a more mid-range segment. This is, in fact, one of Motorola ’s only smartphone currently to offer true water resistance when compared to the splash proofing that almost all their other phones support.

JBL Flip 4: The Flip 4 is a Bluetooth speaker that is designed for active users who want to carry their music when they go out in the wild. It gets pretty loud for its size, has an excellent battery and enough bass for most users. Oh, and before we forget it even gets an IPX7 rating.

UE Roll 2: The UE Roll 2 is an odd-ball in its segment, it sounds as good as speakers twice its price, its shaped like a spaceship, costs really low, can float in water and even gets an IPX7 rating. If you need a budget speaker and need something that you can use with you on the pool, this is the speaker for you.

So, when it comes to water-proofing it's always good to be careful with smartphones especially if they have been used for a long time. But as a standard, IP ratings really help you understand just much better smartphones are getting over the years. While not all of us will be taking our smartphones to the pool, just to know that smartphones can survive that is great in a way.