About a few weeks ago, I noticed something strange about a phone I had been using for about some time: a bit of dust and pocket lint was stuck in a gap between the metal frame and glass back plate of my phone. I tried to push the particles out and surprisingly a gap opened between the glass and the frame it was supposed to be glued to. Apparently, the adhesive in that area had become loose.
This wasn’t a good thing. Although the phone still looked fine from the outside, it is most likely that the phone had lost its water-resistant properties.
Waterproof vs water resistant: what’s the difference?
If you look at the specs sheets of the top smartphones, you’ll notice that most of them have water and dust resistant properties of some kind, most commonly IP67 or IP68. This is also called the International Protection Marking code. The first digit indicates a level of dust, while the second digit tells us how hard it is for water to get inside. The higher the digit, the more protected your device is.
What you didn’t notice that none of these phones are advertised as waterproof. They’re merely water resistant, not completely immune to liquids. In other words, even a phone with a rating of IP68 – the highest you’ll notice on a typical phone – may incur water damage under some specific conditions. It will survive a drop in the toilet, but probably not being sprayed by a jet of water.
And why may water protection fail?
If you go to the Apple web site and scroll down to the very bottom of the iPhone XS product page, you’ll notice a disclaimer:
“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.”
This applies to not only iPhones. Practically every water-resistant phone may lose its ingress protection over time, simply because it is being actively used. There is a pretty good chance that the dust particles that end up behind your speaker grill may penetrate the speaker driver’s membrane. And if you accidentally crack your phone’s screen or glass back then its water resistance is pretty much done with. Currently, no major brand will honor your phone’s warranty if evidence of water damage is there.
What do I need to do to keep my phone safe?
Your phone is protected against water it does not mean for you to go get a shower with it. Its IP rating is there to ensure that rain droplets or accidental spills won’t damage your device. And if it does get seriously wet, be sure to promptly wipe all moisture off by using a dry towel. DO NOT use a hairdryer. And be sure that the rubber seal on its SIM card tray is in good condition.
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