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Waterproof Phones: IP ratings explained

Michael Sawh by

Waterproof Phones: IP ratings explained

Dust and water-proofing used to be features associated with the kind of tough phones you’d expect mountain-climbers to pack into their rucksacks. Or the phones people on construction sites take to work. How things have changed.

The ability to brave the elements continues to crop up in smartphone announcements and at MWC 2014, the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the Sony Xperia Z2 were the latest handsets to continue the trend of producing waterproof and dustproof designs.

If you’ve read our Samsung Galaxy S5 hands-on you’ll know that the follow-up to the S4 has been IP67 certified dust and water-resistant. But what does that actually mean? The best place to start is by understanding exactly what an IP rating is.

What is an IP rating?

IP stands for Ingress Protection and is essentially a rating system developed by the International Electrotechnical Commission or the IEC. The system is now being used to classify different degrees of protection against intrusion or immersion. In other words, when Samsung, Sony or anyone else claims something is ‘waterproof’ or dustproof’ the IP rating will tell you how well it can guard against dust or water from damaging your expensive investment.

The IP rating is usually followed by two digits. The first indicates the level of dust-resistance, the second water resistance. Dust-resistance levels go from 0 up to 6 while water-resistance goes from 0 to 9.

The higher up the scale, the better the smartphone or tablet is at offering protection. So if you have a smartphone that is IP68 certified, that means it’s fully dust-proof and water-resistant, although usually to a certain depth and for a certain amount of time for the latter.

How waterproof are the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2?

In order to guard your phone or tablet from damage, vital ports need to be internally sealed like they are on the Sony Xperia Z1 or alternatively use rubber sealed lids like the ones found on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active. If those lids are not fully closed before you submerge the phone underwater you are going to have problems.

So how does that translate to the latest line of water and dust deflecting handsets from MWC 2014?

The Samsung Galaxy S5 has the same IP67 certification as the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active, which means according to the IP rating scale it is completely dust-proof and can be submerged underwater up to 1 metre depth for 30 minutes. The new perforated design plastic back and USB port at the bottom are both rubber sealed to make this possible.

For the Sony Xperia Z2 smartphone and Xperia Z2 Tablet Sony includes an IP55 dust-resistant rating and an IP55 and IP58 waterproof ratings. Like the Xperia Z1, both use the same removable covers over the microUSB charging port, microSD card slot and microSIM slot on the tablet.

When all are closed, it retains it will be dust-resistant and water-resistant to jets of water. It can also be submerged underwater in freshwater up to 1.5 metres depth for 30 minutes. So, you can take it in the pool and the bath and shoot 4K video, or take photos bath. But not in the sea.

Is the iPhone waterproof?

The iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C are not waterproof. Apple has so far decided against going down the same protective path as Samsung and Sony. It’s not something that’s currently being rumoured for the iPhone 6 either, although you can never rule anything out from the folks at Cupertino.

The best way to get a waterproof and dustproof iPhone is to invest in a case from a manufacturer like LifeProof or Griffin, who provide sealed cases with IP68 rating that will then allow you to take the Apple smartphone to the beach or for a swim in the pool.

In most cases, you will have to be willing to sacrifice on the slim form factor. Rugged cases are almost always chunky things. Other options include getting a company like Liquipel to add a water-resistant, nano-coating to smartphones with an IPX7 rating for casual water resistance.

So there you have it. That’s what the IP rating means for the latest smartphones. It will tell you whether your smartphone or tablet is water-resistant or waterproof, and remember those two are clearly very different things.

Any questions? Let us know in the comments section below.

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