Years after rivals like Sony and Samsung began protecting users against water damage, Apple may finally have a smartphone that’ll offer some resistance against the wet stuff.
The iPhone 7 is IP67 certified, which is similar to the original Apple Watch. The Samsung Galaxy S7, meanwhile, is IP68 certified. What do these things mean, and which is best?
Let's start with the iPhone 7. Will iPhone 7 owners be able to go swimming, take underwater photos or just rest assured knowing a quick dousing with a glass of water won’t require a trip to the Genius Bar?
For the Apple Watch, which is IPX7 certified, Cupertino says: “Apple Watch is splash and water resistant but not waterproof. You can, for example, wear and use Apple Watch during exercise, in the rain, and while washing your hands, but submerging Apple Watch is not recommended.”
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Based on the certification, this instruction errs on the side of caution. Many users say they've used the Apple Watch in the shower, for example. Let’s break down the IP67 and IP68 ratings to establish the parameters:
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What do IP67 and IP68 actually mean?
Most modern smartphones have these certifications attached depending on how resistant they are to the elements; dust particles and water, but what do the ratings stand for?
IP – This stands for the International Protection marking, a standard drawn up by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).
6 – The first digit stands for its resistance to dust, but also general dirt and sand. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S7 earned a ‘6’ rating for “No ingress of dust; complete protection against contact (dust tight)” following an 8-hour test.
The iPhone 7 has the same rating for dust resistance.
7 – The second digit provides certification for water resistance. For our purposes, this is the important bit.
A 7 rating ensures “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 1m of submersion)” according to the IEC.
While a 7 rating guarantees protection for up to 30 minutes. The Samsung Galaxy S7 received an 8 certification for water resistance, meaning it can be underwater for 30 minutes at depths of up to 1.5m.
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What does this mean in real life?
In theory, the iPhone 7 can be submerged in depths of under 1m for 30 minutes and not sustain any permanent damage.
So, in essence, if you drop it down the toilet or into the bathtub while tweeting, you'll probably be OK. If some careless beer criminal spills a full pint over it, it may be smelly and sticky for a while, but ultimately it’ll work just fine. If you jump in the pool with it still in your pocket (as I did last summer, killing my iPhone 6) there's a much greater chance it'll survive.
The same applied for the IP68-rated S7.
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Can I swim with it?
Now here’s the tricky part. The IP67 certification allows for 1m submersion for 30 minutes. So, in theory taking the iPhone 7 for a quick dip, perhaps to take underwater photos shouldn’t be a problem, right?
Well that's not really the case. The IP tests were conducted under lab conditions while the phone was in standby mode, so there's a much greater chance it won't stand up as well as you attempt to take pictures of swimming pool shenanigans.
Also do you really want to chance your iPhone or Galaxy S7 with the nasty chemicals they use to mask the pee in swimming pools? Or contend with salt water in the ocean?
Back in 2015 Sony sent out promotional photos (below) of new IP68-certified Xperia handsets being used to take photos underwater. It later controversially altered its stance to advise buyers not to use them under water.
“Remember not to use the device underwater," the firm said. “The IP rating of your device was achieved in laboratory conditions in standby mode, so you should not use the device underwater, such as taking pictures.”
With that in mind, you're probably best following the manufacturers' warnings and not swimming with the phone exposed.
Sony's infamous promo photo
In any case, definitely don't go scuba diving with it, unless you have a specially designed case, like the iGills 5X case that’s rated to a depth of 200ft and wraps the iPhone in a sealed, locked, waterproof housing.
What else to avoid
When it comes to the Apple Watch, the company sets out a number of caveats to the water resistance.
On its website, it writes:
“Submerging your Apple Watch isn't recommended. Water resistance isn't a permanent condition, and your Apple Watch can't be rechecked or resealed for water resistance. The following may affect the water resistance of your Apple Watch and should be avoided:
- Dropping your Apple Watch or subjecting it to other impacts.
- Submerging your Apple Watch in water for long periods of time.
- Swimming or bathing with your Apple Watch.
- Exposing your Apple Watch to pressurized water or high velocity water, for example, showering, water skiing, wake boarding, surfing, jet skiing, and so on.
- Wearing your Apple Watch in a sauna or steam room.”
It's safe to assume Apple will follow similar advice for the iPhone 7. As for the comparison with the Samsung Galaxy S7, it can go half a metre deeper than the iPhone 7, so the two have very similar protection.