The OnePlus 7 water-resistance controversy: No IP rating, no problem?

OnePlus has controversially shied away from IP certification for the newly unveiled OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7 Pro, due in part to the costs involved. But do the company’s claims wash, and where do you stand with phones that do have an IP rating?

Unlike many high-end smartphones on the market, OnePlus phones have never had official IP ratings for water resistance. But as the price of OnePlus devices has crept up − going from “flagship killers” to bona fide flagships − this has started to look like a bigger shortcoming.

As such, OnePlus received some criticism when it recently revealed that it has not IP classified the OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7 Pro. Co-founder Carl Pei posted a statement on OnePlus’ official forum, accompanied by a video (embedded below), in an attempt to justify the decision.

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The video shows a brand-new OnePlus 7 being dropped straight into a bucket of water. In a bold headline the video argues that “Water resistant ratings for phones cost you money — we bought something less expensive instead”.

A few frames later (in tiny text), OnePlus concedes the following: “Products not IP certified. Water resistant under optimal testing conditions. OnePlus makes no guarantees regarding water/liquid resistance. Water/liquid damage not covered under terms of sale.”

Simply put, despite being tested for water resistance, the OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7 Pro do not have an IP rating and will not be guaranteed against water damage. To clarify, Carl Pei wrote the following in his accompanying statement:

We know that an IP rating would be the simplest way to prove our phone’s capability, but the certification doesn’t help us communicate our focus on your real experience, which is why we created this direct and relatable video to show you what our water-resistant quality can actually bring to you in your real life in a more powerful way… And just like other smartphone brands that do IP classify their devices, our warranty does not cover water damage.

So OnePlus’ argument is threefold:

      • An official IP rating has no tangible meaning
      • An IP Rating is not typically covered by a manufacturer warranty
      • The cost of an IP rating is not worth its value

Let’s investigate these three arguments, so you can make an informed decision when considering whether or not you should buy OnePlus’ new phone, or indeed any handset that claims to be water resistant.

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What do IP ratings mean?

The IP (Ingress Protection) rating number is split into two digits, the first representing solid resistance (e.g. to dust) and the second representing moisture protection (i.e. to water or other liquids). To obtain this rating, smartphones (or any other devices) are tested under lab conditions.

The dust resistance figures ranges from one to seven (with one being no protection and seven being completely dust-tight), while water resistance ranges from one to nine (with one being no protection and nine meaning it’s resistant to prolonged immersion under pressure).

So, for example, a product with an IP68 rating is protected against dust that may harm equipment and against temporary immersion.

If consumers are minded to look up the meaning of IP ratings, they can find clear reference points for the resilience they can expect from their smartphone. It surely provides more transparency than a YouTube video of a phone being thrown in a bucket. The first part of OnePlus’ argument — that IP ratings don’t focus on “real experience” — comes up a little short.

Related: Waterproof IP ratings explained

Is an IP rating a guarantee?

Moving onto OnePlus’ second argument: if your phone is certified to be dust and water resistant, according to its IP rating, are you also covered against water damage?

The decision to extend a warranty comes down to individual phone manufacturers, so we took a look at some of the competitors to the OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7 Pro and examined the wording of their warranties:

Huawei P30 (IP53): “Tested in a controlled environment and certified to be splash, water, and dust resistant in specific situations… Water and dust-proofing are not permanent, and resistance may decrease as a result of normal wear over time. Do not charge the phone when it is wet or in moist environments. Refer to the manual for cleaning and drying instructions. Submersion in liquid and the resulting damage is not covered by the warranty.”

Samsung Galaxy S10e (IP68): “Not advised for beach or pool use. Water or dust damage not covered by warranty.”

iPhone XR (IP67): “Splash, water and dust resistance are not permanent conditions and resistance might decrease as a result of normal wear. Do not attempt to charge a wet iPhone; refer to the user guide for cleaning and drying instructions. Liquid damage not covered under warranty.”

Sony Xperia XZ3 (IP65/68): “Don’t worry if you get caught in the rain or want to wash off dirt under the tap, but remember all ports and attached covers should be firmly closed. You should not put the device completely underwater; or expose it to seawater, salt water, chlorinated water or liquids such as drinks. Abuse and improper use of device will invalidate warranty.”

OnePlus is therefore correct to say that most other smartphone manufacturers do not include water damage in their warranty, despite IP ratings. So whether a smartphone is IP rated or not, in most case, if it’s damaged by water you’ll have no recourse for damages from the manufacturer.

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So what’s the point of an IP Rating?

The IP rating merely gives you an expectation of what your phone can take in case the worst happens and liquid is spilled over it. OnePlus’ final argument is that the price of an IP rating isn’t worth what it brings to the table. Pete Lau, also a co-founder, estimated the extra cost of getting an IP rating to be $30 (~£23) per handset back in October 2018.

Only the individual consumer can decide whether this cost is worth it to them. But now that the brand has entered the premium market with the OnePlus 7 Pro, the lack of IP rating might be more of an issue than it ever was before.

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