Save your smartphone from expensive damage – why this rating matters
Smartphones have benefited from major advances in the last decade, from fast-refreshing screens that display apps and videos in sharp detail to powerful silicon that allows us to carry versatile mini-computers right in our pockets. But I would say that the biggest advancement for mobile phones is something a little more basic, but something that has allowed us to enjoy our devices for a longer period of time.
Yes, the best thing that has happened to smartphones is water resistance which prevents your phone from giving up the ghost the moment it comes in contact with any kind of liquid.
I experienced this first hand the other weekend when I found myself on an unexpected trip straight to the bottom of the river, with my own iPhone 12 along for the ride. We both survived our splash landings – the iPhone emerged with more of its dignity intact – and the phone’s IP68 water resistance rating deserves full credit.
Water resistance is probably not high on the list of what you’re looking for when buying a smartphone. Oh, you’ll probably check to see if it’s there, but I bet you probably care a lot more about camera specs, screen resolution, refresh rate, and how long your future phone will last on a charge.
And while all of those features are certainly important, the ability to get out of a body of water unscathed while your phone is still functional is one of those things that you’ll be glad your phone offers right when you need it.
Cry me a river – how my iPhone and I got wet
Back to the circumstances in which I developed a previously untapped appreciation for a solid IP waterproof rating. My family and I enjoyed a weekend vacation in Northern California where we rented a cabin by the Russian River. Along with that cabin came a canoe for our use. And with that canoe came an unexpected water twist.
My wie and I have piloted all kinds of watercraft without incident during our two decades plus of traveling together, and we figured this canoe wouldn’t break our perfect streak of staying afloat. And for a while things went well, precisely because none of us were forced to swim—instead, we paddled down the river at a surprisingly fast speed.
At least we paddled successfully, until our canoe ran aground in a particularly shallow part of the water and we managed to get out by pushing off the rocks without paddles. No worries – one of us would just jump out of the canoe, push the boat back into the deeper part of the river and – with a graceful movement – jump back into the canoe to continue our journey.
That third part of the plan proved to be our undoing. My daughter—the most nimble person in the canoe—went out to push, but in her haste to get back into the boat, we began to shift sideways. Despite our best efforts to right the boat, gravity’s unbroken winning streak continued, and the canoe overturned, sending us all—me, wife, daughter—into the Russian River.
In fact, two other things were also thrown into the river — my iPhone 12 and my wife’s iPhone XR.
We might think about how our subsequent attempt to get back into the canoe caused it to capsize again, throwing us and our various phones into the Russian River for a second time. But your laughing at me would only detract from the larger point – multiple dunks like this meant the end of your smartphone’s usefulness. So how did our iPhones survive?
IP68 to the rescue
My family may have worried that we’d never be able to get into our canoe again without tipping it over, but we weren’t too worried about the state of our iPhones. My iPhone 12 is iP68 rated and can withstand up to 6 meters of water for 30 minutes. My wife’s iPhone XR has its own IP68 rating, but it’s less rigorous—it’s only good for submersion up to 1 meter. The river was waist high, so it’s on the edge.
Of course, IP ratings aren’t unique to the iPhone—almost every major flagship has some sort of water resistance, with IP68 being one of the more common designations.
Certainly, our ranking list best waterproof phones they are filled with famous names. The Galaxy S22, for example, also has an IP68 rating, although it is limited to 1.5 meters. The same goes for Pixel 7. (There is an exception OnePlus 10 Pro, which claims water resistance but doesn’t carry an official IP rating except on models sold through carriers like T-Mobile. This is clearly a cost-saving move on the part of the phone manufacturer.)
So yes, even after multiple spills in the Russian River, our phones continued to work, even the iPhone XR. We toweled them off as best we could when we got back into the boat (in which we stayed upright this time) and dried them more thoroughly back in the cabin.
My wife got a bit of a scare when she went to charge her iPhone XR and a message appeared on the screen warning her that water was detected in the Lightning port. Still, even this was no big deal — there is A Siri shortcut to eject water from your iPhone’s port, and we launched that right away. Then we waited for things to dry further. A few hours later, the iPhone XR was fully charged.
What about cheaper phones?
All of this is fine if you’re getting a flagship, where strong water resistance is part of the asking price. But this is not the case with mid-range and cheaper models. The Google Pixel 6athe best cheap phone we tested, it is rated iP57, which means it can only be submerged in water up to 1 meter. Even cheaper phones can only promise splash protection, not full submersion.
I hope that will change. We’ve seen other premium features make their way down the production line to become mainstays even among budget phones, and improved water resistance is one feature that should be on that list.
Until that happens, be sure to check the water resistance rating of any phone you’re considering buying, even the cheap ones. A cheap phone isn’t a good deal if you have to buy a new one the first time it comes in contact with water.
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