The claim that the Samsung Galaxy S5 was ‘IP67 dust and water resistant’ was a key element of its high-profile launch this week. But what are IP ratings and what do they actually mean when it comes to smartphones?

First off, like much about the Galaxy S5’s tech specs, the fact that it was water resistant was not a first in the ultra-competitive smartphone market.

The Sony Xperia Z1 smartphone – and its replacement – the Sony Xperia Z2, have both been described as ‘waterproof’ – giving it a unique and highly obvious selling proposition against its rivals. Indeed Apple’s ongoing silence on the water resistance or otherwise of its iPhone devices has made this USP particularly attractive recently.

But how do smartphones like the X1, X3 and S5 get their IP ratings? And what recourse do you have if your device suffers from water damage despite being labelled and marketed as waterproof or water resistant?

Sony has a page on its mobile website where it explains the Ingress Protection (IP) ratings that apply to the Xperia smartphones: IP 55 and IP 58. These ratings were originally devised by the International Electrotechnical Commission, a standards organisation, in a bid to give quantitative definitions to vague terms such as ‘waterproof’ or ‘dust resistant’, particularly where electrical goods were involved.

What is the IP 55 rating?

The first numeral of 55 applies to solid dust particles – 5 essentially means the device is dust proof. Or to quote the somewhat mealy mouthed text: “Ingress of dust is not entirely prevented, but it must not enter in sufficient quantity to interfere with the satisfactory operation of the equipment; complete protection against contact”.

The second 5 in the IP 55 rating reflects its ‘liquid ingress protection’ and 5 denotes that it is protected against water jets or hoses. The actual test involves water jets with a pressure of 30kPa spraying the device for 15 minutes at a distance of 3 metres. Which essentially means you can spay the device down with your garden hose to wash it.

What is the IP 58 rating?

The IP 58 rating shows that the device has a further level of water protection – the 8 means that the device has been tested fully immersed in fresh water.

Sony claims that it achieved compliance with this by testing its Z1 and Z2 devices at a depth of 1.5 metres for up to 30 minutes. The key condition is that all the flappy covers for the micro USB port, the micro SIM port and the memory card slot are firmly closed.

What is the IP 67 rating? How does it compare with IP 58?

The IP 67 rating proudly borne by the Samsung Galaxy S5 indicates a higher level of dustproofing than the 55 and 58 ratings of the Xperia range. The precise wording is ‘dust tight’ as opposed to ‘dust proof’, but again this requires that micro USB port has its new cover secured tightly. This means that, unlike the Xperia range, the Samsung Galaxy S5 can be safely used on the beach – as indicated in Samsung’s teaser promotion (see below). 

Samsung ad

The second digit 7 means that the Galaxy S5 has been tested immersed in up to 1 metre of water for up to 30 minutes. This doesn’t quite match the depth integrity of the Xperia smartphones which were tested at a depth of 1.5 metres, although in everyday use the differences are likely to be minimal.

So does this mean I that I’ll never have to pay for water damage of my Galaxy S5, Xperia Z1/Z2?

No, this certainly doesn’t mean that that your devices can’t get water damaged, or indeed that Sony, Samsung or whoever will always pay for the repair or replacement.

As Sony’s manual for the Xperia Z2 states: “our device is waterproof and dust resistant in compliance with the Ingress Protection ratings IP55 and IP58 (see details below). Always firmly attach all covers to ensure the water and dust resistance of the device. If liquid is detected inside the device, for example, underneath one of the covers, your warranty will be void.”

The Xperia devices both sport obvious water detection ribbons inside their ports (see photo). If these are submerged in water for a period of time these will turn red and theoretically void your warranty because, presumably, you hadn’t closed the flaps properly to prevent water entering.

Of course, this does assume that the flaps are functioning properly and the phone is otherwise water resistant to its declared IP rating.

Many Xperia users have experienced problems with their phones after submersion in water – mostly related to the speaker losing volume, condensation appearing in the camera lens and the hardware buttons becoming less responsive. In most instances the problems disappear as the phone dries out.

And there are some reports of the smartphones being bricked completely after being dunked – and this is where there is potential conflict. After all, if the water sensors are activated but the user insists that all the flaps were securely closed isn’t it just a case of your word against Sony’s?

To be to fair to Sony, there is no real evidence that it has taken a Draconinian ‘If it’s red your dead’ approach to triggered water sensors. In fact when Sony receives an water resistant Xperia with suspected water-damage it subjects it to an exhaustive series of tests to identify the source of the leak, which include pumping compressed air into the phone to see if its pressure tight and disassembling the device to look for traces of oxidation.

Does the Apple iPhone have any IP ratings?

When iOS 7 was released, several moronic upgraders bricked their iPhones after seeing a spoof ad that stated the OS update made their smartphones waterproof (see below)

Apple Spoof Ad

In fact, Apple has not made public any IP rating for any of its iOS devices, although it’s undoubtedly aware that dust and water resistance is increasingly used as a marketing tool. The likelihood if ever does make the iPhone dust and water resistant it will so through a more elegant approach than clumsy port covers used by its rivals.

In the meantime, there is an easy, if expensive, way to get a ‘waterproof’ IP 68 rating for your iPhone – buy a protective case like the Lifeprood nüüd.

In this area at least, Apple is playing catch up on Sony and Samsung…


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