Waterproof. Water-resistant. Splash-resistant. These three adjectives are used to describe smartphones of our day and time, and are often used interchangeably. I was stunned to read a smartphone review last night that consisted of using the words “water-resistant” and “waterproof” interchangeably. I’m not the least surprised when some individuals use these terms in normal conversation; most individuals who work outside the industry don’t study these terms on a regular basis and don’t know them. It’s no different than me talking with engineers and assuming certain engineering terms are synonymous when they’re not. Tech reviewers, on the other hand, are in a completely different camp. They should know better, but it’s not always the case that they do.
This shock has motivated me to cover a piece here at Aptgadget about these three terms, what they are, and how they should be used. I want our readership to know these terms so that, whenever someone says something is “waterproof,” you can ask, “What do you mean by this?” and allow the individual to clarify what he or she means. This will likely pop up as a discussion in a local carrier store or at your local Best Buy, but it’s still good to know so that you’re informed about your purchases and don’t buy a smartphone with an unrealistic expectation applied to something that the manufacturer never promised or guaranteed.
So, what do these three words mean? Let’s get into the discussion below.
For something to be waterproof means that it is completely resistant to water. In other words, you can take the device swimming with you without any worry as to whether or not you’ll ruin the device. There is very little in the world today that is waterproof. I’ve been studying old divers watches as of late, and even old divers watches aren’t waterproof. There is an impressive water-resistance to such devices, with some even allowing you to swim for 2000m below the surface without getting water damage, but even these devices can’t be kept in the water forever without getting some sort of water damage. Divers can’t stay in the water forever, neither can non-swimmers. In other words, waterproofing would exist if we lived in a perfect world — but we don’t.
In short, “waterproof” means that no water can ever seep into the device. That’s the ideal state; it’s akin to someone wearing a truly bulletproof vest. While many vests are bulletproof and repel bullets, waterproofing doesn’t exist. Most devices are water-resistant.
Water-resistant is another interesting adjective that describes smartphones. It refers to the fact that smartphones can repel water, but up to a point. The Samsung Galaxy S5, for example, is a smartphone that can resist 3.3 feet of water for 30 minutes. The Gear S2, Samsung’s latest smartwatch, can resist water up to 5 feet for a certain length of time (to be specified by Samsung or the manufacturer). In other words, IP68, as an Ingress Protection Rating, tells you that it can withstand a great deal of water — but this still doesn’t make it waterproof. In other words, you may be able to swim 5 feet in the water without water damage, but you may find that the phone has water damage at 11ft.
Most smartphones fall in this category, but there are smartphones that stand outside of this classification. Those phones are considered to be splash-resistant.
When a phone is splash-resistant, it’s said that the phone will repel splashes of water, light water on the device. Splash resistance is not water resistance; in other words, there’s a difference between small splashes of water and a small puddle of water, for instance. The Moto X is considered to be “splash-resistant,” meaning that it can withstand slight water dampness but won’t last under the same pressure as the Galaxy S5 or the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active, for example. When you see the word “splash-resistant” applied to a smartphone, you should immediately ask the carrier representative what the IP rating means or look it up yourself. After all, you don’t want to buy a phone that’s splash-resistant and be surprised when you drop it in the water and find that it’s damaged.
There are differences between waterproof, water-resistant, and splash-resistant, and, for your sake, it pays to know the differences between these three terms. If you invest $600+ into a smartphone, you should want to know. Should you drop your phone at the beach or a lake, you’ll have to face the consequences — and if the phone doesn’t have the expectations you place on it (you assume that the phone is water-resistant or waterproof when it’s only splash-resistant), you may find yourself with a dead phone while forking over a deductible to get it fixed.