Waterproofing may not be in your wishlist while buying a new phone, but there’s no denying that with it, there’s one less thing to worry about. Every year more than 250,000 people search Google for information about water damaged phones, Sony claims. While we have little idea of the accuracy of the data, it’s no secret that a fair share of people have suffered from it. In this article, we’d try to educate the consumers about the state of waterproofing on current phones and perform reality checks to see how it potentially still fails sometimes.
Waterproofing: A necessity or fashion?
You need to answer a call in the rain because your wife’s asking you to bring bacon. You need to use your phone with wet hands. These scenarios probably led to the inception of waterproof phones. These situations meant going easy and accepting waterproofing as a necessity which acts as an added layer of security on your device.
But manufacturers needed differentiation. So, the quest for making a highly sealed device started. Suddenly, we observe that this necessity of peace of mind is replaced by the fashion of deliberately using the phone underwater. There’s no denying that it’s more of the latter, these days.
Understanding IP Ratings
When a manufacturer claims a device to be waterproof, it specifies an Ingress Protection rating. Ingress protection ratings, a two digit number, is used to classify the degree of protection from foreign materials.
The first digit indicates the degree of protection from dust particles while the second one, from the water. There are several articles on the Internet which will provide you with information on what exactly each IP number means, so we’ll avoid it doing here again. Just remember, the greater the second digit in a number is, the more chances you can rock your phone at a pool party.
How is waterproofing achieved?
The secret to making a body waterproof is no rocket science. Manufacturing engineers invest a lot of time to ensure that the device is made intact with no openings. Each company many have different ideas to make a zero gap body. For example, Sony uses flaps to cover the housing of SIM and memory card slot. This flap, sealed with rubber, ensures waterproofing. Now you may obviously wonder what happens to the parts of the design which left open? Like the 3.5 mm jack? Well, they use superhydrophobic coatings in the jack which make it water repellent. From Wikipedia, ” A superhydrophobic coating is a nanoscopic surface layer that repels water. The Silica-based coatings are gel-based and can be easily applied via an aerosol spray.”
Okay, good try there, Science. Basically, this is a coating that you’d find on the lotus leaves which gives it the property to repel water.
Thus, as flawless construction and super hydrophobic coatings get married, a waterproof phone is born.
So why does it fail?
That’s some magic. But why does it fails occasionally?
Sometimes, it’s due to the plain ignorance of the user, like leaving the flaps open thus letting in the water. But lately, there have been a lot of complaints from the users who claim they ensured that the flaps had been closed but still their phone is water damaged.
Remember talking about flawless design? The best analogy I can make of flawless design is flying unicorns with three horns. Obviously a myth, you say.
Apple left iPhone owners berserk with Antennagate and more recently the bendgate issues. What I’m trying to say that asking for an actual flawless design is an overstatement. While companies are striving hard to achieve a perfect body construction and are certainly improving, perfection isn’t to be seen.
Some Xperia Z series owners have reported a gap problem which appears where the aluminium chassis and glass are supposed to meet. This magically appearing gap arouses the questions against an intact design.
Another issue why the waterproof phone failed you is the use of your phone in salt water. When Sony claims that Xperia Z3, IP68 rated can be used underwater for submersion up to 1.5 feet for 30 minutes, what they really mean is freshwater. In fact, it’s mentioned on their website, albeit you need eagle vision to spot the asterisk and have god gift you the ability to read fonts that become hundred times smaller. Salt water can corrode the internals and overtime loosen the rubber sealing on flaps. According to Sony, IPX7 certified devices should not be used in chlorinated swimming pools while IPX8 compliant devices can be used in the same. This may be confusing, but take Sony’s statement with a grain of salt. Pun Intended. More on why later.
The last issue why your waterproof phone failed you, we can think of, might be due to damage of superhydrophobic coating in the 3.5 mm jack. From Wikipedia, “Superhydrophobic coating relies on a delicate micro or nanostructure for their repellency. This structure is easily damaged by friction.”
So, as phones do not experience the wear and tear like other materials, it’s unlikely that your waterproof phone has failed you because the coating had been damaged. But that still certainly a possibility.
Who is accountable in case of a damage?
Shooting 4K videos in underwater seem Hallelujah until things get ugly. Getting things straight, your manufacturer probably does not account for the risk. In fact, manufacturers often state that water damaged phones will not be covered under warranty, even if you swear that there was no intentional liquid intrusion. If you’re in luck, you may try claiming a warranty but the odds are still pretty low. So if manufacturers advertise diving with your phone, why don’t they cover it under warranty if it get’s damaged?
It’s simple. It’s because after a phone leaves their labs and reaches a consumer, there are numerous issues that may creep in – like body design issues, exposure to salt water or nano coating disruption.
Sony, pioneering waterproof devices, offered a 1-year replacement warranty program but that was discontinued somewhere in mid-2014. Several Samsung owners are agitated over Samsung not covering water damage under warranty.
So ultimately, if someone’s responsible – it’s you. It’s up to you whether to make it your dive partner. Or Shower partner. Personally, I won’t gamble with my device’s life at the dive or the shower.
Sony claims that Xperia Z lineup is waterproof for 365 days of the year. I’ll remember to be careful if it’s raining on 29th February. Thanks, Sony.