How water and solid-resistant is your smartphone? IP Ratings briefly explained

The ever-evolving world of smartphones is a revolutionary testament to innovation. In terms of software and hardware, our smart devices are rapidly reaching their peak in both design and execution. The computational prowess, features, and accessibility options available to us packaged in a small brick-like form factor no larger than our palms, truly makes us wonder if we are at near the end of the road until we can time travel on our iPhone 65 Pro Super Extreme Max or Samsung Galaxy S-Universe Infinity Ultra in the future.

All in all, despite our massive leaps and bounds in tech advancement, we just can’t help but treat our high-performing mini supercomputers like the delicate gold bars made of glass (literally) they are; handling them with so much tender care, even our beloved pets or partners would be envious.

Let’s ask big questions instead – How vulnerable are your smartphones to external factors? Will a couple of droplets of water from a garden sprinkler, some specks of dust and sand from the Kuantan beach, or a short dunk in the dish sink immediately render your thousand-dollar devices completely inoperable?

Or has the exponential growth of technology and industrial design quietly made modern devices more resilient to match their outrageous capabilities? It boils down to understanding the specifications of our devices beyond just their make and model.

Let’s explore some of the most common environmental vulnerabilities of standard smartphones.

1. Water Damage

A stealthy intruder, water damage occurs when moisture infiltrates gaps and creases of a smartphone, leading to a range of detrimental effects to its electronic circuitry. From corroding internal components to short-circuiting crucial boards and electrical components, the consequences can be dire. When a device encounters water, it’s not just about immediate malfunction; the long-term effects can manifest subtly, causing issues like decreased performance, battery degradation, and, in extreme cases, permanent damage.

There are various ways water can lead to damage to your devices. When submerged underwater or exposed to heavy moisture in wet environments, the ports, holes, cavities, and small gaps between two conjoined pieces of the chassis are the most common entry points in any traditional smartphone.

2. Dust Damage

Dust and small particle damage may seem innocuous, but microscopic particles infiltrating your smartphone can have a profound impact. Dust can accumulate on internal components, hindering proper functioning. Over time, this buildup can lead to overheating, impaired performance, and even damage to delicate parts of the device. No less threatening than that of liquid. Among the many threats, water and dust damage stand out as silent assailants capable of wreaking havoc on our beloved gadgets.

3. Understanding Ingress Protection (IP) Rating

You might be thinking, “Smartphone advertisements are so over-the-top, and exaggerate every little detail. And the good ones are not cheap at all! Surely there must be some form of protection against the harsh elements.”

You are right. Smartphones for the last 5 to 10 years or so, have had built-in resistance against liquid and solids, by design. In fact, the first phone to have water resistance was introduced in 2010! In the early days, only top-tier flagship lines of smartphones have dust and water resistance, but as economies of scale slowly reduced costs of manufacturing, even mid-range to certain budget phones can afford to have these privileges as well. These boons are, however, not as heavily advertised as the camera modules, unfortunately.

If you’ve ever done some research on your next smartphone to buy, you may have come across labels such as “IP-Rated,” “IP68” or “Not IP-rated”. To defend against the elements and safeguard our expensive and important devices against water and dust, manufacturers adhere to Ingress Protection (IP) ratings, a globally recognized standard set by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) introduced as early as 1976!

It is not as complicated as it sounds; the IP rating consists of two digits: the first indicating resistance to solids (like dust), and the second denoting resistance to liquids (such as water). For instance, an IP68 rating signifies robust protection against dust (IP6x) and water resistance up to a certain depth (IPx8).

To get certified for an IP rating, manufacturers must first strengthen the design of their devices against dust and water, proving that the creases and gaps are adequately sealed, before submitting it for tests and evaluations.

“Why do most mid-range and budget phones not have IP ratings? Are they incapable of dust and water resistance?”

Not necessarily true. Obtaining an IP rating costs money, which adds into the overall retail price of the phone, thereby defeating its purpose of being budget friendly. It is more economically feasible for more higher-end flagship devices to have an IP rating instead. Not having a rating, though, does not mean that a device is incapable of some form of resistance in its achitecture. As costs go down for smartphones, expect to see more mid-range and budget phones improving resistance and even obtaining more robust IP certifications.

What Can Your Phone Survive?

Phones with higher IP ratings, such as IP68, can endure submersion in water up to a certain depth for extended periods and resist dust effectively. However, these ratings are not absolute guarantees, and real-world conditions may vary. Understanding the limitations of your device’s IP rating empowers you to make informed decisions about usage.

For now, the highest rating for smartphones is IP68, but there are other devices with varying degrees of resistance for dust and water. Foldable phones in the market for example, have IPX8 ratings to indicate that while it is water-resistant certified, is not dust-resistant certified due to their complex hinge design and individually separate mechanical components.

Preventing and Mitigating Water and Dust Damage

Whether your phone boasts an IP rating or not, taking proactive measures to prevent damage is fundamental practice. For devices without IP ratings, use protective cases and avoid exposing your phone to water and dusty environments. For those with IP ratings, be mindful of the specified limitations and consider additional protective measures, such as periodic cleaning of the charging ports, speakers, and microphone grills. Wipe down your phone whenever it is exposed to water, and do not submerge your devices underwater beyond its certified depth.

What to Do If Your Phone Is Damaged

In the unfortunate event that your smartphone becomes damaged due to water or dust, despite all preventive measures, swift action is paramount. Power off the device immediately, remove any external accessories, and avoid attempting to charge it.

You are advised against opening the device or removing parts on your own without proper guidelines and instructions. As always, we recommend seeking professional assistance for more severe cases, and obtaining professional opinions on how to best restore a damaged device!

If the warranty has expired, consider seeking professional repair services. Authorised Service Centres, such as Secondlifeasia or reputable third-party repair shops. Visit Apple Independent Repair Provider, Secondlifeasia, to find out more about the costs for liquid damage for your Apple devices.

We have more articles to breakdown smartphone technology for the daily reader, including tips to safeguard your devices and diverse types of damage risks for smart devices. If you want to read more about the maintenance of smartphone screens/displays click here or smartphone batteries click here, check out our other stories!