Simplifying water-proofing tech in smartphones

The new iPhones offer protection against spills and splashes of water, but they aren’t the first to do so. A look at the various types of water resistance and proofing tech, and how does it matter to a user


Moto G 3rd Gen was the first budget smartphone with this feature. Above a file photo of the Moto G Turbo. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Moto G 3rd Gen was the first budget smartphone with this feature. Above a file photo of the Moto G Turbo. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Liquid damage is one of the leading factors responsible for damage to smartphones. Most users drop their device accidentally, or forget to put their phone away while it was raining.

This is one of the reasons why Apple decided to adopt one of the variants of water resistance technology in the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. The version used in the two iPhones is called splash resistance, which means they can endure being in rain or an accidental spill of water.

Interestingly, there are various versions of water-resistance.

Some of the phonemakers call their phones spill resistance, while some use the term water resistant or water proof.

The trend was started by Samsung when it released the Galaxy S4 Active in 2013. Initially this feature was seen in high-end flagship devices in Sony’s Xperia Z series or Samsung’s Galaxy S series. Moto G 3rd Gen (released last year) was the first budget smartphone with this feature.

Surprisingly, majority of smartphone makers have ignored this critical feature.

After bringing in IP68 level water proofing in Moto G 3rd Gen, Lenovo decided to go back to IP67 rating in the Moto G4 and G4 Plus smartphones, which were released this year.

Jargon buster

Water resistance or water proofing is used for phones with IP68 rating while spill resistance is used for phones which carry IP 67 rating. IP (Ingress Protection) rating is an international standard which is used to define the effectiveness of any gadget against foreign particles such as dust and water.

Each number in the rating has a specific meaning. The first number represents protection against solid particles such as dust while the second reflects the phone’s resistance to moisture or water.

The number 6 in the IP67 rating in the iPhone 7 means the phone is resistant to harmful dust particles while the number 7 means the phone can withstand sprinkle or splash of water.

Similarly, the number 8 in IP68 rating in Samsung Galaxy S7 (launched this year) means it will come out unscathed from a dip of up to 1.5 metres.

How it works

Water resistance in phones or any gadgets is achieved by adding a layer of nano-coating over a device during manufacturing. UK-based company P2i is one of the leading providers of water-repellent nano-coating to phone makers. It uses a pulse plasma deposition process to deliver a water-repellent coating over the phones. This coating is immensely thin and works by lowering the surface tension of water, causing it to form a droplet and roll off.

In some cases a phone can withstand rains and splashes of water from top down. These phones are often referred to as splash or spill resistant phones and carry IP67 rating. While some phone makers such as Sony used flap covers in the past to cover the ports, their new set of phones such as the Xperia Z5 (released this year) are water-proof even if the USB and 3.5mm ports are open.

As the depth in water increases so does the pressure, which is why most smartphones work only up to 1.5 metres. Also, salty water, hot water, or coffee spills are likely to affect a phone differently compared to ordinary water at room temperature.

Why it matters?

Having a water proof or water resistant smartphone makes it a lot more adaptive to users with sweaty hands or those living in cities with high rain density. It also means a user won’t have to worry about carrying one’s phone into one’s kitchen, bathroom or swimming pool area.

In case one is interested in underwater photography, some of these water proof phones such as Samsung Galaxy S7 or the Sony Xperia Z5 can be used to click under-water pictures or selfies. The good bit is that a user is no longer required to spend upwards of Rs.40,000 for a water resistant device. Most of the new Moto G and E smartphones, which cost between Rs.7,999 to Rs.14,999, offer some level of protection against water.

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