It’s common for manufacturers of phones, smartwatches and lots of other devices to claim products are waterproof, but what do the ratings touted around by the likes of Apple, Sony, Samsung and more actually mean?
You’ll likely hear these firms referring to 'IP rating'. This is the international standard that defines the degrees of protection devices provide against liquid, dust and solid objects.
You’ll typically see numbers such as IP67 when referring to the iPhone X or the iPhone 8, while the number IP68 is used when referring to the Samsung Galaxy S8, Galaxy Note 8 or Sony Xperia XZ Premium.
What does IP mean?
Those letters 'IP' refer to “ingress protection”, which in layman's terms means how easily dust and water can intrude on the internals of your device.
The IP part of the term won’t change, so it’s the numbers you’ll actually need to look at to work out how resilient your device is designed to be.
The first number in the sequence refers to the solids protection of the device. That means it’ll tell you how likely it is for dust to get into the device and whether for example it's likely to be a problem if you take your device to the beach and drop it in the sand.
Mostly you’ll only see the number five or six displayed here. The number five means the “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.”
However, if it's a six, it'll be more protective as the definition reads “no ingress of dust", and it offers complete protection.
Sometimes you'll also see a rating like IPX8, which is where the company doesn't reveal the number for its products dust protection so instead replaces it with an 'X'.
What does the second number mean?
The second number in your IP rating refers to how waterproof the device is, and it's a little more complicated than the first number.
Almost all mobile devices have an IP rating with a number of at least three or four, which protects against splashing or spraying water and ensures your device doesn’t get instantly ruined by the rain when you’re using it.
The numbers you’ll be interested in start at five. That is protection against “water projected by a nozzle (6.3mm) against enclosure from any direction.” If your IP rating is number six, it’ll protect against “water projected in powerful jets (12.5mm nozzle) against the enclosure from any direction.”
Truly waterproof devices are those with numbers from seven onward, but they still vary. The number seven means “ingress of water in harmful quantity shall not be possible when the enclosure is immersed in water under defined conditions of pressure and time (up to 1 m of submersion)."
A rating including an eight for the second number will refer to devices that can handle submersion beyond 1 meter, but no device is ever completely waterproof.
The official definition of the top water resistant number (nine) is, "the equipment is suitable for continuous immersion in water under conditions which shall be specified by the manufacturer. Normally, this will mean that the equipment is hermetically sealed.
However, with certain types of equipment, it can mean that water can enter but only in such a manner that it produces no harmful effects.”
What phones include what IP ratings?
So no phone is 100% waterproof. It’s always possible that you’ll get a bit of water seeping into your device if you submerge it at very deep depths or leave it there for a long time.
If you're looking for one of the most durable smartphones, there are many rugged choices including the AGM X2, Doogee S60 or the Ulefone Armor 2 that are designed specifically to be protected from vibration, shock, dust and water.
- Check out our selection of the best rugged phones on TechRadar Pro
If you're after a normal phone, we'd recommend listening to each manufacturer's individual advice that you can find on the official websites of each device maker. But if you have a high IP rating it’s likely you’ll be able to use your device in the bath or near a swimming pool without having to worry.