Many moons ago, I was once the proud owner of the humble Nokia 3310. All was well, until one particularly cold British day on the Swanage coast, where it slipped out of my hands and into the sea. I managed to get it out of the water, but you guessed it – the ‘indestructible 3310’ was no more. All my contacts, texts and Snake high scores gone. Devastating.
Mobile phones have come a long way since then; over the past few years we’ve seen the introduction of built-in cameras, video calling and mobile internet, all of which many of us now take for granted. Now though, there’s one feature that has become more prevalent on majority of modern smart phones. Some might say that it’s revolutionizing the way in which we use phones today. All I know is I sure could have used it back when I had my 3310.
I’m of course talking about new phones being ‘water resistant‘. In this post we’ll dive into just exactly what that means, what you need to be aware of and what you can do to avoid damaging your device and/or potentially losing your data.
Water resistant vs. waterproof
First things first; being ‘water resistant’ isn’t the same as being water proof. By definition, being water resistant means something has the ability to prevent the intrusion of water, but not completely. It’s also not a permanent state; with general wear and tear of a device you will likely find that the water resistance will decrease over time (think knocks, smashed screens, etc.). It also doesn’t help matters if you’ve got any ports open for external SD/SIM cards where water can seep in.
What’s more, while many modern smartphones are now rated as water resistant, ‘water damage’ is not something that is usually covered in your manufacturer’s warranty. In fact, if you’re an Apple user, check out what they have to say about the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus:
“iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are splash, water, and dust resistant and were tested under controlled laboratory conditions with a rating of IP67 under IEC standard 60529. Splash, water, and dust resistance are not permanent conditions and resistance might decrease as a result of normal wear. Do not attempt to charge a wet iPhone; refer to the user guide for cleaning and drying instructions. Liquid damage not covered under warranty.”
This excerpt mentions an ‘IP67 rating’ – what does this mean exactly and why is it important?
Testing, testing, 1 – 2 – 3
Most modern phones will have an ‘IP’ rating (International Protection Marking, or sometimes called Ingress Protection Marking), which essentially is a measure of how well the device deals with keeping out foreign particles. Let’s take a couple of recent examples; the iPhone 7 is ‘IP67’ rated, whilst the Samsung Galaxy S7 is ‘IP68’ rated.
The first digit in these ratings interprets as the effectiveness against the ingress of dust and dirt. Both of these phones have a rating of ‘6’ and means they have “complete protection against contact” following an intensive 8 hour lab test.
The second digit is all to do with the level of protection against water molecules entering the device. The iPhone 7 has a water ingress protection rating of ‘7’ (no connection there!) and can safely withstand a 1 metre dunking for up to 30 minutes. The Samsung Galaxy S7 on the other hand has an ‘8’ rating, which means it can be submerged to a depth of 1.5 metres for the same amount of time.
You can check out this article for a more detailed overview of the ratings, but in a nutshell both of these phones are pretty good at stopping water getting in under the recommended conditions.
It is important to consider that these ratings were given under controlled lab conditions and therefore should not be ignored. However, that hasn’t stopped some tech video bloggers testing the boundaries to see what is physically possible past the endorsed limits. (Warning: don’t try this at home!)
Differences in water quality
It’s worth noting that those IP ratings are for fresh water only. That means dropping your phone in the sea or a chlorine-filled swimming pool is more likely to cause further damage. Salt water is particularly bad and the science behind this is as follows; it’s a much better conductor of electricity due to the number of sodium and chlorine ions it contains. As such, this means that with all the electrical currents flowing through your mobile device there’s a higher chance of damage occurring when the internal components and connections come into contact with salt water.
We estimate around 3 out of 4 phones that come into our data recovery labs will have suffered from water damage and our expert engineers regularly see phones that have been dropped into the sea. When the phones are examined its usually noticeable (and expected) that key components have failed due to the corrosion and electrical conductivity from the salt water causing havoc. In all cases, specialist techniques are required to clean the device in an attempt to bypass the failures and get to the data.
What if my phone does get damaged?
If the worst should happen and you suspect your phone has suffered from water damage the data may still be recoverable. It’s best to turn off the device immediately and do not try to charge it. If you’re able to (sorry iPhone users), then it’s also best to remove the battery. You could try to dry the phone out thoroughly before attempting to switch it on again, however it is advisable to consult a professional data recovery company as soon as the incident has occurred. They can give you the best advice depending on the situation and let you know what steps should be taken to maximize the chances of a successful data recovery.
My advice? Use your water resistant phone like you normally would, before water resistance was even a thing. Whilst it may be technically possible to take a call in the shower, avoid using it in these situations to avoid the risk of damaging your device, and potentially losing your data.
Think of water resistance more as a safeguard than a party trick – if you get caught out in the rain you can finish that text. If you drop it in the sink you can pick it out and finish that call. If you drop it in the toilet… maybe give it a clean afterwards! Less exposure to water inevitably decreases the risk of water damage, and considering most manufacturer warranties won’t cover you it pays to try and keep your phone dry.
Have you suffered data loss from a water-damaged phone, or had any near misses? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Mikey has been with Ontrack for 6 years and is the Partner Program Manager, based out of the Epsom, UK office. He is a regular contributor to the Ontrack blog, usually writing about how different types of data storage technologies work. Outside of work you’ll find him either with a guitar in his hands or learning about rocket science.