So you want a water resistant device. What are your options?

June 12, 2013
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Liquipel Water Proofing

We human beings can’t live too far from Earth’s most vital element, water. But water can become a harmful element, especially when it comes to pricey and sensitive electronic equipment such as smartphones. I’m sure that many of you are familiar with that special feeling of horror that occurs when a gadget refuses to come to life after getting in contact with a liquid.

But there are several ways you can avoid such unfortunate accidents. The one that makes the most sense is to buy a phone that’s water resistant by design, and there are several good options for you to pick from. The second one would be to use a water resistant case that will also protect the device from mechanical shocks. Finally, you could have your device waterproofed by coating it with a special water repellent solution.

Each solution has its pros and cons – we’ll take an in-depth look at everything in this post.

Water resistant smartphones

If you decide to go for a water resistant smartphone, you’ll have the peace of mind that comes when you know your device can withstand anything you pour on it, hassle-free. While the offer of such devices is still limited, there are a few waterproof smartphones for every budget.

On the other hand, water resistant smartphones are often thicker and heavier than conventional handsets. Moreover, manufactures often have to cut corners in the specs department, in order to offset the price of waterproofing the device.

An important thing to know before making a choice is that not all “water resistant” smartphones offer the same levels of protection against exposure to liquids. The Ingress Protection ratings are used to classify devices based on their levels of resistance to water and dust. Learn more about IP ratings here.

Now here are the most relevant options on the market.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active, the company’s first high-end rugged phone, has just been made official, and, although it’s a member of the “S4″ family, it looks quite different compared to its “regular” sibling. Samsung replaced the capacitive keys with hardware buttons and used a redesigned back plate locked in place with bolts. The enhanced durability comes at the cost of an increase in thickness of only 1mm. The Active is also about 20 grams heavier than the Galaxy S4.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active Press (8) 1600

As for water resistance, the S4 Active’s IP67 rating means that it  can be submerged up to one meter under water for up to half an hour. The phone also boasts top resistance to dust.

Specifications:

  • 5.0-inch Gorilla Glass 3 screen  with 441 PPI pixel density and 1080 x 1920 resolutions
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 chipset with quad-core Krait 300 processor clocked at 1.9 GHz and Adreno 320 as the GPU
  • 8-megapixel back-mounted camera
  • Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean right from the box
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 16 GB of internal storage with micro-SD slot that can be expanded up to 64GB
  • 4G/LTE and Wi-Fi 802.11 ac compliable
  • Wide range of Samsung features, including S-Voice, Smart stay, Smart pause, Smart scroll and 50 GB of Dropbox storage

Samsung Xcover 2

Samsung also has a more modest rugged smartphone, although we can’t actually include it in the budget category. Known as the Xcover 2, this handset is a sequel to the original Xcover, a rather popular phone that came with an attractive design and a tough shell.

Just like the Galaxy S4 Active, the Xcover 2 features an IP rating of 67, meaning that it can withstand being submerged in up to one meter of water, for up to 30 minutes.

Specs wise, the Samsung Xcover 2 comes with:

  • 4-inch WVGA display, 480 x 800 resolution, 233ppi
  • Single-core Cortex-A9 CPU clocked at 1 GHz, Mali-400MP GPU
  • 1GB of RAM
  • 4GB of internal storage (expandable via microSD).
  • 5 MP rear camera, 0.3MP front camera

Sony Xperia Z

One of the best looking smartphones out there, the Sony Xperia Z is a high-end device that attracts customers from all market segments. With a thin, sleek all-glass body, the Xperia Z comes with IP55 and 57 ratings, meaning limited protection against dust and protection against low-pressure water jets from all directions. Also, it can take temporarily submersions in up to one meter of water.

When it comes to specifications, here’s what you get out of the Z:

  • 5-inch Reality Display, 1920 x 1080 pixels, 441ppi
  • 13-megapixel back-mounted camera with a lot of interesting features
  • 1.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 processor
  • 2GB of RAM
  • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
  • micro-SD, LTE and NFC support

Sony Xperia ZR

Sony’s water resistant lineup expands with the Xperia ZR, a good choice for those looking for even more water resistance. The ZR comes with IP55 and IP58 ratings, which means it’s proofed against water ingress at depths of up to 1.5m for a duration of 30 minutes. Sony even suggests using the ZR for shooting underwater images and videos, which is something that the more conventional Z is not capable of.

Sony Xperia ZR press images (3)

With that said, the Xperia ZR’s body is slightly bulkier, but shorter than the Z’s. The display offers 720p resolution, and the viewing angles aren’t great. Moreover, the front-facing camera of the ZR is slightly less powerful  than the Z’s, and the internal memory has been halved to 8 GB.

Lenovo A660

Last year in September, Lenovo introduced to market a rather interesting phone, called A660. Powered by Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, this dual-SIM device comes with a dual-core processor clocked at 1 GHz and a 4-inch display with 480 x 800 pixel resolution at 233 PPI. With a generally slim and tight design, Lenovo accommodated a 5 MP rear camera and dust and water resistance capabilities. Although the handset is destined for China, you can still find it in some other markets.

Lenovo A660 waterproof press

Huawei Ascend D2

Released this March, the Huawei Ascend D2 is dust and water resistant and may be a viable option for those looking for a high-end device. This model caught our eye through its clean design and appealing looks. It’s white, glossy body resembles a classic Samsung Galaxy S2.

As for specifications, here’s what the Ascend D2 hides underneath the hood:

  • 5-inch Super IPS display with 1920 x 1080 resolution (443ppi) and Corning Gorilla Glass technology
  • Quad-core 1.5 GHz K3V3 processor
  • 13-megapixel camera with interesting features
  • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
  • 9.9 mm thin, 170 grams
  • 3000mAh battery with smart power-saving technology

Kyocera Hydro XTRM and Hydro EDGE

In May this year, Kyocera brought to market to new Hydro phones, called XTRM and EDGE. The XTRM features a 4-inch display with 800 x 480 resolution and a 1.2GHz Qualcomm processor. The phone also features 1GB of RAM, a 5 MP rear camera, Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, and LTE support. The Kyocera Hydro XTRM is waterproof and can also survive 26 repeated drops from 4 feet heights.

Moving towards the lower-end, the Hydro EDGE features the same display and a similar design. Most specifications are the same with the XTRM,  but the processor is a slower 1GHz dual-core, and the phone can’t handle LTE. Of course, the water resistance was preserved.

HTC Droid DNA

The HTC Droid DNA, also known as Butterfly or Deluxe in some parts of the world, was one of the first Full HD smartphones released. Besides integrating LTE support, wireless charging, a quad-core 1.5 GHz Krait processor, and 2GB of RAM, the Droid DNA comes with a 5-inch SLCD 3 display with a 441 PPI pixel density. Other than that, this handset features an 8MP rear-shooter and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity.

htc-droid-dna-review-3

HTC built the DNA to resist accidental splashes, but you can’t actually take it for a swim. The DNA doesn’t have an IP certification, but there are reports about a seal inside the device that should prevent damage when the exposure to water is limited.

Water resistant cases

The second and, perhaps, the simpler option to protect your investment against water damage is to purchase a waterproof or water resistant case. Keep in mind though that, just like the smartphones presented above, these cases have different resistance levels and will only repel water until a certain point.

Although they are usually a cheap solution, water resistant cases have some drawbacks. For instance, few models will allow a standard phone to be used underwater. Most of them are simply bags that can temporarily keep the phone safe while the owner gets back to surface. Moreover, most of these cases look bulky and unattractive.

But, at the end of the day, water resistant cases allow owners of regular smartphones to dip them in water or take their handset to the beach.

  • Otterbox Armor Case – a bulky smartphone case that can accommodate regular phones like the Samsung Galaxy S3, Otterbox protects devices against 30 minutes of exposure in 2 meters of water.  The reinforced polycarbonate case can withstand two tons of pressure and repeated drops. Price: $99
  • DiCAPac Case – even though its design isn’t quite stylish, DiCAPac’s product is perfect for a day on the beach. Compatible with the HTC One and other phones of that size, this neck-strap case can resist up to ten meters of water pressure and other harmful factors like sand and dust. Price: $15.99
  • Overboard Case – those owning larger phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 will find Overboard’s product delightful, even though its design is a bit bulky. When sealed correctly, the case can resist being dipped in six meters of water or exposed to dust and water. The unit is not shockproof or overly resistant to snow and cold. Prices range between $27 and $36.
  • Grace Digital Eco Pod – complete with its own set of headphones and detachable carabiner clip, the Eco Pod keeps the phone safe from water three feet deep for half an hour. Coming with an IPX7 certification, this orange-black case is also shockproof and can be mounted on the bike using a clip sold separately. Price: $40.
  • Krusell SEaLABox – good to go with most Android phones, this rather slim case is good for short duration dips in one meter deep water. Also with an IPX7 certification, the case is available in several colors and comes with a practical neckstrap included. Price: $39.
  • DryCase – this insulating smart bag can make any Android smartphone waterproof and thanks to a sensitive layer, it allows owners to keep using the camera or music functionalities. The unit comes with its headphone jack and with a nice mini pump for a quick vacuum seal. Price: $40.
  • Aquapac is a medium-sized product deemed perfect for kite-surfing, rafting and other water sports. It comes with a patented Aquaclip injection-molded plastic seal that keep the smartphone safe from water, dust, and sand. In addition to the adjustable armband, the case comes with a neck lanyard and with a soft protective layer that allows sound waves to pass through. The price of such unit is approximately $46.
  • Amphibx Fit Armband is one of the best options available at the moment, allowing enthusiasts to elegantly carry a smartphone by attaching the armband right below the shoulder. Coming with an IP8 rating, the Amphibx product is has a secure seal which guarantees protection under 3.6m of water for longer uses. Its light and breathable body ensures floatation even with a smartphone inside and its versatile straps can be adjusted to accommodate different arm sizes. The Amphibx Fit Armband ensures full functionality of the touchscreen, camera and other button gestures, even though the device is completely sealed. Protection against dust or sand is also included and manufacturers also have a waist belt for those wishing to go on slopes in winter. The product can be purchased for $59.99 and it’s compatible with most Android phones.

Protective coatings

Probably the best solution for most users, protective coatings are usually nano-coatings that can insulate any type of smartphone and render it immune to water. The process usually takes a couple of days and typically requires the owner to ship the device to a specialized company for the application of the coating.

Although the cost of such treatments may exceed the price tag of a waterproof case, users are guaranteed life-long protection, without having to worry about attaching a protective case and sealing it appropriately. Moreover, coatings spare users from having to choose between good looks and protection to accidents.

Liquipel, one well-known supplier of such technologies, allows phones to be treated in just three days with prices starting from $59.99. The company also does tablets and other accessories and for those that do not want to go through the whole process, an option of purchasing pre-treated devices exists on their official website.

Speaking of the process, Liquipel offers industry improvements in corrosion resistance and protection during prolonged exposure to liquids. By creating a self-sealing coating that provides electronics with protection from accidental exposure, Liquipel’s formula allows the sealing liquid to penetrate and coat both the external and internal components of a device, for complete protection.

Another variant would be P2i’s Dunkable nano-coating process, which provides water protection for smartphones and tablets alike. Although still in an early development stage, the Dunkable liquid-repellent technology is said to act as an invisible hydrophobic barrier that can protect against prolonged water exposure and accidental dips.

Water-resistant accessories

After choosing a proper water resistance solution, you will most likely need some water-resistant accessories, and most importantly, a waterproof headset. These are usually not that expensive and allow owners to listen to music while enjoying the cool touch of a wave. Here’s our pick:

  • Surge Mini Sport – with a patented H2O Audio technology, the Surge Mini Sport headsets can withstand heavy perspiration and complete submersion 3.6m underwater. Coming with an IP8 rating, the pricy set comes with five ear tip sizes and a design that delivers high quality functionality and long-lasting performance. Price: $50.
  • H20 Audio Earwrap – when conventional earplugs fall of the ear while swimming, an earwrap will never fail. Wet often means slippery and this product was created solely to keep earphones from slipping out of place. Pictured above, H20’s product is designed to keep earplugs in place and does not include waterproof speakers at all. For $10, it’s a good addition to complete the set.

What’s your choice when going for a swim with a smartphone?

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