Many smartphones, tablets, activity trackers, smartwatches and even some wireless speakers are "water-resistant," but what does that actually mean? Can these devices be used in the rain? What about swimming in the shower, or even the pool? Water resistance doesn't mean the same thing for all devices.

We explain what IP rating mean so you can choose the right one.

The first thing you need to look for is a device's Ingress Protection Rating (or International Protection Rating), although it is more commonly referred to as an IP rating. Rating codes do not include hyphens or spaces, and consist of the letters IP followed by one or two digits. Two common ratings for consumer devices are IP67 and IP68 Smartphone.

IP codes are a standard set forth by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). According to the organization, the codes are designed as a "system for classifying the degrees of protection provided by the enclosures of electrical equipment."

The first number in the rating code represents the degree of protection provided against the entry of foreign solid objects, such as fingers or dust. These protection levels range from 0 to 6. The second number represents the degree of protection against the entry of moisture, with protection levels ranging from 0 through 8.

If an IP rating has an X in it, don't misinterpret this as the device having no protection. It's likely to have good protection for particles if it's IPX6, but the rating has not been formally allocated.

Below you will find a chart that outlines all of the protection levels set by the IEC.

IP CodeProtectionObject size
0 No protection N/A
1 Protection from contact with any large surface of the body, such as the back of a hand, but no protection against deliberate contact with a body part, such as a finger Less than 50mm
2 Protection from fingers or similar objects Less than 12.5mm
3 Protection from tools, thick wires or similar objects Less than 2.5mm
4 Protection from most wires, screws or similar objects Less than 1mm
5 Partial protection from contact with harmful dust N/A
6 Protection from contact with harmful dust N/A
IP CodeProtectionTest durationUsage
0 No protection N/A N/A
1 Protection against vertically dripping water 10 mins Light rain
2 Protection against vertically dripping water when device is tilted at an angle up to 15 degrees 10 mins Light rain
3 Protection against direct sprays of water when device is tilted at an angle up to 60 degrees 5 mins Rain and spraying
4 Protection from sprays and splashing of water in all directions. 5 mins Rain, spraying and splashing
5 Protection from low-pressure water projected from a nozzle with a 6.3mm diameter opening in any direction 3 mins from a distance of 3 meters Rain, splashing and direct contact with most kitchen/bathroom faucets
6 Protection from water projected in powerful jets from a nozzle with a 12.5mm diameter opening in any direction 3 mins from a distance of 3 meters Rain, splashing, direct contact with kitchen/bathroom faucets, outdoor use in rough sea conditions
7 Protected from immersion in water with a depth of up to 1 meter (or 3.3 feet) for up to 30 mins 30 mins Rain, splashing and accidental submersion
8 Protected from immersion in water with a depth of more than 1 meter (manufacturer must specify exact depth) Varies Rain, splashing and accidental submersion

If anyone ever tells you that a watch is waterproof, it's a lie. No watch is truly waterproof, and in fact the International Organization for Standardization and Federal Trade Commission prohibit watches from being labeled as being "waterproof." While a watch may be able to withstand a certain degree of water exposure, there is always a limit to how much water pressure it can handle before it begins to leak. The term "waterproof" implies that a device will remain unscathed under even the most difficult of circumstances.

To help regulate and explain water resistance in watches, the ISO has set standards that have been adopted by many traditional watchmakers. Most smartwatches and activity trackers, however, don't actually adhere to these standards and therefore aren't ISO-certified. Consumer electronics tend to follow the IP code.

Pressure tests are measured in ATMs, which stands for atmospheres, and then converted to water depth to make the measurements easier to understand. Each ATM is equivalent to 10 meters (33 feet) of static water pressure. Below you will find a chart that outlines that basic water-resistance levels.

Water RatingsProtectionUsage
1 ATM Withstands pressures equivalent to a depth of 10 meters (33 feet) Improved resistance to rain and splashes. No showering or swimming.
3 ATM Withstands pressures equivalent to a depth of 30 meters (98 feet) Rain, splashing, accidental submersion and showering. No swimming.
5 ATM Withstands pressures equivalent to a depth of 50 meters (164 feet) Rain, splashing, accidental submersion, showering, surface swimming, shallow snorkeling
10 ATM Withstands pressures equivalent to a depth of 100 meters (328 feet) Rain, splashing, accidental submersion, showering, swimming and snorkeling. No deep water scuba diving or high-speed water sports.
20 ATM Withstands pressures equivalent to a depth of 200 meters (656 feet) Rain, splashing, accidental submersion, showering, swimming, snorkeling, surface diving and water sports. No deep water diving.

The next generation of IP69 waterproof phones

According to IDC, liquid is the second most common cause of damage in smartphones accounting for 35.1 percent of all devices repaired. However, that might change considerably in 2018 thanks to a new generation of waterproof phones with better protection.

At the moment, phone makers either use physical seals or a nano-coating to keep water out. While the latter is limited to splashes, P2i - a leader in the technology - is working on an improved version of its plasma protection which will be IP69.

A nano-coating to this level will give partners more freedom with design and could even mean we see more handsets with removable covers and batteries again.

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