Who says electronics and water don’t mix? Smartphones that can handle the rain, a dunk in the bath, or a tumble into a puddle aren’t the rarity they once were, and we’re not only talking about underpowered, basic phones covered in chunky rubber either. It’s entirely possible to buy a good-looking, capable mid-range phone, and even an amazing flagship smartphone which isn’t afraid of the wet stuff, too.
Maybe you work outdoors; you’re always at the pool; or you just want to Tweet while you shower in the morning. Whatever the reason, we’ve got your back. Here’s our list of the top picks for anyone seeking a waterproof phone right now, along with a quick overview of what those IP numbers really mean.
Related: What makes a smartphone rugged?
Updated on 10-19-2015 by Andy Boxall: Added in a new collection of water resistant phones.
Have you heard of the Ingress Protection scale?
When we talk about waterproof hardware, we often refer to an IP rating. This stands for Ingress Protection, and is usually followed by a number, which refers to its ability to withstand water and dust. The first digit relates to solid particle protection and the second digit to liquid. Here’s a complete breakdown of what the IP codes mean, but we’ve added the details you need to know with each phone, so you don’t have to go and work it out.
It’s worth pointing out that while some of these phones get close to being labeled waterproof, we probably should treat them as just resistant to water. In other words, we don’t advise you to deliberately submerge them. But it’s still nice not to have to worry.
Sony Xperia Z5 Family
Sony started the ball rolling for high-end water resistant smartphones when it announced the Xperia Z back in 2013. Since then, almost all its top-of-the-range Xperia Android phones have been able to survive a dunking.
In 2015, Sony overhauled its Xperia Z range and introduced three new models: The Xperia Z5, Xperia Z5 Compact, and the Xperia Z5 Premium. All have different spec sheets, but share the same degree of water and dust protection — an impressive IP68 rating. Almost regardless of your screen size of choice, Sony has you covered with the Z5, starting with the 4.6-inch Z5 Compact, the 5.2-inch Z5, and the 4K resolution Z5 Premium. You can read about all three phones here.
Here’s what that IP number means: If the IP number starts with a six, then the device features complete protection from dust, and must ward off particles to the extent where none can find their way in. If the number is a five, like the IP55/IP58 Xperia Z2, then the device is protected against ingress, and any particles that do get inside won’t stop it from working.
To meet the IPx8 standard, the device must continue to function normally after being left in water “continuously,” although the exact details are down to the manufacturer. In the case of the Xperia Z5, Sony says it’ll withstand low pressure jets from all angles, and 30 minutes underwater at a depth of 1.5-meters. It’s about as good as it gets for consumer electronics, but you do have to make sure that all the port covers are properly closed — although the Z5 has a capless design, unlike the Xperia Z3 — and realize that its touchscreen isn’t going to function perfectly while underwater.
Sony got in some water of the heated variety over its repeated use of promo pictures showing Xperia phones being used underwater, something that turned out not to be the best idea. We’d recommend keeping it above the water line for the majority of its life, regardless of its ability.
Where’s the Xperia Z4? We’re not including it due to its restricted release, and have gone with the internationally available Xperia Z3+ instead. However, it’s not a phone we’d really recommend buying due to excessive amounts of heat generated by the processor, but it exists and is waterproof, therefore it should be recognized here. Also, if you’re looking for the Xperia Z4V, which would also have been water resistant; don’t. Its release was canceled by Sony and Verizon.
The Xperia Z3 is Sony’s last flagship phone to get a wide release, and it scores highly on the ingress protection scale, attaining a rating of IP65/IP68. According to Sony, the reason it gets two ratings is because it complies with both the waterproofing standards. The Xperia Z3 Compact has the same IP rating, but comes with a smaller 4.6-inch, 720p screen.
You do have to make sure that all the port covers are properly closed, and realize that its touchscreen isn’t going to function perfectly while underwater, but the Z3 is more waterproof than most of the competition. The phone also has a 5.2-inch 1080p screen, a Snapdragon processor, and a 20.7-megapixel camera.
Sony Xperia Z3V and older Z phones
The Xperia Z3 was joined by the Xperia Z3V, a spin-off that’s exclusive to Verizon. It had the same specifications, just on a different network. There are several older Sony options out there, and if you’re after a water resistant bargain, the T-Mobile IP55/IP58 Xperia Z1S can still be purchased as a pre-owned phone through the network. It has the same ratings as the Xperia Z2, but a slightly smaller 5-inch, 1080p screen, and a Snapdragon 800 processor.
If you’re not worried about your new watertight phone being bang up to date, the Z1 and the Z1 Compact are also possibilities, while the Sony Xperia Z Ultra is the only big smartphone we know of with IP55 and IP58 ratings. You’ll struggle to find any of them new though.
Sony Xperia M5
The follow-up to the M4 Aqua, Sony has boosted the specs for the Xperia M5, while keeping the IP65/IP68 rating seen on many other Xperia phones intact. Equipped with a 5-inch, 1080p screen, the M5’s rear camera has a massive 21-megapixels, the front camera 8 megapixels, and a MediaTek octa-core processor provides the speed. Like many Sony phones, it’s hard to find in the U.S., but Expansys will order one for you, if the $540 unconnected price doesn’t put you off. The phone hasn’t been given a UK or wide European release either.
Looking for a phone that looks normal, but still works if it gets a soaking? The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua could be for you. Like other Xperia phones, it has an IP65/IP68 rating, making it more effective at keeping dust and water than most other devices on our list. The 64-bit, octa-core processor, 5-inch 720p screen, and 13-megapixel camera makes it even more attractive. It’s a little older, but Sony still sells the phone through its Amazon store, and it’s a reasonable $290 unconnected.
Don’t think Sony has the monopoly on waterproof phones, because Samsung also has a few in its range, headed by the latest Galaxy S6 Active. The normal Galaxy S6 is terrified of the wet stuff, the Active version has an IP68 rating to go along with the U.S. Mil-810G spec body, so it’ll handle extremes of temperature, altitude, and humidity. It has a 5.1-inch, quad HD screen, a 16-megapixel camera, and Samsung’s own octa-core processor, so it’s suitably powerful. It’s also easier to find in the U.S. than Sony’s phones, and is sold by AT&T, where it remains an exclusive. The phone hasn’t been released internationally.
Samsung’s flagship phone for 2014, the Galaxy S5, scores a rating of IP67. That means it can be submerged up to 1 meter in depth for up to 30 minutes, and no dust particles are able to enter the phone at all. You will need to make sure that the plastic flap that covers the USB port is securely closed and, since you can open the back, double check that the cover is firmly in place. The Galaxy S5 is still available to buy new, and also as a pre-owned smartphone through networks such as AT&T, but it won’t be around for ever now it has been superseded.
There are two variants to the flagship Galaxy S5, and both are rugged offerings. Again, these are older devices which haven’t been replaced for 2015, so while they’re still on sale, a replacement may arrive in the near future.
The S5 Active is still for sale through AT&T, and the S5 Sport can be purchased through Sprint. The S5 Active is chunkier and a lot more butch-looking, with plastic bumpers on the corners to ensure it can survive drops. The S5 Sport is rubberized, but not quite as angular. They both have big physical buttons to make it easier to operate them outdoors, and share the same IP67 rating as the standard S5. However, this duo also boast a MIL-spec 810G rating, which means they meet military standards and can handle extremes of temperature, humidity, and altitude.
Galaxy S5 Sport available at: Amazon