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 04-21-2014 by Andy Boxall: Added in a new selection of water resistant smartphones.
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 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. The Xperia Z3 is the current flagship phone from Sony, 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.
Here’s what it 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 Z3, 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.
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.
Xperia Z3V and older Z phones
The Xperia Z3 is joined by the Xperia Z3V, a spin-off that’s exclusive to Verizon. It has the same specifications, just operates 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.
Xperia M4 Aqua
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. What’s more, it has Android 5.0 installed as standard, and the battery should be good for two days. It was announced in March, and the on-sale date is expected in the near future.
Sony has announced the Xperia Z4, but so far only for Japan. The 2015 flagship Android phone continues with tradition, and the body holds an IPX5/IPX8 rating, which puts it in the same category as the Xperia Z2, but not quite as impressive as the Z3. The phone isn’t released until later this year, when it should also see a wider release.
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 trouble is, Samsung’s newest flagship phone, the Galaxy S6, is terrified of the water. 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.