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What makes a smartphone rugged? IP67, MIL-STD-810G, and other certifications explained

The iPhone 7 may be Apple’s first water-resistant phone, but don’t go dunking it in your pool’s deep end anytime soon — after all, the company cautions that it can only withstand up to a meter of water for a maximum of 30 minutes. That got us wondering, just what do manufacturers like Apple mean when they use terms like “water-proof” and “water-resistant”? What constitutes a “rugged” device? And at the end of the day, how many times can you drop your phone in the toilet before it stops functioning?

More: The best waterproof smartphone you can buy

As it turns out, there are often standards behind terms such as “rugged” and “water-resistant,” and they’re quite strict. So before you buy your next “durable” phone, you may want to understand how to interpret the ratings behind them.

The ratings behind a “rugged” product

“Rugged” is just a word, a marketing term as meaningless as “summer-proof,” “whatever-proof,” “water resistant,” and “dust proof” — all make for nice bullet points on a gadget’s spec sheet, but aren’t all that descriptive. “Rugged” and “water-resistant” devices can short when they fall into water, shatter when they hit the concrete, and shut down if they lay in the hot sun for too long. But when a phone’s been certified, by contrast, that means a third-party organization has conducted tests to ensure it can survive conditions like hard falls, dusty environments, extreme heat and cold, certain forms of radiation, and deep pools of water.

Phone, tablet, and PC manufacturers designate the ruggedness of a device with two flavors of standards: the Ingress Protection (IP) Rating, published by a standards body called the International Electrotechnical Commission, and the Military Specification or Military Standard (MIL-STD), which are developed by various arms of the U.S. Military and Department of Defense. When Apple advertises that the iPhone 7 as “water resistant,” what it really means is that it’s achieved some level of certification.

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