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The best waterproof phones for 2020

The best waterproof phone is the Apple iPhone 12 Pro. It has a solid IP68 rating for water resistance, but importantly, it’s also an amazing phone, with a top-notch camera, great display, and all-day battery life. But, if you prefer an Android phone or want something more rugged, we have alternatives for you below.

We have tested hundreds of different phones at Digital Trends, so we can confidently recommend the best for you. These phones have sustained spills, rain, and dunks without showing any signs of mistreatment, though it’s important to note that water resistance applies to fresh water, and it’s never a good idea to deliberately submerge your phone.

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Best waterproof phones at a glance

The best: Apple iPhone 12 Pro

iPhone 12 Pro
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: It’s an exceptional phone and probably the best all-around phone you can buy right now.

Who’s it for: Anyone who wants the best possible water-resistant phone and doesn’t care whether it’s on iOS or Android.

Why we picked the iPhone 12 Pro:

Why wouldn’t we pick the iPhone 12 Pro? Apple has knocked it out of the park once again, releasing a phone that surpasses previous efforts and thoroughly deserves to take its place at the top of this list. An IP68 rating for dust and water resistance is just the start, but it is an important element. This rating means it can resist ingress from water for up to 30 minutes for up to 6 meters underwater. As ever, we don’t recommend you rely on this and start going swimming with it for fun — instead, think of it as an insurance policy while you’re by the pool.

But it’s not just about water resistance, and you’re going to want a great phone too. Thankfully, the iPhone 12 Pro delivers on this front. Apple has shaken up its design, taking away the sloped edges of its predecessors and adding an angular steel frame. It’s reminiscent of older iPhones, and it’s a refreshing change to a design Apple’s been using since the iPhone X. There’s still a sizeable notch at the top of the display, but it’s such a beautiful OLED display you’ll probably stop noticing it. It doesn’t have a 120Hz or 90Hz display like much of its competition, so that’s something to keep in mind if you’re moving from a phone with a higher refresh rate.

The camera is another strong reason to buy the iPhone 12 Pro. Apple’s camera hardware and software have always been a high point of the iPhone, and the new iPhone pushes that standard even higher. The main improvements are to the low-light performance, and they’re significant. You can now take Night Mode shots on all the lenses, and the new LiDAR lens means you can take Night Mode portrait shots as well.

Specs are strong too. The A14 Bionic chip is as powerful as we’d expected, and with storage starting at 128GB, this is a phone that should last for a good while without feeling sluggish or full. Battery life isn’t as strong as it was in the last generation, but it’ll get you through a full day without too much of an issue. Of course, it also supports 5G, and it’s among the first iPhones to do so. iOS 14 is the cherry on top, and Apple’s new mobile OS is smooth and packs some great new features.

All right, so the iPhone 12 is cheaper, and is probably a better buy for many people. But if money is no object, the iPhone 12 Pro is absolutely the best waterproof phone out there.

Read our full iPhone 12 Pro review

The best Android phone: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: It’s Samsung’s top-of-the-line flagship, with a feature for everything, a great camera, and of course, the S Pen.

Who’s it for: Anyone who loves Android phones and wants the best, or anyone who needs a phone that can keep up with their every whim.

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra:

It’s big, it’s powerful, and it’s one of the most feature-rich smartphones on the market today. The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra certainly lives up to its name, and with an IP68 rating, it’s the water-resistant phone to pick if you’re an Android-lover, or simply need a smartphone that can keep up with your demanding needs.

We’ll start with the biggest feature of the Note series — the S Pen. Not just an artist’s tool, the S Pen can be used for a variety of reasons, including sketching on screenshots, creating GIFs, or as a camera trigger, among many other features. But it’s not just an S Pen party; you’ve also got access to the wireless DeX mode that links your phone to a monitor for a desktop-like experience, and other handy extras like Link to Windows, which lets you control your phone through your Windows PC. When the workday is over, you can relax with some Xbox games streamed straight to your phone.

The specs are as powerful as you’d expect. The Snapdragon 865 Plus powers the phone, with 12GB of RAM, and a large 4,500mAh battery that won’t quit, even if you’re punishing it on a heavy day. The display is one of the most impressive pieces of kit on the phone too. It has a 120Hz refresh rate, Samsung’s usual high level of quality, and it’s reduced the S Pen’s response time to just 9 milliseconds.

Of course, you’re paying a lot for all of this, and the price starts at $1,299. But if you need a water-resistant Android phone that’ll keep up with you, then this is the best choice.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review

The best rugged waterproof phone: Caterpillar Cat S61

CAT S61 front full
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: It’s the most rugged phone you can buy, with solid drop protection and water resistance.

Who’s it for: Climbers, hikers, construction workers, and clumsy people who love the outdoors.

Why we picked the Caterpillar Cat S61 :

If all you care about is a phone that will still work after it gets dropped, bashed about a bit, or dropped in quite a lot of water, then the Cat S61 is definitely the phone for you. It’s extremely chunky, but the IP68 rating is good for 60 minutes in water down to a depth of 5 meters (16 feet), plus the MIL-STD-810G rating keeps it safe from dust, radiation, and shocks. The tough body will treat a fall from 6 feet onto concrete like it was nothing.

By chance, if during all this abuse the need for thermal imaging arises, the S61 will step up to this task as well. In a partnership with sensor company Flir, the S61 has an unusual thermal camera alongside its standard 16-megapixel shooter. It works with a special app to show heat palettes, temperature, and hot spots, which can come in handy for all sorts of professions, from vets to car mechanics.

The rest of the phone isn’t quite so high spec as the others on our list. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 processor and 4GB of RAM provide the power, while the 5.2-inch screen has a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution. However, no one will be buying the Caterpillar Cat S61 for top specs or outstanding style. It’s all about survival, and it’s built to withstand almost anything.

Read our full Caterpillar Cat S61 review

The best waterproof case for your phone: Lifeproof Fre

lifeproof_bestof waterproof phones

Why should you buy this: Cheaper than getting a new phone, it’s a fast and convenient way to add protection.

Who is it for: Anyone who doesn’t want to switch out their phone, but wants to protect it from the elements.

Instead of hunting around for a cheap phone that provides water resistance, why not just buy the phone you want, and put it in a waterproof case? There are various options out there, but we like the following three choices.

The Lifeproof Fre promises to protect against water, dirt, snow, and sharp impacts. It covers the whole of your phone, including the screen and all the ports, so be prepared for an increase in overall size and weight. It’s a small price to pay for such a high level of protection. LifeProof Fre cases are available for most of Samsung’s Galaxy range, along with all iPhone models from the iPhone 5 on, plus the Google Pixel phones and a few other models.

Catalyst cases are a great alternative to LifeProof, and come in versions suitable for all iPhone models since the iPhone 4. There are even cases for the Apple Watch and the iPad range. Tested to IP68 levels and a depth of 10 meters (33 feet), the cases protect against water, snow, dust, and dirt. Catalyst has paid attention to the little things, like ensuring Touch ID still works as you want it to, and the camera lens cover is of high enough quality to not ruin any pictures.

If a custom waterproof Lifeproof Fre case isn’t available for your phone, or you want a really cheap, reliable system, then get a universal “dry bag” type case, which seals your phone inside a pouch and keeps all the elements out. There are plenty of choices out there, in various colors, such as this one from Joto. It has an IPX8 rating and fits phones with screens smaller than 6.9 inches.

IP What? What those IP ratings actually mean

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.

All the phones on our list meet IP67 or IP68 standards. IP numbers that start with a six mean the device features complete protection from dust, and will ward off particles to the extent where none can find its way in. It’s the highest rating currently available, and is considered “dust tight.”

To meet the IPx8 standard, the device must continue to function normally after being left in water “continuously,” although the exact details are usually down to the manufacturer. For example, Samsung says the Galaxy S10 “can be immersed in 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes.” Drop that down to an IP67 rating, and the depth changes to a meter, and protection is only for a short time.

Here’s a complete breakdown of what all the IP codes mean, if you want to check out other ratings. It’s worth pointing out that while we call these phones waterproof, they remain so for a limited amount of time at best, and are technically water resistant. In other words, we don’t advise you to deliberately submerge any of them, especially not for very long, but it’s still nice not to have to worry if an accident happens.

How we test

Since smartphones are now on our list of essentials for leaving the house (on par with wallet and keys), it’s essential to make sure they’re worthy of that essential status. Our reviews show what it’s like to own one — to use it and carry it as an integral part of life. No surface level reviews are allowed here. Instead, we bring the phone with us just like our own, testing it by putting it through the wringer of everyday life. That’s the only way we can separate phones that are good in theory from the real deal.

We check our emails, play games, take photos (lots of photos), browse social media, watch videos, and much more to see how the phone performs in the situations you will most often encounter. We don’t forget about the technical specs, either—we’ll always check out the software and the benchmark results, but the most important thing is still how the phone functions in everyday life. 

We can confidently tell you which phones are worth the investment and which you should avoid. You’ll always know if we love a particular phone model because we won’t be able to stop talking about it. We use our phones all the time and form quite an attachment to them. The decision to buy or not is a big one, and we create reviews that highlight phones that we would actually use based on how we use them day to day — no fluff and no advertisements.

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