Mark Jansen/Digital Trends

Just what do manufacturers mean when they use terms like “waterproof” and “water-resistant?” What constitutes a “rugged” device?

As it turns out, some terms that describe a phone’s ruggedness are actually standardized, and there’s a whole lot more to them than meets the eye. IP ratings measure a smartphone’s resistance to water, dust, and other particles, for example, while military specs describe their structural integrity. Some certifications are a little less precise than others, but taken together, they give a rough idea of how a smartphone will hold up against the elements.

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“Rugged” is just a word, a marketing ploy as meaningless as “summer-proof,” “water-resistant,” and “dustproof,”. All make nice bullet points on a phone’s spec sheet, but they aren’t all that descriptive — “rugged” and “water-resistant” devices can short just as easily as “non-rugged” devices when they fall into water (as well as shatter when they hit the concrete).

A certification is something completely different. When a phone has a certified rating of some sort, a third party has conducted tests to ensure that it can survive conditions like hard falls, dusty shelves, extreme heat, certain kinds of radiation, and deep pools of water.

Phone, tablet, and PC manufacturers measure the ruggedness of devices using two systems of standards: The Ingress Protection (IP) Rating, published by the International Electrotechnical Commission; and the Military Specification or Military Standard (MIL-STD), which is developed by arms of the U.S. Military and Department of Defense.

Mobile device IP ratings explained | Free IP rating chart

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Many phone, tablet, and computer manufacturers tout their devices’ IP ratings, a certification that can validate claims that an enclosure is protected from water and dust.

For field professionals, understanding an IP rating allows you to judge if a manufacturer’s bold device protections claims hold water – because some don’t.

In 2015, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, a consumer watchdog group, claimed some retailers were using misleading ads to sell mobile phones. Consumers who used their devices like the actors in the commercials, the group said, discovered their devices quickly stopped working. Sony, in 2017, settled a class action lawsuit in which the plaintiffs claimed the manufacturers’ water-resistant devices were marketed and sold as waterproof, leaving them with broken phones.

The IP rating, a decades-old standard, was designed to make those clarifications clear to consumers.

Where did the IP rating come from?

The International Electrotechnical Commission, a worldwide electronics standardization organization, produced a standard called an IP rating to test and rate electronic devices. A device with a good IP rating is an important distinction for phone and tablet manufacturers.

What does IP mean?

IP stands for ingress protection, or the level of water and dust protection an enclosure provides an electronic device.

How does a device get an IP rating?

A device with an IP rating could be tested by an independent lab, certified testing body, or by the manufacturer in-house.

What does an IP rating mean?

An IP rating indicates how a product enclosure holds up against solids and liquids with two numbers. The first number indicates the level of protection against solids like sand and dust. The second number indicates the level of protection against liquid
For example, an IP64 device is protected from splashing water like waves. An IP67 device can be submerged under a meter of water for 30 minutes. Both devices are protected from dust. However, a device can be IP67 – protected against submersion – and not IP65 or IP66, which would mean it can withstand pressurized water jets. A device that is protected against submersion and water jets would be certified IP68/IP65.
IP67 versus IP68
The IP67 certification was, for many years, the gold standard certification for a device that manufacturers would call waterproof. An IP67 device could withstand water immersion for up to 30 minutes without water breaching its enclosure.
Eventually, a new standard emerged. The standard called IP68 allowed manufacturers to define the length and depth at which the device would be tested. The defined terms were supposed to exceed the requirements of IP67.
Charles Olson, Juniper Systems’ mechanical engineer manager, said the built-in ambiguity for an IP68 rating can be good and bad.
“IP68 allows trustworthy manufacturers to expose their products to harsher conditions than the IP67 certification,” Olson said. “We found IP67 was a low bar for our rugged products.”
“Though, the IP68 rating is no better than the integrity of the company,” Olson said. “People can test in a way that makes their product look like something it’s really not. Something can pass the test but perform poorly in the field.”
Olson said it’s crucial that manufacturers are clear about a product’s IP68 test specifications. More importantly, he added, products should be tested to withstand water and dust in the field – because that’s where it matters mostIP rating chart.pngFor example, an IP64 device is protected from splashing water like waves. An IP67 device can be submerged under a meter of water for 30 minutes. Both devices are protected from dust. However, a device can be IP67 – protected against submersion – and not IP65 or IP66, which would mean it can withstand pressurized water jets. A device that is protected against submersion and water jets would be certified IP68/IP65.

IP67 versus IP68

The IP67 certification was, for many years, the gold standard certification for a device that manufacturers would call waterproof. An IP67 device could withstand water immersion for up to 30 minutes without water breaching its enclosure.

Eventually, a new standard emerged. The standard called IP68 allowed manufacturers to define the length and depth at which the device would be tested. The defined terms were supposed to exceed the requirements of IP67.

Charles Olson, Juniper Systems’ mechanical engineer manager, said the built-in ambiguity for an IP68 rating can be good and bad.

“IP68 allows trustworthy manufacturers to expose their products to harsher conditions than the IP67 certification,” Olson said. “We found IP67 was a low bar for our rugged products.”

“Though, the IP68 rating is no better than the integrity of the company,” Olson said. “People can test in a way that makes their product look like something it’s really not. Something can pass the test but perform poorly in the field.”

Olson said it’s crucial that manufacturers are clear about a product’s IP68 test specifications. More importantly, he added, products should be tested to withstand water and dust in the field – because that’s where it matters most.

IP 68

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