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What IP Rating Means: The Secret Mobile Phone Feature You NEED to Know About

30th July 2021

If the Tokyo Olympics included events for dropping phones in toilets, getting caught in thunderstorms without an umbrella and spilling bubble tea, I’d be a gold medallist. Especially when I get a new phone: the universe seems to sense it and amps my usual clumsiness up to 9000 just to watch me freak out every time my phone gets a bit of water on it. 

Water damage is a common reason for phones and smartwatches to stop working, whether they are dropped into a puddle or acting as a landing pad for a spilled cup of coffee. Manufacturers are getting better at making tougher phones and wearables, but it can be pretty confusing if you don’t know about two crucial features: IP and ATM ratings. Here’s what ATM and IP ratings mean and everything else you need to know before you choose your next phone on a phone with our contract-free Combo Plan

What are the best waterproof phones?

If you’re looking for an Apple or Samsung waterproof phone, or one from any other brand, I’m sorry to say that no phone is truly waterproof. Some new phones are getting incredibly water-resistant to the point where they can survive a drop into a pool of water, but we’re not quite at a stage where we can start calling them waterproof – read on to find out why. 

IP rating: What it means and why it’s important

IP stands for Ingress Protection. Not exactly an obvious clue to what it’s all about, is it? The IP code is a global standard used to rate things based on how well they are protected from water and dust. Simply calling something waterproof or water-resistant can be misleading, so IP ratings help make it a little clearer. The code is used for industrial tools, diving equipment and even in the military, but it’s becoming standard for phones too. Dust and water can cause pretty serious damage to the gear inside your phone, so it’s a good idea to check the IP rating when comparing devices to get a better idea of how well protected they are. 

IP rating chart guide 

An IP rating is written with the letters ‘IP’ followed by two numbers. The first refers to protection from solids (objects, dust and other small particles) while the second refers to water protection. If there is an X in place of either number, that means the phone hasn’t been tested in that area. 

The below chart is a guideline based on the full official code. Using these, you can work out what a device’s IP rating means.

Solids (first number) 

Rating Protected from objects 
1 50mm and larger
2 12.5mm and larger 
3 2.5mm and larger 
4 1mm and larger
5 Dust protected
6 Dust tight 


Water (second number) 

Rating Protected from 
1 Vertically dripping water
2 Vertically dripping water up to a 15-degree tilt
3 Water sprays up to a 60-degree tilt
4 Water sprays or splashes from any direction
5 Water jets
6 Powerful water jets
Temporary immersion
8 Continuous immersion 
9 High pressure, high temperature water jets

Using these guides, we know that a phone rated as IP68 is dust-tight and resistant to continuous immersion, while one rated IP67 is also dust-tight but only resistant to temporary immersion. The manufacturer should specify how it was tested, such as being submerged in fresh water for 30 minutes at a depth of 1 meter.

Armed with this code, it’s much easier to find out whether a phone can withstand some water damage or if it’s a disaster waiting to happen. Be cautious with unrated phones, because they’re probably the most vulnerable to permanent damage.

Before you buy

Even though the IP rating gives you a bit more info to work with than just “water-resistant”, it can still be a little misleading. These tests are conducted in highly controlled environments and the phone is often in standby mode, meaning it’s not exposed to the same risks as real-world situations. A phone that’s tested for submersion in one meter-deep water for 30 minutes still isn’t waterproof, just water-resistant. What’s more, a water rating of 8 doesn’t always mean it’s been tested for numbers 1 through 7, which means you shouldn’t start bringing it into the shower, taking it into the pool or leaving it out in the rain. Seals can be weakened over time, and chlorinated or salt water can do more damage than fresh water. At this stage, just take an IP rating as peace of mind rather than a license to start dunking it in the pool. Always check with the manufacturer before doing anything that may get water, dust or debris on your phone. 

ATM rating

As much as we wished ATM ratings had something to do with giving us cash, they are totally unrelated to money. ATM stands for Atmospheres and is another international standard that acts as a guide for water resistance. The rating tells you how many atmospheres of pressure the device can withstand, with each atmosphere of pressure equalling 10m of depth. For example, a smartwatch with a 5 ATM rating is rated to pressures matching a depth of 50 meters. 

Before you buy 

Like the IP rating, an ATM rating can make it seem like your phone or wearable can be taken on a scuba diving trip. In truth, it’s rated to atmospheric pressure equivalent to a certain depth. In other words, a 5 ATM smartwatch has been tested to withstand the pressure of 50 meters depth but can realistically only survive things like rain, fishing, showering or a bit of shallow swimming, as these activities can put serious demand on the seals of the device. Again, the rule of thumb is just to use a high ATM rating for extra peace of mind – but be sure to check with the manufacturer before you start getting into the water! 

Scoop up an awesome new phone with confidence 

Now that you know the ins and outs of water-resistant tech, check out the latest new phones you can pick up outright or on monthly payments with a contract-free Combo Plan from Circles.Life. We’re all about putting control back in your hands, so we stack our affordable plans with loads of data then let you tweak it with add-ons until it’s the perfect fit. Transfer your number in a couple of clicks, track usage in the app and score big rewards on the regular. Make the switch and start saving today!

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