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. Today, some of the very best smartphones you can buy aren’t afraid of the wet stuff.
Maybe you work outdoors; are tired of being afraid of having something spilt on your precious phone; or you just want to Tweet while you shower in the morning. Whatever the reason, a water-resistant smartphone is at the top of your shopping list. The question is, which one is the best for you?
Here are our top four picks for waterproof phones, plus some cases if you don’t want to change your existing device, to make your search much easier.
Why should you buy this: It’s a curved beauty with plenty of power and an unbeatable display.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a high-powered flagship phone that’s waterproof
How much will it cost: $750
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy S8:
You want a gorgeous smartphone with the latest tech inside, plus a super curvy screen? Then pick up the Galaxy S8. It’s a simply stunning smartphone with IP68 certification, which means that it’s capable of surviving in up to 1.5 meters of water for around 30 minutes.
The S8 boasts a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, with 4GB of RAM, and an excellent 12-megapixel camera on the rear and 8-megapixel camera on the front. On the software side, it runs Android 7.0 Nougat, with Samsung’s own TouchWiz user interface over the top, making it look a little different to Android on other phones.
That 5.8-inch Super AMOLED screen is the star of the show, with a 1440p resolution and unbeatable vibrancy and brightness. There’s a 3,000mAh battery inside, which should be enough to see you through the day. While the IP68 rating indicates an ability to deal with liquids, the S8 has curved glass front and back, so there’s a serious risk of damage if you drop it.
If you’re willing to spend a little extra, you can get the S8 Plus, which sports a 6.2-inch screen, a bigger 3,500mAh battery, and the same IP68 certification. If your budget won’t stretch, then consider last year’s Samsung trio, the Galaxy S7, the S7 Edge, and the S7 Active — all three are IP68-rated and they’re falling in price.
The best waterproof iPhone
Why should you buy this: Apple’s latest iPhone is simply the best iPhone that money can buy.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a water-resistant iPhone.
How much will it cost: $999+
Why we picked the iPhone X:
Why pick the iPhone X instead of this year’s iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus? Just look at it! The design of the iPhone range has been due a revisit for a long time now, and Apple certainly hasn’t disappointed with the iPhone X. The large black bars on the top and bottom of the device are gone, replaced with a minimal bezel design that cements the iPhone’s place in a bezel-free smartphone future. This is also the first iPhone to feature an OLED screen, and, though the iPhone series has never been a slouch in terms of visual fidelity, this addition really takes things to a whole new level. The deep inky blacks and vibrant colors make this a screen you’ll find it hard to pull your eyes away from. Apple’s True Tone tech completes the package, changing the the color warmth of the screen to account for the ambient lighting around you.
But it’s not all about the 5.8-inch screen. Apple’s outstanding record on smartphone photography continues unblemished. The iPhone X boasts two 12 megapixel lenses, with one wide-angle and the other zoom lens. This time, the zoom lens has a slightly wider f/2.4 aperture, which means the iPhone X should be even stronger with low light photography. You also get Apple’s Portrait Mode, which selectively blurs the background around your subject, giving your images a DSLR-style “bokeh” effect that gives your photography a professional look — and Apple has upped its game with Portrait Lighting, which gives you the option of different lighting effects to really make your images pop.
Apple’s newest A11 Bionic chip is fast and efficient, beating out all the competition, and though Touch ID is out for this model, Face ID has been a good replacement so far. Yes, there’s no headphone jack, but the iPhone X is rocking Bluetooth 5.0 for a strong and stable connection to your bluetooth headphones, and the included dongle will serve if you really can’t do without your wired headphones.
The iPhone X is IP67 rated, which makes it less water-resistant than the Samsung Galaxy S8, but it’s still capable of surviving dips of up to 30 minutes in “stable” water. So it will survive the toilet and the bath, but don’t take it into the sea or across any rivers. Viking raiders looking for an upgrade might do better to look elsewhere, but the IP67 rating should suffice for most.
The best rugged waterproof phone
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 want to know how hot things get.
How much will it cost: $600
Why we picked the Caterpillar Cat S60:
If all you care about is a phone that will still work after it gets dropped, bashed about a bit, or spends time in quite a lot of water, then the Cat S60 is definitely the phone for you. It looks a fright, but the IP68 rating is good for 60 minutes in water down to a depth of 5 meters, plus the MIL-STD-810G rating keeps it safe from dust, radiation, and shocks. The tough body will treat a fall from 1.8 meters onto concrete like it was nothing.
By chance, if during all this abuse, the need for thermal imaging arises, the S60 will step up to this task as well. In a partnership with sensor company Flir, the S60 has an unusual thermal camera alongside its standard 13-megapixel camera. It works with a special app to show heat palettes, temperature, and hot spots.
The rest of the phone isn’t quite so high spec as the others on our list. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor and 3GB of RAM provides the power, while the 4.7-inch screen has a 1,280 x 720 pixel resolution. However, no-one will be buying the S60 for top specs or outstanding style. It’s all about survival, but the S60 is definitely more Ray Mears than Bear Grylls.
The best waterproof case for your phone
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 change their phone, but wants to protect it from the elements.
How much will it cost: $8 to $90
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 from 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. The LifeProof Fre cases are available for the Galaxy S5, S6, S7, and S8 along with all iPhone models from the iPhone 5, plus for the Google Pixel phones and other models.
Catalyst are a great alternative to LifeProof’s cases, and come in versions suitable for all iPhone models since the iPhone 4, and even includes cases for the Apple Watch and the iPad range. Tested to IP68 levels and a depth of 10 meters, 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 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 Mpow, and this one from Joto. Both have an IPX8 rating and will take phones with screens smaller than 6-inches inside.
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 their 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 S8, “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 at best for a limited amount of time, 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
Keys, wallet, smartphone. That’s how the mantra goes when most of us leave the house, ensuring nothing essential has been left behind. Because our phones are now such an important part of our everyday life, choosing the right one requires the same degree of research as a new car, or a new computer. We know this, which is why each phone we review becomes part of our everyday life. We want to tell you what it’s like to live with, before you put down your money.
We check our emails, play games, take photos (lots of photos), browse social media, watch video, and much more besides to see how the phone performs in the situations you will most often encounter. On the technical side, we’ll check the benchmark results and dive more deeply into the software, but it’s regular use that tells us what we want to know.
From this, and similar experience with other devices on the market, we can advise you on which model to buy. If it’s not worth it, we’ll say, and let you know the reason. You’ll know if we love it too, because we’ll sing its praises repeatedly. We use our phones all the time, and form quite an attachment to them, so the decision on which one to buy isn’t to be taken lightly. It makes sense for us not to treat reviewing them lightly either.
Update: Added Samsung Galaxy Note 8 aside, added iPhone X, and removed Sony Xperia XZ Premium.