The process of building a rugged device has, of course, got a lot less complicated over the years. Just like anything else, with demand growing, technology and competition builds and products become better and cheaper. This, in turn, has lead to the big consumer brands building a certain degree of ruggedness into their devices but are the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S8 or iPhone 8 really IP rated?
I have a few bug bears about this and you need to know too and I’ll take you through them here:
I can poke about in the USB connector
So to attain an IP rating of IP3X or above a device must not have any open holes in it where a wire of 2.5mm or smaller can get into. If the device has a headphone jack then it should fail this IP test.
Like-wise to attain IP4X it is ditto but for a 1mm wire. So the USB connector will easily let you forage around it with a wire of 1mm or less.
So this means that you could short out the connectors on the USB connector which can render a device unbootable or damage the battery or the charging of it. It also means that the device can potentially get damaged if such an intrusion is possible. A fine 1mm screwdriver can easily crack a USB connector right off the board.
Why is it that smartphones have an IP rating of IP6X? They simply do not have it.
The USB connector can corrode
If connectors are exposed to the elements and don’t have a rubber cover then they can corrode and it’s not just water that can do this. Sure they have a very clever anti-static coating that literally repels water but has this been tested against corrosive liquids, air or even salt water? Whilst this coating is indeed a revelation, I’m not one for knocking innovation when it’s due, it does not make a smartphone rugged!
Have you ever put your phone in a pocket and over time it just clogs up the connectors? I’m pretty sure you have. If that fluff gets wet it can again short out the device and at best you’re going to have to pick about inside the connectors to free it of the fluff.
This is why rugged devices have rubber covers on all their connectors. Without this, they could potentially lead to trouble.
Dust and the “daily grind”
Fluff is one thing, however, use a device in a dusty environment and this dust can get into the connectors and over time can add huge wear and tear as you grind this dust against the connector when plugging and unplugging your headphones or USB cable. This could not only wear away the waterproofing quite quickly, but it will also lead to increased wear and tear and shorter device life.
So the lesson to learn from all of this is that IP testing and even MIL-STD testing, whilst a great guideline, is not actually a certification. It is self-tested and it seems, like everything else it can also be used or abused to give the wrong impression in my view.