The best waterproof phones don’t necessarily distinguish themselves in terms of appearance, but will survive an excursion underwater without failure. No longer is it essential to compromise on handset appearance if you’re planning on taking your phone to the beach, pool, or out in stormy weather (although nearly all phones can be waterproof with a suitable underwater housing).
The latest flagship phones from Apple and Samsung are both waterproof, so (since we slightly preferred the iPhone 13 Pro Max) it will appear at the top of this list.
The key measure of waterproofing you’ll see on most phones are the ingress protection standards IP67 or IP68. The ‘6’ in these means (a little confusingly) no harmful dust get into a device in 8 hours. The 7 for water means immersion up to 1 meter (3.3ft) for up to 30 minutes, while 8 is immersion of over a meter with a requirement for a stated depth.
In other words, the IP68 is able to handle water pressure up to a point, IP67 can have a brief excursion in shallow water and – to head the other way on the scale – IP66 can cope with a spray of water but no depth. Waterproof is theoretically distinct from water-resistant as the former will never be damaged by submersion.
A worthwhile bit of reality, especially in the phone world, is that these standards meet lab tests, and the real world isn’t quite the same; a classic difference is the mineral content of sea water (mostly salt).
Watch out for so-called ‘water repellence’ – which alone doesn’t make this list as a means of protection from water. It refers to a ceramic hydrophobic nano-coating (unsurprisingly not all manufacturers use every word of that) which repels particulate including water droplets. Ceramic-based coatings don’t hurt, but aren’t enough to earn IP67 or above.
Best waterproof phones in 2022
The iPhone 13 Pro Max boasts a IP68 water & dust resistance, which is tested to an impressive 6 meters (20ft) submersion for up to 30 minutes. That’s plenty long enough to fish the phone out if you drop it, while the depth is further than an Olympic diving pool. Apple’s ceramic-coated glass makes the handset tough, too, though testing that might affect the aesthetic of that shiny square edge! Apple have long eschewed the microSD, which might have helped them minimise ports and make for a well-sealed phone.
As a phone, the iPhone 13 Pro Max has little to fault it except perhaps its size (a choice partly in your hands as you need not specify the larger ‘Max’ version). The camera array might lack the highest megapixel counts but the lenses and the output are more than competitive. The CPU and battery life, however, seem peerless.
• See also Best iPhone for photography
The Pixel 6 Pro has attracted a lot of attention which might otherwise have gone Samsung’s way because it packs more than flagship specifications; it’s brought some unusual design touches to the flagship phone space and done all of that for a markedly lower price than the previously unassailable king of the Android space. It doesn’t hurt that Google have good early access to the newest edition of their OS, but the powerful camera array is all their work and many users have found the full-width camera bump makes using the handset while resting on a flat surface much easier (it doesn’t rock around the lens bump).
Admittedly 1.5 meters pressure resistance won’t compete with the iPhone 13 (or 12 for that matter), but it’s level-pegging with the much more expensive Galaxy S21 Ultra.
• See also Best Google phones
The Nokia brand (now property of Finish firm HMD Global when it comes to phones), looks good on this cleanly designed rugged handset. The XR20 has all the drop-proofing – and of course IP68 certification – you’d expect from a rugged handset, while side-stepping the excessive masculine touches so many designers equate to durable.
Featuring the latest Gorilla Glass Victus, the phone is so dependable in a drop onto concrete up to 1.8m that the screen is guaranteed for a year by HMD. In terms of future-proofing, the firm also promise to provide security updates for four years & OS updates for three, a generous proposition compared to many mid-ranking Android devices.
Camera-wise, a Zeiss dual camera array offers ultra-wide with a dual-tone flash – handy for capturing indoor shots – while the system also sports two physical buttons, an emergency button and one for Google Assistant.
• See also Best Nokia phones
The iPhone 12 (not 12 Pro) was the mid-tier phone in Apple’s range, but shares broadly the same case design as the 12, 12 Pro, 13 and 13 Pro including an IP68 rating tested to 6 meters (20ft). The key sacrifice against the Pro version is the camera array which – while excellent for a dual camera system – still lacks the tele of the Apple’s ‘Pro’ series triple. In exchange not only do you get a lower price (even more so if you’re prepared to opt for the previous year’s edition in the iPhone 12), but you’re also afforded a wider choice of handset colors. Features like Face ID, Apple Pay, and MagSafe wireless charging are all there too, and you’re also granted all the software-only improvements that came with (and will come with) the latest iOS thanks to Apple’s provision of updates. In other words, if you want to party with the Apple people, get a little wet, and still save some cash to spend at the bar, this is the phone for you!
While others choose phones which make compromises on price and features, Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra is not about cutting corners (save for the slightly rounded corners required for aesthetics and to make the glass a little drop-safe). The giant 515ppi screen cloaks an almost invisible but very snappy fingerprint scanner, and if you’re looking to capture 8K video then this is a waterproof phone which will do that for you. The camera will also allow photographers to capture 108MP stills, in theory at least, though in reality you’ll likely want to do some work to original images from the camera if you’re not going to let the phone apply its treatment. The phone, though, does know what it’s doing, even at night; it has a ‘Moonshot’ mode which will apply a 100x zoom to a picture of the moon.
The iPhone SE (2020), or SE2, is more or less built on the old shell of the iPhone 8 (2017), which looks a little compact these days. That said, the design – screen surrounded by speaker and fingerprint scanner on black cars – is virtually iconic, and the case is IP67 water resistant. It can hold on up to 1 meter for 30 minutes, which isn’t so different from many non-Apple flagships; when their specifications are examined closely, many can only sink half a meter further though this earns them the eight at the end of their IP number.
Camera-wise the iPhone SE is somewhat ordinary, with a single camera which does fine until things get dark and, to its credit, can capture 4K video at 60fps. Apple’s chipset is very snappy compared to pricier Android competitors, and wireless charging is included. All this is a very pocket-friendly little device.
Waterproofing and ruggedizing go hand in hand, and the Armor 8 Pro is a butch piece of kit compliant to military standards as we well as meeting the IP68 dust and water resistance standard. This is achieved without sacrificing a microSD slot, for those who appreciate them, and the case design’s protruding edges should be effective in preventing the scratch-resistant glass encountering too many unlucky drops. Site workers may appreciate the touch screen’s Gloves Mode, and other handy features like NFC are included in this relatively modestly priced handset, and even those forced to work a long day will at least know their phone should keep going thanks to the sizeable battery.
See also the Best rugged phones