Waterproofing and wearables: Here's what you need to know

Should you take your fitness tracker or smartwatch for a dip? We explain it all
Waterproofing and wearables

'Is it waterproof?' That's up there with 'what's the battery life?' and 'does it look any good?' as the first questions that get asked when a new fitness tracker, smartwatch or any wearable for that matter gets announced.

Now we're not saying we're all avid swimmers who want to be able to jump in the pool with these shiny new wearables. It's just about getting a clearer picture of what happens when water and wearable collide.

Read this: The best trackers for swimming ranked and rated

The problem is that a lot of companies don't always make that clear. What does IP mean? Is water resistant the same as waterproof? Some do a better job than others of dealing with this issue.

If you're still struggling to get to grips with what it all means, we've broken down what those key terms mean and what some of the biggest wearables offer in the waterproofing department.

Waterproof or water resistant?

This is the big one and arguably creates the most confusion and can cause some unfortunate owners of wearable devices to find themselves staring down at a broken piece of kit. That's because these are two very different things and there's no clear consensus on the definition of the two terms. Water resistant is regarded as the lowest level of protection and essentially means that something is designed to make it difficult for water to infiltrate.

Waterproof should mean that something is impervious to water. The problem is that there's no established industry standard to classify something is waterproof. That's why you tend to see some things labelled waterproof, but it actually isn't. That's why things get tricky.

The water resistant wearable glossary

IP - This stands for ingress protection and is a rating system that's set up by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). So you'll usually see this as IP67, IP68 or something similar.

It's present to determine two things. The first digit represents its ability to ingress (fend off) solid objects like dust. The second digit relates to its ability to ingress liquid. The higher number, the better the protection your wearable should offer against the kind of things that could really do serious damage.

You can check out a chart breaking down the numbers and what the mean here.

ATM - This stands for atmospheres and relates to the measurement used in pressure tests. Those atmosphere measurements are translated into water depth to indicate what a device can withstand. So if you have a smartwatch that promises 5ATM waterproofing, it is able to withstand pressure equivalent of 50 metres depth. Pebble's smartwatches are waterproof (water resistant according to the website) up to 5ATM for example.

Water pressure can of course vary, particularly when swimming, so while you might see a wearable with an ATM rating, it might not actually be safe for immersion. Devices with a 1ATM or 3ATM rating are not considered swim friendly. It's always to double check on the company's website because these ratings can vary.

Apple Watch Series 2

So you couldn't take the original Apple Watch for a dip, but with the Apple Watch Series 2, you now get a waterproof rating of 50 metres in salt or fresh water. That means you can go swimming with it in the pool or in the sea with Apple including dedicated pool and open water swim tracking.

While getting in a few lengths is fine, Apple suggests that it's not fit for "scuba diving, waterskiing, or [in] other activities involving high-velocity water or submersion below shallow depth." So you've been warned.

Apple Watch/Apple Watch Series 1

The original Apple Watch has been slapped with an IPX7 water resistance rating and according to Apple, that means it's splash and water resistant. So it's fine for wearing it when you're sweating it out in the gym, caught out in the rain and when you're washing your hands. It's most definitely not waterproof, which means swimming is off limits.

Although this video does suggest otherwise. It appears to prove that the first gen smartwatch is actually more waterproof than Apple suggests. To be clear, the Cupertino company advises against submerging the Watch, jumping in a bath with it or even showering with it. Wearing it in a sauna or steam is not advised. Those fancy leather straps won't like being dunked in the water either.

Fitbit

The best selling wearable company has finally decided to add a swim friendly tracker to its collection with the launch of the Fitbit Flex 2. Like the Apple Watch Series 2, it has a waterproof rating of up to 50 metres and can be used in salt and fresh water. That also means there's no problem jumping in the shower with it as well.

As for the rest of the Fitbits, Fitbit doesn't generally outline a water resistance rating but does suggest that the likes of the Fitbit Charge 2 and the Blaze are sweat, rain and splash proof. As well as swimming being a no-no, you shouldn't jump in the shower with it. Here's the official line from its support page:

"We also don't recommend showering with your tracker; though a little water won't hurt the device, wearing it 24/7 does not give your skin a chance to breathe. Whenever you get your tracker wet, dry it thoroughly before putting it back on."

The Fitbit Surge is apparently water resistant to 5ATM, but like the other members of the tracker family, it's recommended that you don't go swimming with it.

Android Wear smartwatches

The majority of Android Wear smartwatches we've seen so far come with an IP67 water resistant rating. That includes the Huawei Watch, Moto 360 and Tag Heuer Connected. That rating means you can submerge the Android Wear watch underwater for up to a depth of 1 metre for 30 minutes. Now that might sound like you can go swimming with it, but you can't. That rating actually means they're not designed for swimming, diving, or prolonged submersion in water. Washing you car or hands is fine, anything else and you're out of luck.

It's not all doom and gloom on the Android Wear front for water lovers. The Sony SmartWatch 3 has an IP68 protection rating, which according to Sony, makes it protected against water as long as you don't take it any deeper than 10 metres underwater for longer than 30 minutes. That water should also be fresh water. Sony says it can be used in chlorinated swimming pools as long as you rinse it in fresh water afterwards. It's no good for seawater or salt water pools.

There's more good news as the Casio Smart Outdoor Watch WSD-F10 is waterproof up to 50 metres. The Mission by Nixon comes with a 10ATM waterproof rating so you can go swimming with it up to 100 metres giving it the highest waterproof rating of any Android Wear watch so far.

Garmin

Garmin has made sure pretty much all of its trackers can be taken in the pool. The Vivosmart HR+ as well as the Vivoactive HR and the newly announced Vivomove are all waterproof up to 5 ATM, which means you can go swimming with it at up to 50 metres depth like you can with Pebble smartwatches. It also means you can wear it in the shower. You can also include Garmin's latest Forerunner smart running watches, which come with the same 5 ATM waterproofing.

Jawbone

When we spoke to Jawbone last year, it said a waterproof Jawbone tracker was still in the works. For now though, none of its trackers are suitable for swimming or jumping in the bath with one despite the 5ATM water resistant rating on the UP2, UP3, UP4 and older models. It does do a bit better than Fitbit in that it does offer a shower-resistant design that's also rain, splash and sweat proof too. Saunas and steam rooms are off limits too though.

Are you waiting for a waterproof version of your favourite tracker or smartwatch? Or have any of your wearables met a watery end? Tell us in the comments below.

4 Comments

  • Geek_News says:

    The article should have started with the argument of "Waterproof vs Water Resistant" that way readers can follow the IP and ATM ratings a little better. Personally I explain it to people in one of two ways. 1-Waterproof is a marketing term, as you guys mentioned there is no actual standard (nor will there be afaik) that can actually tell you something is waterproof. 2- Water resistant and all those clever IP terms just mean what they are tested at under ideal conditions. It doesn't mean that you can 'do whatever' and still expect a device to survive, you still need to try to limit the exposure even within the rated ranges.

    • Geek_News says:

      I'd even go so far as to add that, even though many people seem to think otherwise, the terms are not interchangeable. People hear marketing that says a device is 'Waterproof' and think that is can withstand anything when in fact that isn't the case. 

  • Collegeroommate says:

    Not to nitpick, but since this article is all about understanding terminology it should be noted that ingress doesn't not mean fend off as you state: "represents its ability to ingress (fend off) solid objects." It actually means a place or means of access, similar to how egress means a point or means of exit. 

    IP is protection against ingress, the first number the ingress of solids and the second the ingress of water.

  • benhelps says:

    I've always loved my Mi Band (first edition) for its water rating. It never leaves my arm except to charge every 35-40 days, and I've been swimming at public pools many times with the kids while wearing it. It's got scratch marks from all the bashing against pool bottom tiles but is otherwise fine, going on 6 months now.

    However I've heard that their newer version is less water proof owing to the heartbeat sensor. Shame.

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