Testmodo Challenge #2: Three Readers Put the Sony Xperia Z3's Waterproofing to the Test

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It's seconds out, round two of our latest Testmodo, the VIP public-testing ground where our very talented and extremely thorough readers-turned-reviewers are challenging Sony’s new Xperia Z3 smartphone to prove its mettle. Last week's challenge was battery life, which the Z3 passed with flying colours. Next up: those downpour-tolerant waterproofing properties that the British weather was born for…

I have to admit, out of all the challenges for this Testmodo, this was the one that had me at the word “water”. Tech and water – surely a recipe for disaster? So with some trepidation, I did some background research into the waterproof capabilities of the Z3 before attempting to outfox it.

The waterproof-ness is guaranteed by Sony for up to half an hour under fresh water and no deeper than 1.5 metres, with all the protective flaps over the micro USB and SIM card slots closed tightly. The obvious first test, running it under a tap, proved straightforward and after a quick wipe, the phone was back to full functionality.

Next, in a reversal of fortune, instead of the manufacturers throwing the kitchen sink at the phone’s hardware and software, I had an opportunity to throw the phone at the kitchen sink.

I initially submerged the Z3 for a few minutes in a pint glass, moving up to a full 20 minutes during the week. Each time, after a quick wipe down and drying off, the phone would function as normal.

That said, with any contact of water, there is limited control of the screen. For instance, a tap or shower running will register as a touch input, so it would sometimes pull the notification tray down or start an app. Submerging it would pretty much lose you all control of the screen, with only the camera and volume controls available due to their dedicated physical buttons.

Taking photos underwater with the Z3’s excellent camera is one of the main waterproof purposes. If I was in Mauritius, I would have tried the pool, but I am in London, in the middle of autumn, so I had to settle for taking pictures of goldfish in a tank, which worked fine.

To test how the stereo speakers would perform when submerged, I tried watching Finding Nemo (to be on topic), but the water’s contact changed the screen before I could complete a decent test, so watching films underwater is a perhaps understandable no-go.

I turned to music instead, as you can do this in standby mode, and amazingly you can actually listen to songs under water. There were times when the volume would reduce due to water entering the speakers, but after drying out, they were back to full volume again. This phone will be fuelling your singing in the shower as long as your heart desires.

Although the above was fun, I wanted a real-life scenario to test, one that people may actually relate to, short of dropping the phone in the toilet. A few years ago, as new parents, my wife packed a baby bottle of warm water into her bag and then mistakenly put her phone in there with it. Unfortunately, the bottle was not closed properly, and disaster struck, with water seeping in. Much drying using rice and those little packets of silicon that keep moisture out couldn’t revive the device and it would never recover.

To simulate this unfortunate incident, I put my phone in my man-bag with an unfastened bottle of water. I gave the closed holdall a few shakes so that the fluid could soak the bottom of the bag where my closed-flap Z3 lay. Even after everything else I’d put the phone through this week, there was still no harm to the phone done. The ingenuity of this is clear. How many other phones are doing this on the market?

Ray Liu is a London-based web developer and part time photographer. Follow him on Twitter here.

A person has not felt fear until they have knowingly pulled £550 worth of shiny new technology below the surface of a swimming pool and had to wait patiently to see if the poor thing will make it out alive.

We all knew that the waterproof challenge would be part of Testmodo challenges for the Z3, but it still felt empirically wrong to be told we’d need to put our smartphones under a tap, let alone underwater, when the email came though last week. But we’d been promised this wasn’t a paperweight creation scheme, so off we went.

The Z3 has an IP (ingress protection) rating of 68. IP is an international standard measuring dust, water and mechanical protection for casings and enclosures. The Z3’s rating of 68 means it scores a 6 for dust protection – no ingress to dust – and the level 8 for liquid ingress means the equipment is “suitable for continuous immersion in water”. It’s an area that the Z3 improved over the Z2, and now the Z3 is waterproof down to 1.5 metres and 30 minutes submersed in fresh water.

I asked around, and managed to get permission to visit the training session for the university kayaking club in the sports centre pool. Still a little nervous about drowning the Z3, I decided the best first test would be to chuck it in a Stein of water. So I did…

As you can see, the Z3 passed with flying colours. The speakers worked fine during and after, and it didn’t tell me it had drowned. The wet screen being unusable is a pain, but it’s one related to capacitive screen technology and there’s not a lot Sony can do about that. It is unnerving having an open headphone jack, but again, it worked fine.

Then it was time for the pool test. Armed with swim shorts, a mask, and a phone I had checked had all its ports sealed at least 3,000 times, I jumped in to the pool and began recording. Sony has a great feature within the camera called Touch Block, which disables touch-screen interaction; it was perfect in the water.

I set the camera button to launch the video camera and start recording, and then used the volume buttons to take photos while recording, and started swimming around…

They say pictures speak a thousand words, so I’ll mainly let them and the videos do the talking. Video was great, and audio seems to work as well as a Go Pro. The stills camera struggled a little, but mostly because of the busy pool and me treading water with one hand.

Touch Block made it slightly difficult to see the screen, yet despite a bustling environment I never felt like the phone was at risk. It was in and out the water for a whole hour, and survived. A little water seemed to hang around in the bottom speaker after the pool session, but this soon cleared out. Once again, it’s an impressed thumbs-up from me.

Alex is a full-time student and part-time gadgeteer from Aberystwyth. Find him online here or follow him on Twitter here.

I have had the Z2 since it was launched so I am comfortable with the concept of a waterproof phone, not to mention the pub trick of placing it into a pint of beer at the Park Tavern to the landlady’s disdain, so had no qualms testing this feature. However, Gizmodo editor Matt kindly decided to set the waterproofing review round while I was in Arizona on business, which isn’t the handiest place to do such a test. But, hey, I like a challenge.

Luckily, the hotel where I was staying had a small pool and, in the true spirit of Giz, I jumped into it at 6am when no one else was up and about. Of course, I first made sure all the port covers and flaps were fully closed and sealed – simple but critical, as if you don’t your phone is no longer guaranteed waterproof. The good news is that the Z3’s covers are much better than the Z2, with the seals feeling much more secure.

The pool was only around a metre deep but I did leave the phone down on its tiled floor for just under half an hour, before taking some shots with it, and it performed just fine – no leaks, no issues. It’s important to make sure you wash the phone off afterwards, though, as while the Z3 is certified IP65/68 dust and waterproof, this has certain limits; in the case of the wet stuff, those limits are salt or heavily chlorinated water. Indeed, the warranty only actually covers the Z3 in fresh water, so no jumping in the sea for you.

I also enjoy running and wanted to put the Z3 through its strides in the rain (again, not easy in Arizona). Fortunately the British weather was rather more predictable when I arrived back home, with the phone operating just as expected, and the screen reacting better than the Z2.

Playing music in the shower afterwards was no problem at all either – I quite happily set a playlist running and left it in the bathroom’s splash zone without worrying about it getting wet. The great front-facing stereo speakers tend to go a bit quieter when moistened, but not too much.

One thing to note is that you can’t fully use the phone while wet, as in actually interact with the screen, as it will often mistake water droplets for your digits. So don’t expect to be able to text your friends from the shower, or anything else you may have in mind, as you’ll need to towel it down first. Just be aware that while the waterproofing works a treat, this isn’t a fully fledged underwater camera.

Simon is a lifelong tech addict born in Scotland, living in Macclesfield, with a love of beer, fish and chips, and all things technical and shiny. Follow him on Twitter here.

Check back for the next Testmodo challenge on October 30th and follow our Testmodo winners' tweets using the hashtag #testmodoz3


Previously on the Xperia Z3 Testmodo Challenge…

Testmodo Challenge #1: Three Readers Put the Sony Xperia Z3's Battery Life to the Test
While our three lucky Testmodo winners get to keep the phone, they have to sing for their supper first – and first up is taking on a smartphone with some serious staying power. Read More >>