British Columbia

In the toilet: when your 'water-resistant' phone isn't covered for water damage

Cellphone manufacturers are selling more ‘water-resistant’ models. But as some users have found out the hard way, that that promise isn’t exactly water-tight.

Huawei warranty ‘does not cover damage from exposure to liquid’

Elianne Abramovich of Vancouver has been fighting for weeks to have her water-damaged Huawei phone replaced. (Eric Rankin/CBC)

Update: On Friday following the story's publication Huawei's Benjamin Howes told CBC News Huawei would repair Abramovich's phone under warranty.

It's every smartphone owner's nightmare. You go into a washroom and accidentally drop your phone into the bowl.

Your photos, contacts, texts — your life — in the toilet.

Cellphone manufacturers are selling more "water-resistant" models — including most recent Apple iPhones, Samsung's Galaxy 5 and Huawei's P20 Pro — that are supposed to remain sealed for up to half an hour at a depth of one metre.

But Elianne Abramovich of Vancouver says she found out the hard way that those promises aren't exactly water-tight. She dropped her new Huawei P20 Pro into a toilet, and it died. She's been fighting for a replacement ever since.

"First I thought, 'Oh crap,'" says Abramovich, 24. "But I had bought this phone knowing that it can withstand water."

Instead, she says she was told she would have to pay for potentially costly repairs, or buy a new phone.

Huawei Canada now says it "welcomes the opportunity" to look into her complaint.

Abramovich's Huawei phone was supposed to be water resistant for 30 minutes in one metre of water; instead, it failed after 40 seconds under some 12 centimetres. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Warranties are void

CBC News checked warranties from Huawei, Samsung and Apple. All state the limited warranties are void if their water resistant models get water damage.

"I think most people can understand it makes no sense," says Abramovich. "You're saying you have a feature, but then if it doesn't work, well sorry, that's too bad for you."

Abramovich says since she lives in "Rain-couver," she thought it was a smart move to buy a phone plan through service provider Fido that included a Huawei P20 Pro.

Water resistance was a "selling feature, for sure," she says. 

Abramovich was on a Mexican vacation in March when her phone dropped briefly into a toilet. (Submitted by Elianne Abramovich)

To be extra cautious, Abramovich held off using it until she got a protective case and a screen protector.

But in March, one month after getting her P20 Pro, she accidentally let it slip into a toilet while on a Mexican vacation.

She immediately placed it upright in a bag of rice — as recommended on the internet — and kept it in her air-conditioned hotel room. But it was dead.

'Completely water resistant' 

Huawei's P20 Pro is billed on the company's website as being "real world ready."

"Don't let location or weather curb your creativity," it says over a photo of a water droplet-covered phone. "Go wild with … IP67-rated P20 Pro, that's completely … water resistant up to 1m."

The "IP" stands for "international protection," a standard agreed upon by the cellphone industry and sometimes referred to as "ingress protection"; the six is the dust rating, the seven is the second-highest water-resistance rating, promising protection in up to one metre of freshwater for 30 minutes.

Abramovich wants to know why her P20 Pro died after just 40 seconds in some 12 centimetres of water.

She insists it didn't ricochet off the toilet rim or take a hard hit.

"I take responsibility that it was an accident," says Abramovich. "But the fact that it's supposed to be able to go underwater one metre for half an hour, that's not what happened. It killed the phone."

Huawei responds

Vancouver-based tech expert Graham Williams doesn't think the problem is with the general IP67 rating.

He believes some individual phones might not be sealed properly — and manufacturers have to acknowledge that.

"Water damage should not occur to that phone during that time," says Williams. "So if water damage does [happen], we're looking at a manufacturer's defect."

Abramovich has fought to have her phone replaced.

When she returned to Vancouver, she says Fido passed the problem to Huawei because it was outside the carrier's 15-day "satisfaction guarantee."

Samsung promotes the water resistance of its Galaxy 5, even recommending it be rinsed with tap water after contact with other liquids. (Samsung/YouTube)

In turn, Huawei representatives told her she could send the phone to an independent repair centre in Ontario, but that water damage isn't covered.

That's echoed in the warranty posted online and in a small booklet included with the phone. Both state it "does not cover damage resulting from …exposure to liquid, moisture or dampness."

An email from Huawei Support Canada to CBC News also reinforced that position.

"If [our authorized service centre] finds any indicator of …water damage, according to the policy, the warranty gets voided," stated the email.

But a spokesperson for the company issued a conflicting statement.

"Huawei Canada honours warranty claims for liquid damage to all P20 products unless there is clear misuse or customer induced damage to the product," says Benjamin Howes. "It should also be noted that the benefit of any doubt for these types of cases always goes to customer(s)."

Of the other cellphone makers contacted by the CBC, Apple would only say its website "is a good resource" for questions about its warranty. Samsung did not supply a comment by deadline, although its website recommends rinsing its IP67 cellphones under a tap if exposed to liquid.

Abramovich says after our enquiries the service provider offered what amounted to a half price discount on a new phone.

But given her experience, she wants to see all cellphone companies revise their "water resistant" promises.

"I really think there's a bigger issue with the warranty. And until that starts getting looked at, I'm not really going to be happy," says Abramovich.


Eric Rankin

Investigative journalist

Eric Rankin is an award-winning CBC reporter. His honours include the 2018 Canadian Screen Award for Best Local Reportage, the 2017 and 2015 RTDNA awards for Best In-depth/Investigative Reporting, and the 2009 Jack Webster award for Best News Reporting.