Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.
By Doug Aamoth
October 6, 2015

Q: I just spent a lot of money on the iPhone 6S and I’m terrified of it getting water-damaged. Do you have any advice on waterproof cases? Also, I heard that the new iPhone is actually waterproof – is that true? I’d like to use it at the pool and the beach, but I don’t think I would be brave enough to take it in the water. I’d just like to use it near water.

A: You, sir or madam, have a very healthy paranoia when it comes to protecting your gadgets. Good for you!

First, the new iPhone appears to be kinda-sorta water-resistant, although it’s important to point out that Apple doesn’t pitch this as a feature in any of its marketing materials whatsoever. So if you drown your phone and take it into the Apple Store looking for a free replacement, they’re going to politely tell you to pound sand (more on protection from sand in a bit).

What happened was that iFixit – a site that regularly takes apart gadgets in order to create handy guides about how to take apart gadgets – took the new iPhone apart and noticed an adhesive that formed a gasket running around the perimeter of the phone, along with silicone seals surrounding all the cable connectors inside the phone.

If you’ve ever taken an iPhone apart (I have – it’s fun!), past models have been held in place with screws, but that’s about it. This new model is apparently held together with screws, plus this new sticky gasket-y stuff. Add to that some of Apple’s recent patent filings for watertight seals, along with a handful of YouTube videos showing the new iPhone submerged in water for extended periods of time, and you’ve got yourself a phone that seems like it can unofficially stand up to a few splashes at the very least.

Now on to your quandary. You could go one of a few ways, each one cheaper than the one before it.

Rugged Cases

First, you could buy a heavy-duty, waterproof case. These protect your iPhone from bumps, scratches, water, sand and a bunch of other potentially nasty technological predators. The main upside is that depending on the case, they’re generally pretty good at protecting your phone.

The downsides are that the good ones are expensive – often $50 or more – and the cheap ones can make for an expensive learning experience. Price aside, they all make your phone significantly more bulky, the screen protection can make using the touchscreen on your phone less responsive, photos can get cloudy from the camera protection, call quality can suffer due to all this plastic you’ve got surrounding the speakers and mouthpiece, and the volume buttons, power button, and mute switch can all be harder to manipulate.

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So: lots of downsides, and one potentially very good upside. Based on your question, I think that maybe a waterproof case might not be your best option unless you’re going to the beach or pool every day. You could buy one and use it only when you go to the beach or the pool, but another downside I neglected to list is that these big-boy cases also often take a while to actually put on your phone. There’s a lot of stuffing and snapping involved to make sure everything’s tight, and once they’re on, they’re meant to stay on for extended periods of time.

I don’t have any great recommendations for these cases except to say that Otterbox is generally well-respected, easy to find in most stores, and has great customer service. Also: don’t go cheap. The $10 “waterproof” cases you find on Amazon, for instance, can be rife with fake reviews making them look more appealing than they actually are. Comb through the reviews first and make sure they sound human.

Waterproof Pouches

Something like this $9 waterproof pouch might actually be a good option for you. Throw it in your beach bag and then slip your phone in there once you’re near water. You can use your touchscreen and take pictures, although it’s still not going to be the same type of experience you’d have with a case that didn’t obscure the screen and camera. It’s cheap, it’s only temporarily bulky, and though it looks goofy, it’s easy enough to use when you actually need the extra protection.

Ziploc Bags

Yep. Truth be told, this is my personal go-to for the beach, the pool, and if there’s rain in the forecast. A plain-old Ziploc bag costs next to nothing and protects your phone from the elements in a pinch. You need to be careful not to rip it, of course, and make sure to use a new one each time because they can become leaky after too much exposure to… well, anything. But as far as cheap water protection goes, the tried-and-true Ziploc bag works wonders.

You can manipulate the screen through the bag, but taking photos is ridiculous, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. I like the little snack size and portion-control ones if you can find options that fit your phone, but the regular-size ones work fine, too.

Don’t Worry About It

Your final option is the cheapest of all. Live a little! Drive to work with the gas light in your car on! Eat an odd number of crackers! Throw caution to the wind and hope that Apple’s secret water-resistant gasket thingy holds up over time! I think that day-to-day, you’re probably safe from sink splashes and the occasional nearby (but not too close) cannonball while you’re at the pool. However, I do recommend some sort of protection while at the beach no matter what – mostly because of the sand.

Doug Aamoth lives in Boston and has spent more than two decades in the technology industry, working for consumer electronics retailers, support centers, startups, cybersecurity providers, and media companies.

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