Rain And Your Handheld Device

Water we encounter every day will conduct electricity very well. Even on a very small scale with your hand-held devices. This is a common hazard that we have to deal with on a daily basis and some hand-held devices are more prone to this kind of damage than other devices. So, then why is water such a problem? There are two ways that water can cause damage.  One is its ability to conduct small amounts of electricity, so if a drop of water happens to bridge across two pins of a very sensitive ic, the proper electrical paths set by the engineers is altered causing the wrong signals to be sent to the wrong part, even to the point that it can cause the part to burn out. The second reason is more insidious and will not cause your device to fail immediately, if a tiny drop of water just settles on a single copper trace, that trace will be slowly eaten away by the water drop. When the water drop finally evaporates, it will leave a corroded mess that can bridge between two or more electrical points on the board, it can also eat through the copper causing that circuit path to fail.

Another problem that engineers have to deal with when attempting to make the cases resistant to water is a phenomenon known as capillary action, or another name for it is wicking. You can see this very easily in a sponge or a string dipped into some water. The water wants to travel up the string ageist gravity. The grove where the case comes together can have the same reaction to water and if the water finds a pin hole in the grove it will migrate into the device.  So even that small drop of water on a drizzly day can still find it’s way into your handheld device.

I am seeing a good trend in the more modern telephones; they seem to be more water resistant than the older phones. They have tighter cases, and attempts at water barriers to help fight capillary action.  But I don’t have the same opinion about cameras or camcorders.  This is where I see most of my problems.  On some devices,  I have been able to follow the mineral trail back to where the drop came into the case.  It usually is a seam in the case, or around a button. The drop will then migrate to another point inside the case and cling to a circuit board. Either causing the device to be immediately destroyed or slowly die.

Some of the worst damage I have seen in cameras are the ones that went on a trip to the beach, and exposed to salty air or water. Saltwater works very quickly on circuit boards. I have never been able to track salt water because the damage just seems to be everywhere. That is why I believe the moist salt air is more of a culprit than actual direct exposure to liquid salt water. 

If your camera or phone has a leather protective case option, I suggest purchasing it. These cases help allot.  If a drop does get on the case, wipe it off immediately. Don’t wait; use the tail of your shirt or anything else handy. That drop could find it’s way inside your device.


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