What to do when your phone takes a dip

5 Dec

December 5, 2011

By Geoff Meeker

Did you hear the recent news story, that half of all water-damaged mobile phones in the United Kingdom were dropped into the toilet?

Yeah, I laughed at that one, too. It’s easy to imagine the stupid, slapstick comedy of it. What idiot drops an expensive electronic device into a toilet?

Of course, those who have experienced such calamity don’t laugh as hard. And last week, I stopped laughing too.

I was brushing my teeth and, when I leaned over the sink, there was a clattering noise – my precious iPhone had fallen out of my shirt pocket, and was bouncing around, right under the running faucet. I snatched it up in mid-bounce, but the phone had been well soaked.

I wiped the water off the case, and promptly committed my first mistake (as I would learn later). I woke up the phone and opened a few apps, to see if they still worked. The screen lit up but, after that, it was all bad news. The touch screen responded only intermittently, and most apps functioned, but just partially. And the phone began vibrating, even though there were no incoming calls. It was quite alarming.

It was 15 minutes later, and I had already pulled my second mistake – the phone was still inside its protective outer case (which I foolishly assumed would protect it). Finally, I sat down at my computer and searched for “dropped iphone in water.”

There was no shortage of pages about this. And, after browsing a few sites, a consensus quickly emerged.

The first thing you should do, when your mobile gets wet (after wiping off the water, of course)? Turn the blasted thing off. Don’t power it up, and run a bunch of functions. The charge running through the wet circuitry can easily short out, and fry the device completely. Rather sheepishly, I powered off. But not before noticing that white areas of the screen had dark spots, where moisture had infiltrated. Not good.

The next thing? Take off the protective slipcase. I did that, and discovered an alarming amount of water still inside, in full contact with the phone. Not good at all.

After that, there were two suggestions that made sense. One is the well-known ‘bag of rice’ trick, which involves placing the device in a sealed bag full of uncooked rice for at least 24 hours. Theory is, the dry rice draws out and absorbs all moisture from the phone.

The other suggestion was to use a blow drier, on the lower, cool setting, pointing it at the USB connector plug on the base of the phone, which apparently permits forced air to travel right through the phone, presumably evaporating and removing any water. I used the blow drier for about 15 minutes, placed the phone in a bag of rice, and wandered sadly off to bed, pretty much resigned to the fact that I had destroyed my iPhone.

The next morning, I resisted an impulse to dig out the phone and power it up. Instead, I checked with Bell Mobility, my service provider, to see if I was eligible for an upgrade. But no such luck – there is still more than a year left on my contract.

Knowing how slowly these things work – indeed, if they work at all –  I left my phone in that bag of rice for more than 24 hours.

The next morning I retrieved the phone and watched with bated breath as it powered up. The screen looked normal. I opened Angry Birds, as good a test of the touch screen as any application. It worked flawlessly.

I called the cell from my home phone. It worked, and with no weird vibration.

I opened the email, and received my usual serving of morning spam. It, too, was working fine, as was the text function. Even the darker shades of moisture that were showing on the screen were gone – the image was now a clean white.

I was lucky. My iPhone had survived the incident. If anything, it was working better than before.  That’s because I had removed the thin, protective film from the touch screen, which was now much more responsive to my fingertip. (They say those screen protectors don’t interfere with the responsiveness of the screen, but now I know better.)

To sum up, if your phone gets wet, wipe off excess water, remove it from any protective case and dry it completely. Don’t run the phone at all and turn the power off. Remove the battery if you can. Dry it gently by pointing a hair dryer – on the cool setting – at any open ports on the phone. Then leave it sealed in a bag of rice for at least 24 hours. And cross your fingers.

Of course, the first rule is Don’t Drop Your Phone Into the Toilet or Sink.

But as we’ve learned, it can happen to the best of us! (*Blush)

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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