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Samsung Galaxy S4 Active Water leaks through screen & Teardown Study (W/Pics)
My GALAXY S4 ACTIVE is a WATER BOTTLE!
Before you ask if I properly sealed the phone or did I press above the ATT logo, the simple answer is YES. I am a seaman, snowboarder, adventurer and gadget lover just like you who fully understand how water is hazardous to our beloved electronics and the steps it takes to prevent accidents. So please read on
The new Galaxy S4 Active attracted my attention because of its waterproof capabilities (as in the advertisements) and the ability to change batteries seem to suit my needs so I grabbed one and decided to take the new phone for a spin.
Test 1 – Messaging in bathroom with wet hands (No direct spraying & submersion at all)
I made sure everything is sealed properly and pressed below the flash, inspected every seal. Then I took it to the bathroom and typed a few messages with wet hands briefly to test the water resistant ability. I dried it with a tower after us and everything was normal.
After an hour or so, I suddenly realized there are strange spikes on the top left part of the screen. They did not look like water damage and the spikes persists in recovery mode as well so it is not software issue. The spikes eventually went away slowly after ~5 hours. This started to get me worried.
Test 2 – Submersion Test (1.5 cm water depth)
So I did the seal inspection again. Left it submerged in a plastic tray with about 1.5 cm height of clean water for around one minutes (Not 1.5 Meters!). Everything looked normal. After a while, the screen started showing spikes again but this time there are lots of “fog” marks at the back of the display! Water got in! The watermarks move if I press my finger on the screen hard enough! As with all electronics and phones, water leaking into the device mean it will quickly disrupt the functionality of the components and eventually shut the whole system down. Rust and deposits will then form if water is not drained out immediately. However, my Galaxy S4 Active CONTINUED TO RUN NORMALLY except for the “flooded” screen. Very confusing indeed!
Again, I waited more than half a day and then the watermarks started to clear away VERY SLOWLY. I put it in a warm place (without overheating and melting it) hoping it to dry out. On day 3, all the fog and marks on the screen are gone. The phone continued to function well. WTF?
This picture shows the initial spikes at the top left edge in Test 1. Now also on the right side and the “foggy” watermarks all over the screen after Test 2.
The Tear Down
So I decided to tear it down to solve the mystery. The tear down was carefully performed without damaging it. It’s much easier than taking down iPhones. I found that the side of the phone is completely sealed off by a red gasket. Water should not be able to seep in from the sides. The earphone plug is indeed fully potted and waterproof, the microphone and camera are sealed off also. It looks safe. What’s more interesting is that the two water damage stickers are INTACT! No signs of water entering the circuit boards either. No traces of rusting or depositions. It’s CLEAN!
Tear down was simple. The Red Gasket is clearly seen.
The PCB shows no sign of water damage.
The Water Damage Indicator Sticker is clean!
I suspect that the Water Seeped into the screen from the front. Since the screen is completely bonded with the touch panel, there is no way to take them apart without breaking things. This is BAD! The water must have seeped into the screen ONLY. So no matter how I do the seals properly, the screen will still fill up with water while the phone electronics are dry and continue to run normally. A few S4 Active owners have reported this problem also. This is CLEARLY NOT USER ERROR! Has this happened to you? I have read similar stories of the screen flooding on the internet.
Test 3 will take place and I am going to submerge the phone again and take video of it to proof that water does get into the display despite being fully & properly sealed.