Telltale coffee scent aside, don't think you can fool the repair center techs either. Most modern phones are actually filled with lots of tiny white stickers — Liquid Control Indicators — whose sole purpose is to detect and record watery contact. Should liquid be added to the mix, those sensors will turn red, and you can forget about any warranty-sanctioned repair.
iPhone/iPod TouchApple's received a lot of flak from certain customers based on the position of their liquid control indicator. Unlike with most phones, Apple places the liquid-sensing sticker in two exposed locations on the outside of the case — within the headphone jack and inside the dock connector. Theoretically, this provides a quicker indication of when water contact occurs, compared to hiding the indicator deeper within the device, but it can also be misleading. A slight splash of water could potentially trip the indicator, but not actually affect the inside of the device — the area where damage actually matters.
HTC EVO 4Ganother sticker placed directly next to the phone's MicroUSB port, ready to trip should any water leak in through the bottom of the device.
T-Mobile G1Google's first Android phone may be old, but that doesn't mean it still isn't useful. If you're looking to pick one up second hand, or hoping to flip your own for some extra cash, be sure to check the small, circular sticker on the inside of the battery compartment. White is good, but red, not so much.
BlackBerry (various)Most BlackBerries have a two-pronged defense against water damage, both on the battery itself, and within the phone. Like the EVO 4G, many of RIM's batteries contain a red strip indicator along the bottom of the battery, that turns completely red if immersed. The body itself contains another square indicator in the battery compartment area, sometimes near the SD card slot, though this can change from device to device.
Palm PreAccording to iFixit, there are no visible water indicators around the battery compartment of this Popular WebOS phone, though one sensor is buried deeper inside, directly on the logic board, next to the Micro USB adapter. A similarly placed sensor is said to exist within the Palm Pixi as well.
Motorola Droid and Droid 2As far as we can tell, both generation Droids have a water indicator in very similar places, beneath the battery cover near the camera. There doesn't appear to be any further sensors inside, though we still wouldn't suggest taking either of these phones in the pool anytime soon.
Samsung GalaxyFor a phone so new, it's disheartening to hear that some users have already taken theirs for an ill-fated swim. Positioning here is pretty standard, with one indicator on the battery, and another within the compartment — at least, that we know of thus far.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, you'll find the general indicator placement between phones is often similar. The battery itself is the best place to start on your own device, followed by the compartment and surrounding areas. Further internal stickers, such as those found in the Palm Pre and EVO 4G, can be identified thanks to numerous online tear downs, such as those found on iFixit.
The problem with these indicators is that they're sensitive. Perhaps too sensitive. A few drops of water on an old BlackBerry is enough to turn the indicator a nice, rosy hue — just the thing repair techs will look for to deny you service. Some users have reported that moisture, sweat or other unfortunate sources of condensation have a tendency to set off the indicators too, rendering an otherwise working phone incapable of future service.
If disaster does strike, and you find yourself with an expensive, waterlogged brick, not all hope is lost. Most manufacturers will refuse to cover water damage under warranty, but will still repair your phone for a price. The actual value will differ depending on what's been damaged (it will still be a lot), but it doesn't hurt to inquire anyhow. Carriers, meanwhile, can actually be more lenient to water and physically-induced damage, depending on your plan. Sprint, for example, offers a Total Equipment Protection service for $7/month, though liquid damage will cost an additional $50-100 per approved claim — still cheaper than a whole new phone. Other carries like AT&T offer similar plans, while Rogers in Canada will even insure specific devices, like the iPhone, against liquid and physical damage for a fee.
Have you ever taken your phone for a swim? What have your experiences with water damage been like? Be sure to let us know, and tell us how you fixed the problem — or didn't.
Images via Flickr users PKMousie and daniel kuhne, iFixit, Apple and Crackberry.