Dunking your phone in three feet of water might sound crazy, but with the Galaxy S4 Active, it’s something Samsung actively encourages.

So why doesn’t Samsung’s warranty for the device cover water damage?

Early owners of Samsung’s durable device are finding that, just because Samsung says the phone can survive a dip in a fish tank, that doesn’t mean the company is responsible for any potential damage resulting from the plunge.

Here’s how Samsung frames its liability in the phone’s user manual (PDF):

This Limited Warranty does not cover: (a) defects or damage resulting from accident, misuse, abnormal use, abnormal conditions, improper storage, exposure to liquid, moisture, dampness, sand or dirt, neglect, or unusual physical, electrical or electromechanical stress […].

While owners may take Samsung’s advertising as evidence that the Galaxy S4 Active is “waterpoof,” it’s really just “water-resistant.” As Samsung points out in the device’s manual, the S4 Active is rated IP67, which means that it’s resistant to water only up to depths of a little over three feet (and only for thirty minutes).


Above: Samsung’s biggest mistake with the Galaxy S4 Active might just be Aqua Mode.

But it’s a bit more complicated than that. In order to keep the device sufficiently safe from water damage, owners must first make sure the phone’s series of “snap points” and port covers are secured.  As Samsung says: “It is important that all compartments are closed tightly. Follow these tips carefully to prevent damage to the device.”

The problem, however, is mostly in the way Samsung is advertising the phone: While some advertisements for the S4 Active bill it as “whoops-proof” — i.e., it can survive an accidental dunk in a pool — features like the device’s “Aqua Mode” paint a different picture: This is a device, Samsung says, that can — and should — be used underwater, regardless of how conventionally stupid doing such a thing is.

As a result, there seems to be something profoundly wrong with encouraging underwater photography while simultaneously denying liability if things go wrong after users actually take advantage of the feature. When you give people a false sense of security, bad experiences are inevitable.

That stance is not a unique one among owners of the S4 Active. All of the reviews for the S4 Active on AT&T’s website, for example, mention bad experiences with the phone’s supposed water resistance.  Here’s one reaction:

Phone was working great but of course the first thing i wanted to do was take an underwater picture. Followed all instructions. within 10 seconds phone had water in it and most of the systems shut down.

Another review, this one via Amazon, tells a similar tale: “Why have this feature if your product isn’t actually guaranteed to work under water? I had it for less than a week made sure all instructions followed (back and usb port properly sealed) yet it still leaked water and therefore is now worthless.”

We’ve contacted Samsung and AT&T for comment on their warranty policies and will update when the companies respond.

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