Saving my smartphone from a watery grave – a night of panic

My wife keeps raving about how relaxing a warm bubble bath is. So yesterday I was on a quest to see what all the hype was about. With some old spice bubbles and a beer by my side, I actually started to like the whole idea of soaking on a warm Saturday evening. As the relaxation continued, I brought in my wireless speaker and started to listen to some Guns and Roses which made it even sweeter. Being a GNR fan himself, my almost three year old Son wanted to jump in the bath with me. Not wanting to ruin my new state of zen, I told him to go away. That’s when the whole nightmare started.

Saving My Smartphone from a Watery Grave
Saving My Smartphone from a Watery Grave

Annoyed with me for sending him away, his first reaction was to rebel by throwing my expensive Samsung smartphone in with me. Given that I probably shouldn’t have kept it on the edge of the tub (my wife blames the whole thing on me. The kid got away scot-free), it wasn’t cool – although he ran away giggling while I almost had a heart attack knowing that a thousand dollars just went down the drain.

In a state of panic, all those funny videos on YouTube where people dropped their phones in the pool etc. were doing a marathon in my head. In my defense, the funny stuff they did to recover their phones were flashing back as well. Surely, I didn’t want to bury my phone in a bag of rice to get the water out. I mean that’s just a waste of food! So I decided to go the 6th grade science route.

Getting the excess water out

The first thing I did was to get the excess water out. Since mine is a sealed type phone, I removed the SD card and SIM trays to allow the water to escape. If it had a removable battery, I guess I would have taken it out along with the SIM and SD cards. My next move was to use my wife’s hairdryer to blow cold air into the openings. I didn’t use hot air because it would have probably melted the plastic electronics in the phone.

Attacking the moisture

I now needed to get all the moisture out from the circuitry. This is where sixth grade science came in handy, but I needed a ziplock bag and silica gel. Silica gel are the small packets marked with “do not eat” in case you didn’t know. If you’ve always been (secretly) annoyed by how many new handbags and shoes your wife buys, this is the time when a shopping addiction comes in handy. Within minutes, my wife handed me a whole bunch of silica gel packets scavenged from the shoe boxes and new handbags. I locked them in with the phone inside the ziplock bag. I left the phone powered on thinking that the heat might help speedup the process. However, the phone started doing some really crazy stuff at that point.

Anyway, I let it dry overnight while recharging the silica gel every four hours by heating it up with the hairdryer. This helped speed up the process. By morning, the display was back to normal but the phone was still faulty.

Hard reset

All the twitching and short-circuits overnight had screwed up Android pretty bad. In hindsight, I should have switched the phone off before letting it dry. Anyway, the OS wasn’t booting up and I had to do something about it. I decided to do a hard reset which transforms the phone to the original factory state. Each phone brand and model has its own secret key press sequence for a hard reset. A quick google search with “phone brand + model + hard reset” gave me the exact sequence. After the hard reset the phone booted fine.

Recovery

Some people fret about data rates and unnecessary cloud sync. However, I have all my phone settings, data and credentials automatically backed up and stored on the cloud through two seperate service providers. This allowed me to restore my phone to its pre-soaked state within a few minutes, even all the photos and videos. The ten dollars I pay a month for cloud backup paid dividends today. Still the phone wasn’t back to normal.

Workarounds

Once I got the phone running, I realized that the capacitive touch soft keys weren’t working. Not surprisingly however, the mechanical home button in the middle was working fine. So I needed to sort that out to use this phone in a civilized way. I mean the phone is practically useless without the ability to go back! If the phone was rooted, enabling the default android on-screen soft keys is a simple process. However, I had no intention of rooting this phone as it was my “regular person” phone and not my “geek” phone. So, after a bit of trial and error I found the Simple Control (Navigation Bar) which provides a very cool on demand and fully customizable soft key bar.

The reality

After testing the phone, I found that the only parts not working are the capacitive touch soft keys and the fingerprint sensor. I’ve managed to workaround the soft keys and never found the fingerprint sensor useful. So I still have a usable phone. However, both my front and rear cameras are fogged up. I believe a few more nights in the ziplock bag will sort this out.

Front and rear cameras are fogged up
Front and rear cameras are fogged up

Consolation

After a bit of effort I managed to get the phone back upto 80% of its original glory. I’ll be delighted if I can use it till Christmas by which time it would be obsolete anyway. Next time, I’m paying special attention to the IP6 and above ratings which make phones water and dustproof. Looking at it positively, at least I got a blog post out of the whole escapade which is written on that same phone soaked yesterday.

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