By Kelli B. Grant
Senior consumer reporter and “Deal of Day” columnist Kelli B. Grant travels to Las Vegas to find the best, the worst, and the most hyped gadgets at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. Join her as she roams the exhibit floor for three days, with dispatches here and on Twitter @kellibgrant.
Accidental water exposure has long been the bane of gadget owners: it ruins devices and often isn’t covered by warranties or extended service plans. So few things are as attention-getting as watching someone toss an iPhone into a tub of water and pull out the somehow still fully functional device a good five minutes later.
Yet that feat may soon be less noteworthy. For $60, Liquipel promises to waterproof a variety of gadgets. To hear president Kevin Bacon (not that Kevin Bacon) describe it, the company’s machine sucks a special blend of vaporized chemicals through the device, coating every component with a layer “a thousand times thinner than a human hair.” The coating isn’t apparent to the naked eye, he says, but the result is that it’s now waterproof.
Well, within limits. The coating can’t endure submersion of more than six feet, and it’s not meant for prolonged submersion either. The company says larger devices such as tablets would be spill or splash resistant after the process, but still shouldn’t be dunked. Potentially more troubling: although the company tests the results to guarantee its process, there’s no guarantee for consumers that it works. So, consumers who have been longing to talk on their phone while in the shower or risk splatters to cook along with food tutorials on their iPad may still find themselves in for a hefty repair bill. (N.E.W. Customer Service Companies, which sells service plans, estimates the average repair cost for a tablet at 50% to 100% of its original purchase price.) Bacon says Liquipel is working with insurers to provide a more comprehensive guarantee.
There’s also the little matter of timing. Liquipel coats the gadgets on site in its Santa Ana, Calif., office, meaning someone sending in their cellphone would need to shell out for overnight shipping or — gasp — go unconnected for a few days. Bacon says the company is working on partnerships with manufacturers that would allow gadgets to get waterproofed before making it into consumers’ hands.