No matter what a manufacturer says about water resistance, you probably don't want to take your tablet computer anywhere near the shower with you, or use it outside during a drizzle.
A case in point for skepticism: Sony Electronics has suspended sales of its Android-powered Xperia Tablet S after discovering it has some gaps between the screen and case that could allow H2O into the device's innards. More than 100,000 of the tablets, advertised as "splash-proof" when it went on sale last month, have already been sold.
'The Factory Goofed'
So far there is no indication that devices already shipped will be recalled, but the company told Reuters it will fix any waterlogged Xperias, though none have been reported. Sony blames a manufacturing flaw by a China-based factory for the goof.
Sony did not respond to our e-mail seeking comment about the Xperia Tablet S in time for publication.
On Friday, the $399, 16-gigabyte Xperia Tablet S was listed on Sony's Web site as "coming soon" with a button marked "notify me" when it is available. The device is powered by Android's 4.0 version (Ice Cream Sandwich) and features a large, 9.4-inch screen -- close to Apple's market-leading iPad's 9.7 inches -- and an 8-megapixel rear camera (1-megapixel camera in front), 1 GB of RAM and four-plus-one multi-core processors.
"Xperia tablet's splash-proof design helps provide assurance that your tablet is protected from the elements," reads the product description.
The goof comes nearly a year after a much larger product fail, when Sony recalled 1.6 million defective LCD Bravia televisions that could overheat, melting plastic and causing smoke.
But the Japanese electronics giant is far from alone: Apple has faced overheating iPod batteries and Hewlett-Packard recalled defective laptop adapters. Samsung investigated the case of a Galaxy S III smartphone that caught fire, but it concluded in July that an external energy source caused the problem.
Must Be Grounded
The Xperia Tablet S isn't the only model promising to brave spills and splashes. In January, Pantech released the $299 Android-powered Element by completely immersing it in water, thanks to sealed components that can withstand a dive of 30 feet, though the touchscreen is inoperable underwater.
Sony is also marketing its low-end Xperia Go and high-end Arco S smartphones, both Android-powered, as waterproof, promising that the scratch-proof touchscreens will still work underwater.
As people grow more attached to their mobile devices and less inclined to leave them behind during leisure activities, or stow them when it's raining, water and shock resistance are an increasing selling point, but could fall short of expectations.
"It's hard to think of two things that go together less gracefully than water and electricity," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.
"Sony deserves to be recognized for their ambition in the Xperia S but this is a good example of how electrifying product execution can go bad if it isn't grounded in reality. "