Phones emit non-ionising radiation which was thought to pose danger to humans only in high doses. Now, we know that even smaller regular doses can cause DNA damage that may eventually lead to various health risks including infertility and various cancers.
The problem now is two-fold, phones emit radiation almost constantly and we use them more than ever, keeping them next to our bodies almost 24/7. One alarming recent study by Childwise found that more than half of children sleep next to their mobile phones.
The truth is, we really are maximising our chances of exposure to harmful mobile phone radiation.
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The SAR Levels of Modern Phones
SAR levels, the way they’re measured and the role they play in mobile phone regulation are hotly debated subjects. SAR – specific absorption rate – measures the extent of which electromagnetic radiation is absorbed by human tissue. It’s measured by placing phones next to various phantom body parts, such as heads and torsos. Instruments are then used to detect and measure the radiation coming out of the phone that absorbs into those body parts. Essentially, SAR only measures the amount of radiation that actually penetrates our skin and flesh.
It’s a complicated measure and varies based on many factors. Regulators test phones in various states to try and create an accurate picture of how SAR varies. For example, they measure the phone during normal use and when its antennae is working extra-hard to try and get a signal, thus increasing radiation emissions.
The difficulty is, we’re still not sure how much SAR the body can really tolerate, if it can tolerate any at all. Phantom body parts aren’t much like the real thing either. For example, they could not account for the thinner skull bone of children and some women, nor can they account for exposed areas highr-risk such as the scrotum or breast tissue, that are also particularly vulnerable to radiation.
Higher SAR Means Higher Radiation
One thing is for sure, a higher SAR rating means greater penetration of radiation into bodily tissues thus posing greater risks to health. That is plain and simple. By reducing SAR, both via use and by using phones with lower SAR/phones in anti-SAR phone cases, you are directly reducing your exposure to harmful radiation.
In light of a rapidly growing body of research into the health risks posed by mobile phone radiation, you’d probably expect manufacturers to actively reduce the levels of radiation their products emit. Whilst some do, this is sadly not the case and many top phones emit very close to the maximum regulatory limits in most countries.
Not just that, but the regulatory limits of SAR – 1.6w/kg in the USA and 2.0w/kG in Europe – are very likely to sit significantly above any practically ‘safe’ level, i.e. when even prolonged usage poses no health risk. It’s simply one big grey area. We know that radiation emitted by phones is indeed harmful, potentially even in low doses. We also know that the rates of some cancers are increasing and phones are possibly part of the reason why, please see this WaveWall guide for a greater explanation of the science. What we don’t yet understand are the precise nuances and factors influencing these risks. We still have a pretty crude understanding of SAR.
Whilst mobile phone manufacturers are generally open about the SAF of their products, in 2002, the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection began to collect independently verified information on commercially available mobile phones. This gives us an excellent source of information on the SAR levels of top Android phones.
So what are the SAR levels in Top Android phones?
Let’s take a look at the lowest SAR levels first. There are few ways to tell what phones have high or low SARs just by looking at them. You might think bigger, more powerful phones always have higher SARs but this isn’t always the case. Measurement is the only way to know for sure.
Interestingly, Samsung has consistently produced phones with some of the lowest SAR levels of any Android phones. The Samsung Note 10 and 10 plus have low SAR levels of around 0.20, this is probably due to their large physical size which helps disperse radiation across the case. Almost the entire S range up to the Samsung S10 record SAR levels of below 0.4 also.
LG also has a decent reputation for SAR levels with their flagship offerings from the LG G6 to the LG G8 recording levels below 0.3.
Phones with the Highest SAR Levels
From the evidence gathered by the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection, the highest levels of SAR emitted by phones likely breach US regulations of 1.6w/kg and they certainly far exceed any practically ‘safe’ limit.
12 of the 15 top SAR-emitting phones are Chinese manufactured – OnePlus, ZTE, Xiao and Huawei all consistently manufacture high-SAR phones. The Sony XZ1 Compact and HTC U12 Life also deliver SAR levels that approach regulatory limits. Some of these phones are large but fairly powerful, but others, such as the Sony XZ1 compact, are very small and thus may do a poor job of dispersing radiation.
Google phones also consistently record high SAR levels including the Google Pixel 4 and Google Pixel XL with levels just below 1.40.
Do Low SAR Levels Mean Phones Are Safe?
No, and there are many complications in how SAR levels are measured – you can’t assume a phone is safe simply because it records a low SAR.
SAR levels can either be measured at the head or body, the head provides some level of natural protection via the skull but the worst-case health risks are much greater, e.g. brain tumours.
Whilst some phones from manufacturers like Samsung have low total SAR ratings, they may still emit a higher average of radiation throughout general use. This is because the SAR rating only targets the maximum radiation output of a phone, not the average radiation output measured over a typical day’s usage.
So, whilst some phones may record lower SAR levels, this does not mean they are safe.
Indeed, the safest thing to do is to use a protective phone casing like those offered by WaveWall and as the WHO advises, to limit mobile phone usage.