Dry skin, frozen pipes, icy roads — these are a few unpleasant effects of winter. But besides these, our mobile devices also have a negative reaction when exposed to the extremely cold weather.
Our favorite gadgets can endure cold temperatures much better than hot, but that doesn’t make them unbreakable. Apple says its iPhones can be used only in temperatures between 32 degrees to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, Samsung guarantees its phones to function in temperatures between -4F and 122F. HTC and Nokia do not mention any temperature guidelines in their user manuals or on their websites.
According to tests made by PCWorld.com, most smartphones couldn’t handle temperatures ranging from 5F down to -4F. Even if the phones managed to stay powered up, most died when put to actual use. The breaking point of all smartphones is at -40F, when smartphones of all types can cease all their functionalities.
So what happens to our smartphones if they are left out in the cold for too long?
Effects of Cold Weather to Smartphones
Leaving your smartphone in the cold can drain the battery much faster, and the device can shut down spontaneously. If the smartphone battery is exposed to cold temperatures over an extended period of time, the battery can end up dying all together. When tested, an iPhone 4s battery died and shut down at 14F.
Unresponsive and/or cracked screens
Our smartphones have LCD displays that are more fragile in the cold than AMOLED displays. All phones with LCD displays in PCWorld’s tests experienced difficulties when the temperature dropped below 14F, while those with AMOLED displays were able to keep working at that temperature.
If you notice that the touchscreen has delayed reactions, and the text and colors are smudging and ghosting, this means the smartphone has been subjected to cold temperatures. The display panel also becomes more sensitive to cracks when dropped because the cold makes the panel rigid.
Internal component issues
Smartphones may have a hard time reading the SIM card because of extreme cold temperatures. A number of functionalities may also fail to process. As an example, the iPhone 4s started reporting a SIM card error at 23F after testing.
Physical damages to the components
The extreme cold makes the internal and external components rigid, making them susceptible to spontaneous screen shattering. Simple drops and movements can lead to a cracked screen or damage the internal components. When devices are left in ‘sleep mode’ in freezing temperatures, they can be facing real permanent damage that they cannot turn on anymore.
Liquid damage can occur even if you don’t literally drop your smartphone in water because of liquid condensation. This happens when the device has been left in the cold for a long period of time, and used immediately after bringing it into a warm area. Liquid condensation appears underneath the display, which can cause liquid damage and make the screen unreadable.
How to Protect Your Smartphone in Cold Weather
- Keep the battery in check. Since the battery will drain much faster in the cold, make sure to charge your smartphone before going out. (Tip: Switch to airplane mode to charge faster.) Keep a car charger or have an extra battery with you for backup. (Check out our stores for these accessories; you’ll never know when an emergency will happen.)
- Buy a heavy-duty weatherproof case. Popular brands are Otterbox and Lifeproof, which are proven to be waterproof and drop resistant. (Also available at our stores.)
- Limit your usage in the cold. The screens are more fragile in the cold and you don’t want to crack the screen if you suddenly drop your phone. Also, stay away from snow-related activities such as sledding or shoveling to avoid liquid damage.
- Always have your phone with you. Don’t leave your phone in the car for a long period of time, especially not overnight. This can cause permanent damage on the internal and external components.
- Limit your phone usage in the cold. Keep the phone in a safe place near you such as your pocket, jacket, purse, or somewhere close to your own body heat. This also prevents accidental drops that can cause shattered screens.
If this article came to you late and your smartphone has already been exposed to subfreezing temperatures, you can still do something about it. Don’t try to use the phone right away. Let it warm back up to room temperature before turning it on again. This prevents condensation and other damage that might occur to the device.