How Cold Is Too Cold?


Contributed by Henri Baton

Cell Phones in Alaska: I can safely say that most of us know and understand why heat is bad for your cell phone.  It can destroy the processor, expand your hard drive, or bloat your battery to the point of pushing the screen off its frame.  

Cold, on the other hand, is not as cut and dry.  Normally processors operate better when it’s cool than hot.  Although, in Alaska, we can reach cold temperatures that could be fatal to your cell phone’s battery.  If your gadget is left in the cold for too long, its battery will die and other parts will likely fail.  Different devices can withstand different temperatures in the cold, but lower than 32° F can be dangerous.  You may start to notice your screen or other functions slowing down or completely stopping.  This may cause long-lasting issues with your cell phone, but usually, it can be remedied by warming the phone back up.

Lithium-ion batteries, the rechargeable power source most cell phones use, rely on chemical reactions to work, and freezing them slows and stops those reactions. Interestingly, batteries in general last longer when stored in cold temperatures.  Yes, it slows and makes them unusable while cold, but it also slows their self-discharge rate dramatically, but be aware that you must let your phone return to normal temperature before you fire it up. I suggest that if you do happen to freeze your phone, allow some time for the device to warm back up before continuing use of said device.  That means do not plug in your phone right after you pick it out of the snow. Besides the possible liquid damage, charging a cold lithium-ion battery can fail horribly.  You could easily wreck your battery by attempting to charge it cold. Think of how your fingers would feel at such a low temperature, and imagine trying to use them to play video games. The ions must be able to move properly again. No Johns, just warm-ups.

Aside from just the battery, other internal parts can become more delicate when frozen.  The LCD can malfunction, and the glass itself can be more prone to cracking.  This is because extremely cold temperatures cause everything to contract. Metal, rubber, and glass can expand or contract depending on temperature changes. The cold can put stress on parts of your phone and make it more likely to crack under pressure.

Just like layering yourself in the cold, keeping your phone stored in a pocket close to your body as well as having a case can help with keeping your “celly” warm.  Don’t leave your phone in frigid places like your car for long periods of time, although if you do, turn off your phone instead of just putting it on sleep mode.  On a side note, if your phone warms up from cold temperatures too fast, there is a chance condensation can form inside your device.  Avoid using a heater to speed up the warming process, so this won’t occur. 

Apple recommends that you use your iOS product between 32° to 95°F. Don’t stress it! If you have inadvertently damaged your cell phone, most of the time, it’s repairable. Most repairs take only an hour at AK Cell Repair in Palmer.  Don’t leave it overnight in your car during the winter or during hot summer days.  Remember, the interior of your car is always colder or hotter than outside.  Essentially, just be sensible when operating your device.  Keep your fingers, toes, and phones warm.