UPDATED: December 19, 2020
- All lithium-ion powered devices function best at optimal temperatures.
- Cold temperatures cause atoms to slow down, which is the root cause of smartphone failure in frigid weather.
- Keeping your iPhone warm may extend its operating time in cold temperatures.
- If your iPhone becomes very cold, special care should be taken before turning it on to avoid damage.
- Some iPhone cases, such as those constructed out of neoprene, provide limited insulation for cold climates.
It’s been a cold winter for many people across the globe. Extreme weather seems to be the new normal. Unfortunately, electronic gadgets, particularly those powered by lithium-ion batteries, are not suited for temperature extremes. The iPhone is no exception. According to Apple, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus can operate at temperatures between 0° to 35° C. When turned off, these devices are a bit more robust and can withstand temperatures from -20° to 45° C.
Those living in cold climates may be familiar with this situation. If one takes out an iPhone on a cold day, the battery life diminishes quickly. Within a few minutes, the battery can lose enough power to shut down the device. It’s not actually discharging. Instead, the lithium-ion battery simply cannot function at extremely cold temperatures. The lithium ions slow down under cold temperatures, diminishing the flow of electricity.
This is not a flaw with Apple products. This happens to any lithium-ion battery-powered device. There are a few things you can do to keep your iPhone working and protect it from permanent damage.
Turn Off Your iPhone
If you are walking (or riding your snowmobile) outside and don’t need your iPhone, turn it off. As mentioned previously, when turned off, the iPhone can withstand a much greater temperature range. Make sure to turn it off, and not just put it to sleep. Hold the sleep/wake button and then swipe the “slide to power off” switch to turn off your device.
When you return to a warmer environment, don’t turn on your iPhone right away. This is true of every electronic device, and also some forms of media, such as video and audio cassettes. Turning on a cold device can warm it quickly. The rapid change in temperature can expand components too quickly, causing damage. Furthermore, your device is at risk for condensation to form. Any moisture inside the device can cause electronic components to fail. Simply wait for your device to come up to room temperature. With the new, metal-encased iPhones, this should happen within a few minutes. Just make sure it doesn’t feel cold to the touch.
Keep Your iPhone Warm
If it’s cold outside, chances are you are wearing warm clothing. You may have a thick, down-filled parka. If so, put the iPhone in an inside pocket. Between your body heat and the jacket’s insulation, your phone should remain within operational temperatures. If you can’t do that, try to put the device as close to your body as possible.
Of course, this limits the use of your iPhone. The buttons on Apple’s headphones actually allow users to control some iPhone functions. For example, one can invoke Siri simply by pressing and holding the center button on the headphones. I wouldn’t advise taking the phone out and returning it to its warm location repeatedly. It will present the same problem of expansion, contraction and condensation.
There are some cases that may provide adequate insulation for your iPhone. Neoprene seems like a good option. It is inexpensive and is the same material used in wet suits. You could probably even make one out of a mouse pad, since most are constructed from neoprene. Neoprene is also a great shock absorber. For those with the financial resources, a new, high-tech thermal protection case is coming soon…
Use a High-Tech Thermal Protection Case
Optimal is an active, electronic thermal protection case that is currently in development. It promises to be the high-end solution to using an iPhone in extreme temperatures. This high-tech case will help maintain the temperature of your iPhone in hot or cold weather. The case will have fans and heating elements to keep your iPhone at the optimal operating temperature. It will also ensure that your iPhone won’t overheat when gaming or engaging in other resource-intensive activities.
The Optimal case will only be 5 mm thick and constructed of anodized aluminum. The case has its own battery and must be charged, so as not to drain the iPhone’s battery. This is a high-tech case with active electronic components to monitor and maintain the optimal temperature. It will even work with Touch ID and will not obscure the camera lens. The case is currently under development, however, it is being crowd funded on Indiegogo. This case is not cheap. It will sell for around $200. However, if you need to use your iPhone in extreme temperatures, there’s really nothing else like Optimal.
Don’t Leave Your iPhone in the Car
Given the operational and non-operational temperature range for the iPhone, it makes sense not to leave it in a cold car. If you do, at least make sure to turn it off and wait until it warms up before turning it on again. The most sensible thing is to take it with you. It may be colder outside your automobile, but if your iPhone is tucked in a warm pocket, it will fare better.
Keep a Car Charger for Emergencies
Given the iPhone’s vulnerability to cold weather, one must be prepared for emergencies. If you get stuck in the snow, a cold iPhone that doesn’t work can be a life-threatening situation. Even though the battery may not perform well, you will probably get some power if you plug it into a charger. Make sure to keep a car-compatible iPhone charger in your automobile at all times. Some of these can plug in to the cigarette lighter. Most modern cars have a standard electric or USB outlet, so you can use just about any charger.
Ideally, you should use the charger provided by Apple. Rapid charging with too much current can damage the battery from overheating. Even if you are in a cold environment, a rapid charger could exacerbate the temperature extremes, causing damage to your device.
Use an Old iPhone
Prior to the iPhone 5, Apple’s iconic devices were sandwiched between two sheets of glass. Glass is an insulator. Given this insulating property, the iPhone 4 and 4S should operate better under cold conditions.
Officially, Apple recommends the same temperatures for these older, glass-sandwiched iPhones. The laws of physics would seem to indicate they will perform better in cold weather, due to the insulation. Of course, if the device is left in the cold for a long time, it won’t matter. However, if you take it out of your pocket to use briefly, it should remain operational longer.
Being an old iPhone, you might not get too upset if the temperature extremes ruin the device. I wouldn’t go out and buy an old iPhone for this purpose. You may want to keep your old iPhone 4 or 4S to use outdoors in the winter. Many carriers will allow you to keep your old device activated for free.
Use the Apple Watch to Access iPhone Functionality
The Apple Watch may function better in cold weather. The device’s operating temperature range is the same as the iPhone — 32º F to 95º F (0º C to 35º C). Certain aspects of the Apple Watch may enable it to fare better in cold weather. Since the Apple Watch is worn on your wrist, heat from your body will keep it from getting too cold. If you wear it under a heavy coat and expose it only for quick glances, it should operate in cold weather.
Its material design may also keep the Apple Watch from getting too cold. The front of the device is sapphire glass, which acts as an insulator. The back is either a composite or ceramic material (depending on model) and metal. Body heat should keep the device warm enough to use, even in cold weather. A metal-backed Apple Watch will fare better in cold weather, as body heat transfers through the material.
Metal is Better Overall
Unfortunately, when it comes to extreme temperatures, most electronic devices don’t perform well. When powered by a lithium-ion battery, electronic devices must be operated and stored within certain temperature ranges. The iPhone is not unique in this respect.
Newer iPhones are encased in metal, which dissipates heat faster. For most people, heat is a bigger problem. Even if you live in an extremely cold area, you will most likely be using your device indoors, where the heat of the battery and components is more problematic. Apple made the right choice when it comes to materials. Unfortunately, the metal iPhones don’t perform as well under extremely cold conditions.
There are other brands of smart phones that are encased in plastic. You can also get an iPhone 5C, which features a plastic enclosure. This may be something to consider in cold climates. However, many northern locations have warm summers, and people are often indoors in the winter. Overall, a metal enclosure which dissipates heat is an excellent design and is best for most iPhone users.
Buy a Samsung Phone With an Exynos Processor
Samsung smartphones feature one of two brands of processors — Qualcomm or Samsung’s own Exynos chip. The best and fastest Samsung devices use Qualcomm processors. Since the company can’t get enough Qualcomm processors, it puts its own Exynos chips in some of the same models at a lower price.
Exynos processors are decent chips, but they tend to have thermal issues. This is actually a blessing in cold weather. A Samsung S20 with an Exynos processor will fare much better in cold weather than the same phone equipped with a Qualcomm processor. Models with Exynos processors are typically a few hundred dollars cheaper too.
If you’re constantly in cold weather and need to use a smartphone, an Exynos-equipped Samsung phone should work well. In warm weather, the processor simply slows down to stay cool, so you can still use your device.