Why Your Phone Dies in Cold Weather – the Full Lowdown

Alexa Lemzy February 8, 2022
female taking photos with mobile phone in nature on frosty day

We expect a lot from our mobile phones and their batteries. However, there will always be a few circumstances where our devices give out altogether. For example—have you ever wondered why a phone dies in cold weather? Is it related to the battery, the inner mechanisms, or something else entirely?

It’s commonly known, mobile phone batteries don’t handle extreme temperatures well. Have you ever been hiking in the snow or alpine skiing, only to find your phone’s completely given up? It’s all to do with the way your phone battery is designed.

In this guide, we will show you:

  • Why most mobile phone batteries hate cold temperatures
  • What you can do if your phone battery dies in the cold
  • How to protect your phone and battery in future freezes

The Science Behind Why a Phone Dies in Cold Weather

Mobile phone batteries are expected to offer a lot of daily support. Some last longer than others, but the bottom line is your phone battery isn’t likely to withstand extreme chills, regardless of the make, model, and style of phone you’re using.

The common misconception is that mobile phones ‘freeze’ in the cold. That’s not actually the case. Instead, it is a case of the battery failing under extreme conditions.

Modern phone batteries are lithium-ion. Lithium-ion batteries are affordable to produce and offer long lifespans in the face of intensive use. They are also popular because they charge rapidly and are easy to recharge.

You can’t expect a lithium-ion phone battery to work efficiently at temperatures below zero degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit. It will continue to operate, but the battery life will dwindle rapidly before shutting down.

How This Might Affect You

Ultimately, a lithium-ion battery, the one in your phone, can’t perform as expected below the temperatures listed above.

Your phone battery’s power dwindles the colder the temperatures get. That’s why you may find that apps slow down or your device crashes or reboots. It’s not exclusive to phones, of course, as you’ll find lithium-ion batteries in cameras and other devices.

The colder the temperature, the harder your phone battery works. That means internal voltages decrease, and your battery burns off its stores quicker and quicker. To go even deeper, the science explains that cold temperatures cause electrolytes in your device to harden. Crucially, this means your battery’s working overtime.

However, it is important to note that not all lithium-ion batteries will break down completely. There is an argument that high temperatures may be more harmful. That said, harmful temperatures at the high-end of the scale are unlikely to be lower than 120-130 F.

Although a cold battery is unlikely to break down completely, it simply won’t work properly until you bring it back up to room temperature.

If possible, avoid taking your phone into places or situations below 0C or 23F. Of course, that isn’t so simple for those living in colder climates. Thankfully, you can do a few things to prepare your phone and battery for cold temperatures.

Did you know that your mobile phone’s performance increases at temperatures of 77 degrees Fahrenheit and above? The downside is that your battery will drain up to 6.7% faster.

What to Do if Your Phone Battery Dies in the Cold

First, it’s important not to panic. A battery that powers down in cold weather is not necessarily ‘dead’ for good. In most cases, the following tips will help you restore it to good working order.

  1. If your battery shuts down because of the cold, and you desperately need it, the best thing to do is head somewhere warm. Bringing it back to room temperature will get it working again. However, it may take some time, so be patient.
  2. Alternatively, you can resort to using your own body heat to warm a phone and battery. However, depending on how low the temperature is, there’s no guarantee of success.
  3. Crucially, if neither of these options is possible, it may be worth switching your phone off. Your phone’s battery won’t react to the cold if it is not powered on. This will save power for when you must switch on to call for emergency services, etc.
  4. If you need a phone with you at all times, it may be worth taking a spare device in case your primary handset dies.

Preventing Mobile Phone Shutdown in the Cold

Prevention of cold battery shutdown is preferable to finding a cure. Luckily, there are a handful of ways you can keep your phone and its battery from reacting badly. Be sure to try the following tips.

Keep Charged Up

The higher the percentage charge, the less susceptible your phone is to the cold. Think of charging as an extra layer of defense. Therefore, charging your device to 100%, or as close as possible, makes sense if you are heading out into cold weather.

A power bank is a good investment if you plan to be in the cold for an extended period. Carrying backup power enables you to prevent battery life from depleting and your smartphone from shutting down.

These are inexpensive, and there are many brands and capacities to choose from. The most prominent are Belkin and Anker. But, consider your options—do you need wireless, phone case, or standard options? If power is low and you decide to charge, a power bank with fast charging capabilities is best.

Did you know that your smartphone battery weakens with age and use? According to studies, a typical lithium-ion battery will lose up to 20% of its capacity every 1000 charges.

Stick to the Essentials

When you are out in cold weather, turn off nonessential applications. These will drain your battery quickly without you realizing it. For example, close Google Maps and use a map that you have downloaded beforehand, where possible.

You should also turn off power-draining resources such as your GPS, data, location services, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Your phone may feature a battery saver function that, when activated, puts your phone into ‘survival mode’, using minimal power.

Keep Your Phone Warm

To keep your phone warm on the go, it’s a good idea to use body heat. This is likely the best course of action when you’re in the cold. If you need to access it on the route, go hands-free. Use a Bluetooth headset, earpiece, or earbuds.

But taking everything into account and being proactive to prevent your phone from dying in cold weather is essential. So, it’s time to plan—will you be using body heat, a portable charger, or both? The choice is yours, however, it’s clear that regardless of how advanced your smartphone may be, the battery is sensitive to cold temperatures.


Alexa Lemzy

Author

Customer support person. Interested in customer success, growth, marketing and technology. Passionate about content, reading and travel.

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