You might tempted to snap photos of snowdrifts and icicles as the temperature drops toward zero. But will your smartphone handle it?
In November, shortly after Apple's new iPhone X was released, some users reported the $1,000 device didn't respond when suddenly exposed to frigid weather. Apple then promised a software update to fix that problem.
But the glitch raised the question of whether these increasingly sophisticated devices are rugged enough for extreme temperatures like the one much of the East Coast encountered while bracing for the first bad storm of 2018.
It turns out most major manufacturers, including Apple, suggest their devices work best in the climate our bodies also prefer — and when it gets frigid, to turn the phone off (and head inside).
That seems like a tall order for phone owners where it regularly slips to the single digits or worse. So we asked cell-phone repair shops in Canada and Alaska this question whether it can get too cold to run smartphones.
It is the “battery, battery, battery,” that is most vulnerable to the elements, says Roger Gurney, owner of Arctic Tech Solutions in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Gurney explains that the lithium-ion batteries can stop discharging electricity when it is extremely cold, though once you warm up and charge the battery back indoors you should be fine. Problems would only arise, he maintains, if you repeatedly expose the phone to sub-zero temperatures.
The easiest fix: Keep the phone close to you, where your own body heat will raise the temperature.
Apple recommends operating iOS devices where the ambient temp is between 32 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit, but says it's fine to store the device at much colder temps — all the way down to minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit. At those lower temperatures you'll want to shut the phone off.
Samsung cites a similar operating range for its phones.
Of course, try as you might to keep your phone warm in a pocket or a purse, it's near impossible to avoid Mother Nature's wrath some of the time.
Charlie Harb, the general manager of CPR-Cell Phone Repair in the Cleveland suburb of Mayfield Heights, Ohio, does see a rise in repairs during extreme weather. “I can't emphasize enough how volatile smartphone batteries are to user conditions," he says.
According to Harb, both the winter and summer months can be unkind to batteries, especially when customers leave their smartphones in the glove compartments of their cars or in a dashboard mount.
“It's the same issue at both ends of the temperature spectrum,” he says.
His company can test whether a phone is conking out because of battery damage.
If CPR's tests show the "battery health" of a phone is at 80% but your phone screen gauge tells you that you are at 100%, the real of health of the phone is at 80%, “because 20% has been damaged and is no longer functional.”
Harb also says screens may crack more easily in the cold. "At the end of the day our smartphone screens are made of glass and the colder your phone is, the slower the molecules are moving and so it's going to be more susceptible to breaking."
Joe Kenny, who owns a CPR-Cell Phone Repair shop in Winnipeg, Canada, actually sees an uptick in phone repairs during the summer months compared to winter, if only because that's when folks are more active and likely to pull phones out of their pockets, and drop them, resulting in smashed screens or water damage.
Apple says an iPhone may stop charging or charge very slowly in the heat, including the "wireless charging" feature added to the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X. The display may dim or go dark entirely, the cellular signal weakened. And the camera flash may be temporarily disabled.
If an iPhone runs especially hot, you will see a temperature warning on the screen indicating that the phone needs to cool down before you can use it, something I experience from time to time. When that happens, Apple recommends that you turn it off.
I hadn't encountered the cold weather problems on the X that Apple resolved last fall with a software fix, and neither had Tony Stein, who works as an information security analyst in Anchorage. At USA TODAY's request, Stein took an unexposed X out for a walk in 15- to 20-degree weather. He, too, didn't detect any issues.
Stein says he doesn't generally do anything out of the ordinary to protect his phone from frigid Alaska temperatures. “I would find it greatly disruptive if I had to give my phone special care,” he says.
Indeed, Stein does what most of us do. He keeps the phone in his pocket whenever possible. Your best defense is likely to be your own body heat.