When your smartphone shuts down from the cold

When your smartphone shuts down from the cold

Imagine this: You’re shoveling snow in the blistering cold from another arctic blast. You stop for a moment and pull out your smartphone to see the temperature — “Is it minus 10 degrees yet? It feels like minus 30.” — then your phone shuts off. You frantically press the power button a few times. Nothing. It’s dead, or at least it seems that way.

[Cue scary background music.]

While we know smartphones can overheat when left out on a sweltering summer day, people in the cold are discovering that their cellphones can shut down in extreme chills, too.

Thankfully, they come back to life when they are brought inside and get a little time to warm up. But that doesn’t leave people from wondering if a phone could suffer some damage from that brief frigid failure. In other words, can a cellphone get frostbite?

This answer depends at least partly on your phone, or at least the battery inside it.

Seth Porges, a writer and technology entrepreneur, oversaw a series of tests for Popular Mechanics to determine if extreme cold could injure a cellphone. His findings: Some cellphones will stop working sooner than others because of cold weather, but all seemed to work normally when returned to average temperatures.

Mr. Porges explained in an interview that he had worked with Environ Laboratories, an environmental testing facility in Minneapolis, Minn., that is used by the military, aerospace and technology industries to simulate extreme conditions with cellphones.

He said Environ monitored the phones as they dropped the temperature degree by degree until the screens went blank.

“We found, in general, that when you reach about minus 10 degrees, some screens start to dim and went immediately to low battery,” he said. “At minus 20, several models shut off, and at minus 30, almost every device suffered severe battery and screen problems and was almost inoperable.” Once phones were subjected to temperatures between minus 40 and minus 55, they were all dead.

Although the phones seemed to return to normal after the tests, he said he couldn’t be sure what might be going on inside them.

Linda F. Nazar, a professor of chemistry and electrical engineering at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, said most phones would probably not suffer any permanent damage from the cold weather. But, she warned, some inexpensive batteries might be affected permanently.

After the battery returns to a normal temperature, she said, the device will restart and all should be right with the world. “While a lot of it depends on the battery manufacturer and what sort of additives they put in the battery, in principle, assuming the battery has been well designed, there will not be any deleterious effects,” Ms. Nazar said.

To be safe, phone makers suggest that you try to avoid subjecting your gadgets to extreme cold.

Apple, on its website, suggests that iPhones be used only in temperatures from 32 degrees and 95 degrees Fahrenheit, as low temperatures can temporarily shorten an iPhone’s battery life and may impair the phone’s ability to regulate its temperature.

If the phone experiences those extreme conditions, it’s temporarily game over.

[Cue scary background music.]