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iPhone suffers at -5˚C – can your phone take the chill?

Most of us are suffering from sub-zero temperatures, but we’re not going to stop going about our business just because of a bit of snow and ice. But what about your phone – will it keep running as temperatures drop?

If it’s an iPhone 4S, maybe not. It was news to me that Apple says its iPhones can only be used in temperatures between 0 and 35˚C.

However, a report by MikroPC (Finland’s PCWorld) points out that Apple revokes responsibility if an iPhone stops working in temperatures below 0˚C.

I don’t own an iPhone, but I know plenty of people who do, and yet I’ve never heard of anyone’s iPhone breaking down as snow falls around them. So perhaps Apple is just playing it safe? MikroPC took an iPhone 4S, and 15 other mobile phones, to Finland’s Technical Research Centre to find out.

iPhone 4S first to freeze over

Well, Apple isn’t lying – as soon as temperatures dropped down to -5˚C in MikoPC’s test the iPhone 4S started to report errors. When the temperature dropped another five degrees it packed it in altogether after announcing a dead battery. Nokia’s N9 also performed badly at similar temperatures.

In fact, most smartphones kicked the bucket at temperatures colder than -15˚C. It was the slightly more humble feature phones, like a cheap Nokia C1-01 and an old Nokia E65, that stayed the path until temperatures of around -40˚C. Now, that’s bloomin’ freezing and it’s good that the Finnish mobile manufacturer could ensure they’d survive at such temperatures, as -40˚C isn’t rare in the middle of Finnish winters.

And although we don’t have to worry about such Arctic temperatures here in old Blighty, we are certainly suffering from chills that would stop an iPhone or Nokia N9 from working. The thermometer plummeted to as low as -10˚C in the New Forest (at night) when I went home for the weekend. So is there a smartphone that can grit it out?

Samsung’s sub-zero smartphone

Apparently Samsung is the company to lay bets on. This Korean phone manufacturer guarantees its phones will work as low as -20˚C, and the popular Samsung Galaxy SII actually held out until -35˚C in MikroPC’s tests.

Who knows how Samsung has managed to do it – it’s partly due to its AMOLED screen which can take the chill, unlike the LCD screens you’ll see on Apple’s iPhone. But the fact that its battery kept on working, where most phones would report that it was dead (due to a chemical reaction in cold temperatures) is impressive.

So, would the performance of these phones at such low temperatures affect what mobile you’d spend your money on?

I know most of us wouldn’t want to take our gloves off to use a smartphone in such chilly conditions, but what if you were stranded with snow up to your knees in the middle of the night? Wouldn’t you want to put your hopes in a more solid feature phone or a Samsung smartphone, than in something that will pack it in as soon the weather threatens to go below zero?

Comments
Member

We already need to worry about charging a smartphone every day, making sure that they are not exposed to a drop of rain and be careful not to drop them or have them stolen. Incubating them at a comfortable temperature seems fairly easy, since we have a body at around 37C if we are alive. Inside pocket, shirt pocket…? Hopefully the poor thing will not be exposed for long enough to insult its battery or display.

I have a good idea. Why not turn these clever toys into tools that are capable of surviving how human beings might use them? What we have at the moment is dumb phones not smartphones.

Member
Sophie Gilbert says:
7 February 2012

Here’s me hoping for a long prolonged blissfully silent winter! With people watching where they’re going because their toys are on the blink! :0)

Member

As far as I know, all batteries are adversely affected by low temperatures. That’s one of the reasons why cars often fail to start in cold conditions. With cars used in cold conditions, it is best to install the largest battery that will fit in the space available. If we have larger batteries in smartphones then they are more likely to carry on working in the cold, despite the drop in performance of the battery.

Let’s have decent sized batteries in phones. They won’t be as slim, they will cost a little more, but there are many advantages of bigger batteries.

Member

Thanks for the comments so far. Thought I’d come in and put a spanner in the works. MikroPC’s tests are a little off the mark in that they were tested in perfect conditions – that is, no-one was holding the phones.

In real life you’d have your phone in your pocket and hold it when you use it – this would bring the phones temperature up, meaning that if though the thermometer will read -5, the phone might not be at that temperature in your hands. Worth thinking about.

Member

If the phone is kept warm when not in use, using it will generate heat within the battery and help keep it warm enough for use. The display could be a greater problem, but who is going to stand there making long calls in freezing conditions?

Member

Hi Wavechange, the temperatures measured in the test were external temperatures, so the battery was likely at a higher temperature. So the iPhone suffered when it is -5 externally, no matter what temp the battery was at.

Member
Mikhail says:
14 February 2012

I don’t think I have -5C in my pockets, I also agree with Wavechange, your body temperature, wherever you keep/hold the phone will not let the phone to freeze, so that test was quite pointless.

Member
Mwebantu says:
2 December 2013

The tests were not pointless. You guys are missing the point. MikroPC performed tests to see at what ambient temperature a phone would have problems working or shut down. That is useful information. For the iPhone, it means if you leave your phone out in the cold when it is -5 deg long enough, so that the ambient temperature conditions permeate the phone, the phone will stop working. Of course, if you have the phone on you, in your coat, pocket, hand, etc, the phone is not exposed to ambient temperatures and will be at higher temperatures. It will likely not shut down unless you die and the phone’s surroundings eventually drop below -5 deg C.