All Tech Considered
6:22 pm
Tue January 7, 2014

Forget Tweeting The Polar Vortex. Phones Fail In Subzero Temps

Originally published on Wed January 8, 2014 9:01 am

As it sweeps across much of the country, the polar vortex's subzero temperatures have shuttered schools, grounded flights and disabled car batteries. For those people who can withstand the cold — maybe you're outside freezing bubbles or making your own clouds — this weather can turn phones into useless ice blocks, too.

Stay outside for more than a few minutes when it's below freezing and your phone might start to respond slowly or claim to have a low battery, or the screen display might fail. The liquid-crystal screen displays and chemical reactions in batteries can't handle cold temperatures. (Apple says the iPhone's battery will work best between 32 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit.)

"The battery is one of the first things to go in extreme cold," said Jeff Gasner, co-owner of CPR Phone Repair, a national chain. If your phone starts to get sluggish and you can't go inside, "Put it against your body or in an inside pocket," he said.

Most phones function fine around 32 degrees, but once the temp starts to drop, many keel over.

Ossi Jaaskelainen tested 15 phones for Finnish tech magazine MikroPC to find out which phones fail when. At 23 degrees, the iPhone 4S and Nokia N9 started to get temperamental. At 14 degrees, the iPhone shut down. By minus 31 degrees, all smartphones tested had shut down. Non-smartphones held up slightly better than their fancier counterparts, but by minus 40, all phones had stopped working.

This will come as no surprise to many people in the polar vortex's reach.

However, chances are, if you are outside and it is even close to minus 40 degrees, you aren't going to risk frostbite to Tweet about it.

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