Smartphones may not work in extreme cold weather

Watch the video above: Is your smartphone not so smart in the cold? Cindy Pom reports. 

TORONTO – Has your phone been unexpectedly slow or turned off altogether during the prolonged period of cold weather recently? Well, that may be because of the battery and the screen.

Joe Tersigni, managing partner of Cell Phone Repair, said the lithium ion battery and the LCD display simply don’t work well in cold temperatures.

“The [battery] material was made out of lithium and in extreme temperatures, hot or cold, there are changes in the chemical. It’s a chemical reaction. So the battery will work harder trying to retain the temperature of the phone,” he said.

When the battery becomes too cold, the phone may turn off. While the natural reaction may be to immediately hit the power button and try to turn the phone back on, Tersigni warns that is a terrible idea.

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“The wrong way is to turn it on in the extreme cold. In the cold weather, that’s about the only way you’ll cause permanent damage,” he said. “We advise, bring it in the house, get it warmed up then turn it on.”

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He did offer some tips to keep your phone on however including holding it close to your body and turning off apps you don’t need to conserve battery power.

But the LCD screen prevalent in most smartphones may also act finicky during cold weather.

“The material in the LCD is liquid crystals and in the cold weather it reacts as well,” he said. “Right now the crystals they form together, they align together, to give you an image. When the cold affects it, they clump or aggregate, so it creates bubbles.”

University of Toronto Professor Olivier Trescases said one of the reasons batteries don’t seem to last as long as they used to is that the technology simply has not advanced as quickly as that of the microprocessors which control the phone. As a result, phones can use the battery more efficiently for each task but the phones are also being used more frequently and for more complex tasks.

“Batteries have not been improving nearly as fast as the underlying technology inside the cell phone, which is the microprocessors and electronics,” he said. “Over the last 20 years, lithium battery technology has improved maybe by four times whereas we can now fit 1000 times more transistors per chip over the last 20 years.”


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