Extreme cold is back. Is your smartphone safe?

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People who thought they'd escaped the polar vortex were in for a rude awakening this week when temperatures nationwide plummeted once again. Even normally sunny Florida wasn't spared the deep freeze, the Orlando Sentinel reported. And in Chicago, temperatures plummeted to a wind chill of -25 degrees Fahrenheit.

In weather like this you might notice your smartphone starting to behave a little erratically. Perhaps it slows down when you're trying to open that newest Snapchat from your friend. Or maybe it's worse than that. Perhaps your phone just outright doesn't turn on. But don't go running to a cell phone repair shop just yet – according to a recent experiment, the results of cold weather on phones are only temporary.

Working off the sensible intuition that cold weather is bad for smartphones, some folks over at Popular Mechanics carried out a series of tests to discover just how bad it is. Collaborating with a group from Environ Labs, the Popular Mechanics crew placed a variety of different smartphones in a controlled chamber. They then began lowering the temperature to observe the effects. Based on the results of the experiment, they came up with the following series of temperature benchmarks (all in degrees Fahrenheit):

  • 10 degrees: Your phone's screen may start to dim.
  • -10 degrees: Here's where the battery problems start, with one model they tested claiming the battery was low despite a recent charge.
  • -20 degrees: The point where some models that they tested began powering off. Others worked, but their display screens were affected.
  • -40 to -55 degrees: No phones worked.

The good news is that these detrimental effects are mostly only temporary and won't require a frantic dash to the cell phone repair shop. Just as you feel better when you step out of the cold into a warm room, so does your phone – the majority of the time. However, University of Waterloo chemistry professor Linda Nazar told The New York Times that extreme cold can have a permanent impact on a mobile device if your battery came cheap. But if you have a strong and reliable battery, extreme cold will not cause long term deterioration, Nazar said.

iPhones and Samsung Galaxy S3: no exception to the rule 
Perhaps you find that your Samsung Galaxy S3 won't turn on during one of these cold spells. Or you go to use your iPhone on the train and realize it's frozen on the home screen. Both brands experience the detrimental effects of cold.

According to TechnoBubble, the Samsung Galaxy 3 should not be used in temperatures lower than 32 degrees. On its website, Apple has the same suggestion for the iPhone. A test carried out by the Toronto Global News Network found that an iPhone placed outside in freezing weather for 30 minutes experienced a 13 percent reduction in battery life and shut off when they attempted to use it.

Neither iPhones nor Samsung Galaxy S3s  should even be stored in temperatures below -4 degrees, so try to limit the time you spend outside if your phone is in hand. Here are more tips highlighted by TechnoBuffalo and others to prevent the kind of extreme cold damage that could put you in the market for an iPhone repair or a Samsung phone repair:

  • Don't leave your smartphone in the car: If you're one of those people who likes to shelve your phone in the glove compartment so it doesn't distract you, seriously consider rethinking that habit for these blustery days. Especially in places where it's so cold that pedestrians risk the onset of hypothermia within minutes, it's important to not expose your phone to similar punishment.
  • Get an earpiece to make calls: It may be tempting to stave off the effects of extreme cold by pressing your phone to your ear in conversation, but that treatment is bad for the phone's health. By getting an earpiece, you can easily solve that problem.
  • Don't text: If you're all gloved up and fighting the cold, texting is going to be a far more cumbersome operation than talking. If you must have communication while bracing the cold, an old-fashioned phone call is better than a text message.
  • Turn off unnecessary apps: If you're choosing to expose your phone to cold conditions that could diminish its battery life, consider turning off all the apps that you don't need to use, because that will only further tax the battery.
  • Buy a special case: In addition to the preventive options above, you may want to be really proactive and pick up a special case designed to fight cold temperatures. One example of that is the Salt Case, an upcoming case for the iPhone that was funded through Kickstarter. The Salt Case offers a thermal shield inspired by the ones NASA puts on its spacecrafts to protect them from extreme hot and cold. Basically what the case does is direct heat away from the iPhone when it's hot and use the heat generated by the iPhone to warm it when it's cold.
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