How extreme temperatures can affect your phone

If you’ve ever left your phone in a car on a scorching summer day, you are likely to have experienced a phone that is literally too hot to handle. Extreme temperatures can have a huge impact on your phone’s internal components, affecting its ability to function. So, what happens when your phone overheats and how can you prevent this from happening?

Last updated: 13th Mar 2020 at 9:11am

According to a 2018 Ofcom report, the average person checks their phone every 12 minutes – they allow us to reply to emails, share hilarious GIFs in our group chats, scroll through Instagram, watch funny cat videos, or even read the news. Gone are the strange days when we had to carry about a full-sized digital camera.

Today, our phones are pocket-sized computers. They no longer simply serve as a way to send messages and dodge calls. We use them to online shop, for banking, gaming, dating – even to make payments and monitor our health. Our smartphones are now more powerful than the computer used by NASA to land man on the moon. The world is virtually at our fingertips. 

With such great power of course, comes great …

Sensitivity to heat

Like all electronic devices, our smartphones rely on the movement of electricity to function – they are powered by batteries. Billions of electrons travel around your phones computer circuits to enable the camera, apps and games to work. This generates heat, hence why your phone can sometimes feel warm (after a really long phone call, for example). 

It’s normal for your phone to heat up during use. Certain elements, however, can also cause it to overheat – unlike laptops and computers, smartphones don’t have high-speed fans to cool them down. 

The lithium ion batteries used by smartphones are also extremely powerful but highly sensitive to heat. You may well remember the infamous incident of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, which had to be globally recalled in 2016 after they kept exploding. This was due to faulty batteries. This was of course a very rare situation (for a battery to actually explode, you would need to get it above 200 degrees Celsius!). But if your phone gets too hot, the battery is usually the first place to look – especially if the heat is coming from the back of the phone. 

Why is my phone heating up?

If your phone overheats, it can experience a range of problems such as battery drain, forced shutdown, and even total meltdown (your phone’s CPU can melt if it’s exposed to extreme temperatures). There’s also the chance that your phone will not turn on again if it was forced to shut down due to overheating.

Most ‘System on Chip’ (SoC) devices such as smartphones, however, are extremely well optimized to make overheating a rare occurrence. They are designed to handle high temperatures. 

When a device does overheat, it will most likely be due to the following:

Non-stop gaming

Clash of Clans, Call of Duty. That’s right, running graphic-intensive games will eat at your phone’s GPU, causing it to generate lots of heat. Mobile phones are now globally the primary device for gamers. It’s recommended you take a 30-minute break from the screen every one to two hours.

Too many apps 

Too many apps in the background will eat up a lot of battery and drain your CPU – slowing down your processor. If your device is heating up, turn off unused apps and consider uninstalling older ones – and make sure the ones you keep are updated!

“Just one more episode”

We know how difficult it is to stop watching your favourite series on Netflix once you’ve started. However, streaming content for long periods of time consumes lots of processing power; which will make your phone hotter.  

Play it cool

In these cases, taking a break from your phone is the best way to cool things down. If the heat is coming from the front of your screen especially, this tells you it’s related to your phone’s CPU or GPU, which both create more heat when the processor is in demand. Dimming the screen’s brightness, turning off GPS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. Even switching to airplane mode can also help to reduce your phone’s energy demands.

External elements, however, can also have a huge effect on your phone’s internal temperature…

There are numerous ways that you can prevent your phone from overheating on a hot day:

Keep it away from direct sunlight

Your phone absorbs heat and can easily get too hot in direct sunlight. On a particularly warm day, the extra heat can have an adverse effect on its battery performance and processing power. If you’re on holiday or heading to the beach then keep your phone either in a bag, under a beach umbrella, or under a towel. (Don’t store it in the sand.) 

Don’t leave your phone in a hot car

Similarly, your phone will quickly start baking in a hot car. Too much heat is not only bad for the skin, it’s also very bad for tech devices. Prolonged exposure to heat can permanently slow down your device.

Do you really need the jacket?

If you don’t, chances are your phone doesn’t need the case either. While it’s great for protection, during particularly warmer days a phone case can prevent your phone from cooling down efficiently.

Don’t put your phone in the freezer

Seriously, don’t put your phone in the freezer. Extreme changes in temperature can be damaging to smartphone batteries!

Out in the cold

If you take an iPhone out on a cold day, you may soon find the battery loses enough power to shut it down. This is because your phone’s lithium ion battery cannot function properly at extremely cold temperatures. In effect, cold temperatures will cut off the supply of an electrical current to your phone’s battery.

You can avoid this by:

Keeping it warm – but not too warm

iPhones and Android devices are best suited to temperatures between 0º and 35º C. In freezing temperatures, something as simple as keeping your phone in your pocket, where it can use your body heat, can keep it warm. A phone case can also offer the right protection in these conditions – much like putting on a coat. 

Similarly, avoid leaving your phone in parked cars when temperatures drop – or simply turn it off. When turned off, your smartphone can withstand a much greater temperature range. 

Lastly, be vigilant. Extreme weather is on the rise in many parts of the world. As a nation, we spend on average a quarter of our waking hours on our phones – the responsibility for keeping our smartphones safe lies in our hands. 

Check out our latest blog for some top tips on how to take care of your phone.

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