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Can your phone get frostbite? Tips to keep it working in the cold

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In these life-endangering temperatures, carrying a cell phone gives motorists – and anyone who ventures outside – a sense of security. Internet-enabled smartphones especially provide owners with the feeling that they have a purse or pocket safety net in case of emergency.

But CNN reported that smartphones are not built for the extreme cold and can be unreliable as a result. The devices are made up of delicate electronic parts that malfunction in extreme temperatures. Batteries drain faster. Screens are more susceptible to breaking; freezing temperatures leave glass surfaces more sensitive to cracks, especially if there's already a flaw or nick.

A New York Times blog describes what can happen when an owner tries to use their thoroughly-chilled smartphone: "You frantically press the power button a few times. Nothing. It’s dead, or at least it seems that way."

“When you reach about minus 10 degrees, some screens start to dim and went immediately to low battery,” said Seth Porges, a tech writer who oversaw cold-weather tests for Popular Mechanics told the Times. “At minus 20, several models shut off, and at minus 30, almost every device suffered severe battery and screen problems and was almost inoperable.”

Once phones were subjected to temperatures between minus 40 and minus 55, they were all dead.

Porges said the phones all seemed to work normally when returned to average temperatures. A chemistry professor told the Times most phones would not suffer permanent damage from cold-related interruptions, but warned some inexpensive batteries might be down for the count.

A story in Newsday reported lithium batteries that power devices like iPhones and Galaxies are sensitive, and when used in very cold conditions, battery life decreases. Phone owners who are desperate for every last ounce of juice can save their dwindling battery by reducing the brightness of the screen (the biggest battery drainer), turning off Bluetooth, using Wi-Fi if possible, fetching data like emails less frequently and locking a phone when not in use. Most of these functions can be customized on the phone’s settings page.

Phone owners who want to warm up next to the fireplace should keep devices at a safe distance. Temperatures greater than 95 degrees Fahrenheit also have adverse effects on a phone’s battery life. Unlike the temporary distresses of cold weather, heat’s influence is irreversible.

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