The cell phone’s job description has gotten a few pages longer in recent decades. Just fifteen years ago, there would be only a handful of expectations for the device, namely, send and receive cellular calls and SMS messages.
The modern smartphone blows any old Nokia out of the water, but it still has a pretty major fatal flaw. When it gets a little too brisk outside, it shuts down entirely. But why? As LiveScience reports, it all comes down to chemical reactions within the battery.
If you were to crack open any given smartphone, you’d probably find a lithium-ion battery running the show. Inside of the battery, there are two poles, an anode and a cathode, and how much charge your phone has all depends on which side the ions reside. A fully charged battery will be jam-packed with ions on the anode end, while a dead battery will have all the ions deposited in the cathode end.
Your phone is powered as the individual ions travel in solution from one pole to the other, but a cold temperature doesn’t “drain” your battery, per se. If it were drained, the ions would have to go somewhere, but they actually stay put when it gets cold. The cold temperature causes chemical reactions that slow down the current. The only other time this smaller current is sent through the battery is when all the ions have been spent, so your phone mistakenly reads the slowdown as the cell being out of juice.
Now, how can you get yourself out of this battery bind? Dr. Stephen J. Harris, a chemist at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, says whatever you do, don’t try and charge it. Your fully charged battery isn’t lacking ions, and the cold temperature isn’t allowing more ions to be pulled into the anode. They pass through the solution as solid lithium, which can really do some serious damage to the battery cell itself. (Believing these myths about charging your phone can damage your battery, too.)
The only way to get that battery back to its toasty current-catalyzing self is to let it return to its normal operating temperature. We recommend leaving it in your pocket or spending a few minutes inside away from the blistering cold.
Now that you know the dangers cold weather can post to your phone, read up on these 8 other things that are killing your smartphone’s battery.