How to make your phone last longer in cold weather

huawei p20 pro back snow jc
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Whether you love it or hate it, below-freezing temperatures are a fact of life for many, and that also means adapting to snow, freezing rain, and other conditions. But cold weather doesn’t play well with smartphone batteries, and if you’ve experienced some super-cold temperatures recently, you may have noticed your phone’s battery isn’t lasting as long. In more extreme cases, it might even say it has more than enough battery left before randomly shutting down.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Here’s what you can do to make your phone last longer in cold weather.

Why does this happen?

It’s pure science. All smartphone batteries, whether lithium-ion (Li-ion) or lithium-ion polymer (LiPo), are made from a series of metal plates — split between a positive and a negative — held inside a bath of chemicals. The chemistry behind exactly how batteries work is complex, but in simple terms, recharging your battery fills the negative metal plate (the anode) with electrons and positive ions from the positive metal plate (the cathode). When the battery is full, the electrons and positive ions try to return to the anode, but are prevented by the chemical bath between the metal plates. They also move another way: Through the phone’s systems. The passage of electrons and positive ions through your smartphone provides the energy it needs to function.

Extreme temperatures of both kinds disrupt the careful balance these systems need to function properly. In this case, extreme cold increases resistance, reducing the amount of electrons and positive ions which are able to make it through the smartphone — effectively reducing your phone’s battery capacity. Worst of all, scientists don’t fully understand the careful balance needed, according to Live Science, so phone manufacturers aren’t able to account for the change — explaining why your phone’s battery indicator sometimes seems like it’s lying to you.

Cold temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (zero degrees C) will cause issues for your phone’s battery. Apple recommends iPhones are best suited to temperatures between 32 and 95 F (zero to 35 C), while Battery University highlights temperatures between 32 and 113 F (zero to 45 C). Battery University takes this further, recommending not to charge your phone in below freezing temperatures, lest you cause permanent damage to it.

What can you do?

mxene millisecond batteries rsz smartphone battery

So now you know why your phone’s battery is impacted by the serious cold, but what can you actually about it? While you can’t change the weather, there are a few steps you can take to make sure your battery lasts a little longer in even the most inclement of weather.

Activate battery-saving mode

The first good tip is making sure you’re eking out as much performance as possible from your battery. We’ve covered battery saving tips for iPhones and tips for phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9 before, but one of the best ways to ensure a longer-lasting battery is to flip on your device’s battery saving mode.

The exact way to do this will likely vary from device to device — for example, on a Samsung Galaxy phone, you’ll need to access your Battery menu under Device Maintenance — but most Android phones will allow you to toggle on a power-saving mode by pulling down the notification shade and selecting the battery-saving mode from your quick settings. On an iPhone you’ll find your low power mode under Settings > Battery > Low power mode.

Low power and power-saving modes on different devices will do different things, but common measures employed by these modes include switching off background data syncing, lowering display brightness, and throttling CPU performance to conserve power.

Keep your phone warm

Another great piece of advice is just to keep your phone as warm as possible. So if you have to take it outside, make sure it stays in your pocket and out of the cold wind as much as possible. Keeping it close to your body is also a good idea, as the gentle heat of your body will help to keep it warm. However, don’t be tempted to use an external heater like a hand warmer to keep it warm. While these may work for your hands, the sudden high increase in heat may do your phone more harm than good — plus, overheating a battery is just as bad as letting it get too cold.

Treat your phone with care and keep it insulated against the worst of the weather, and it’ll do a lot better than it would if kept in the cold.

Other protection against cold weather hazards

Lifeproof Fre Case
Lifeproof Fre Case

If you’re willing to spend a little money, then there are other ways to keep your phone’s battery from being affected by frozen temperatures.

Slap a case on it

Much like putting on a coat, having a barrier between your phone and the outside world is a great way to keep your phone slightly warmer. If you have a supported phone, Lifeproof offers some options with a fully waterproof seal that may help keep the cold out as well as water. But while cases offer some protection, they’re best used alongside the other techniques, not as a replacement.

Get a more protected phone

This is a much more extreme solution, and should only be considered if you consistently find yourself in freezing temperatures either as a part of your job or as a hobby. Many of the best rugged smartphones come with protection against extreme weather changes, and will probably cope much better with extreme weather conditions.

Things not to do

Packing a portable charger

Grabbing one of our favorite portable chargers may seem like a great solution to your problem — as the best antidote for lack of energy is … more energy! But charging in freezing temperatures can do permanent harm to lithium-ion batteries — and it likely won’t even charge properly. While having a portable charger is generally a great idea, make sure you’ve managed to warm your phone (and charger) up to above 32 F (zero Celsius) before you attempt to refill the rapidly draining battery.

Gaming

I'm canceling my backlog for Apex Legends. Be back never

Live service games like Fortnite and Apex Legends are eating up everyone's time, leaving other games out in the cold. While my backlog continues to grow, it seems the gaming industry is struggling to keep up as well.
Outdoors

The best heated gloves keep your hands toasty warm in all temperatures

When temperatures plunge, the first thing that gets cold are your fingers. Ward off frostbite and keep your digits toasty warm with these best heated gloves.
Product Review

Nokia’s 3.1 Plus is an affordable phone that’s crippled by its camera

The Nokia 3.1 Plus is HMD Global’s first smartphone to be sold by a U.S. carrier in-store. It’s only available on Cricket Wireless right now, which underlines its focus on affordability. Should you buy a phone this affordable?
Mobile

10 common problems with the Samsung Galaxy S8, and how to fix them

Despite being one of Samsung's flagship phones, some users are facing problems with the Galaxy S8. Thankfully, there are fixes and potential workarounds for those struggling. Our troubleshooting tips are easy to follow.
Mobile

New Apple patent hints clamshell-style foldable phone may be in the works

Apple has filed a patent for a foldable phone that suggests the company could be following in the footsteps of the likes of Samsung and Huawei. The patent describes a clamshell-style foldable phone with two separate sections.
Mobile

Exclusive: Take a look at what a next-generation 5G phone will look like

With 5G phones debuting at MWC in mere days, there is discussion about whether they will be clunky bricks that die after a few hours? A reference design from Qualcomm offerrs a glimpse of the future: This is what 5G phones will look like.
Mobile

Xiaomi Mi 9 will be one of the first phones with monster Snapdragon 855 chip

Xiaomi's next major smartphone release will be the Mi 9, and the company hasn't held back in giving us a good look at the phone, revealing the design, the camera, and a stunning color.
Wearables

Galaxy Watch Active isn't official yet, but you can see it in Samsung's own app

Samsung may be about to resurrect its Sport line of smartwatches under a new name: The Galaxy Watch Sport Active. Leaks and rumors are building our picture of the device at the moment.
Mobile

Stop buying old tablets, says Samsung, buy the new Galaxy Tab S5e instead

Samsung has launched the Galaxy Tab S5e -- the E is for Essential -- a reasonably priced tablet that includes many of the features we like from the Tab A 10.5, and the Tab S4. Here's what you need to know.
Mobile

Bag yourself a bargain with the best budget tablets under $200

The battle for your budget tablet affections is really ramping up. Which tablet, costing less than $200, should be commanding your attention? We take a look at some different options for the budget-conscious.
Computing

What is Wi-Fi 6? Here's a look at the next evolution of the wireless standard

We're exploring the new naming convention for wireless standards, how it affects the devices you buy, and what the upcoming Wi-Fi generation is changing for the better.
Home Theater

Samsung accidentally leaks its new Galaxy Buds ahead of launch

It's been all but certain that Samsung would launch a successor to its Gear IconX wireless earbuds soon, but a newly leaked photo and recent FCC certification document seems to indicate that the debut is very close.
Wearables

Focals succeed where Google Glass fumbled (but do we really need smartglasses?)

It’s been seven years since Google took the wraps off Google Glass. Now, we’re finally getting a modern-day equivalent we want to wear. North’s Focals combine subtle style with an intuitive interface to craft smartglasses you’ll…
Home Theater

Hi-res streaming audio service Qobuz arrives in U.S., threatens Tidal’s monopoly

For several years, Tidal enjoyed a monopoly on hi-res music streaming in the U.S. Now, French company Qobuz is here to offer some competition with a variety of monthly plans starting at $10 a month.