My outside temperature sensor is currently reporting -6.8 degrees C (20 degrees F). In other words, it’s a fairly decent day outside for being a December day in Norway. There’s a joke going around on the internet about Norwegian weather, and it’s not actually that far off. You get used to it, and people who grow up in cold countries learn to live with it. Unfortunately, the devices we have in our pockets do not.
Operating temperature is actually a fairly important spec in some parts of the world. Many people look at those specs as being well within the margins for real life, but that’s not the case everywhere. Let’s take Apple. It uses the same temperature specs for both the iPod touch, iPad (mini), and iPhone:
- Operating ambient temperature: 32° to 95° F (0° to 35° C)
- Nonoperating temperature: -4° to 113° F (-20° to 45° C)
See the problem? According to this, the outside temperature right now is already lower than what I should use any Apple products in. We’re still good as far as inactive use is, but basically I can’t use them. If that means they can’t be on, I don’t know. Obviously the temperature in your pocket is higher, and likely above 0 degrees C, but the moment you take your phone out of your pocket to use it- which people tend to do- you’re actually going against manufacturers recommendations.
Like I said, today is a relatively speaking warm day. It’s not uncommon to see temperatures below -20 degrees C (-4 F) even in rural areas, with effective temperature and temperatures in certain places going much lower. That’s below what you’re even supposed to have an inactive Apple device in, let alone an active one! I’m also using Apple as an example here because it lists these specs, but the ratings are more or less identical across all brands, even if devices differ in practice. I’m worried about my Galaxy S II when I take it out of my pocket to check something this time of year, because I’m doing something that the device is not rated to handle.
So, are these ratings actually true, or is it just a “better safe than sorry” type of a deal? Actually, you’d be surprised what cold temperatures can do to your devices. The absolute worst device I ever had in this regard was the Sansa Fuze MP3 player, which I couldn’t use at winter because it kept turning off, even in my pocket. That’s the only device I’ve had that actually shut down from the temperature, but then again I’m also fairly good at keeping my gadgets in my warm pocket this time of year. Controlled tests have shown exactly what can happen to your device, from SIM card errors to complete shutdowns. Even if it doesn’t shut off, low temperatures affect battery life, LCD responsiveness, touch screen response, and so on.
It’s not really the manufacturers fault that these devices can’t do better, as temperature simply affects materials in unfortunate ways. It is however important to be aware that the devices you carry around with you outside, while skiing, and so on, might not be rated to survive in those environments. There might be dozens of apps designed to make your winter trip better, but that doesn’t mean the device you run them on can handle the weather you’re in.