Tech Guide

Polar vortex: Your phone's battery will die if it's too cold out

Key Points
  • Your iPhone or Android phone isn't designed for freezing cold temperatures under 32 degrees.
  • That means your phone might shut down or lose its charge quickly if you use it outside, even for a few minutes.
  • Be sure to keep your iPhone and Android phone warm so you can use it.
Woman using her phone in the snow.
Nevena1987 | iStock | Getty Images

Your iPhone might shut off if you're walking outside during the kind of freezing temperatures that we're seeing all around the United States thanks to the polar vortex. It's a problem many of my New York City-based colleagues verified when I asked about it Thursday morning, and one that I first read about in the Liverpool Echo.

Sometimes their iPhones just turn off, they said, and the phones don't turn back on until they're warmed up or plugged in again.

And that's the last thing you want to happen when you're freezing as you walk on the sidewalk and use your phone to find directions.

Apple's website explains that this is normal, and that your phone's battery might not perform well if it's too hot or too cold out. You might have seen a similar warning if you've ever left your phone out on a hot day.

Here's what Apple's website says:

Use iOS devices where the ambient temperature is between 0º and 35º C (32º to 95º F). Low- or high-temperature conditions might cause the device to change its behavior to regulate its temperature. Using an iOS device in very cold conditions outside of its operating range might temporarily shorten battery life and could cause the device to turn off. Battery life will return to normal when you bring the device back to higher ambient temperatures. Using an iOS device in very hot conditions can permanently shorten battery life.

It can affect Android phones, too. Here's what Samsung's website says, for example:

Extreme heat and cold can damage your battery. For example, don't leave your smartphone in the glove compartment of your car on very hot or cold days. A common myth is that batteries last longer if they are put in the freezer. This is not correct and can damage your battery.

How to prevent your phone from turning off when it's too cold

Keep it warm!

Given that there are sub-zero temperatures around the U.S. right now, you should make sure not to keep your phone out for too long.

Don't take an important phone call outside where your phone may die suddenly and, if you need to find directions, consider stopping in a coffee shop, where the temperature will be much warmer, to look at your phone.

You might also want to leave your phone in your pocket when you get in the car, until the interior temperature has had enough time to warm up. And consider carrying an external battery pack — Amazon has hundreds of them for sale — so you can give your phone a quick charge if the battery drains too quickly or if it turns off too suddenly. My colleagues say plugging it in is usually the best way to get it to warm up and turn back on.

As silly as it sounds, this is important. You'll need your phone if there's an emergency in the cold weather, so keep it warm!

Watch CNBC's Todd Haselton's iPhone XR review
Watch CNBC's Todd Haselton's iPhone XR review