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Why Does My Cell Phone Get Hot?

Michael Kwan
Smartphone on fire

With smartphones playing such an integral role in day-to-day life, it is perfectly understandable that you may get concerned when your mobile phone starts to heat up. Not only can be it uncomfortable to hold an extra hot phone, but there is also the potential for serious damage and possibly dangerous consequences too.

Reasons Why Phones Get Hot

It is perfectly normal for cell phones to get a little warm during normal usage. This is the same reason why all electronic devices, like computers and televisions, generate some heat. The processor and other components draw power from the battery and a natural byproduct of this exchange is heat. A number of related reasons also lead to your phone heating up.

  • Power-hungry apps: Applications that require more processing power, like high intensity games or video streaming, can heat up your phone as the processor draws more power from the battery. As Norton explains, processors become less effective in warmer environments. The processor compensates for this reduced performance "by drawing more power from the battery and generating even more heat."
  • Insulating case: Many conventional electronics feature some form of ventilation to help dissipate the heat produced by the device. The protective case on your smartphone can act as an insulator, working to retain the heat that your phone generates and prevent it from cooling off properly.
  • Background processes: Even when you are not actively gaming or watching online videos, your phone may be running background apps and processes unbeknownst to you. These apps can get stuck in a loop, bogging down the processor and thus generating unnecessary heat.
  • Faulty batteries: The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 infamously caught fire and exploded on several occasions in late 2016 and early 2017. The determined root cause of the catastrophic overheating was the battery; it was irregularly sized and didn't fit properly in the device.
  • Power demands: In addition to the power demands of the processor (or system on a chip), the rest of the phone's components also pull power from the battery. These include the screen, the camera, and the myriad of sensors. As their power demands increase, the heat generated can also increase.
  • Water damage: If your phone is not waterproof or at least water resistant, it can succumb to water damage. This water damage can affect several components and this can lead to overheating, sudden shutdowns, and failure to charge correctly.

A Cause for Concern?

As Android Pit explains, "the amount of heat your smartphone produces is largely proportional to the amount of electricity moving through it." When you use more power-hungry apps, your phone will probably start to warm up. This is generally no real reason to start worrying as that is a natural part of how your phone is designed to work.

The cause for concern arises, according to Android Pit, when your phone "becomes unpleasantly hot." The lithium-ion batteries used in modern smartphones are very sensitive to heat, so overheating can accelerate battery degradation. As discussed above, higher temperatures can also hamper the performance of the processor.

Even if your phone doesn't spontaneously catch on fire, an excessively overheating phone can still cause serious burns on your skin and damage any surfaces that it touches.

Tips to Reduce Overheating

To reduce the possibility of harm from overheating, both to yourself and to your smartphone, you can take several steps to minimize your risk. Smart Mobile Phone Solutions points out that the location of the excess heat can also help to narrow down the actual cause of the problem.

  • Close open applications: If you have too many apps running or you run a more power-hungry app for an extended period, your phone could get quite warm. Close these and give some time for your phone to cool.
  • Disable unused radios: The various wireless radios on your phone all draw power. If you're not currently using the Bluetooth or GPS, consider turning them off until you need them again.
  • Update the software: The latest software updates for your smartphone can address many common concerns and bugs, optimizing your phone for the greatest performance and safety.
  • Restart your phone: Sometimes, simply closing an app isn't enough because it will continue running in the background. When you restart your phone, you allow it to start fresh again.

Keeping a Cool Head

The risk of having your cell phone catch fire or explode in your hands is remarkably minimal. Even so, there are legitimate reasons why it might feel like your phone is overheating. Do your best to diagnose the root cause and then you can address it accordingly.

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Why Does My Cell Phone Get Hot?