​When it's too damn hot for tech

Commentary: A couple of days in 106-degree heat made me worry not just about myself, but also my gadgets.

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
Expertise Content strategy | Team leadership | Audience engagement | Tips and FAQs | iPhone | Samsung | Android | iOS
Jessica Dolcourt
2 min read

Most phone testing facilities have a machine -- a chamber, really -- that alternately bakes and freezes phones to make sure they operate in extreme temperatures: hot and cold, dry and humid.

I've always intellectually understood the purpose of extreme climate tests, but it wasn't until I carried three phones, a camera and a smart band through the 106-degree swelter (that's 42 Centigrade) of Thailand's northern city of Chiang Mai that I really felt the kind of heat and humidity that devices like my phones might have to withstand day after day.

Unlike many of you, maybe even most of you, I come from the admittedly narrow perspective of temperate, often foggy and breezy San Francisco, where days rarely peak above 75 or 80 degrees Fahrenheit (about 24 to 28 C). So coming to Chiang Mai as part of a 19-day tech-seeking tour in Asia has been quite the body shock. But I've also worried about my gadgets.

After being outside for several hours during the heat of the day, I noticed how hot the phones became, even when idle (and how much I ceased caring about pausing for perfect photo opps). Air-conditioned cafes were blissful escapes to cool both me and my gadgets.

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Which will get heatstroke first: my gadgets or me?

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

And it helped. Thirty minutes of cool air later, my gadgets and I all ratcheted down from what felt like the brink of overheating.

My head knows that phones and other devices are built to withstand and operate through extreme conditions in many of the Earth's hot places, but it's hard to believe that increasing battery and processor temperatures by making them work hard in heat won't take a toll on performance and maybe even total life span.

As a worse case scenario, the phones could just shut down.

The world is getting hotter. Inevitably, our tech will have to work in scorching conditions more of the time -- and work well. And for probably the first time in my usually climate-controlled life, that searing truth is something I don't just understand; it's now something I actually feel.