So it’s February, typically one of the coldest months of the year and with it comes a whole new set of issues for rugged devices in the cold to contend with. Rugged devices are still essentially mini computers, packed full of electronic parts and working with a smartphone or tablet in the cold needs a few tips to keep your business running.
Here are the top things we here customers talk about with our top tips to helping them.
Battery capacity drop
Battery has to be the most common complaint we hear about when the cold weather comes and whether your device is rugged or not, its battery is going to get affected by the cold. There’s a great article on the battery university about this, honestly those guys are just awesome with batteries and our real-life experience would concur that when using a battery in -10 degrees, you’re going to see about 25% loss of perceived battery capacity and at -20 degrees that drops to over 50%. In the UK we can easily get to a total -10 degrees with wind chill taken into account so the cold can affect us all.
It’s interesting to note that we also hear stories of charging batteries in the cold taking a lot longer and indeed we see a similar story in the time taken to charge a cold battery too.
We recommend to keep the device as warm as possible, so if you’re “in field”, then take advantage of being in the car between customers and keeping the device holstered or even in a warm pocket will help.
Understand that battery capacity will be reduced, so if you think you’re on the limit, carry a spare battery or for your device or try to keep it charged up more often if that’s possible.
A little-known fact is that with Android devices you can take power from another mobile phone using a USB OTG cable. So if you carry a second phone for personal reasons, then this could give you a life-saving charge if things get close.
General device performance
The cold will also affect the rest of your rugged device. Electronic components enjoy being in a fairly narrow band of temperature to run fast so expect that your device will be running a little slower.
We have docklands warehousing customers who can experience conditions of -20 and they not only see a drop in performance of their barcode scanners, but the also see a huge drop in RFID range due to the cold. When things get back they have contingencies built to ensure their kit keeps as warm as possible when not in use.
After a cold spell or for those in generally cold environments we always suggest a quick test of your devices to ensure it’s still running well. Batteries could be running at well under capacity and charging in a warmer situation will help get them back up to speed.
Check your device’s case and screen which are also areas that the cold can really affect and ensure they’re working and there are no cracks and if you feel that your device is not performing as well as it should be then maybe it’s time for a battery change or a quick visit to the repair centre.
Whilst working with devices also try to take heed of the cold and wet. A device loses its IP68 rating whilst the battery case is unscrewed and a bit of snow or sleet sat under the battery can create an issue. Just be a little more careful where you change or charge your devices battery up.
Rugged devices in the cold are also affected when storing them and whilst they can resist a slightly lower temperature we do get our fair share of customers who store kit, wake it up after a few months only to have problems with it due to the cold.
Batteries should be charged to about 60% if being left for long periods. If they can keep charged, they will resist storage and the cold better. They should also be removed from any devices too as they are a weak point and a damaged battery could damage the whole device is left together.
Try to ensure the environment is as dry as possible. Cold is bad enough, however the dry + the wet can bring a real challenge to even the most rugged device.
I remember when we all thought capacitive screens would never replace a physical keypad, however, fast forward about 8 years from that Steve Jobs presentation where he flicked the iPhone screen for the first time and all we have are capacitive screens now! Though they are great, capacitive screens are much more susceptible to behaviour changes when cold and wet and this is simply down to how they work.
Some screens will work in the wet, however, these settings bring challenges of their own so the best thing to watch for is if there’s any wet or frost/ice building up on your screen as it can confuse the screen into thinking it’s being touched. Keep the device holstered when not in use to give it the best chance when in use.
I will just say a word about gloves too. Most of our Raptor devices have screens that work with gloves and when using thinner gloves, they work really well. However, the best screens in the world won’t work with proper thick workers gloves on, so if you’re wearing these, you may need to remove them before using your device.
Physical buttons that are not sealed like in rugged devices can easily freeze up in the cold. So even if your device is …ahem… IP68…(yeah right Samsung/Apple!), then their buttons will still get water in them and this can freeze in cold weather that can hinder their use or worse still, damage them permanently.
I would also add that the capacitive buttons on any Android device do seem to struggle in the cold. I have seen countless devices in super cold conditions where the screen is fine, however, the 3 dedicated Back, Home, Function capacitive buttons struggle to work.
So there we have it, this is our bit of help to get your rugged devices in the cold through these winter months. If you have a story or think we missed something then let us know, comments are open!