Samsung’s Galaxy Note series was first introduced in 2011. At that time the Note was the largest smartphone available, and its popularity helped Samsung to overtake Apple as the world’s biggest smartphone seller. Even though Dell had released their 5-inch Streak a year earlier, the Note was superior on so many levels that it is now considered the first true phablet. Fast forward to 2016 and the Note is still making headlines, but this time for all the wrong reasons.
What’s the problem?
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was released on the 19th of August 2016. Twelve days later, Samsung imposed a delay on shipments in some regions after reports began to circulate that some Note 7s had spontaneously burst into flames. Some of these cases have been life-threatening. In Florida, a Note 7 exploded in the owner’s Jeep, destroying the vehicle. In Australia, a Note 7 exploded while charging overnight, causing $1,800 worth of damage to a hotel room. On the 2nd of September, Samsung suspended sales of the Note 7 and announced a global recall.
How did this happen?
Samsung has traced the fault to a manufacturing error by Samsung SDI Co., its primary supplier for the Note 7’s battery. Initial tests have shown that pressure applied to the battery during a production process created a permanent short circuit, generating excessive heat.
Smartphones use lithium-ion batteries enclosed in an airtight seal. Since lithium reacts violently when exposed to water or oxygen, these batteries are extremely unstable when damaged. Puncturing the battery with a sharp object or overheating it (e.g. via charging, or leaving the phone in a hot environment for too long) will cause the seal to burst open with explosive force. If the battery is already overheated (as in the case of the Note 7) it will be prone to spontaneous failure even under mild conditions.
How many phones have been affected?
At the time of Samsung’s recall announcement there were 35 documented cases in the USA alone. By the 12th of September, this figure had doubled. The number of cases outside North America has yet to be confirmed. With 2.5 million Note 7s in circulation already, and replacement costs estimated at $1.3 billion, this will be one of the most expensive product recalls ever seen.
OK, I don’t want a Note 7 anymore. What should I buy instead?
Consider these alternatives:
Oops, I already bought a Note 7. What happens now?
If you bought it directly from Samsung they will replace it or provide a full refund. In all other cases, return the device to your place of purchase. Do not continue to use the phone, and be aware that three Australian airlines have prohibited the use of Note 7s during flight.
What does this all mean for Samsung?
At this point it’s too early to say. Considering that the issue only affects less than 0.1% of currently issued Note 7s, Samsung’s decision to respond with a global recall will go a long way towards restoring consumer confidence. The bigger question is whether or not the Note series can survive after 2016. Everything hangs on the success of the recall.