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Galaxy Note 7: The death of a smartphone

By Jos
Oct 11, 2016
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  1. It’s hard to imagine a much worse scenario. The world’s leading smartphone company debuts a new device that initially is touted as one of the best smartphones ever made. Glowing reviews quickly follow and the company’s prospects for a strong fall and holiday season, and the opportunity for regaining some lost market share, seem nearly assured.

    But then a small number of the phones start to overheat and catch fire. The company tries to react quickly and decisively to the concern and issues a recall of several million already shipped devices. It’s a somewhat risky and certainly expensive move, but the company initially receives praise for trying to tackle a challenging problem in a positive way.

    Customers are reassured that the problem seems to lie not in the phone itself, but in a battery provided by one of the company’s third-party battery suppliers (ironically, most believe the culprit to be Samsung SDI—a sister company of Samsung Electronics).

    And then, the unthinkable. Replacement phones start to show the same problems and the company is forced to stop the production and sale of the device, encourage its telco and retail partners to stop selling it, and tell all its existing customers to stop using it. Just to add insult to injury, the US Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) also sends out notes to consumers encouraging them to stop using the device, while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and major airlines around the world reinforce the message they’ve been saying for the last several weeks on virtually every airplane flight in the world: don’t use, charge or even turn on your Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

    Image credit: iFixit

    It’s probably the most negative publicity a tech product has ever seen. The long-term impact on the Samsung brand is still to be determined, but anyone who’s looked at the situation at all knows it can’t be good. This morning Samsung confirmed the inevitable, the Note 7 will be removed from the market, costing it billions of dollars, and there’s even been some concern expressed about Samsung’s ability to save/sustain the Note sub-brand.

    Part of the issue isn’t just the product itself—although that’s certainly bad enough—but the manner in which the company had been handling it. Reaction has quickly moved from praise for Samsung’s initial quick efforts to address the issue, to disbelief that they could let a second round of faulty products that are this dangerous get out the door.

    On top of that, there are many unanswered questions that need to be addressed. From a practical perspective, what is the cause of the problems if it isn’t the battery cell (the charging circuits?) and what other phones might face the same dangerous issues? Why did Samsung rush out the replacement units without actually figuring out what the real cause was? What kind of testing did they do (or not) to be sure the replacements were safe?

    Beyond these short-term issues, there are also likely to be some bigger questions that could have a longer-term impact on the tech market. First, what types of procedures are in place to prevent this? What governmental or industry associations, if any, can take responsibility for this (besides Samsung)? Will products need to go through longer/more thorough testing procedures before they’re allowed on the market? Will product reviewers need to start doing safety tests before they can really make pronouncements on the quality/value of a product? How can vendors and their suppliers work to avoid these issues and what mechanisms do they have in place should it happen again to another product?

    Some might argue that these questions are an over-reaction to a single product fault from a single vendor. And, to be fair to Samsung, there have certainly been reported cases of other fire and safety-related issues with electronics products from other vendors, including Apple, over the last few years.

    Our collective dependence on battery-driven devices is only growing, so it may be time to take a harder, more detailed look at safety-related testing and requirements.

    But when people’s lives and health are at stake—as they clearly have been with some of the reported Galaxy Note 7-related problems—it’s not unreasonable to question whether existing policies and procedures are sufficient. Our collective dependence on battery-driven devices is only growing, so it may be time to take a harder, more detailed look at safety-related testing and requirements.

    Given the breakneck pace and highly competitive environment for battery-powered devices, there will likely be industry pushback against prolonged or more expensive testing. As the Galaxy Note 7 situation clearly illustrates, however, speed doesn’t always work when it comes to safety.

    Finally, the tech industry needs to take a serious look at these issues themselves, and figure out potential methods of self-policing. If they don’t, and we start hearing a lot more stories about other devices exploding, catching on fire or causing bodily harm, you can be assured that some politician or governmental agency will use the collective news to start imposing much more challenging requirements.

    As the old saying goes, better safe, than sorry.

    Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm. You can follow him on Twitter . This article was originally published on Tech.pinions.

    Permalink to story.

     
  2. davislane1

    davislane1 TS Evangelist Posts: 3,558   +2,363

    Apple: 1
    Samsung: -infinity
     
    MonsterZero and hopgop1 like this.
  3. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 2,512   +503

    I would like to postulate this as the understatement of the year.
     
    SalaSSin and davislane1 like this.
  4. slamscaper

    slamscaper TS Booster Posts: 161   +26

    I'm just glad I upgraded to the 64 GB Note 5 and didn't wait six months for a Note 7. I've always loved the Note series and I believe this to be an isolated case with this model. There is a hardware fault obviously that has been missed. Perhaps they packed too much power into such a small package and it simply isn't ready for prime time. I honestly think the vendors should take more time in releasing new products. They are trying to pack way too many upgrades into each model in just a year's time. Surely a person can make their phone last longer, especially since they're paying $800 USD for it.
     
  5. amstech

    amstech TechSpot Enthusiast Posts: 1,457   +606

    Its ONE model of their phones.
    This will all be forgotten in no time.
     
    Whitefyre likes this.
  6. DaveBG

    DaveBG TS Addict Posts: 231   +75

    Next time make it with removable battery , its also one of the most requested features and would have solved the recall and post recall issues.
     
    Darius Moon and BSim500 like this.
  7. stewi0001

    stewi0001 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,185   +528

    I still give them props for doing the right thing.
     
    Tanstar likes this.
  8. Kenrick

    Kenrick TS Booster Posts: 189   +88

    Footsoldier likes this.
  9. p51d007

    p51d007 TS Evangelist Posts: 910   +388

    You want to stop a lot of these "exploding" smartphones?
    Real simple...BEEF up the exterior of the phone, and get rid of the idea of a "slim stylish light" phone!
    The manufacturers, want a battery life of a typical day, with a little left over. The phone industry, driven
    by marketing, says everyone wants a THIN phone that is stylish, good looking bla bla bla.
    Engineers then are tasked with trying to stuff as much battery, in a very finite space, with very little
    breathing room left over. People, continue to carry these phones in their pockets (if you ever catch them
    with it NOT in their hands 24/7). That constant strain of flexing the device, with a very thin case (apple bendgate ring a bell?), coupled with the limited space inside the phone, coupled with stuffing as much battery as possible in the phone, will cause these soft batteries to flex. If you've ever taken a piece of metal and bent it back and forth enough, you know what happens. Same thing in a battery. The separator, that keeps the cathode & anode, along with the electrolyte from all getting together at the same time, will eventually fail, with dire consequences!
    Lithium batteries, be they the LiOn, or the polymer types, do NOT like to be disturbed. Take one out, lay it on concrete, whack it hard with a hammer and watch what happens. Makes for a wonderful fire starter.
    The charging circuit is suppose to stop current flow, when the battery has reached a pre-programmed level. If that fails, the battery heats up. The second layer of protection, is a thermistor, which senses heat. When the heat reaches a programmed level, it breaks off current flow to the battery. If that fails, the third layer of protection, and the final layer, is a thermal fuse. Once the heat reaches that, the fuse literally melts in two, breaking the connection, requiring the battery to be replaced. These circuits usually are effective, but, with the limited space, high capacity batteries, and flexing of the cells inside, all bets are off.
    Go back to making a bigger, thicker case that gives the battery a little wiggle room, and also stiffens up the case, and you'll see the bulk of these problems disappear.
     
    avoidz, mosu, ChuckyDhaBeast and 4 others like this.
  10. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 2,512   +503

    Ok samsung, time to make a camera that can work as a phone, I would definitely dig that.
     
    SalaSSin likes this.
  11. veLa

    veLa TS Evangelist Posts: 708   +168

    This is what they get for skipping the Note 6 name.
     
    Tanstar and Whitefyre like this.
  12. Kotters

    Kotters TS Member Posts: 46   +26

    The Note 7 is a damned perfect phone, with a blend of features you cannot get in any other phone. It was exactly what I wanted, coming from a Note 3.

    But if they're giving up on the design, there's nothing to do. Back to the world of compromise phones sold as flagships.

    I hope Samsung tries to match the Note 7 again in the future, because they had a golden concept.
     
    MonsterZero and mosu like this.
  13. MoeJoe

    MoeJoe TS Maniac Posts: 401   +208

    ... and the monster battery in the S7 Edge is stable.
     
  14. mbrowne5061

    mbrowne5061 TS Evangelist Posts: 340   +133

    The fact it also happened to the replacements suggests that it wasn't the battery. Swapping a battery on the production line is a plausible explanation for how quickly they were able to come up with 'fixed' handsets. However, since it didn't actually fix them, it is reasonable to assume to fault is elsewhere in the phone, and the next reasonable location is the power distribution and management circuitry (not likely to be the charging circuitry, since the fires happened when the phone was off charger as well as on).

    Somewhere, there is probably a poorly regulated power return into the battery, and that was what was failing - allowing a short to essentially form and turn the battery into an accident waiting to happen.
     
  15. poohbear

    poohbear TS Addict Posts: 104   +62

    Loved the Note series, I've never actually seen an entire line removed from the market before. This has literally exploded in Samsung's face. Samsung rushes to complete phones before Apple, and this strategy is gonna have to be rethought in the name of QA & safety. Crazy how there's no regulatory agency for these things to certify the product is safe?
     
  16. SeaMatrix

    SeaMatrix TS Rookie

    I have owned a Samsung product for years. It has never failed me. After having said that I will say this type of problem only pops up when corporate big guys get greedy. How can anyone believe these Galaxy Note 7's were shipped without knowledge something was wrong? What the heck were the QC people doing before shipping day arrived?? Do you mean to tell me they never tested any of these phones in Quality Control to check for defects? Corporate greed at the TOP caused this. Instead of customer safety and satisfaction they chose stockholders and the board of directors. Simple and to the point... Greed and haste always leads to waste! Somebody dropped the ball big time!
     
    skipmichael likes this.
  17. m4a4

    m4a4 TS Guru Posts: 752   +273

    Maybe it won't bother power users, but I'm sure the media has scared a lot of the not-so-technical users from wanting to give the note series another chance.
     
  18. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 6,509   +2,056

    We, as so called tech geeks know it's only one model of all Samsung phones. To the general, non tech savvy consumer (which is probably 95% of all consumers) a Samsung phone is a Samsung phone is a Samsung phone. It's a disaster for Samsung.
    I know this because I was corrected after making a similar statement to yours in an earlier article and when you think about it, it's most likely true.
     
  19. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 1,676   +780

    It's a pity since Samsung has produced some impressive phones and other devices over the years; of course this kind of setback sends a clear message to the upper management about the needs to maintain good quality and validation programs in the company and not worry about making an extra dollar profit when the investment in good design and production can help avoid some WORLD WIDE embarrassment. They are in no danger of folding, but are going to have to work hard to regain the public trust. It isn't automatic and they will have to put in the time and effort. People said the same thing about Ford and their exploding Pinto's, but they did their homework and have avoided having a similar disaster ..... of course, moving all their small car production out of the country might be their undoing in the American market. Film at 11.
     
  20. MonsterZero

    MonsterZero TS Addict Posts: 229   +89

    I'm not convinced all of the Note7 devices suffer from this flaw. This could have easily been a bad batch of components on a single run of the devices.

    Notice that all of the users with malfunctioning devices all had problems within days of powering up the device while other devices have been working for several weeks now with no issue.

    It's still hands down the best phone of 2016, even with all the apple fanboi garbage trolling on the internet. I feel good I didn't shell out $800 for a lack luster iPhone 7.
     
    mosu likes this.
  21. MoeJoe

    MoeJoe TS Maniac Posts: 401   +208

    Samsung is coming out and stating that that charging circuit is to blame, not the battery itself.
     
  22. Dustyn

    Dustyn TS Enthusiast Posts: 40   +11

    Don't worry... Samsung Note S7FP will rise from the ashes like a Phoenix. (Fire Proof)
     
    MonsterZero, mosu and Darius Moon like this.
  23. Techstar

    Techstar TS Member Posts: 88   +16

    Exactly, before Christmas it will have been forgotten, people have very short memories. It's the one sure thing in the advertising business.
     
  24. Techstar

    Techstar TS Member Posts: 88   +16

    How many non technical consumers ever even hear this type of tech news? I know I am the only one I now of all my friends and family that heard about it. It's small potatoes. If you didn't own a recalled phone, you never heard about it.
     
  25. SalaSSin

    SalaSSin TS Booster Posts: 142   +47

    Most consumers don't have a clue what brand of phone/dish washer/tv set/whatever they buy. They buy what the vendor is able to sell them.

    Geeks/Technical peope will know it's only one model.
    Non-technical people who actually read news will think it's all Samsung phones.
    The rest of the world (90%) will just keep buying whatever you feed them.
     

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