Smartphones are safe. Really, they are. Still, every now and then something goes wrong, much like it did for Richard Wygand’s friend Tariq Ali. After a long night working on cars, Tariq did what millions of other Galaxy S4 owners do: he plugged in his smartphone and went to bed.
Hours later, he woke up to the stench of burning electronics and “saw a spark and something shooting out of [Tariq’s] phone.” After unplugging the phone and getting it out of the house, Wygand brought the now smoldering Galaxy S4 into the shop, where he filmed this video, showcasing the damage. His Android phone had just burned from the inside out.
“I can’t believe it blew up,” Wygand told Digital Trends, recalling the incident.
This story isn’t unique. Every now and then a smartphone somewhere will malfunction somewhere in the world, causing it to overheat and catch fire, burn the owner, or even (at its worst) set an apartment building ablaze. If you use the phone’s original battery and charging cable like Wygand’s friend did, then it’s an even rarer occurrence – but still, these things happen. Since these sorts of issues are almost always due to a malfunction like a short circuit or overcharged battery, often the manufacturer will step in to help make amends, and offer to repair the phone in question. This is not what happened in our story.
Wygand, helping out his friend, decided to look into getting the Galaxy S4 replaced. He contacted the corporate offices at Samsung Electronics Canada, where he was told by representatives that Samsung would be happy to inspect the phone and replace it – but only if Wygand signed a waiver. Once the waiver was signed, Samsung would send a “similar model” after a thorough inspection to ensure it was due to manufacturer defect.
“The waiver was ridiculous … They wanted me to take the blame.”
If signed, the waiver would force Wygand to take down the video of the damaged phone he posted on YouTube. And after that, he and his friend would have to agree not to talk about the incident, and waive all liability of Samsung not just for the Galaxy S4 in question, but also any other Samsung products he owned – including Tariq’s Samsung TV.
“I’m not trying to pick fights with anybody,” Wygand noted. “The biggest thing I was trying to push is not the battery problem, but the customer service and the waiver. The waiver was ridiculous … They wanted me to take the blame.”
Since word got out about the waiver, more than half a million people have watched Wygand’s video of the Galaxy S4 in question, along with a video where he reads the terms and conditions of the waiver Samsung sent him. Wygand told us how upset he was with how difficult it was becoming to get the phone replaced, comparing the experience with many stories where Apple users could trade in defective iPhones with no fuss from the Genius Bar.
Still, there is some silver lining: Nokia USA, catching wind of the story, took to Twitter and told Wygand they’d send his friend a Nokia Lumia smartphone to show “how customer service should really work.” Wygand and Ali haven’t figured out what they’re going to do yet, but at least his friend will have options; so far, Samsung has not agreed to replace the phone if he doesn’t sign the waiver. We contacted Samsung, but it has yet to return our calls or emails about the incident.
If you are worried about your phone making like a “Hunger Games” movie and catching fire, there are a few steps you can take. The folks at Underwriter Laboratories (UL), who test the millions of gadgets on the market, have reminded us that you can prevent these issues (or minimize your chances) by only using parts that come with your phone or from the manufacturer of your phone. Also, keep your phone away from soft surfaces that prevent airflow, and seek repair services if your phone is damaged or exposed to water. If you’re looking for more tips, be sure to read our article on smartphone safety with additional information from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
In the end we hope Wygand’s friend gets the phone he deserves for all the trouble this has caused him. We have been in touch with Samsung Electronics Canada and they’ve yet to give us an official statement about this incident, though our contact has told us they are aware of it. Accidents happen – we’re hoping Samsung learns from this one about what happens when someone tries to silence their customers on social media.