In January 2017, after a monthslong independent investigation involving three quality-control and supply-chain analysis firms, Samsung completed its investigation into the cause of the Galaxy Note 7’s battery fire — and revealed the ultimate causes of the billion-dollar fiasco.
According to DJ Koh, the company’s chief mobile executive, there were problems with batteries from two different suppliers. Those sourced from Samsung’s own SDI division short-circuited as a result of damage to the separator, a component within lithium-ion batteries that prevents the negative and positive electrodes from coming into contact with each other and generating a dangerous amount of heat. Batteries from Hong Kong-based Amperex Technology, meanwhile, experienced failure as a result of protrusions in the battery and other quality issues that occurred when Samsung increased its order substantially.
The company is putting in place preventative measures going forward. It’s introducing an eight-point inspection process, adding staff dedicated to overseeing each battery feature’s safe implementation, and making intellectual property around battery safety and standards freely available.
“For customers, we have to develop innovation, but customer safety is the priority,” Koh said. “In the end, we can win the customers’ trust back.”
Here’s what you need to know.
The Galaxy Note 7 is coming back as a refurbished phone
The Galaxy Note 7 as we knew it is long dead and gone, but a new variant of the ill-fated phone is now on its way. There is, however, some speculation as to what the phone will be called. Latest reports indicate that the device will be launched under the name “Samsung Galaxy Note FE.” The news comes from Korean publication ETNews.
Previously, however, reports indicated the phone would be branded the Galaxy Note 7R. The brave new handset (which is to say, its buyers will be brave) is a refurbished version of the spontaneously combustible smartphone. The battery will be smaller than the original at 3,200mAh (the original was 3,500mAh), but otherwise will look very similar to its namesake.
When it becomes publicly available, the 7R or FE will be priced around $600, though it won’t be for sale in the U.S. or Canada. But if rumors are to be believed, overseas carriers could be stocking the Galaxy Note 7R/FE as early as June. The phone has officially passed through the FCC, so while you may not be chomping at the bit to get one just yet, it seems as though all systems are go.
Samsung to remotely kill all unreturned Galaxy Note 7 units
Well folks, this is the end of the road. While Samsung and most carriers have all made various attempts at getting customers to return the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, there are still a few rogue units out there — so Samsung has to take a new approach.
To do this, the company will begin forcing software updates — which is different than previous attempts. Before, technically users could choose not to accept the software update, but now they won’t have a choice. The news comes from Korean publication The Korea Herald, in which Samsung confirms it will begin forcing updates in the next week.
The goal here is obvious — these new software updates will spell the end of the road for the Galaxy Note 7 once and for all.
Verizon takes a new approach to killing the Galaxy Note 7
Verizon is taking a new approach to ensuring customers stop using their Galaxy Note 7 — by forwarding all non-emergency calls to Verizon customers service. The new approach comes after an update that was supposed to render the phone completely useless, but some users seem to have evaded that update altogether.
“In spite of our best efforts, there are still customers using the recalled phones who have not returned or exchanged their Note 7 to the point of purchase,” said Verizon in an interview with Fortune. “The recalled Note 7s pose a safety risk to our customers and those around them.”
On top of the call forwarding, Verizon is also considering charging some users with the full retail cost of the phone — that’s because it seems as though Verizon issued refunds to some people even though they hadn’t returned the phone.
It’s important to note that the vast majority of people have indeed returned their device. However, it seems that Samsung and carriers won’t rest until all devices have been returned.
Airlines no longer need to notify passengers
The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a statement saying airlines no longer have to notify passengers about bringing the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 on board. The ban is still in place, but airlines are not required to make a pre-boarding notification. It’s still up to airlines if they want to keep repeating the message or not, though.
“The Department of Transportation removed the requirement for air carriers to specifically notify passengers about the Note 7 phone immediately prior to boarding due to the high degree of public awareness of the ban since issuance of the emergency restriction/prohibition order, as well as the extensive efforts by Samsung and U.S. wireless providers to make all Note 7 users aware the phone is recalled and banned from transport on U.S. aircraft,” according to the statement.
Samsung says it has “successfully recalled” more than 96 percent of Note 7 devices.
T-Mobile is shutting down the Galaxy Note 7
T-Mobile is officially putting an end to the Galaxy Note 7. As promised, the company has started rolling out an update to Galaxy Note 7 devices on the T-Mobile network that disables the battery on the phone, rendering it unusable.
The changelog for the update says that it will offer an on-screen reminder to bring the device in for exchange, and that once it’s installed the phone will not be able to charge.
Samsung is disabling the Galaxy Note 7 starting on December 19 — Verizon gets update on January 5
Samsung has confirmed that it will disable the Galaxy Note 7 in a software update set to begin rolling out December 19. “To further increase participation, a software update will be released starting on December 19 that will prevent U.S. Galaxy Note7 devices from charging and will eliminate their ability to work as mobile devices,” Samsung said in a statement. “If you have not yet returned your device, you should immediately power it down and contact your carrier to obtain a refund or exchange.”
The company said it’s working with carriers in the U.S. to notify customers at “multiple touchpoints” that they should return their Galaxy Note 7. And it reaffirmed that exchange incentives introduced earlier this year would remain in place.
Verizon has announced that Galaxy Note 7 devices on its network will start to receive the update a bit later, on January 5.
There’s no word yet on whether the company will extend the disabling of Galaxy Note 7s to additional countries, but it has employed other techniques. In Canada and Australia, for example, the phone is limited to a maximum battery capacity of 60 percent.
The following is a list of reported incidents so far, all involving Galaxy Note 7 phones that were replaced
- A Kentucky resident suffered lung damage after his phone filled his bedroom with smoke on October 4
- A Note 7 caught fire on a Southwest Airlines flight on October 5
- A woman in Taiwan noticed that her phone was emitting smoke in her pocket on October 7
- A 13-year-old girl in Minnesota suffered a burn on October 7 when her phone became extremely hot under her thumb
- A Virginia man reported that his Note 7 caught fire on his nightstand and filled his room with smoke on October 9
Following this string of incidents, Samsung issued an official statement saying that it has asked all carriers to stop sales of the phone, and that all Galaxy Note 7 users should power down their phones and either get refunds or replace their device as soon as possible.
“Samsung has received 96 reports of batteries in Note 7 phones overheating in the U.S., including 23 new reports since the September 15 recall announcement,” according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). “Samsung has received 13 reports of burns and 47 reports of property damage associated with Note 7 phones.”
Before that, an official at a supplier for Samsung told a Korean news agency that production had been temporarily halted. “This measure includes a Samsung plant in Vietnam that is responsible for global shipments,” the official said. The move follows the decision of U.S. carriers AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile to temporarily suspend the phone’s sales.
The crisis began in late August, but reached a head on September 15, when the CPSC, the federal agency charged with overseeing product reports and alerts, issued a formal recall of the more than 1 million Note 7 devices shipped to consumers in the U.S.
Since the recall, Samsung had begun issuing replacement phones. But even those have issues: A replacement phone caught fire aboard a Southwest airlines flight on Oct 5. And on October 7, a woman in Taiwan suffered a scare of her own while walking her dog in a local park when she heard a bang from her jeans pocket. She discovered that her Galaxy Note 7 was emitting smoke. She claims to have replaced her original Samsung device on September 27.
On Friday, 13-year-old Minnesota resident Abby Zuis discovered her replacement Note 7 was no safer than the original. She told local newscasters that she felt a “weird, burning sensation” in her thumb while holding the phone, ultimately suffering a minor burn as a result of the fiery Samsung device.
Most damning is the report that a replacement Galaxy Note 7 caught on fire, and that Samsung knew about it and withheld everything from customers. Kentucky resident Michael Klering told a local news station that he awoke at 4 a.m. on October 4 and realized his new phone had spontaneously combusted and filled his entire bedroom with smoke. Klerig wound up in the hospital with smoke-induced acute bronchitis.
“The phone is supposed to be the replacement, so you would have thought it would be safe,” he told WKYT. “It wasn’t plugged in. It wasn’t anything, it was just sitting there.”
When Klering reported the incident to Samsung, he accidentally received a horrifying text response from a company representative clearly not meant for him:”Just now got this. I can try and slow him down if we think it will matter, or we just let him do what he keeps threatening to do and see if he does it.”
Digital Trends reached out to Klering and we are waiting to hear back.
A fifth replacement Galaxy Note 7 in the U.S. reportedly caught fire over the weekend: Shawn Minter of Virginia reached out to The Verge when his replacement, just over two weeks old, caught fire on his nightstand in the wee hours of the morning.
“My Galaxy Note 7 replacement phone just burst into flames,” Minter said in his emailed statement. “It filled my bedroom with a smoke. The same as the Kentucky man. I woke up in complete panic.”
Under no circumstances should you buy a Galaxy Note 7, or continue using one that you already have.
A timeline of events
The saga first began soon after the Galaxy Note 7 went on sale, and initially it was unclear exactly what was happening.
On Aug. 31, 2016, Yonhap News reported that Samsung had temporarily suspended deliveries of Note 7 devices to major South Korean mobile carriers including SK Telecom, KT, and LG Uplus. Initially, the company was reluctant to acknowledge the delay. “We are checking whether the deliveries were halted or not,” a Samsung official told the publication.
Early speculation pointed to a mechanical flaw involving the S-Pen, the proprietary stylus that ships with the Note 7. YouTube videos and reports on the web appeared to show a problem with the S-Pen’s handset slot — the ejection button used to remove the pen had a tendency to become stuck on some units. Samsung acknowledged the issue on Wednesday, began offering free replacements to affected customers, and instructed owners that hadn’t experienced the issue “not to push too hard” in the S-Pen’s housing “after the click sound.”
But evidence of a far more serious — and dangerous — problem began to emerge early this week: the potential for Note 7 devices to explode while connected to a wall charger. One documented account on social media, a YouTube video posted by user Ariel Gonzalez, appeared to show a Note 7 warped almost beyond the point of recognition.
“Came home from work, put it to charge for a little bit before I had class,” he said. “Went to put it on my waist and it caught fire. Yup. Brand new phone, not even two weeks old. Be careful out there, everyone rocking the new Note 7, might catch fire.”
A South Korean schoolteacher, Park Soo-Jung, told the Associated Press that her Galaxy Note 7 “burst into flames” unexpectedly, filling her apartment with smoke. “If the exploded phone in flame was near my head, I would not have been able to write this post.”
And posts on Korean social media appeared to corroborate reports. Most showed Note 7 units with severely damaged screens and charging ports.
In response to the growing chorus of concern, Samsung confirmed to Yonhap News on August 31 that it had delayed Note 7 shipments in order to conduct “quality control” testing. “The most important thing is the safety of our customers, and we don’t want to disappoint our loyal customers,” a company official said.
The results of those tests, the company said, were consistent with reports: some Note 7 units could explode while being charged. “[We] conducted a thorough investigation and found a battery cell issue,” it said in a statement on Thursday. “Samsung is committed to producing the highest-quality products and we take every incident report from our valued customers very seriously.”
The company indicated the problem wasn’t widespread — a representative told Yonhap news that Note 7 units with faulty batteries accounted for “less than 0.1 percent of the entire volume sold” — but not necessarily easy to resolve. Samsung said the issue “couldn’t be [fixed] by changing the battery.”
Out of an abundance of caution, Samsung announced a broad recall on September 2. “The problem can be simply resolved by changing the battery, but we’ll come up with convincing measures for our customers,” a spokesperson for the company said. “For customers who already have Galaxy Note 7 devices, we will voluntarily replace their current device with a new one over the coming weeks.”
That recall, however, might not be the last we hear of the issue. U.S. investigators promptly announced that they were investigating the issue, and Sprint said that it would allow users to swap in their phone for another device while the investigation was ongoing.
That recall, however, wasn’t the last we heard of the issue. U.S. investigators said they were looking into reports of the replacement device exploding, after which multiple reports of replacement phones catching fire popped up. Finally, Samsung issued a statement saying that production on the phone had been halted and that users should immediately power down their phones.
The New York Times suggests that Samsung still does not know what caused issues in the Note 7, and they have been unable to reproduce the problem in tests.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission and Samsung have issued a second recall for the Note 7.
Separately, the Department of Transportation, along with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), announced on Friday, October 14, that all Samsung Galaxy Note 7 devices would be banned from airplanes in the U.S. “Individuals who own or possess a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 device may not transport the device on their person, in carry-on baggage, or in checked baggage on flights to, from, or within the United States,” the agency said. “This prohibition includes all Samsung Galaxy Note 7 devices,” the agency said, noting that the phones also can’t be shipped as air cargo.
How will this affect Samsung?
The Galaxy Note 7 recall is one of the industry’s largest in history, and obviously a major setback for Samsung. But it’s unclear how drastically it will impact the company’s bottom line — or reputation, for that matter.
Samsung was expected to sell as many as 15 million Note 7 phones this year, or almost double the 9 million Note 5 units it shipped last year. And before news of a widespread recall, it appeared well on its way to hitting that mark: the company said it sold 400,000 units in the first week of the Note 7’s availability and that demand had generally outstripped supply.
Samsung’s 2016 revenue bested expectations, too. The company reported a rise in second quarter operating profit to $15 billion — up 15 percent from the same period a year earlier. And it gained market share at the expense of rivals like Apple, nabbing 22.4 percent of smartphone sales — a five percent jump — thanks to higher-than-anticipated “demand for higher-end phones,” according to market analysts at IDC.
In light of the newest developments, though, some analysts expect a reversal. Park Jung-hoon, an asset fund manager at HDC, told Reuters that that Samsung’s profits would fall short of initial projections. He anticipates a decline in mobile operating profit by up to 200 billion won — or roughly $179 million — in the fiscal period between July and September.
Samsung shareholders stopped worrying too much when news that Samsung’s profits are expected to rise hit in October, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Where has the Galaxy Note 7 been banned?
The list of airlines, public transit authorities, and businesses that have banned the use of Samsung’s Note 7 continues to grow.
Australian airlines, Qantas, Jetstar, and Virgin Australia have warned customers against charging of Galaxy Note 7 during flight. Quantas issued a statement in September: “Following Samsung Australia’s recall of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 personal electronic device, we are requesting that passengers who own them do not switch on or charge them in flight.”
They aren’t the first. Philippines-based airline carrier Cebu Pacific Air banned the use of the Note 7 on all flights, citing Samsung’s global recall. “In light of … safety issues, [we] advise passengers that the usage and charging of the device are prohibit on board all [flights] until further notice,” the company said in a statement.
Singapore Airlines followed suit. “The powering up and charging of Samsung Galaxy Note 7 mobile phones is prohibit on all our flights,” the airline said in a statement.
Airlines in the United Arab Emirates are a few of the latest to restrict the use of Galaxy Note 7 on airliners — both Etihad Airways and Flydubai have banned the in-flight use of handset. An Emirates spokesperson told the Khaleej Times that it had “advise[d] customers not to turn on or charge their Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones during flights or stow them in checked baggage due to concerns over the phone’s fire-prone batteries.”
In the U.S., New York City’s MTA has advised commuters not to charge the phone on subways or buses. And the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), following the lead of Japan’s airline authority, urged airline passengers not to use or stow Note 7 on domestic flights. “[The agency] strongly advises passengers not to turn on or charge these devices on board aircraft and not to stow them in any checked baggage,” a spokesperson said.
India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation, meanwhile, issued a warning against the use of Note 7 units on domestic and international flights. “The ministry has advised airlines and traveling public not to turn on or charge the said mobile during flights,” the agency said in a statement. “This has been done in light of several incidents globally, involving the battery of the Galaxy Note 7. Passengers have also been advised not to stow them in their check-in baggage.”
Even institutions of higher learning are exercising an abundance of caution. On September 12, New Jersey’s Stockton University became the first college to ban the use of Note 7. “We have 3,000 students that live on campus and anywhere from 10,000 individuals that come on our campus each day,” Pedro Santana, Stockton University’s dean of students, said in a statement. “[We] wanted to take a proactive measure and assure that the environment is safe, and free from a potential fire. The bottom line is, we want it on our campus.”
What are the chances your Note 7 will explode?
The Note 7 may be one of the higher-profile consumer devices in recent to exhibit — ahem — explosive tendencies, but it’s far from the first. Still, it seems to be getting the most attention.
The sort of Lithium-ion cells found in smartphones are packed extremely tightly. As a result, the flammable separator between the battery’s anode and cathode — the two elements between which current flows — is incredibly thin, and therefore prone to damage. Once the separator’s pierced, catastrophe results, typically in the form of a short circuit. An excessive amount of heat boils the battery’s electrolyte, ruptures its cell casing, and causes an explosion or fire.
And worse, Lithium-ion battery fires are difficult to contain. Most electrolytes burn quickly when hit by a fresh supply of air, and when the fire reaches a certain thermal threshold, the materials in the cathode begin to supply oxygen, too.
On September 20, Samsung will push an over-the-air update to current Note 7 devices in South Korea that limits the battery recharge to 60 percent — in part to prevent them from overheating and thus reduce the risk of an explosion, according to the Associated Press. It’s more a band-aid than a solution — updated Note 7 units are still susceptible to explosion — but could reduce the likelihood of battery heat buildup. Samsung’s in talks with carriers to push the update to other Note 7 devices in the U.S. and around the world.
In 2006, Dell and HP were forced to recall millions of laptop batteries after reports emerged of overheating. More recently in 2014, car manufacturer Tesla redesigned its cars to better protect the batteries housed within them.
How to prevent a battery fire
Preventing a battery fire is relatively straightforward and, unless you have a phone prone to exploding like the Note 7, you can usually prevent it by taking these steps. And again, it’s also extremely rare.
Common sense tips to avoid an exploding phone:
- Stick to the original charging cable and wall adapter. In the case of the Note 7, use the official Samsung accessories that came bundled with your smartphone.
- Don’t leave your device in hot areas — especially when it’s charging.
- If you plan to use a demanding app that’s likely to generate a lot of internal heat, make sure you do so in a well-ventilated, cool place.
- Don’t smother your smartphone. Putting it under your pillow, or in a tight, restricting enclosure, or under a cushion will encourage a buildup of heat.
- The same goes for laptops and other devices that use lithium-ion batteries (almost everything that recharges these days).
As for the widely held perception that fully charged smartphones present a clearer danger than, say, handsets left to drain by your bedside all night, that’s only half true. While battery fires are more intense if the battery is fully charged, the capacity of the battery itself in no way impacts its likelihood of explosion.
I bought a secondhand Galaxy Note 7. How do I know if it’s safe?
Now that even replacement devices seem to be exploding, we don’t believe any Note 7 can be called a safe unit. Digital Trends recommends immediately returning any models, “safe” or otherwise, to the store where it was purchased.
When the initial recall was issued, Samsung found a way to alert customers about whether they had a safe device. New devices featured a green battery icon, while the older, unsafe phones had white ones. Not only that, but when refurbished Note 7 units began to ship, they included a circular sticker with a blue S in the middle. Samsung said it looks something like this:
You can read more about the recall and the company’s statement here.
Sending back your Note 7
You’ll have to send your shiny new Note 7 back where it came from.
Under the terms of Samsung’s arrangement with the CPSC, more than 1.9 million Galaxy Note 7 units sold in the U.S. are subject to recall.
Here’s the skinny on the recall process: Galaxy Note 7 owners in the U.S. can exchange it for a Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge and a refund of the difference in price between the two devices. Samsung recommends owners complete that process at the store from which they bought the Note 7, or by calling 1-800-SAMSUNG. If you exchange your device for another Samsung phone, you will get $100 in bill credit. If you swap the Note 7 for a device from another brand, you’ll get $25 in bill credit.
A company spokeswoman told Digital Trends that as of November 4, nearly 85 percent of Galaxy Note 7 devices had been replaced through the company’s exchange program, with the majority of customers opting to receive another Samsung smartphone. “We remain focused on collecting the outstanding Galaxy Note 7 phones in the market,” she said. “Any Galaxy Note 7 owner who has not yet participated in the U.S. Note 7 Refund and Exchange Program should immediately power down their phone and contact their carrier or retailer today,” the spokesperson added.
If you’re eligible for a refund but would prefer not wait for a replacement device direct, your best bet is heading stopping by your carrier’s store for a refund, exchange, or loaner device.
Here’s what every major U.S. carrier is offering:
- Sprint offers customers “loaner devices” to use while they receive a replacement unit.
- T-Mobile is halting sales of the Galaxy Note 7. It is waiving restocking fees and providing a full refund to customers who return their device, and furthermore giving subscribers who return their Note 7 a $25 credit on their monthly bill. In addition, T-Mobile’s offering a “complete refund” on Note 7 devices and accessories — specifically, the full amount paid at time of purchase plus any and all associated fees — and letting those who received a free Netflix subscription as a bonus for pre-ordering the Note 7 retain that benefit, if they so choose.
- Verizon has suspended sales of the Galaxy Note 7. It’s encouraging customers concerned about the safety of their replacement Note 7 smartphones to “take [them] back to the original point of purchase” in exchange for another smartphone. And it’s allowing online Verizon customers to exchange replacement Note 7 units at Verizon stores.
- AT&T, following suit, has suspended sales of the Galaxy Note 7. The carrier is encouraging customers with a recalled Note 7 to visit an AT&T location to exchange the device for another Samsung smartphone or smartphone of their choice, and will also refund any Note 7 accessories.
Internationally, things are a bit more piecemeal. Samsung’s voluntary Note 7 recall affects the estimated 1.5 million units that have been shipped to sellers and buyers in 10 countries, but it’s largely leaving exchange and returns at the discretion of individual carriers and retail partners. It has, however, instructed partners to return Note 7 deliveries as they receive them, and major cell phone carriers in the U.S., Australia, and South Korea have taken the extraordinary step of preemptively withdrawing the Note 7 from sale.
Note 7 owners in South Korea are eligible for a full refund for their device or can exchange it for a new one. And starting Saturday, Samsung said it’ll roll out a “battery-monitoring service” for users in the country to “ensure their devices are safe.”
In the U.K., Samsung has begun a separate exchange process. All U.K. providers and operators should have already contacted Galaxy Note 7 owners to set up an exchange, and the swapping process has now officially begun.
Samsung’s dedicated customer support line for the Galaxy Note 7 remains active at 0330-726-1000.
If you’re in Canada, Samsung Electronics Canada Executive Vice President Paul Brannen has made it clear that your safety is a major concern of the company. “Samsung holds safety and consumer satisfaction as a top priority,” he said. “While there have been no confirmed incidents in Canada, Samsung is taking a proactive approach to address customer needs around the Note 7 and immediately addressing any consumer concerns.” Canadian Galaxy Note 7 owners will be able to exchange their phone for a Galaxy S7 or Galaxy S7 Edge. You can register your Galaxy Note 7 here for the recall.
Article originally published in August 2016. Imad Khan, Julian Chokkattu, Christian de Looper, and Lulu Chang contributed to this report. Updated on 05-17-2017 by Christian de Looper: Added news that the refurbished Samsung Galaxy Note 7 may actually be called the Galaxy Note FE.
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