From Rave Reviews to Fire Risks, the Story of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7

A burnt Samsung Galaxy Note 7 via crushader

Galaxy’s End

Last month The Verge declared Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 “the best big phone.” Two weeks later Samsung issued a recall. The phone had become a fire risk.

The trouble for Samsung seemed to start when their smartphone caught fire while being charged. Unverified photos of burnt phones began showing up on social media. The phone is being blamed for a fire that destroyed a Jeep in Florida and a hotel room in Australia.

The issues stem from the phone’s battery. Like many electronics companies, Samsung used a lithium-ion battery because it’s cheap, powerful, and doesn’t lose its charge over time when idle. These batteries have been involved in fires in the past, including those hoverboards fires.

Samsung issued a voluntary recall of the Galaxy Note 7 on September 2nd, but it hasn’t gone well. Customers haven’t been told how they’ll be able to replace their devices. A Verizon spokeswoman told Gizmodo that Verizon does not have replacement units for its customers.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has told consumers to power down and discontinue use of all Galaxy Note 7s and the agency is working on a formal recall, which might help spell out exactly what customers can expect.

“CPSC is working quickly to determine whether a replacement Galaxy Note 7 is an acceptable remedy for Samsung or their phone carriers to provide to consumers,” the agency said in a statement.

On Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration said they “strongly advise passengers not to turn on or charge these devices on board aircraft and not to stow them in any checked baggage.” Airlines are giving passengers verbal warnings on board.

Some Australian airlines–Qantas, Jetstar, and Virgin Australia—have banned the phones outright. In June, a cell phone sparked fire during a Qantas flight. The phone was crushed in the reclining mechanism when the owner reclined.

If the CPSC formally recalls the phones, the FAA can ground the Galaxy Note 7, but a ban on these smartphones would be nearly impossible to enforce.

The problem isn’t just with smartphones. The larger issue is our reliance on lithium-ion battery-powered devices. These batteries are in laptops and tablets as well as smartphones. Some new suitcases even have them. The Royal Aeronautical Society in Britain estimates that a 100-person plane might have more than 500 lithium-ion batteries aboard.

And the CPSC warning went beyond the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. “Lithium-ion batteries pack a lot of power into a small package. When these batteries overheat and burst, the results can be serious.”