On August 24, we named the Samsung Galaxy Note7 the best phablet available—this based on our glowing August 16 review. Then Note7s starting catching on fire en masse, prompting us to “temporarily suspend” our recommendation. Today, Samsung’s Note7 problem looks all but unsalvageable. Phones deemed safe by Samsung—replacement phones—are reportedly catching on fire. So we’re now considering a permanent suspension of our buy recommendation unless Samsung acts swiftly and transparently in sharing exactly what’s wrong with its phone, and providing reassuring evidence that its fire hazard has been rectified.
If you haven’t heard the latest: Last week an alleged replacement phone caught fire on a Southwest flight, prompting an evacuation on the runway in Louisville, KY. On October 8, we learned that a Farmington, MN teenager suffered a burn when an alleged replacement Note7 went up in flames in her hand. On the same day, a man in Nicholasville, KY reported that his alleged replacement Note7 caught fire on Tuesday. Adding insult to injury, Samsung support mistakenly sent the man a message that was clearly intended for someone at Samsung: ”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.”
All three reports look perfectly reliable. Just watch the Note7 owner on the Southwest flight explain his Note7 journey.
Samsung says it’s investigating all three incidents—and that’s critical because all Note7 owners deserve answers about what’s going on. But at Greenbot and PCWorld we need more than just cursory reassurances that the fire hazard has been fixed. Before we can ever again recommend the Note7, we need a clear, detailed explanation of exactly why the original batches of phones caught on fire; a clear, detailed explanation of why the replacement phones are catching on fire; and a clear, detailed explanation of how a third batch of phones—if Samsung decides to keep at this—has been engineered to not go up in flames.
Seeing is believing, Samsung. Show us your work. It’s one thing to tell us that the battery problem has been solved, but until we learn more about the core technology issues surrounding the battery conflagrations, we can’t recommend the Note7 to anyone.
So far, the closest we’ve seen to a technical explanation came from Samsung mobile president Koh Dong-jin on Sept. 2. Referring to the original batch of phones, he said a “tiny error” in the manufacturing process went undetected. An article in The Asahi Shimbun reported, “The end of the pouch-shaped battery cell had some flaws that increased the chance of stress or overheating, [Koh Dong-jin] explained.”
I asked my Samsung contact if the company could expand on Koh Dong-jin’s statement, and received no further explanation. I’ve also asked: What exactly was wrong with the original battery? What exactly about the replacement battery fixes the hazard? Is it built to a different specification, or does it comes from a different source? What kind of testing and steps has Samsung taken to make sure that the new batteries are safe?
I haven’t received any answers.
Again, seeing is believing. So, Samsung, please show us your work. Without knowing exactly why Note7s continue to catch fire, it’s impossible to recommend the replacement phone, or any possible replacement of the replacement phone. As I shared with my Samsung contact a few weeks ago, we can learn a lot from Ford’s experience with exploding Pinto models in the 1978. Ford explained what was technically wrong with the Pinto’s fuel tank, and this helped restore confidence in later Ford vehicles. In other words: Exact problem found, exact problem fixed.
Until we know exactly what’s wrong with Samsung’s battery, a black storm cloud hovers above the Note7, making the phone completely untenable. So we await further details—or perhaps the Note8.