A Dangerous Defect – Samsung’s Note 7

Leander Rodrigues - 1A Nanotechnology
Posted on: October 22, 2016

As you may have heard this past week, there’s been some explosive news recently, most of it directed at the major tech giant Samsung. This trusted mobile phone developer unveiled their new Samsung Galaxy Note 7 all the way back in mid-August, but reports have been coming in all October about a dangerous side effect of leaving the phone charging for some extended periods of time. The phone seems to overheat while charging, and begin smoking, before sometimes exploding into a violent fire.

There is some science behind why the phone is just exploding. The lithium ion batteries used to power the phone contains a liquid inside that is highly flammable. If it were to short circuit and make a hole in the plastic wall separating the positive and negative sides of the battery, that new hole becomes the ideal route for electricity flow. This flow heats up the liquid around it and if this happens too quick, the battery (and the phone) will explode, without ever giving any telltale signs to the outside world.

This scary incident has happened a few too many times for comfort, with official tallies from the US, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia that totals to around 112 occurrences. There were around one million Note 7’s in circulation when they began malfunctioning, of the 2.5 million that were manufactured. Even though the idea of having a bomb in your pocket when you just want to check twitter is frightening for most, the statistics released by Samsung themselves provide a good bit of comfort: only 0.01% of all the Note 7’s has reported signs of the defect, meaning there’s only a very rare chance of your new phone trying to kill you.

Just to be on the safe side of things, however, Samsung recently issued a recall for the phone’s first wave just to make sure that they’re good for the consumers to use without concern. To make up for it, Samsung started sending their dissatisfied customers replacement Note 7’s, which seems good on paper, but really only if it works if it was done properly. Reportedly, already at least 5 of the replacement phones have had the same defect and burst into flames for different people. The fact that these Note 7’s are unpredictable and seem to be randomly burning up (even when the experts thought it was safe) has led to Samsung completely recalling every single Note 7 and all the replacement units as well, as well putting an end to the Samsung Galaxy Note lineage completely.

Though this is obviously the safest course of action, the compensation factor is still a relevant and costly part in this decision. Samsung can simply refund all the phones and take the loss (and to be fair, they sold firecrackers to their customers), but there are still the people who have been affected by the destructive fire caused by the phone. There are plenty of people who have been seriously injured because of the overheating/explosion, or even houses that have had serious damage due to the fire that the phones have been starting. Plenty of lawsuits have been filed against the Samsung from families of some pretty difficult situations. A man had part of his house burn down from the phone, another family had their six-year-old son burn himself from the phone catching fire in his hands, and there’s a product liability lawsuit on behalf of an Ohio man who received some gruesome 3rd degree burns from the phone literally exploding in his pocket. An even scarier situation occurred where the phone started smoking on a plane while on the runway, which resulted in the plane having to be evacuated.

This news sounds so extreme that it’s already been turned to parody, with plenty of YouTube videos saying things like ‘Samsung’s selling bombs to their consumer base’. All the ridicule Samsung has received has led them to issue takedowns on all such videos and webpages, but unfortunately for them, fair use is a thing. The videos persist and Samsung has been on the defense for weeks, but that tends to happen when you sell bombs to your consumer base.