By Michael Richardson, Staff Writer
Aug. 19, 2016, was the launch date for Samsung’s highly anticipated flagship phones, the Galaxy S7 and the Galaxy Note 7. Both phones boasted the latest technology in processing power, increased storage, wireless charging and water proofing; the Note 7 event boasted a 5.7” screen and a stylus that tucks away in to the phone’s body.
These features pushed the limits of engineering, leading to the Galaxy Note 7 selling almost a million units in the United States between its launch date and when it was officially recalled by Samsung and the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC).
The first reports of the Galaxy Note 7 catching fire came in a few days after the launch date. Within the first month of the launch, there were over 100 incidents of the Note 7 catching fire, 92 of those in the U.S. alone and 55 resulting in property damage. Samsung identified the problem as arising from the battery design originating from one of their two battery manufacturers, although they did not disclose the name of the responsible manufacturer.
The official Note 7 recall issued by the CSPC came on Sept. 15, which allowed owners of the Note 7 to receive a replacement Note 7 from Samsung. In addition to the hardware exchange, Samsung issued a firmware update to limit the battery’s charge to 60 percent of its rated capacity in an attempt to stop the battery from overheating.
The replacement program was short-lived, as the battery issues that plagued the first Note 7’s were still creating fire hazards in the replacement phones. There were reports of up to five replacement phones catching fire, and on Oct. 10, Samsung stopped the replacement program. It also ceased production of the Note 7 and issued a warning to all current users to turn off their phones and return their Note 7’s for full refunds.
The CSPC is not the only governmental agency to issue warnings about the Note 7. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has banned the use and charging of the Note 7 on flights. Passengers must take steps to safeguard their phones from accidentally turning on by disabling alarms and keeping the phone with their carryon baggage. The FAA has not outright banned the devices, but it stated that airlines have the authority to ban additional devices not on the FAA’s list.
Samsung engineers have not been able to determine with certainty why the phones were catching fire, and they concluded the issues must have been associated with the battery supplier. Returning the phones has become its own challenge. Samsung is offering to send users packaging designed to protect their phones from further damage, as well as provide fire-resistant boxes in case the phone catches fire during shipment. Additionally, the returned phones can only be shipped by ground transportation.
Samsung and the CSPC have urged users to stop using their phones due to the randomness and uncertainty of the fires. Despite the warnings, however, many Note 7 users are continuing to use their phones. Now that the phones have been recalled and users have been notified of the risks, who is legally responsible for damages if another phone catches fire?
There are additional steps Samsung could take, such as locking out the phones through a software update or offer more incentives for users to turn in their phones. Ultimately, in consideration of the steps it has already taken to ensure product and user safety, it is up to the end users to return their faulty phones. They may either receive the offered refunds — or continue to use recalled products and assume the risk of any harm that may result.