Samsung recalls Galaxy Note 7 over battery flaw

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Samsung recalled its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones on Friday after finding some of their batteries exploded or caught fire.

Samsung’s Note 7s are being pulled from shelves in 10 countries, including South Korea and the United States, just two weeks after the product’s launch. Customers who already bought Note 7s will be able to swap them for new smartphones in about two weeks, said Koh Dong-jin, president of Samsung’s mobile business.

He apologized for causing inconvenience and concern to customers.

The recall, the first for the new smartphone though not the first for a battery , comes at a crucial moment in Samsung’s mobile business. Apple is expected to announce its new iPhone next week and Samsung’s mobile division was counting on momentum from the Note 7’s strong reviews and higher-than-expected demand.

Samsung said it had confirmed 35 instances of Note 7s catching fire or exploding. There have been no reports of injuries related to the problem.

The company said it has not found a way to tell exactly which phones may endanger users out of the 2.5 million Note 7s already sold globally. It estimated that about 1 in 42,000 units may have a faulty battery.

Samsung’s official statement was silent on whether customers should stop using their phones, and it didn’t say whether the problems happened while the phones were charging or during normal use.

“The ball is in Samsung’s court to make this right. Consumers want information about what’s going on and peace of mind that this is not going to happen again,” said Ramon Llamas, who tracks mobile devices at research firm IDC. “No one wants to wake up at 1, 2 or 3 (in the morning) and find out your smartphone’s on fire.”

He added that while phone combustions are unusual, “35 instances are 35 too many.”

This summer, Samsung ran into a quality-control issue with another smartphone, a niche model called the Galaxy S7 Active. Consumer Reports found that the phone didn’t live up to its water-resistance promises. Samsung said that relatively few phones were affected and that it had identified and fixed the manufacturing problem. Samsung said it would replace devices under warranty if it failed, but it declined to let customers swap phones otherwise or to issue a broader recall.

On the Note 7, after complaints surfaced online, Samsung found that a battery cell made by one of its two battery suppliers caused the phone to catch fire. Koh refused to name the supplier.

“There was a tiny problem in the manufacturing process, so it was very difficult to figure out,” Koh told reporters at a news conference. “It will cost us so much it makes my heart ache. Nevertheless, the reason we made this decision is because what is most important is customer safety.”

Customers’ reports of scorched phones prompted Samsung to conduct extra quality controlling tests and delay shipments of the Note 7s this week before the recall.

South Korean high school teacher Park Soo-Jung said she had rushed to buy the new phone, pre-ordering and then activating it on Aug. 19, its official launch date.

The 34-year-old living in the port city of Busan said that she was bruised when she rushed out of bed after her phone burst into flames, filling her bedroom with smoke stinking of chemicals.

She’s having second thoughts about buying another newly released device, especially after losing all her personal data stored in the destroyed Note 7, she said.

“If the exploded phone had burned near my head, I would not have been able to write this post,” she said in a popular online forum Thursday, where she shared a photo of the scorched Note 7 and described dousing the flames.

China is not affected by the sales suspension. The company said it used a battery made by another supplier for the Note 7s sold in China.


Samsung’s Note 7 isn’t the only gadget to catch fire thanks to lithium-battery problems, which have afflicted everything from iPhones to Tesla cars to Boeing jetliners. Blame chemistry and the fact that the batteries we rely on for everyday life are prone to leaking and even bursting into flame if damaged, defective or exposed to excessive heat.

That’s because lithium-ion batteries store a lot of energy in a tiny space, with combustible components separated by ultra-thin walls. If something happens to those separators, a chemical reaction can quickly escalate out of control.

Samsung hasn’t specified exactly what caused the fires that led to the recall of 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7s Thursday beyond calling it a “battery cell issue .”

Still, lithium batteries are so ubiquitous that ordinary users of phones and computers shouldn’t worry. Research suggests that you’re more likely to get hurt by a kitchen grease fire or a drunk driver than the battery powering your iPhone, Kindle or laptop.

“It’s not like we live in a world where people’s smartphones spontaneously combust,” said Ramon Llamas, research manager of research firm IDC’s mobile phones team. He said owners of Galaxy Note 7s should err on the side of caution and contact Samsung for a replacement that doesn’t run the same risk.

Here’s a look at other notable incidents when lithium batteries by themselves or in electronics have caused problems.

ON AIRPLANES

There have been dozens of aircraft fires caused by lithium batteries, so many that the batteries are no longer welcome as cargo on passenger flights. In one of the most recent incidents, a Fiji Airways Boeing 737 was preparing for takeoff from Melbourne, Australia, when smoke was discovered coming from the cargo bay. The plane was evacuated and the cargo unloaded. The source of the fire turned out to be lithium-ion batteries in a passenger’s checked bags. Hoverboards and e-cigarettes are banned from flights for the same reason.

TESLA

In August, a Tesla electric car caught fire during a promotional tour in southwest France. Tesla said in a statement that it is “working with the authorities to establish the facts” about the fire. The driver was quoted in local newspaper Sud Ouest as saying he answered a Facebook ad offering test drives of the Model S sedan. The driver said he saw smoke, and the three people aboard got out before seeing it catch fire.

Tesla hasn’t officially found fault with the battery. But in 2013 , it faced questions when several Model S sedans caught fire after road debris damaged their batteries. Tesla wound up strengthening the battery shield on new and existing cars.

HOVERBOARDS

Hoverboards, or self-balancing scooters, have been linked with at least 99 electrical fires in the U.S., according to the the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Hoverboards might be more susceptible than other products to battery fires because they come under more duress than other electronic devices like computers. Amazon, Best Buy and other retailers dumped the products after videos of burning hoverboards went viral. But they reopened sales this year after passing new fire-safety tests.

COMPUTER BATTERIES

In June HP recalled nearly 50,000 HP, Compaq, HP ProBook, HP ENVY, Compaq Presario, and HP Pavilion computers after seven reports of battery packs overheating, melting or charring, including four reports of property damage totaling about $4,000.

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