Exploding smartphones: Samsung blames Galaxy Note 7 problems on the battery

Running as fast as it can to put Note7Gate behind it, Samsung says those cursed Galaxy smartphones that kept spontaneously combusting were the victims of battery problems.

The South Korean tech giant, which is currently dealing with another PR nightmare in the form of an influence-peddling scandal involving its vice chairman, confirmed the news Monday. It had been reported by the Wall Street Journal last week.

There were different problems with two different batteries, according to someone familiar with the matter. One problem involved a faulty battery cell, ”creating multiple paths to a short circuit.” The other battery at fault involved the way the battery was welded together, creating a fire danger from a short circuit.

Samsung accepted responsibility for the Note 7 fiasco that cost the company a $5.3 billion hit to its bottom line and badly sullied its reputation among consumers worldwide last year before the phone was taken off the market for good.

Samsung promised to clean up its act by exercising tighter quality controls and doing more rigorous testing of its products before putting them out there and risking failure. It also said it was delaying the release of its next Galaxy phone, the Galaxy S8, which was initially expected in February. And while some analysts pointed out that Samsung’s announcement did little to assure consumers that the battery problems were solved for good, there was much praise for the fact that Samsung had publicly fessed up.

The announcement, along with the apology, was delivered Sunday night by way of a nearly hourlong presentation streamed on its website, laying out the the findings from its investigation, emceed by the head of its mobile division, DJ Koh, who said:

“First of all, I deeply apologize to all of our customers, carriers, retail, and distribution partners. […] We believe that, as a first step to regain your trust, it is important to provide you with a thorough understanding of the cause behind the Galaxy Note 7 incidents and to implement a comprehensive plan to take preventative measures.”

The spontaneous fires, some of which were caught on video and shared on YouTube, forced Samsung to recall millions of phones, ultimately retiring the once-acclaimed product from the market. Despite baring its soul this week, Samsung still has its work ahead of it if it wants to win over now-skittish consumers who don’t want to get burned — figuratively or otherwise — by another combustible piece of badly design technology.

“Samsung said the weaknesses could make the phone prone to catch fire. That I understand, but what did trigger fires in such conditions? Did they discuss if there is another cause? No,” Park Chul Wan, a former director of the next generation battery research center at the state-owned Korea Electronics Technology Institute, told ABC news.

Forrester analyst Frank Gillett was also cautious in his reaction to Samsung’s announcement, questioning in press reports whether the company was not focused enough on preventing design problems earlier. He said Samsung must find ways to avoid putting out a product before it’s ready for prime time in an effort to beat the competition; the Note 7 was timed, in part, to beat Apple’s iPhone 7 by weeks.

During a two-hour press conference live-streamed in English, Chinese and Korean, Samsung said tests involving more than 200,000 phones and 30,000 batteries showed different problems with both kinds of batteries used in the Note 7. Those, in turn, caused the phones to overheat, catch fire or in some cases, explode.


Photo: Samsung Electronics announced in October 2016 that it was halting the production and sale of its flagship smartphone model Galaxy Note 7. Reports of batteries catching fire and exploding has caused the Korean electronics giant to ask owners to discontinue using the product. (AP)


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