Samsung has suspended sales of its brand-new top-end Galaxy Note 7 smartphone and is offering replacements for anyone who has already purchased one, but has stopped short of a full recall.
Koh Dong-jin, president of Samsung’s mobile business, said on Friday, two weeks after the Note 7’s launch: “We have received several reports of battery explosions on the Note 7… and it has been confirmed that it was a battery cell problem. There was a tiny problem in the manufacturing process so it was very difficult to find out.”
Koh refused to name the supplier of the faulty battery, but said that Note 7s sold in China used batteries from a different supplier and were unaffected.
A Samsung spokesperson said: “To date there have been 35 cases that have been reported globally and we are currently conducting a thorough inspection with our suppliers to identify possible affected batteries in the market. However, because our customers’ safety is an absolute priority at Samsung, we have stopped sales of the Galaxy Note 7.
“For customers who already have Galaxy Note 7 devices, we will voluntarily replace their current device with a new one over the coming weeks.”
The Korean company said it expected it would take two weeks to prepare replacement devices of which 2.5m had been manufactured and 1m had been sold. Stock of the phablets has been quarantined in shops and mobile phone networks around the world pending the launch in the UK and other territories which was due to take place today.
Samsung’s advertising campaign, including a high-profile wrap of the Metro newspaper, had to be switched to the company’s popular Galaxy S7 series, which make up the mainstay of the company’s high-end smartphone sales.
Samsung launched the Note 7 at the end of August in some markets, including South Korea and the US. Shipments were delayed in South Korea this week for extra quality control testing after reports that the batteries of some of the jumbo smartphones exploded while they were being charged.
Samsung’s stock plunged by about $7bn over Wednesday and Thursday, barely a week after the phones launched to critical acclaim and the company’s market value reached a record high. The tests follow multiple reports from customers, some posted in online videos and images, of phones that caught fire or exploded while charging. In one video posted earlier this week, a YouTube user named Ariel Gonzalez showed off his phone, its screen charred and partially melted.
“Came home from work, put it to charge for a little bit before I had class,” Gonzalez said. “Went to put it on my waist and it caught fire. Yup. Brand new phone, not even two weeks old. Be careful out there, everyone rocking the new Note 7, might catch fire.”
Others posted photos of Note 7s whose USB-port sides had similarly melted away, destroying the phones. Battery problems are not uncommon in new lines of mobile phones, especially in cases where customers are not using official charging devices.
South Korean school teacher Park Soo-Jung said she rushed to buy the Galaxy Note 7, pre-ordering and then activating it on 19 August, its official launch date. Park, 34, who lives in the port city of Busan, told the Associated Press by email she was bruised when she rushed out of bed after her phone burst into flames, filling her bedroom with smoke smelling of chemicals.
An employee of a Samsung service centre in Busan confirmed that the Galaxy Note 7 caught fire and said the sample was sent to the company’s headquarters. Park said Samsung offered her a full refund and compensation of 300,000 won (£203).
“If the exploded phone in flame was near my head, I would not have been able to write this post,” she said in an online forum on Thursday, where she shared a photo of the her damaged Note 7 and described dousing the burning phone with water.
Citing an unnamed company official, Yonhap said Samsung’s investigation has found that faulty batteries have caused phones to catch fire. It said Samsung estimates that the number of Galaxy Note 7 phones with the faulty battery accounts for “less than 0.1%” of the products in the market. Samsung is discussing how to resolve the issue with Verizon and its other partners, the official told Yonhap.
SK Telecom, South Korea’s largest mobile carrier, said about 400,000 units of the Galaxy Note 7 were estimated to have been sold in South Korea.
Despite the investigation in South Korea, Samsung went ahead with its scheduled launch on Thursday of the Galaxy Note 7 in China. Company officials did not reply to questions about how Samsung determined which phones are deemed safe and which required further testing. It did not say if those phones are different from the ones sold in South Korea.
Yonhap News said five or six explosions were reported by consumers, including Park’s case, citing pictures and reports of severely damaged phones shared in local online communities, social media and YouTube. Other photos and accounts, other than Park’s, could not be immediately verified.
There were no confirmed reports of any injuries.
The Note 7 is a high-profile device for Samsung, but its sales are expected to be a fraction of those garnered by the company’s smaller and cheaper S7 and S7 Edge smartphones.
While the issues with the Note 7 are certainly embarrassing, industry sources say that should the company be able to rectify the issues with the phablet the launch delay and product swap is manageable.