People won’t stop using their Galaxy Note 7s — even though they might explode
Samsung is begging customers to return their Galaxy Note 7 smartphones, setting up drop-off points in airports, and sending fireproof boxes to the 2.5 million who have bought the phone since critics hailed its launch in August. The FAA has made carrying the phone on a plane a criminal offense.
And yet statistics show thousands of Galaxy Note 7 owners continue to use their phones as if nothing’s wrong, apparently ignoring the imploring emails from Samsung to turn them in and a warning from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that the Note 7’s battery “can overheat and catch fire, posing serious fire and burn hazards to consumers.”
Data from mobile analytics firm Apteligent shows that usage of the phone, while declining, is still as high as when the first recall was announced, in late August. Thousands of Galaxy Note 7s are still in service, and Samsung might never get them back.
While Samsung has long mocked Apple’s “iSheep” customer base, the Korean tech giant clearly has plenty of its own fanatical customers. We talked to some Samsung loyalists who are sticking with their potentially dangerous phones to get an answer to one pressing question: Why risk it?
Some told us that the rarity of burning or exploding events puts the odds in their favor. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has recorded 96 events in the U.S. alone. “Honestly, I don’t think my handset will explode. With only 100 devices in 2.5 million, the risk of dying in a car accident is probably greater,” said Toqeer Sethi, a math teacher from Peterborough, England.
Julius Wilkers, an air traffic controller from Jacksonville, Florida, was similarly unfazed about his phone possibly exploding and injuring his kids if they’re nearby. “I don’t believe my cellphone poses a threat to my children. They all have their own phones [not Note 7s], and mine is always with me or very near,” he said.
Adriel Hampton, the president of a data analytics startup who lives in San Francisco, said it sounded like the mishaps came from user error, one he’s not planning to make. “From everything I’ve read, the fried phones are a symptom of overcharging. I don’t charge it near my head or in my car and it’s never gotten hot,” he said.
Sethi, Wilkers, and Hampton are just three of the 2.5 million people who bought the Galaxy Note 7 since its launch about nine weeks ago. Two weeks after the phone went on sale, Samsung admitted it had a problem, halting sales as a result of multiple reports of the phone catching fire.
The problem, it turned out, was with the battery. Samsung began a replacement program, but when those “safe” versions also started to catch fire, Samsung knew it was done and stopped production altogether.
Samsung would not reveal what percentage of the smartphones have been returned and how many are still being used. “We are closely monitoring the device return rate and are working with partners to ensure Note 7 owners understand the next steps we have put in place to remove the devices from markets,” a spokesperson said Tuesday.
Note 7 loyalist Sethi sees the whole thing as a creation of the media. “The whole ‘flamegate’ fiasco has been hyped,” he said. “I don’t believe there is anything wrong with the replacement handsets. I think people decided to capitalize in the whole media hype and Samsung has simply cut the cord to save themselves from embarrassment.”
Likewise, Hampton believes the real risk is nowhere near what the media would have you believe. “Because this story can be spun to make people who are keeping their phones sound stupid or fanatical, I’m looking at real risk and real benefit. If the phone was getting hot while charging, I would of course return it.”
But some of the exploding Galaxy Note 7 smartphones weren’t charging when the problem happened, like this incident in Lexington, Kentucky, when the phone began spewing acrid green smoke, causing the owner to be hospitalized with acute bronchitis.
Then there was the time a Galaxy Note 7 was powered down and stowed on a Southwest Airlines flight but still managed to spontaneously combust, causing the flight to be evacuated. That model was one of the “safe” replacement Note 7s.
For Hampton, the flight ban means he’ll have to buy a replacement phone just for his upcoming trips to Washington and New York, but he still won’t give up his Note 7. “Right now it’s clear that my phone doesn’t have the defect that has affected other people, and while I understand the reasons for the full-scale recall and the flight ban, it’s more convenient for me to keep my phone.”
Wilkers, who lists the iris scanner and waterproof features as the reasons he loves his Galaxy Note 7, says he isn’t keen to replace his phone. “There isn’t a phone out right now that is worthy of me rushing to Best Buy to give my Note 7 back.”
Samsung is expected to push an update to the phone’s software to limit battery charging to 60 percent, a “fix” it implemented when the first fires were reported. Samsung also has the nuclear option: to actually disable the phones for good. The company declined to comment on either option.
So even though it’s now illegal to sell a Galaxy Note 7 in the U.S., it seems some of its biggest fans won’t be swayed. Said Sethi: “There really is no comparable device out there.”