As replacement Note7s catch fire, we're nearing a permanent suspension of our Note7 recommendation

Four ostensibly safe Note7 phones have gone up in flames, begging the question, Is it time to ditch the Note7 entirely and wait for Note8?

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Credit: Florence Ion

On August 24, we named the Samsung Galaxy Note7 the best phablet available—this based on our glowing August 16 review. Then Note7s starting catching on fire en masse, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued an official recall, prompting us to “temporarily suspend” our recommendation. Today, with four reported cases of ostensibly safe replacement phones catching fire in the U.S. in less than a week, Samsung’s Note7 problem looks all but unsalvageable. What’s more, as The Verge reports, AT&T has stopped exchanging original Note7s for replacement phones.

As a result of recent developments, we’re now considering a permanent suspension of our buy recommendation. It’s time for Samsung to act swiftly and transparently in sharing exactly what’s wrong with its phone, and provide reassuring evidence that its fire hazard has been fixed.

If you haven’t heard the latest: Last week an alleged replacement phone caught fire on a Southwest flight, prompting an evacuation on the runway in Louisville, KY. On October 8, we learned that a Farmington, MN teenager suffered a burn when an alleged replacement Note7 went up in flames in her hand. On the same day, a man in Nicholasville, KY reported that his alleged replacement Note7 caught fire on Tuesday. 

The latest ostensibly safe Note7 reportedly caught fire today: A man in Virginia contacted the Verge with photos of a Note7 that “burst into flames” on his nightstand. All four reports look perfectly reliable. Just watch the Note7 owner on the Southwest flight explain his Note7 journey.

andrew zuis note7 Andrew Zuis

Andrew Zuis holds up his daughter’s Note7, which allegedly caught fire in Farmington, MN.

Samsung says it’s investigating these incidents—and that’s critical because all Note7 owners deserve answers about what’s going on. But at Greenbot and PCWorld we need more than just cursory reassurances that the fire hazard has been fixed. Before we can ever again recommend the Note7, we need a clear, detailed explanation of exactly why the original batches of phones caught on fire; a clear, detailed explanation of why the replacement phones are catching on fire; and a clear, detailed explanation of how a third batch of phones—if Samsung decides to keep at this—has been engineered to not go up in flames.

Seeing is believing, Samsung. Show us your work. It’s one thing to tell us that the battery problem has been solved, but until we learn more about the core technology issues surrounding the battery conflagrations, we can’t recommend the Note7 to anyone. 

So far, the closest we’ve seen to a technical explanation came from Samsung mobile president Koh Dong-jin on Sept. 2. Referring to the original batch of phones, he said a “tiny error” in the manufacturing process went undetected. An article in The Asahi Shimbun reported, “The end of the pouch-shaped battery cell had some flaws that increased the chance of stress or overheating, [Koh Dong-jin] explained.”

I asked my Samsung contact if the company could expand on Koh Dong-jin’s statement, and received no further explanation. I’ve also asked: What exactly was wrong with the original battery? What exactly about the replacement battery fixes the hazard? Is it built to a different specification, or does it comes from a different source? What kind of testing and steps has Samsung taken to make sure that the new batteries are safe?

I haven’t received any answers.

Again, seeing is believing. So, Samsung, please show us your work. Without knowing exactly why Note7s continue to catch fire, it’s impossible to recommend the replacement phone, or any possible replacement of the replacement phone. As I shared with my Samsung contact a few weeks ago, we can learn a lot from Ford’s experience with exploding Pinto models in the 1978. Ford explained what was technically wrong with the Pinto’s fuel tank, and this helped restore confidence in later Ford vehicles. In other words: Exact problem found, exact problem fixed.

Until we know exactly what’s wrong with Samsung’s battery, a black storm cloud hovers above the Note7, making the phone completely untenable. So we await further details—or perhaps the Note8.

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