Samsung Recalls Galaxy Note 7 Over Exploding, Burning Batteries

Sep 2, 2016

Samsung Electronics is recalling its brand-new smartphone, the Galaxy Note 7, after dozens of users reported the devices exploded or caught fire.

Samsung traced the problem to a flaw in the phone's lithium battery, and issued a voluntary global recall.

Samsung is offering to replace all 1 million devices already in the hands of consumers in 10 countries, and it's recalling the shipments of the Galaxy Note 7 that have already gone out.

One country isn't included in the recall — China. The AP reports that, according to Samsung, the Galaxy Note 7s sold in China used a different battery that wasn't affected by the flaw.

"The recall, the first for the new smartphone, comes at a crucial moment in Samsung's mobile business," the AP reports. "Apple is scheduled 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."

The Galaxy Note 7 has a large screen — some call it a "phablet," part phone, part tablet — and is waterproof. Samsung hopes to resume sales once the battery problems are worked out.

Koh Dong-jin, president of Samsung's mobile division, told reporters the problem that caused the faulty batteries was difficult to identify in quality control.

The recall "will cost us so much, it makes my heart ache," he said, according to the AP. "Nevertheless, the reason we made this decision is because what is most important is customer safety."

Samsung says it knows of at least 35 instances of exploding or burning batteries. No injuries have been reported, the AP says.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Samsung has announced a global recall for its latest smartphone, the Galaxy Note 7. The Korean phone giant concluded that was smarter than waiting for more of them to catch fire. NPR's Elise Hu is covering this story in Seoul. Elise, remind us. What is the Galaxy Note 7?

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Well, this is a large-screen device known as a phablet, since it's big enough to be closer to the size of a tablet.

INSKEEP: But also a phone, so phablet - OK, I get it. And what happens to it?

HU: Well, the battery of some of these devices is catching fire in some instances. Samsung says it knows of at least 35 cases of fires of the 1 million Galaxy Note 7s that it has sold. Samsung has shipped about 2.5 million of these devices to 10 countries now.

So all shipments and unsold products are getting recalled except for those in China, notably, because the battery supplier for those Galaxy Notes was different. And customers who already have these devices in hand can take them in for a replacement in all 10 countries where they have been sold.

INSKEEP: All 10 countries - does that include the United States?

HU: Yes, it does, of course.

INSKEEP: How big a deal is the Note 7 to Samsung?

HU: It is a big deal. There's no figures yet on how much this particular recall is going to cost. But there was a hastily arranged press conference here in Seoul this afternoon. And a Samsung executive said the loss is, quote, "big enough to make my heart ache."

This is also a symbolic loss for Samsung because it's competing globally in mobile devices. And it had really put its hopes on this Galaxy line to drive the recovery of its mobile business. As we've talked about on MORNING EDITION, of course, Samsung has really been struggling with phones on the high end against Apple, which is coming out with its next generation phones next week.

And then it's been struggling on the low end against Chinese phone makers like Xiaomi. And so this flagship Galaxy line was really supposed to help the company's bottom line.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Elise. Is Samsung sure they know why the phones are catching fire? Because you do hear these recalls where they end up having to recall the recall 'cause they hadn't really fixed the problem.

HU: They are reasonably confident that the battery is the problem. And that's why the sales are going to continue in China - because the battery supplier seems to be at issue here. These explosions or fires have been happening to phones that have been plugged in while charging in most cases.

INSKEEP: NPR's Elise Hu is in Seoul. Thanks very much.

HU: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.