Samsung Galaxy Note 7: Are faulty batteries really to blame for this whole fiasco?

The mysterious case of the exploding Galaxy Note 7 devices is yet to be fully resolved, but that doesn’t stop us from taking a shot at a solution ourselves. If you’re so inclined, here are the facts and pointers that you need to pass judgement on the situation.

The case of the explosive Note 7

The short version of the whole story is as follows:

  • Samsung sold 3.5 million Galaxy Note 7 smartphones.
  • 35 Note 7 phones explode over a period of 3 weeks.
  • Samsung issues a worldwide recall of 2.5 million phones, excludes China from recall.
  • Battery maker Samsung SDI is blamed for the explosion as Samsung alleges manufacturing defects.
  • Samsung claims Chinese battery maker ATL is safe, points to 1 million perfectly functional Chinese Note 7 phones as proof.
  • China’s ATL is now the primary supplier of Galaxy Note 7 batteries.
  • Replacement Note 7 phones with ATL batteries start to spontaneously combust.
  • Samsung kills the Note 7.

If you want a detailed timeline of the whole Note 7 fiasco, head here.

Pointing fingers

Image: Hui Renjie

Image: Hui Renjie

Samsung conducted an investigation and concluded that Samsung SDI, a Samsung affiliate that made 65 percent of the batteries used in the Note 7, was at fault. Samsung SDI made batteries for all Note 7 phones sold outside China. Note 7 devices sold in China used batteries made by Amperex Technologies Limited (ATL).

Samsung claimed that there was a problem with the SDI batteries’ manufacturing process, which resulted in the batteries shorting and exploding under certain situations.

Denial

Samsung SDI vehemently denies Samsung’s allegations.

To put things in perspective, Samsung SDI is a global battery giant with a 7 percent share of the Lithium battery market (not limited to mobile phones). The company has received numerous accolades for the quality of their products.

Apple used Samsung SDI batteries in their iPads and MacBooks until 2012, before switching to Japan-based TDK (TDK is ATL’s parent company). Tesla’s powerwall will also reportedly use SDI batteries.

Image: nawazsagri, imgur

Image: nawazsagri, imgur

Samsung has also used SDI batteries in the past. Both, the Galaxy S6 and the Note 5, use SDI made batteries and neither Apple nor Samsung have had issues with exploding phones before the Note 7. At least, phones that didn’t explode with such regularity anyway. SDI batteries have also been used in a number of other phones, including in the Xiaomi Mi 4 series.

On a side note, some of Xiaomi’s current phones (including the Mi 5 and Mi Note) appear to be using batteries made by LG, though we expect that Xiaomi phones in China are using locally sourced batteries.

Safe or unsafe?

A burnt Samsung Galaxy Note 7 in an aircraft

A burnt Samsung Galaxy Note 7 in an aircraft

Whether Samsung left SDI to take the fall is debatable, but what is known for certain is that Samsung claimed that ATL batteries were safe. A million Chinese customers were safely using the batteries, after all.

Samsung recalled Note 7 phones with SDI batteries and replaced them with ‘safe’ ATL batteries. Soon after, Note 7 phones with ATL batteries started exploding. If Samsung’s certified batteries were indeed safe, does that mean that Samsung is to blame for faulty design?

Rumour mongering

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The internet can’t sit still when there’s a controversy afoot and there are as many theories out there as there are exploding Note 7s.

The most prevalent rumour suggests that Samsung messed up when designing the Note 7. The rumour states that the Note 7’s tolerances were very low, leaving little wiggle room for the battery’s expansion under stress.

Lithium-ion batteries and pressure are indeed a dangerous combination. The result? Exploding Note 7s. These rumours also claim that the SDI batteries were slightly larger than the ATL ones, apparently lending credence to the story.

The Wall Street Journal approached professionals for their take on the matter. Said detectives, professors and analysts with advanced degrees in physics, chemistry and engineering, felt that the problem lay elsewhere.

The WSJ report quotes these professors as saying that rushed production could have introduced errors in the manufacturing process. They also suggest that a smaller component like a voltage regulator or faulty charger could be at fault for the explosions.

Interestingly, some folk on the XDA-forums claim that their replacement Note 7 phones are still using the “dangerous” SDI batteries and not the ATL ones.

So who really is responsible for this disaster? Was Samsung irresponsible or was this just a case of astronomically bad luck?


Published Date: Oct 11, 2016 05:38 pm | Updated Date: Oct 11, 2016 05:38 pm