Exploding Samsung Phone 'Too Thin' For Safety: Report

John Lister's picture

An independent report suggests the spate of Galaxy Note 7 phone explosions was caused by the design of the phone itself. Engineering analysts "Instrumental" say Samsung blundered in its attempts to make the phone as slim as possible.

After initial reports of the phones catching fire this year, Samsung appeared to believe a particular batch of faulty batteries was to blame and proceeded to recall the affected handsets. When phones that had been replaced in this way continued to explode, Samsung took the costly and embarrassing step of abandoning the handset entirely.

While Samsung is reportedly planning to release the results of its own investigation by the end of the year, Instrumental took apart a Note 7 to see if it could identify the specific problem - albeit in a safe lab situation and with a fire extinguisher on hand.

Battery Under Undue Pressure

Its staff concluded the phone was the victim of two separate issues combining with explosive consequences. The first was that the design of the phone was simply too thin, meaning the outer components put pressure on the battery.

This wasn't necessarily an attempt to make the phone as pocket-friendly as possible in order to appear to consumers; instead, the slimmer design was likely an attempt to increase the total number of handsets Samsung could manufacture on each production line. (Source: instrumental.ai)

That wouldn't necessarily have been a problem had it not been for the battery design. It was what Instrumental described as a "jelly roll" set up in which a positive layer of lithium cobalt oxide was separated from a negative layer of graphite by two very thin polymer layers soaked in electrolytes.

Squashed Battery Overheated

Because the battery was compressed by the tight fit in the phone, the positive and negative layers were able to touch despite this "cushion". This then refocused energy away from powering the phone and instead toward heating up the electrolyte, and in turn increasing the flow of energy and creating more heat. This led to a vicious cycle that concluded in the explosions.

According to Instrumental, there's a good chance that even if the phone itself hadn't been so thin, the battery might well have swelled over time, creating enough pressure to set off the vicious cycle. (Source: bgr.com)

What's Your Opinion?

Have manufacturers gone too far in trying to build ever-slimmer mobile devices? Does this report change your attitude towards the question of whether Samsung could or should have foreseen the problem? Can Samsung regain consumer trust?

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Dennis Faas's picture

In my opinion, the only phones worthy of having (which perform exceptionally well almost all of the time) are made by Samsung or Apple. Anything else - especially handsets made in China - usually deliver a sub-par experience.

My first handset was a Blu Studio 5.0C HD (made in China) and while it looked very beautiful and the cost was very reasonable, it suffered from a very wonky Wifi connection constantly. And, although it had a quad core processor, it lagged quite a bit. Eventually it suffered from a very strange battery issue where it would get to the 30% mark of the battery life and then start its down-spiral-of-death where it would lose 1% of battery life approximately every 5 seconds. To resolve the issue, I purchased 2 new batteries, but it made no difference. I even reset the phone (as the battery is logged on the phone which also affects how it is charged), but that made no difference. I used that phone - sparingly - for about 2 years before I decided it was time to move on.

In that time, I searched and searched for another phone that would be 'just as good' as a Samsung in specifications (I didn't want an iPhone) - but I always came across major shortfalls. I talked to my friends that owned a Samsung S5 and S6, and they were very pleased with the performance and battery life of these devices. I therefore decided my next phone would be a Samsung (having owned a Tab 4 tablet) and eventually purchased an S6 Edge. I have been extremely pleased with this phone - as with my Tablet - and the performance is literally rock solid. The battery life is also exceptional.

Would I purchase another Samsung even after this spate of negative press? Absolutely. I'm sure Samsung will learn from their mistakes. Also, I don't intend to purchase the 'latest and greatest' (newest) phone - I usually wait for the reviews to come out about 6 months to a year in order to see what the performance is like before I commit to purchase.

Those are my two cents.

dan400man's picture

I've owned three Samsung phones, an S4, a Grand Prime, and a factory refurb'd S5. I was very happy with the S4, had to switch from Verizon to Cricket, and I could no longer use the S4. Grand Prime was the freebie in the switch to Cricket, and I quickly learned that the G.P. couldn't keep up with the S4. I didn't have the budget to plunk $600 on an S6, so I found the S5, which was very disappointing in terms of picking up a signal. I found myself in a lot of dead zones, even though Cricket's (AT&T) coverage was thorough in this area. So, I finally settled on a new Moto X Pure Edition. Much better signal than the S5, and only $300.

The S5 may have been an anomaly (although I returned the first one and got a second one; it, too, had the same problem), but I believe Samsung will learn from the S7 debacle. If money were no object, I would have no problem going with Samsung again.