Are Samsung Smartphones Dangerous to Your Health?

October 6th, 2016

Consider the embarrassment. Samsung released the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone several weeks before Apple was expected to put the iPhone 7 on sale. With rumors that Apple’s new flagship handset might not be a very significant upgrade — something that turned out not to be true — I suppose Samsung was hoping to get a leg up with its new gadget.

So did Samsung’s mobile design team, pressured to deliver the product as soon as possible, cut corners in quality control? Is that why, shortly after it went on sale, reports emerged of overheating batteries that sometimes burst into flame? While I am not at all impressed with the way the media dealt with the issue — a similar problem with Apple would have made worldwide headlines for months — at least the story got out. On September 2nd, Samsung agreed to recall the device, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission also ordered a recall.

In late September, a supposed “fixed” version of the Galaxy Note 7 went on sale. Samsung had apologized appropriately, promising that the new version didn’t have the problem. Or at least that was the promise, but it may be that the South Korean consumer electronics powerhouse has a more persistent problem on its hands.

So there’s a published report that some 75 passengers aboard a Southwest Airlines flight about to take off from Louisville Airport were evacuated Wednesday. Why? Because of smoke from an alleged replacement Galaxy Note 7 that had overheated. It had been turned off before takeoff.

All passengers were safely evacuated and were evidently booked onto other flights. But I know if I had been on such a flight, if I had to go through the annoying process of finding a way to get to my destination without undue delay, and I learned it was Samsung’s fault, you can bet I’d have a lot to say about it. Yet another published report, from the Verge, indicated that this was definitely a replacement unit that sported the telltale green battery icon that, according to Samsung, was allegedly fixed and safe to use. As you might expect, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating this new episode.

I won’t bother to discuss the fact that this icon supposedly violates Google’s programming guidelines.

In any case, Samsung still has a serious problem. If the fixed phone is no more reliable than the one that was recalled, why should anyone ever buy a Samsung mobile handset? What guarantee is there that other gear doesn’t have the same defect? Sure, I realize Samsung has sold hundreds of millions of smartphones that functioned normally and did not exhibit dangerous defects. But it seems that the Galaxy Note 7 has cast a shadow, and Samsung would be best advised to discontinue it and put it out of its misery.

Perhaps Samsung also needs to put the guilty executives, designers and engineers on the carpet and make them not only explain what happened, but to work overtime to find a way to avoid such a disaster in the future.

If I were in the market for an Android smartphone, you can bet that Samsung would be at the bottom of the list. There are other makers that supposedly produce quality gear. Even though Samsung towers above them in sales, there’s nothing wrong with choosing an HTC or an LG or even a Motorola instead. I haven’t read loads of reports of their handsets overheating.

There are also those new smartphones officially named, “Pixel, Phone by Google,” which are arriving at Verizon Wireless later this month. It may not sport much in the way of state-of-the-art features, other than claims of advanced camera processing software and the promise of 24/7 chat and voice support, but it’s an alternative, particularly if you want a smartphone with a vanilla version of Android, supposedly free of junkware. One hopes Google wants to make a good impression with its new branding, so perhaps it’ll be a reliable product.

Then again, it’s not that Google has developed a reputation as a major manufacturer of mobile gear, so maybe it’s still best to look elsewhere, unless you want to enter a relatively exclusive club, and take the chance there won’t be loads of early-production bugs. Or perhaps wait till the products are reviewed and have been on sale for a while to see what sort of glitches might show up.

While I will probably consider a Pixel for review, I’m really not inclined to ever request another Samsung. In 2014, I had a pair of Galaxy smartphones on hand for several months to experience life without an iPhone. It was all right, I suppose, although it took lots of tweaking to make them run just right. Even then, I occasionally ran into glitches, such as erratic performance with some apps. There was also a persistent bug in Samsung’s email software that, though acknowledged, was never fixed. Perhaps it is fixed now, but I just don’t care.

The battery issues may not seriously impact any model but a Galaxy Note 7, although there are reports online of overheating issues with other Samsung handsets. But I have better things to do than to risk such a hazard, even if the chances of encountering trouble are extremely slim.

It’s not the loss of one reviewer that would matter to Samsung. It’s the loss of customer good will that’s not so easy to reclaim. Samsung should, at the very least, permanently halt sales of the Galaxy Note 7.

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3 Responses to “Are Samsung Smartphones Dangerous to Your Health?”

  1. Paula Thomas says:

    Perhaps a little harsh and tough on Samsung… An N of 1– so far– isn’t sufficient to throw the baby out with the bath water!

    However, when you also read about their exploding or discus-throwing washing machines, you may be right!

    But the Pixel?! Otherwise, known as the Privacy Vanishes phone! (Time for dinner or I’d come up with an acronym for pixel! “Privacy In eXile Everywhere Land”… Nah! Surely others can do better!)

    HTC or LG could make more sense, but we know the safest bet all around — battery and privacy — is the iPhone!

    Another great column!

  2. sforf says:

    the core issue is both quality control, but equally important fundamental and integrated engineering design (software driving hardware). steve jobs genius was his insistence that technically sophisticated products cannot have design (copycat), software integrated engineering (samsung supplier driven) and quality control (fragmented one size fits all such as android). we have reached a technical threshold that can’t tolerate samsung commodity style production. i predict all galaxy note 7 will be recalled and never replaced.

    • gene says:

      I think Samsung should also eliminate the Galaxy Note brand name. It is tarnished. They could pull a Microsoft and just rename the next model, and pretend it’s all-new.


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