More Problems for Samsung

May 26th, 2017

I rather expect this column won’t get near the attention if would receive had I titled it, “More Problems for Apple.” But a lot of that is just fake news, and I’m not interested. I strive to make genuine criticisms of Apple, and there are plenty of things to talk about.

This time, however, Samsung has a lot of explaining to do — once again.

First, there are those flawed security systems for the Galaxy S8 smartphone. It has three different biometric schemes to secure the handset, which is supposed to be a good thing. But that’s true only if they work properly.

So before the Galaxy S8 even went on sale, legitimate questions were raised about the placement of its fingerprint sensor, in the rear. It was so easy to accidentally touch the camera lens instead, you might want to have a tissue handy in case you want to clean it. I’m not at all sure how robust it is, but I’ll assume it otherwise functions properly.

There are two other security sensors, and there appear to be serious flaws with both. During the Galaxy S8 launch event, for example, someone was able to defeat facial recognition with a photo of the user’s face. Does anyone watch TV? Surely the people at Samsung understand the tricks law enforcement people and spies use to break into a locked device.

So much for facial recognition.

What’s left is the iris scanner, which had some known limitations. So it is less accurate in bright sunlight, or when it’s dark. Traditionally iris recognition is also less accurate for someone who wears glasses; I’m not sure about contact lenses.

Worse, it’s clearly worthless even under the best conditions. According to published reports, some hackers who work with Europe’s Chaos Computer Club managed to make easy work of defeating the Galaxy S8’s iris recognition feature. They used a digital camera, a Samsung color laser printer (to add insult to injury) and a contact lens. The process involved taking a picture of the user’s face, making a printout of it, and placing the contact lens over the iris shown in the photo.

Hold the picture and attached contact lens before the Galaxy S8, and it unlocks. Just like that!

It’s corporate spin time, and both Samsung and Princeton Identity, who builds the iris sensor, claim the feature provides “airtight security.” But not if you can unlock the phone with a photo and a contact lens evidently. I won’t bother with the rest of the statement, since these uncomfortable facts speak for themselves.

Let’s add this up now. The fingerprint sensor is awkward to use, the facial recognition feature and the iris recognition features are easily defeated with user photos, so what’s left? A passcode I suppose. To make matters worse, the techniques used to hack the Galaxy S8 don’t seem terribly difficult to do. Didn’t Samsung perform any testing to make sure the security features were — well — secure? Maybe the Q&A testing is being done by the same people who tested the batteries on the Galaxy Note 7.

Speaking of batteries, I’m beginning to wonder whether Samsung smartphones should be declared as dangerous to your health. There’s a published report over at AppleInsider from Daniel Eran Dilger that tells of a series of lawsuits against Samsung that claim battery failures, overheating and fires on a series of flagship smartphones, including the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, S6 Active, S7, S7 Edge, S7 Active and Note 5. There was no Note 6.

So far it appears that only a small number of lawsuits have been filed, so it’s not at all certain if these episodes are outliers, or indicate a trend. Obviously, it hasn’t been enough to convince the authorities in Washington, D.C. to order a recall. It’s also true that there is a small percentage of failures among all mobile gear equipped with lithium-ion batteries. But these lawsuits center on flagship — and thus the most expensive — Samsung smartphones. The problems run the usual range of overheating, smoking, and bursting into flame.

So did Samsung fix the Note 7 problem? Are later products safe? That’s not at all certain. Evidently there are also reports of battery overheating issues with the Galaxy S8. Again, it doesn’t seem as if there are enough to warrant special attention, and a fair amount of product is out there. According to Samsung, five million were sold during the first month. That’s supposed to be a good thing, although Apple manages to move far more iPhones in a launch single weekend.

And one more thing: It appears that the Galaxy S8’s highly-acclaimed AMOLED display has a flaw, involving a red tint that’s been observed on some units. The fix evidently requires some sort of self-calibration procedure to adjust the color balance. But Samsung is not admitting that there’s a quality control problem, even though requiring customers to manually adjust their displays seems a little much, don’t you think?

This is not a matter of someone favoring Android or iOS. It’s a matter of shipping products with serious defects. Samsung doesn’t seem to care, but I hope customers will care enough to choose a different brand.

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3 Responses to “More Problems for Samsung”

  1. C. Howitt Fielz says:

    Those few flaws in Samsung’s products aren’t going to hurt their smartphone sales in any significant amount. Most of that can be hidden through marketing and price cuts. Price cuts are the quickest way to cover up anything. Most consumers are only interested in getting something for less money even if it is slightly flawed. If a passcode is truly the best way to secure a Samsung smartphone then that’s good enough. Those other methods could just be considered icing on a cake.

    Wall Street has already proven that a product that is good enough is good enough for most consumers. A product doesn’t need to be perfect to have high sales. All those billions of Android smartphones prove companies don’t have to build perfect products to outsell even the highest quality smartphone on the planet. It all comes down to cost. Even cheaply built products can outsell good products as long as they cost less. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 is safe. The Galaxy S8 is more than good enough for most users and those few security flaws add up to nothing in the total scheme of things.

    You need to realize most consumers will happily settle for less if the price is right, so unfortunately, most customers don’t care enough to choose another brand that’s more expensive. The bottom line is the iPhone won’t gain any major sales boost due to some minor security flaws in the S8 and Wall Street won’t be applauding Apple for selling a highly secure iPhone. The smartphone industry all boils down to how many units a company can move and that’s it.

    • gene says:

      I understand the marketplace. The article was not about whether you should choose between Samsung or an iPhone. Read the last paragraph.


  2. Jaime says:

    Nice and fair reporting. I’m no fan of Samsung but they sure are greedy crooks who don’t care about quality and will just ship any cheap crap to try and outdo Apple.

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