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Samsung’s flame shame as engineers baffled by new Note 7 fires

Samsung remains in the dark about why Galaxy Note 7 smartphones are still exploding, apparently.

Engineers at the South Korean tech giant have been unable to replicate the Galaxy Note 7’s spontaneous combustion, a problem that has been reported by users who own both the pre-recall and post-recall version of the handset. Worse still, the engineers don’t even know what’s causing the problem, according to a new report by the New York Times.

Samsung announced a global recall of the Galaxy Note 7 on September 2, after an internal investigation uncovered a serious battery flaw that was causing some users’ handsets to randomly catch fire and, in some cases, melt or explode. But even users with replaced versions of the handset, which were assumed to have been fixed, still experienced problems.

The NYT spoke to Park Chul-wan, the former director of the Centre for Advanced Batteries at the Korea Electronics Technology Institute, who says that he spoke to Samsung engineers, and came away with the impression that no one knows why the phones are exploding. He also added that Samsung is unable to replicate the problem, which is causing major headaches for the firm’s engineers.

“The problem seems to be far more complex,” explained Park. “The Note 7 had more features and was more complex than any other phone manufactured. In a race to surpass iPhone, Samsung seems to have packed it with so much innovation it became uncontrollable.”

Related: Best Note 7 Alternatives

Samsung initially believed the problem lay with its own batteries, built by the company’s Samsung SDI battery division. According to the original documents supplied to South Korea’s technology regulator, the battery was squeezed into too small a space, which meant that the poles could connect, short circuit, and generate excess heat. Other defects were noted to affect the battery’s insulating tape and electrode coating.

Galaxy Note 7

But after having decided that the batteries built by third-party firm ATL were fine, Samsung quickly realised that user complaints were still rolling in. According to the NYT, progress on identifying other causes of overheating has been slow:

“It did not help that the hundreds of Samsung testers trying to pinpoint the problem could not easily communicate with one another,” writes the NYT. “Fearing lawsuits and subpoenas, Samsung told employees involved in the testing to keep communications about the tests offline – meaning no emails were allowed.”

A new report from the Financial Times says the latest thinking is that a defect with the Note 7’s fast-charging may to be blame, and cites a source who spoke with Samsung executives. The source is quoted as saying: “If you try to charge the battery too quickly, it can make it more volatile. If you push an engine too hard, it will explode. Something had to give. These devices are miracles of technology – how much we can get out of that tiny piece of lithium-ion.”

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In comment provided to TrustedReviews, Professor Will Stewart, VP of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, said: “The energy a phone needs to carry is still considerable, and thus the potential exists for a fire if this energy is released in an uncontrolled way.”

He added: “Batteries will improve in various respects…but as long as the energy is there, the potential hazard is there too.”

However, it’s worth noting that many phones feature fast-charging technology, including other ‘safe’ Samsung handsets, like the critically acclaimed Galaxy S7.

samsung galaxy note 7

Samsung has already vowed to stop manufacturing and selling the Galaxy Note 7, and is asking users to turn off their phones. Here’s a statement from the company, released yesterday:

“We are working with relevant regulatory bodies to investigate the recently reported cases involving the Galaxy Note 7. Because consumers’ safety remains our top priority, Samsung will ask all carrier and retail partners globally to stop sales and exchanges of the Galaxy Note 7 while the investigation is taking place.”

It continued: “We remain committed to working diligently with appropriate regulatory authorities to take all necessary steps to resolve the situation. Consumers with either an original Galaxy Note 7 or replacement Galaxy Note 7 device should power down and stop using the device and take advantage of the remedies available.”

But calls for Samsung to abandoned the Note brand entirely are already rolling in, thanks to the potentially irreparable damage caused to the phone’s reputation. Speaking to the Korea Herald, analyst Kim Duk-jin, of the Korea Insight Institute, said: “Samsung is recommended to drop the Note brand as consumers may still find it dangerous even when the new Noe 8 comes out.”

Customers are now looking towards next year’s release of the Galaxy S8, which is rumoured to debut on February 26, one day before Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress technology tradeshow begins. We’ve already seen a number of reports suggesting that the phone’s release date has been brought forward to recoup some of the losses created by the Galaxy Note 7 fire fiasco, although Samsung hasn’t confirmed any such plans.

We’ve asked Samsung for comment on why replaced Note 7 phones still appear to be overheating, and will update this article with any response.

Related: iPhone 8

Watch: Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review (pre-recall)

What do you think of the fiery Note 7 fiasco? Let us know in the comments.

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