The Brief, Sulfurous Life of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 passed away yesterday, at the age of 53 days. Born August 19, 2016, the Note 7 was brought into the world perhaps prematurely but with the potential for it to be a world-beater. But while its brief time on this earth began with nothing but acclaim, it ended with evacuated airline flights and a South Korean Burger King employee’s using oven mitts to dispose of a burning Note 7.

The product of the leading Android manufacturer, the Note 7‘s early days were marked by glowing reviews. Journalists marveled at how it managed to have a larger, sharper, and richer display than the iPhone 6s Plus, while weighing less and being easier to hold. It was a big phone that didn’t feel big. Features like its built-in retina scanner, its water resistance, and its rear-facing dual cameras made its specs impressive, but for those who got to hold and spend time with the phone, it was the simplicity of its design, the striking beauty of its curved screen, and how comfortably the phone sat in your hand that was truly remarkable. And the phone packed a 3,500 mAH battery — enough to allow it to go without a charge even while being used constantly for 36 hours.

It was this battery that would be its downfall. Within days of its release on August 19, reports began appearing that Note 7s were exploding, its lithium-ion battery suffering some sort of failure that caused it to release all its stored energy at once, sending the phone up in flame. While it will likely take months before the true cause of the defect becomes known, it seems that something was causing negative and positive sides of the battery to come into direct contact with each other when the phone was charged past a certain point, creating an immediate discharge of energy great enough to cause the phone to have a meltdown. This theory may have been confirmed when Samsung released a software patch that prevented the Note 7 from charging past 60 percent.

Shipments were delayed as Samsung hoped to track down the source of the problem, but the phone was already out in the wild. The stories quickly multiplied, with stories of Note 7s scorching beds, cars, and houses. Samsung’s initial recall effort was scattered, with most owners somewhat confused about how and where to exchange their phones, and the Note 7 was briefly taken off retail shelves. But by September 21, retail stores were allowing any owner to come in and exchange their phone for a replacement, and retail sales were back underway. After more than 100 phones suffered from the catastrophic battery failure, the replacement Note 7s would at least be on sale again, and still be arguably the best Android phablets available.

Then, the ostensibly fixed replacement phones started going up in flames as well. With news that a smoking replacement phone forced passengers to evacuate a Southwest Airlines flight last week, it was clear Samsung still had a problem on its hands, though it was still possible it was an isolated case — smartphones from every brand have the potential to catch on fire, thanks to the inherent risk of of lithium-ion batteries. But by Monday, there were at least eight confirmed fires started by replacement Note 7s, and Samsung made the nearly unprecedented decision to pull the phone entirely from the market, killing off the Note 7 line less than two months after it launched.

The Note 7 was a gambit by Samsung, a phone that would have cemented Samsung’s spot as the top manufacturer of the premium Android smartphones. There was even hope that the Note 7 would siphon away iPhone owners dissatisfied with an iPhone 7 update that saw the Apple’s phone not gaining much in new features and losing the 3.5-millimeter headphone jack. Instead, analysts are predicting the phone will end up costing Samsung $17 billion — and a charred reputation waiting when (or maybe if) a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is released.

The Note 7 is survived by the Apple iPhone 7 Plus and the upcoming Google Pixel XL smartphone. In lieu of flowers, Samsung asks that all Note 7 owners power down their phones, exchange them at stores, and never use them again.