US safety regulators have announced a formal recall of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 smartphone after a spate of fires led to injuries and property damage.
Samsung had already initiated a voluntary recall but the US consumer product safety commission chairman, Elliot Kaye, strongly criticised Samsung for not co-ordinating with his agency. “As a general matter it’s not a recipe for a successful recall for a company to go out on its own,” he said, adding that anyone who believes a unilateral effort would be sufficient “needs to have more than their phone checked”.
Kaye urged all consumers “to take advantage of this recall right away” because “this product presents such a serious fire hazard.”
Samsung has said the problem involves 2.5m smartphones worldwide; authorities say that includes 1m in the US. While the company was previously offering to replace the phones, it will now offer consumers the choice of a replacement or a full refund.
The recall comes as Samsung is locked in a fierce battle with Apple for the attentions of high-end smartphone buyers. Apple just introduced the latest versions of its iPhone.
Samsung had beaten Apple to the market with the Note 7 by several weeks. It was drawing favourable reviews for the phone, which started at $850 in the US, before consumers began reporting problems with the battery overheating, sometimes causing fires or explosions.
One family in St Petersburg, Florida, said a Galaxy Note 7 left charging in their Jeep had caught fire, destroying the vehicle.
Samsung has received 92 reports of the batteries overheating in the US, including 26 reports of burns and 55 of property damage, according to the US commission’s website. It said property damage included fires in cars and a garage.
Meanwhile, US aviation safety officials have taken the unusual step of warning airline passengers not to turn on or charge the phone during flights, and not to put them in checked bags.
A top Samsung executive in the United States on Thursday apologised to customers and pledged to expedite the recall.
“We did not meet the standard of excellence that you expect and deserve,” said Tim Baxter, president of Samsung Electronics America, in a video released by the company.
Critics say Samsung didn’t follow commission rules that call for companies to co-ordinate the handling of recalls with the commission, including the use of joint public announcements, although Baxter said Thursday that his company notified the commission before it announced it would stop selling the Note 7 on 2 September.
Samsung announced then that it would replace any Note 7 phones it had sold, with replacements available within a week. But its press releases didn’t tell consumers to stop using the device.
A week later, the company and the commission issued separate statements that urged consumers to stop using the Note 7. At that point, Samsung said it would offer replacement Note 7 devices once the commission had approved them.
Samsung’s statements left many customers confused, said Tuong Nguyen, a tech industry analyst with Gartner, “and that might have an impact on overall consumer confidence, especially since we’re talking about a high-end device, their flagship phone”.
People who bought the phone did so to get the best possible quality and service, he said, adding that the handling of the recall “kind of seems like a strike on both counts.”
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