Samsung’s Note 7 Is Circling the Drain

With wireless carriers pulling the plug on sales of replacement units, questions now turn to what’s next for Samsung.

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Oct 10 2016, 3:30pm

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7. Image: Shutterstock

This is what a disaster looks like.

Three of the four largest wireless carriers in the US have confirmed that they are temporarily halting sales of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 following a string of recent reports suggesting that replacement devices are overheating and catching fire. The carriers, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless, are not expected to sell the smartphone again until Samsung concludes an investigation into these latest reports.

How did we get here? Critics praised the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 when it was released in August, with a handful outright calling it the best Android smartphone ever. Shortly after its release, however, at least 35 devices (according to Samsung at the time) exploded or caught fire, leaving a trail of photos and videos of gnarled Note 7's posted to social media. Samsung recalled the device in all markets in early September (totaling some 2.5 million devices in all), saying it would fix the problem (believed to be related to a single battery supplier) and re-release the device when everything was sorted out.

This, however, is exactly the problem: the wireless carriers have pulled their support of the Note 7 because we're now getting reports that replacement devices are overheating and exploding, leading to speculation that Samsung will be forced into a second recall.

"At this point, Samsung should scrap the Note 7 altogether and move on," Jan Dawson, chief analyst at technology research firm Jackdaw Research, told Motherboard. "The longer this lingers on, the longer the brand impact will stick around too, and the harder it will be to move on from it."

For Samsung, the Note 7 disaster could hardly have come at a worse time. Apple's iPhone 7 launched to strong reviews, with particular praise for the dual-camera setup in the larger iPhone 7 Plus, and remains difficult to find in stores one month after its release (I feel like I've been constantly refreshing Apple's website to buy a 128GB iPhone 7 Plus for the past two weeks). LG's V20, which similarly targets the high-end Android market, should reach stores by the end of October, with pre-production models demoed for the press last month showing promise. And of course, Google itself is getting into the high-end Android smartphone game with its Pixel line—backed by a large ad campaign and prominent placement right on Verizon Wireless' homepage:

The Verizon Wireless homepage on Oct. 10. Screenshot: Nicholas Deleon/Motherboard

As for what comes next—the outlook is not so good. Android enthusiast blogs are now openly telling their readers to avoid the Note 7, while the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Samsung will temporarily halt production of the device altogether while it investigates, again, what could still be causing the smartphone to overheat and explode, calling "into question Samsung's whole product testing methodology and its scrutiny of its suppliers," said Dawson.

"To paraphrase Oscar Wilde," added Dawson, "to lose one version of a product to a battery issue may be considered misfortune; to lose two begins to look like carelessness."

Update: Monday, October 10 at 6:48 pm ET: The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has instructed all Galaxy Note 7 owners to power off their devices and stop using them, according to a statement given to USA Today.

Update: Monday, October 10 at 1pm ET: Sprint now tells Motherboard that it, too, is halting sales of the replacement Note 7 pending an investigations from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission and Samsung. Sprint customers can exchange their Note 7 for any other device it carries.

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