Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!
Hi, everyone. I’m Leo Notenboom for askleo.com. This is my Samsung Galaxy Note 7. You may have heard of this phone in recent months. It apparently has a, I’ll call it a flaw, where it actually has a higher than average chance of bursting into flames. That’s, clearly, not a good thing. So much so, that not only has the phone been recalled, it’s been completely discontinued, and in the United States and now some other countries, it’s actually been banned from aircraft so you’re not actually allowed to even take the phone with you when you travel via a United States airline.
That includes checked baggage, on the plane, on or off, it doesn’t matter, you’re not allowed to take the phone with you. Fortunately, my travel is done for the year. I’m staying home for the rest of the year so I don’t have an immediate need. Here’s the issue: The Note 7 is the best phone I’ve ever had; It really is. It’s fast; it’s powerful. A couple of years ago I decided to go, more or less, all in on my mobile phone technology so I do a lot of things on my phone.
Given that this is the best phone, I’m reluctant to trade it in, because, as of today, as of the day I record this, every trade-is essentially a downgrade. They are not replacing the phone with the same model; they tried that, and they continued to burst into flames. So, everything being a downgrade, I’m gonna stick with this phone for a while longer.
I have two criteria that will cause me to trade in the phone for a replacement model, and I’ll get to those in a minute, but I want to explain a little bit about why I’m not afraid of the phone, and in fact, why the phone still sits next to me on the nightstand charging overnight; why it stays in my pocket?
Someone did the math. Given the number of phones that have been shipped, and given the number of reported incidents of the phone actually bursting into flames, they did the math. It’s this percentage of possibility; this is the risk in just holding this phone in my hand; there’s a certain amount of risk that at some point it could burst into flames.
The thing is the math that he did showed that you’re actually at greater risk of greater harm driving to the local phone store to replace the phone than you are actually continuing to keep the phone. Now, to be honest, I don’t have the numbers. When I read the article, the numbers made sense at a cognitive level but obviously I didn’t do the research to actually regenerate those numbers with the same base of assumptions.
But my feeling has always been that given that there are something like a couple million of these phones out there and the number of phones that have basically caught on fire, is in double digits at best, then yeah, it’s one in a million; one in a hundred thousand – something like that. Those kind of odds don’t frighten me. Now, the issue, of course, is that when it gets to things like press, well of course, phones burst into flames, it’s a wonderful news story so, of course, you’ve all heard about it.
That’s what sells news. It’s not a reflection necessarily of the practical reality of the safety of continuing to use the phone; it’s a reflection of what kind of headlines will make news. Similarly, banning the phone on aircraft, actually has some basis in rational thought, and that is simply that the cost of failure is very high. If the phone catches on fire on an aircraft in the air and it’s not properly taken care of, whatever that mean in mid-air, then you’ve put that flight, the entire flight at risk.
At worst, you know, obviously catastrophic failure, but even at best you know that the flight is going to have to land immediately, cut their flight short, inconvenience a lot of people, cost the airline a lot of money, it just makes sense, then, that they would proactively take the step of nope, we’re not going to take that risk because the cost of failure is so high for us, you can’t bring that phone one the plane. I get that.
The other one of just discontinuing the phone completely, recalling the phone, that makes sense to me too. Again, it’s got a higher than average number of failures that, you know, phones catch on fire. For legal reasons, not even necessary safety reasons, but for legal reasons, Samsung basically has to recall the thing and ultimately they have to discontinue it. Again, not because the phone is so horrifically unsafe, but because if someone does get injured, then Samsung is facing lawsuits. In fact, there’s already been talk of a Class Action lawsuit against Samsung for the failure of this phone.
What that lawsuit entails, I have no idea, once again, it’s a headline maker. I didn’t really go in-depth in the article, but it doesn’t surprise me in the least. People are always, it seems, ready to jump on the bandwagon to sue somebody when they think something has gone wrong. Had Samsung not voluntarily recalled the phone; had Samsung not voluntarily discontinued production of this phone, then the chances of them losing that lawsuit, again, the cost of failure, are way higher and the cost incurred when losing that lawsuit would, again, also be way higher.
By discontinuing, by recalling, they’re showing at least a “good faith” effort to make sure that people who have the phone are safe or as safe as they can be, and therefore, this shows good faith when it gets into the court. Fine. I’m not about courts; I’m not flying anytime soon and I do understand a little bit about statistics and odds. I’m not worried. I’m keeping this phone for a while.
So, what’s a while? Well, a while, there are exactly two scenarios where I plan to exchange this phone for a replacement. Scenario number one is when something equivalent or better comes along. Now, the good news is that Google’s Pixel XL looks really promising. Again, as I tape this, it’s a month a way from my hands, so I’m not going to be able to see it or hold it in my hands to make a final decision for a while. So, that’s a while; that’s how long I’m holding on to this phone. And yes, there’s another scenario where I might end up exchanging this phone early. And that is against all odds, if it does in fact, burst into flames, then by definition, I’ll have to replace it and that’s fine.
But I don’t think that’s going to happen. There’s a one in a hundred thousand chance that it will happen to me; to this phone specifically. And that’s fine. Those are odds I can live with because those are odds I accept every day when I get into the car or when I do all sorts of other activities that we take for granted. So, don’t let the headlines distract you from practical thinking.
From understanding what’s the real risk; are things really as risky as the headlines would have you believe? Nine times out of ten they’re not. Are they something to pay attention to? Absolutely! I will replace this phone at some point, but are they things that should really cause you to panic? Rarely.
And that’s where I’m at with my phone. My Note 7 is going to be with me for a while longer. We’ll see, and of course, if it does burst into flames, I’ll do my very best to take some pictures, share them on my Facebook and Ask Leo!.
So, what do you think about this all? What do you think about basically the news about technology bursting into flames? Has it been overblown? Am I nuts? Should I actually drop this thing immediately? I don’t think so. What do you think? Let me know. As always, the discussions, the comments that get read and moderated are out on askleo.com. Here’s a link to that page where this video is hosted. As always, I’d love to hear what you think. Until next time, I’m Leo Notenboom, phone in hand. Remember, have fun, stay safe and don’t forget to back up. Take care, everyone.
Was that video interesting? Helpful even? Well, then I could use your help. I’ve got a Patreon project underway. You’ve got an opportunity to contribute and help support askleo.com to help me do what I do: help more people, answer more questions, produce more information about technology that, hopefully, can help you and others use it more effectively and with more confidence. Visit patreon.com to learn more. Among other things, you get rewards depending on the level of your patronage so check out patreon.com/askleo to learn more and help contribute to askleo.com. Thanks.
Before half a dozen people post it in a comment, let me be the first: Samsung Note 7 recall deniers – a comic by The Joy of Tech. It’s almost like they watched my video. :-)
I’m a little taken aback by the controversy my opinion has evoked in the comments. I’m also more than a little discouraged by some of the animosity. Clearly I wasn’t clear about my purpose in sharing my opinions and plans.
Don’t know if this will fix things or make them worse.
First, if you own a Note 7, I’m not making a recommendation as to what you should or should not do. I’m describing my plans and my rationale behind my plans. Make your own decision based on your own research and levels of concern.
I have three reasons for sharing my story, and they have little to do with the phone itself. I use the phone as a convenient example of how issues like this are often treated. I believe I mentioned these in the video, but to be clear:
The internet loves to hype and over-sensationalize issues for more page views, clicks, shares and likes. It’s my opinion that this is part of what’s driving the extensive coverage of the Note 7 situation; it generates page views. (Some will probably claim that I’m riding on that coattail, which to me is just support for this opinion.)
Companies, out of necessity, must take extremely conservative positions to avoid litigation and bad press, even if those positions aren’t completely supported by the data. It’s my opinion that this is part of the reason that Samsung has taken the extraordinary step of recalling all phones and halting all production on this model; fear of lawsuits (or of not being able to show proper intent in the lawsuits that will inevitably happen anyway).
We all accept risk every day in all manner of ways to which we don’t give a second thought. In my opinion, my risk of continuing to use my Note 7 is less than other choices I regularly make every day without concern.
Yes, my phone could catch fire. That’s actually true for any phone or laptop using current battery technology. The only difference is risk, both actual and perceived. (PC Pitstop, for example, has reported on exploding LIon batteries.)
Bottom line is that I feel that the probability of something actually happening to my specific phone in the time before I trade it in is very small. Smaller than news reports and press would make it seem. Smaller than many risks I take for granted every single day. I’m not saying there’s no risk, and I did state that I plan to exchange the phone, I just don’t feel that the risk is so high that I need to power down immediately and step away from the phone in fear.
Your mileage, as they say, may vary. You may feel differently. Fantastic. Do what’s right for you.
And as a side note, if news reports are true that Samsung plans to cripple the charging capacity of the device in the next few days (in my opinion likely due to point #2 above), I may be forced to make my swap sooner than planned, and for less of a phone than I had planned on waiting for. Oh well.
I’m now the happy owner of a Google Pixel XL. As I mentioned in the video I wasn’t planning on keeping the Note forever … just until I found a suitable (to me) alternative. The Pixel XL fit the bill, and after using for several weeks now I’m quite satisfied. My Note 7 has been returned (in what turned out to be quite elaborate protective packaging).