Samsung phones are Blowing Up - Here’s Why.
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I've been having a very strange problem. I've been collecting every single Samsung flagship since 2010. I was just about to make a video about all of them together until I noticed that my Galaxy Note 8 from 2017 had blown up. The battery had expanded so much that it's actually cracked the glass on the back and it literally split the phone in two. So I was just like, " Oh, for goodness sake, what are the chances"? Delayed the video and then ordered another one brand new, not quite realizing how huge this issue was about to become. 'Cause no joke, by the time that new one had arrived, I realized that two more of my Samsung phones had done the exact same thing.
A Galaxy S6 from 2015 and a Galaxy S10 from 2019. I'm not exactly sure if these had just blown in the last couple of weeks or if they'd actually blown before that and I just hadn't noticed. But the point is, three of my Samsung phones had just disintegrated and I needed to find out why. And it wasn't immediately obvious. The phones in question had been powered down. They hadn't been used heavily at all, literally just for a few weeks in the year of their release. And then a couple of times afterwards when I compared them to subsequent devices. And more importantly, it hadn't happened to any other brand.
This smartphone shelf that I use has given me the very unique opportunity to be able to store every single phone in the exact same environment with the exact same space constraints, the same clipping mechanism, the same temperature. And so I double, triple checked the other phones and every iPhone was working, every Asus phone was working, every Google phone was working.
The only conclusion that I could come to was that the UK had recently just had a heat wave at the time. Perhaps the room temperature got a little too high and the Samsung phones just happened to be a little more susceptible to changes in temperature. I put out a tweet to summarize my findings and I thought that would be the end of it, but it was actually about to get a whole lot worse. I mean, for starters, Samsung responded immediately. They sent me an email basically saying, Hey, we saw your tweet. We would like to collect the phones from you. To which I was basically like, Nah, I'm good. I'll figure it out myself. Mostly because I didn't want to get involved in some really long, drawn out process with lots of back and forth. And also I thought, I might want to investigate these phones myself. I should probably keep them. But then she pressed further, kind of saying, We take inquiries like these extremely seriously. We are going to collect those phones. All right, fine. Come and take them then. But I was also curious, will you be sending these back afterwards? Will you be replacing them? What's the protocol here? Which was basically ignored. She just said, The devices have reached Samsung Labs. We will let you know when we have an update. So I asked again, " Only to get, we will update you on your devices as soon as we have news". Okay, sure. Maybe I'm pushing too much.
I'll leave you to it. I thought, " Samsung takes this stuff extremely seriously". So even though I was a little miffed that all the phones are broken in the first place and that they'd then taken them off me with no promise of a repair or replacement, at least they're gonna have an update in like three days. They're gonna tell me exactly what happened, why it's not really a problem and that I was the one who'd been doing something wrong. I was kind of hoping that that's what would happen. This conversation occurred on August 1st. It's been over 50 days since the devices were collected and I haven't had a single follow-up. And so this whole time, it's just been sitting in the back of my mind. Should I make a video about it or is the entire thing my fault?
This is Channel
The idea lay dormant for a long time until a week ago when I was casually browsing Twitter and came across this. This is Matt, host of the " This Is" channel with Austin Evans, saying that within their collection of phones, they have noticed the exact same thing, but even worse. He's gone as far as to say that every three-plus-year-old Samsung device we've had in storage has had their batteries expand like this. And I mean every single phone. I followed up with him about it afterwards and in no uncertain terms, he said, " Every model that we've had pre-Galaxy S20, all the way back to the Galaxy S4, and even including phones that were stored in their original box". And again, all of our other brand phones are stored in the same place and none of them expanded. This is when the ball dropped. This is where it gets serious.
This is where it gets serious
I literally legged it back upstairs to check the rest of my phones. Just didn't see my face when I found out that as well as the three casualties we'd already had, that my Galaxy S8 had blown up, my Galaxy S10e had blown up, my one-of-a-kind Galaxy S10 5G, which Samsung had engraved Mr. Who's the Boss onto, that too had blown up, which I was devastated by. This phone was genuinely special to me. I wanted to show it to my future kids. But then the most shocking of all was when I realized that it also applies to Samsung's foldables. My Galaxy Z Fold 2, which has had a total use for about three weeks and is only two years old in its entirety, is very clearly just about to do the exact same thing.
Marquez from MKBHD
So I rushed to my computer to jump on a call with Marques from MKBHD.
What's been your finding?
- We always find like one or maybe two phones where the battery's swollen up and we have to get rid of it. And every single time it's been a Samsung phone. It's never been any other brand of phone. And I didn't really think too hard about it. But it is weird that it has only ever been a Samsung phone.
Why is this happening
- There is zero doubt in my mind at this point that something is happening with Samsung phones. Multiple people with multiple separate large collections of smartphones stored in multiple different conditions from different parts of the world all experiencing the same thing.
Then it dawned on me, Samsung has a verified history of battery stability issues. The company's Galaxy Note 7 was infamous for multiple explosion reports. It was banned on airlines and in public places and the phone was fully recalled. And so even though it does look like they did fix some things in future phones, the later devices have definitely had fewer reports, it's equally not out of the realms of possibility that some of those same dangerous elements that caused the Note 7 fiasco are actually still present. It was becoming pretty clear to me what was happening.
I just needed to find out why.
So I jumped on a call with Zach from JerryRigEverything who disassembles phones for a living and has funnily enough also noticed his Samsung phones expanding. And what he's saying is that it's the electrolyte, the liquid that ions move within inside the battery that allows it to function and to be stable that's decomposing and releasing a gaseous substance.
- If that electrolyte is gone, I think thermal runaway and damage to the battery is way more likely to happen if it ever is charged up again or tried to be used again.
- Now, Zach being a braver man than I ever will be, went as far as to try and puncture some of his own swollen Samsung batteries. And they seem like they have lots of protection mechanisms designed to stop them exploding. What do you think would happen if you then charge them up?
- See that one I would be very nervous about. The electrolyte is what facilitates the energy transfer between the positive and negative internals of the battery. And if that is decomposing and has evaporated inside the battery, there's not an easy way to facilitate that energy transfer. And I imagine it would just get really hot, really fast. Something is reacting with the electrolyte that makes it want to change states into gas.
- Do you think this has anything to do with what we saw with the Note 7?
- I think they would probably be different situations, but either way, since it's Samsung in both instances, something's wrong with their quality control.
- Now also around the time of this call, I'd incredibly noticed yet another swelling phone.
This time the Galaxy S20 FE. But this one was different. It's really hard to tell. I only noticed this one on the kind of like my fourth time scanning through my Samsung phone, where I had to double take, like, wait a second, is it, isn't it? But it is, like for sure. That feels like the hidden danger here is like you're not actually realizing your battery is gone and you're continuing to use your phone. And then right at the end, Zach finished off with one more nugget.
- On batteries, and you'll find this really interesting.
- He explained that there's a label you can find on them that tells you for how many years they should have no mutations or hazardous chemicals leaking.
The Samsung S20 FE
So of course I had to take apart my Galaxy S20 FE to check for myself. Sure enough, when I got inside, it was pretty clear that this was yet another victim, but an especially alarming one given how this phone was only released two years ago. It only got delivered to me about 18 months ago and it's been stored at room temperature this whole time. Even the battery on the back says that it should be good to go for five years. This should not be taken lightly. The ifixit.com article about swollen batteries literally has this text written in bold capital letters.
A swollen lithium ion battery may catch fire or explode. Proceed with extreme caution, and also at your own risk when removing a swollen battery from an electronic device. Let's be very clear about something. If your phone actually explodes, this is no exaggeration, you can die. This is real, it's happened, and it's a pretty tragic way to go. It's risky enough that I can't even just throw these in a bin now. I've literally had to buy myself fireproof sleeves so that I can dispose of them in a way that I'm not at risk of setting my own house on fire. And as for why it's taken this long for someone to realize, well, I mean, clearly many separate people are aware that this is an issue. But if you just had the odd phone that breaks down every now and again, maybe you'd just assume that it was moisture in the air or the way that you'd specifically store the phone. It's only when you have a shelf like this where you can keep tabs on every single brand in exactly the same environment that you can actually identify a systemic issue with one brand in particular. But at the same time, as I'm becoming more and more sure that this is a legitimate issue with Samsung phones, I'm also becoming more aware of the implication that that would have. To think, Samsung sold almost 300 million phones just last year. There are probably a billion current Samsung phone users at any given point. And based on my small sample size, up to 25% of them could well blow at some point. So I thought, let me do one final check. So I sent out one big round of messages to a whole series of tech journalists and tech YouTubers, and there was a slightly more mixed finding.
There were about 40% who said, " Well, yeah, but I've had it with other brands too". But then there were also 60% who are more like, Yes, I've definitely noticed the exact same trend with Samsung's in particular. Or, " The only ones that I can remember are Samsung's". So this is a bit of an evolving situation. And I wanna wait to hear if any brands decide to weigh in, any content creators or your experiences in the comments before I say something conclusive. But so far, there's a few key takeaways. One, that batteries expanding like this can be an issue on any phone. But at the same time, between my own sample size and the sample size I've taken from other people, it seems like at the very least, the problem is worse on Samsung's. But then two is that I don't think you need to panic yet. This problem can be very serious, but it's much more likely to occur when you leave your phone for long periods of time. And you can also somewhat mitigate it by storing it at closer to 50%, as opposed to letting it drain entirely and storing it while the battery's flat. Shout out to all the creators involved, to Marques, and especially to Zach, who actually risked himself for the cause, and also DIY Perks, who built the shelf that allowed me to see the issue in the first place.