An inside look at how Samsung tortures its gadgets

CNET gets a glimpse inside Samsung's secretive mobile device and home appliance testing labs in South Korea.

Samsung puts its devices, including home appliances, through tough quality tests before shipping them to customers. It even tests how loud its refrigerators are in a lab in Suwon, South Korea. Shara Tibken/CNET

Editors' note: Be sure to catch the other stories in this package: on Samsung's bid to rule the world , on the many pieces of the Samsung Group , on road-testing Samsung's S Translate app , and on TVs and appliances in a Q&A with co-CEO Boo-keun Yoon .


GUMI, South Korea -- I stood behind a woman wearing what looked like oven mitts, watching as she picked up a Samsung smartphone and brushed the display with a sort of wand, using slow, gentle strokes.

Then she zapped the phone with a stun gun.

Surprised by the action, which caused the woman's hair to stand on end, I jumped. But no one else reacted to what turned out to be a routine scene in Samsung's key mobile manufacturing facility. The consumer electronics maker not only builds phones here, but also tortures them. The static electricity exercise is just one of a rigorous battery of tests that the company employs to ensure the durability of its products. After all, Samsung isn't keen on releasing devices that can't withstand a little wear and tear.

The Gumi facility, where hot devices such as the Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy Note 3 are built, was just one of my stops as I got a look at Samsung's inner workings.

In one of several small side rooms, a young man placed a tablet on a ledge hovering about three feet above a metal floor. Seconds later, the ledge shot downward, dropping the tablet onto the ground. This would happen about 300 times to make sure the tablet would continue working.

Many of tests are automated. I walked into a large, warehouse-like room lined with refrigerator-sized metal boxes, where two dozen workers dressed in jeans and khakis monitor the durability of Samsung's future and current phones. An eye-level window in one box revealed a Samsung Galaxy Mega clamped between two pieces of metal as the machine twists the phone. Another showed rain streaming onto a phone with a keyboard to test its resistance to precipitation. A third displayed a machine's silver, mechanical arms continuously pushing the home button on a phone -- it does so more than 200,000 times, I'm told.

All this prodding and poking is for one goal: To make sure the devices last about three years, in any climate.

Such stringent tests are common in the electronics industry. As CNET recently noted, Nokia puts its products through a series of comprehensive gadget torture chambers, and other handset makers do, as well. However, it's rare to get a glimpse of any company's quality and assurance operations, including those for Samsung.

In total, Samsung performs more than 7,000 tests on the mobile devices before they're mass produced on other floors in a building that resembles a high school. And it's not just high-end mobile devices that go through this process.

The Korean electronics giant has the luxury to do this because it moves faster than almost every other technology company in the world. The big reason: It manufactures its own devices and builds the components inside them. Unlike Apple and others, which turn to Foxconn and an array of suppliers to put together their devices, Samsung makes 90 percent of its products and chips in its own facilities.

Shake and bake
I also got a chance to tour Samsung's home appliance testing facility, and later made my way to Suwon, Samsung's corporate headquarters, about an hour south of Seoul by car.

In Suwon, I could smell the cookies baking before I even reached the room. Sugar, I thought.

As I walked through the doorway of an old, slightly dingy building, I quickly spotted a lab that looks like a home economics room in a high school or a high-tech test kitchen. Ovens and other kitchen appliances, all made by Samsung, filled the white-tiled room. On one table sat cookies, just as I had expected.

In this room, Samsung employees bake goodies, broil toast, and boil tomato sauce to make sure ovens are working properly. Workers then use a color meter to make sure the cookies are evenly browned or check to see if the sauce is burnt.

Machines in Samsung's home appliance lab shake washing machines for four hours to simulate the bouncing of a truck. Shara Tibken/CNET
In another room, I saw washing machines being shaken to simulate the bouncing of a truck. In yet another lab, Samsung tested air conditioners by setting up a sort of fake house. The unbearably hot sun -- simulated by strong lights -- roasted the brick wall of the "house." Thermometers placed around the room measured how quickly the air conditioner cooled the room. In another location, a test measured the amount of noise the refrigerator makes.

All of these tests are part of Samsung's efforts to be the top-selling electronics maker on the planet. It has already reached that goal for TVs and mobile phones, and it plans to be No. 1 in home appliances by 2015.

Considering how serious and detail-oriented the company is about all of its products, it has a good shot.

 

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