Samsung Galaxy Note 7 recall: Here's what's next

Everything you still need to know about Samsung's recalled phone.

Josh Miller/CNET
Close
Drag

It's now been two months since Samsung voluntarily recalled its Galaxy Note 7 phone, and we still don't know exactly what cause some phones' batteries to catch fire in the first place. But we have some better ideas, and we do have a few more updates that I'll lay out below. More importantly, what's happening next?

To get to that, we have to review everything that's happened so far. For starters, if you still have a Note 7, shame on you! Turn it in immediately, even if it's a supposedly safe replacement (these aren't actually safe; some of those have combusted, too). Or else Samsung may brick your phone for you.

What's happened since September?

The short-short story is that:

What's Samsung going to do next?

Samsung is nearing the end of the collect-them-all phase of gathering any Note 7 phones that are still floating around out there. We know that the company is also trying to get to the bottom of the design flaw that caused phones to explode, so it can completely avoid making the same mistake on future models like spring's Galaxy S8 and next fall's Note 8. And yes, we still expect them both.

samsung-galaxy-s7-edge-galaxy-s7

The Galaxy S8 could help buyers forget Note 7 woes.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

As for what's next with patching up the Note 7 disaster, I suspect there will be many internal audits launched and policies enacted that the public will never see. Samsung will have to play out court cases for suits brought against the company over damaged property and personal harm.

Now for Samsung's tattered image. Making its next phone an unquestionable, flame-free smash hit will go a long way to erasing the public's bad memories of the Note 7 mess. A phone that can wow people, like a Galaxy S8 that's all screen and no bezel (that's one rumor), is the exact distraction that Samsung needs to reset buyers' memories, or at least encourage them not to care anymore.

I have a few ideas for what Samsung will have to do to for the Galaxy S8 to rise from the Note 7's ashes.

Back the truck up: What is the Galaxy Note 7 recall about?

Samsung engaged in a global recall for the Galaxy Note 7, which the company first voluntarily recalled in early September when a major battery flaw caused a small number of the phones to spontaneously explode and sometimes burst into flames, damaging property, leaking dangerous chemicals and basically scaring the dickens out of people.

Samsung offered replacement Note 7 devices that had completely different batteries, but it didn't take long before reports surfaced that these were catching fire, too. That's when Samsung and various organizations throughout the world (including the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) made it clear that every single Note 7 owner needed to stop using, shut down and return the phones.

As of early November, the company said that 85 percent of US customers opted to return their phones, with the "majority" of them exchanging their original Note 7 for a different Galaxy phone.

I'm a holdout. What are my options to return or exchange the Note 7?

You won't be able to exchange the Note 7 for a new Note 7, but you can exchange it for a different Galaxy phone. If you're taking a break from the Galaxy brand, you can get your money back and buy one of these 9 Note 7 alternatives instead.

Exchange programs may differ by region, but the general rule is to take it back to where you bought it, and check your local Samsung website for more details.

Here are some examples so far:

  • US: Every major US cellular carrier will give you any other phone in exchange for the Galaxy Note 7, or a full refund. You'll also get a $25 gift card or store credit. You may even get $100 more on top of that. If you bought your phone from Samsung.com, call 1-844-365-6197.
  • UK: You can exchange your Note 7 for a Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge, and you'll either be refunded the price difference between the two (aka, the Note costs more than either other Galaxy phone), to you can opt for the full refund. This Samsung UK page has more specific guidance, or you can call Samsung on 0330 7261000. If you bought your device from a network or other retailer, contact them directly -- all major networks have a return program in place.

Lithium-ion batteries like this are commonly embedded in phones, which makes them hard to replace.

Aloysius Low/CNET
  • Australia: Return your phone directly to the store, or call 1300 362 603 if you bought it from Samsung. You can either get a full refund, or exchange your Note 7 for a Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge plus a refund of the price difference. Watch this Samsung Australia page for more specific guidance.
  • Singapore: You can get a full refund or swap your Note 7 for another Samsung device. You can visit the Samsung Customer Service Centre at Westgate (#03-01) from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, or check out this Samsung Singapore page for more details.

Why are the batteries exploding in the first place?

Here's the short version: The lithium-ion batteries used in mobile phones contain flammable chemicals that catch fire when they touch. The long version (which is still unconfirmed for now) is that Samsung's manufacturing process "placed pressure on plates contained within battery cells," which "brought negative and positive poles into contact."

The full explanation so far: Here's why Samsung Note 7 phones are catching fire

Is it dangerous to keep using my phone? Is it possible that my Note 7 will spontaneously combust?

Yes. If you own a Note 7, you should power it down immediately and seek to exchange or replace the phone.

Really, though, it feels fine.

You really need to return the phone. Turn it off. Now. Have you seen the ridiculous kit Samsung is sending people who need to return this phone?

What should I do if my phone catches fire?

It won't, because you've returned it. But if any electronic device catches fire, try to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher or baking soda. Water will help, too (if the phone isn't plugged in). If you don't have those items, try to (safely) move it to a non-flammable surface and let it burn out. Use gloves or other tools, but keep your skin covered.

The Note 7 debacle has already affected Samsung's bottom line.

Josh Miller/CNET

Is Samsung doing anything in the meantime to help protect people?

In many regions, Samsung has issued a software update that caps the battery's recharge capacity. The idea is that a battery that stops short of reaching its full capacity might prevent the issues that are causing the combustion. A Samsung spokesperson also told CNET that it pushed messages warning holdout Note 7 owners to shut off and turn in their phones ASAP.

I heard that Samsung is killing some people's phones. What's up with that?

In the US, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint will push out an update on December 19 that will brick your Note 7 and completely keep you from using it. Carriers will implement the update on different dates.

  • AT&T: January 5, 2017
  • T-Mobile: December 27, 2016
  • Sprint: January 8, 2017

Verizon is pushing back, saying it won't participate in the update, since some stubborn Note 7 owners may not have a spare phone to switch to during the busy holiday season.

Is there anything I should do to ready my phone before turning it in?

First you'll want to backup the device. Here's exactly how to back up the Note 7 before returning or exchanging it. Depending where you bought the phone, you can take it to your carrier or retail store for more help saving and transferring the contents to a new device before wiping the Note 7 with a factory reset and retrieving the SIM card. If you bought the phone directly from Samsung.com, you'll need to call into your local Samsung customer service for more specific instructions on mailing and returning the phone.

How long will Samsung give full refunds for the Note 7?

This is happening now. The return window appears to be infinite -- Samsung really, really wants these phones back. A customer service representative on the US help line also couldn't share a specific cut-off time with us back in September. When pressed, the agent said, "I don't think it's going to be a problem if you need another two weeks or a month." However, it isn't clear if this is authorized guidance.

We're attempting to find out how long the offer will extend to replacement Note 7 devices.

Large-screen phones are easy to find.

CNET

Will the refund and exchange process be easy or hard?

In September, the original unit we bought ourselves was easy to return at a T-Mobile store in San Francisco for a full refund (not an exchange). Since Samsung directs you to make returns through your initial retailer, the experience may vary by your location.

What will happen to my Note 7 if I don't return it?

Depending on where you live, Samsung may update the Note 7 phones with software to limit the battery charging to 60 percent (mentioned above). There's also a rumor that Samsung will remotely deactivate phones that aren't turned in, though the company hasn't officially stated that it will or won't do this.

Now that I'm getting rid of my Note 7, what should I get instead?

Samsung faces its toughest loyalty test yet. There's always the large-screen Galaxy S7 Edge, which is an excellent phone that's basically the Note 7 minus the stylus, and the S7, a smaller version of that but with a flat screen. Outside of Samsung, I love the Google Pixel and Pixel XL. Try the OnePlus 3T for a great, large-screen handset that costs a whole lot less.

Finally, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are both are good choices, so long as you're comfortable switching between Android and iOS.

Editors' note: Updated to include the latest information. Article originally published September 13 and most recently updated January 17, 2017.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 recall

Samsung is in the middle of an active recall for the Galaxy Note 7 phone, which the company voluntarily recalled when a major battery flaw caused a small number of the phones to spontaneously explode and sometimes burst into flames, damaging property and leaking dangerous chemicals.

All Samsung Galaxy Note 7 recall Stories