Inside the Giant Warehouse Where Broken Samsung Phones Get Fixed
Samsung's Texas repair facility is more important now than ever as there's a closer eye on electronic waste and repairability.
Lisa EadiciccoSenior Editor
Lisa Eadicicco is a senior editor for CNET covering mobile devices. She has been writing about technology for almost a decade. Prior to joining CNET, Lisa served as a senior tech correspondent at Insider covering Apple and the broader consumer tech industry. She was also previously a tech columnist for Time Magazine and got her start as a staff writer for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide.
When Samsung announced the Galaxy S23 series in February, it highlighted that the S23 Ultra has twice as many recycled components as the Galaxy S22 Ultra. It's one of several changes Samsung has made in the name of sustainability over the past several years, along with slimming down its product packaging by forgoing the power adapter.
But sustainability is about more than recycling and repurposing materials. Experts sayrepairability is also hugely impactful in reducing moving toward a circular economy. Samsung still has a lot of progress to make on that front. Modern Samsung phones like the Galaxy S22 and S23 aren't as easy to repair as they should be, according to the technicians at iFixit.
A giant warehouse in Texas could be key in Samsung's efforts to change that. At its repair facility in Irving, where about 14,500 gadgets arrive for repair per month, Samsung does more than disassemble dysfunctional devices. It dissects the repair process, too, taking in learnings that can be applied to future product designs and procedures.
With growing concern around electronic waste and top-of-the-line smartphones costing upward of $1,000, there's increased interest in holding onto devices for as long as possible. A survey from insurance provider Assurant published in September said the average age of traded-in phones surpassed 3.5 years for the first time. This shift suggests consumers are sticking with their current phones for longer periods of time before upgrading.
Making devices more repairable — and providing easier access to repairs — is a key part of further extending a phone's lifecycle. For Samsung, the next major step in improving the repair process could be shortening the amount of time between when you drop your broken phone in the mailbox and when it arrives back on your doorstep.
"We want to get as close to same-day as we can," said Mark Williams, vice president of customer care for Samsung Electronics America.
Samsung's warehouse is like a smartphone hospital
Inside Samsung's sprawling 23,000-square-foot warehouse, I'm surrounded by machines in all shapes and sizes. It's quiet, aside from the sounds of various machines beeping and air gaskets blowing. Samsung's mail-in repair facility almost feels like a smartphone hospital; it's where screens are disassembled and new ones are meticulously pressed on and dozens of diagnostic tests are performed.
Of the devices Samsung receives each month, 67% are phones, 24% are watches, 6% are earbuds and 3% are tablets, the company says.
The exhaustive repair process begins at 10:30 a.m., when device shipments begin arriving at the facility. Cameras situated around the intake area record the condition of packages and devices as they were received. Products are placed into color-coded trays to keep track of when they arrived. For example, red trays might have been used on Tuesday, while green trays were used on Wednesday. That tells workers they should prioritize the red trays first.
After the receiving process is completed, devices are sent to the incoming quality check area, or IQC as Samsung calls it. This is where technicians run tests, most of which are automated, to find the cause of the problem. Samsung then compares its findings against the customer's complaint.
The screen repair process starts at the disassembly station, where hot plates are used to heat devices and soften adhesive so that they're easier to dismantle. Once the inside of the device has been cleaned and the tape that bonds the display to the frame has been added, the phone undergoes a handful of processes for attaching, pressing, bonding and clamping the new screen and bezel to the device — each of which requires special machinery.
After reassembling a device, resin bonding is applied to make the device water resistant. Samsung then uses a simulated air-pressure machine to test water resistance, ensuring it measures up to its intended IP rating before the device goes back to its owner. There's also machinery for testing 4G and 5G, as well as calibrating the camera.
Getting to same-day repairs
The entire process — from performing diagnostics to the repair itself and the final outbound quality checks — takes roughly four to seven days, says John Meagher, Samsung's senior director of mail-in operations. That's a long time to be without your phone.
Williams tells me the company looks to address this by opening two more regional mail-in repair centers in the second quarter of this year: one in Dallas and another in Florida. The Dallas location would serve Texas and Oklahoma, while the Florida one would cover Florida and Georgia, freeing up the main Irving facility for repairs from elsewhere in the US. The additional centers should lower shipping times for those areas, says Williams. If those centers are successful, Samsung wants to open another in the Northeast and an additional location in the West.
It's part of the company's objective to get as close to same-day mail-in repairs as possible, although there are still several challenges to overcome. Among the biggest is timing. Since devices are dropped off at 10:30 a.m. and picked up at 6 p.m., the company has a relatively short window to work with. Samsung may not always always have all the necessary components in stock, and some issues take longer to diagnose than others.
"We think they're not insurmountable," said Meagher of the challenges. "We think very shortly, we'll have some sort of a solution that will make an expedited repair for mail in a reality."
The company is testing expedited service concepts that are in a pilot stage, according to Williams, but he couldn't share additional details.
Samsung also offers in-person repair services at more than 1,000 authorized US locations and repair vans that serve as mobile repair shops for faster, same-day service. But only eight of those authorized repair centers are Samsung-branded locations, while the majority are run by Samsung's partners like uBreakiFix and Best Buy. (Apple, Samsung's biggest competitor in the mobile space, has more than 270 Apple Stores in the US.)
But some Samsung device owners don't feel the company's efforts have gone far enough. Redditthreads detail experiences of repairs being delayed or canceled, sometimes resulting in a customer being without a phone for several weeks.
"My Fold 3 has been at Samsung for over 5 weeks," read one comment posted one year ago in response to a question on Reddit about Samsung's repair timeline.
Samsung's repair center also has a larger role to play in how Samsung designs and develops upcoming phones to be more repairable. Feedback from this facility gets sent to Samsung's design teams to make devices easier to fix in the future. Samsung also sends employees from the company's headquarters in South Korea to Texas to observe the repair process and ensure that best practices are being applied in other regions.
"We want to reduce that [repair] time," said Williams. "We want to identify 'Are all these tests necessary? Should we do it? Are there any additional tests we should do?'"
One such example of this feedback shows in the tape that's used to bond the Galaxy S23's screen, according to Edhir Tukic, Samsung's director of customer engineering. The company previously used a hot melt application to bond the screen, which meant machinery was required to remove the display. Now that Samsung has switched to the tape method, the company can offer screen repairs at walk-in locations rather than just through its mail-in repair service. Samsung made that change in the third quarter of 2022 starting with the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus models.
But Samsung's Galaxy S23 only earned a 4 out of 10 on iFixit's repairability score. That shows there's still plenty of work to be done, even though it's an improvement from the Galaxy S22's 3 out of 10 score. iFixit gave Samsung credit this year for including a battery pull tab in the Galaxy S23, which should theoretically make it easier to remove the battery. (Although iFixit still struggled to do so, as shown in this video.) iFixit also said it would award Samsung an additional two points if and when repair manuals and parts are made available for the Galaxy S23 lineup.
Samsung said it plans to expand the range of products and parts as the program matures. It also said repair volumes tend to skew toward models that have been in the market longer.
Making phones easier to repair is critical in extending their lifecycle. That's especially true since recycling rates aren't as high as you might think, despite pushes from tech giants like Samsung and wireless carriers toward trade-ins. A report from the United Nations, and the International Solid Waste Association found that only 17.4% of global electronic waste was formally collected and recycled in 2019.
"You want to extend and reuse as much as possible," Autumn Stanish, a principal analyst for Gartner specializing in sustainability research, previously said to CNET. "So repairability is really the core thing that we should be targeting before we start targeting the full recyclability of our devices."
When a new product launches, the Samsung Care team makes sure technicians are trained, equipment is ready and components are stocked at repair locations. It's a tall order under normal circumstances. But Samsung is more familiar than most tech companies about what can happen when a malfunctioning product makes it into consumers hands.
When a problem does happen, Williams says the team gathers in a "war room" to identify the issue. Doing so will likely be even more important as Samsung not only seeks to make its current phones more repairable, but explores future devices with rollable and slidable screens.
"Identify issues as early as possible," said Williams. "I think that's probably the most important thing."