Did Samsung's "aggressive design" cause the Note 7 to fail?
Was the Note 7 destined to fail?
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The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 saga has been one for the ages, with the phone quickly transforming from a best-in-class device to a consumer safety hazard in a matter of weeks. But one thing that still remains a mystery: why was the Note 7 susceptible to exploding in the first place?
A third-party group, Instrumental, has examined the design of the Note 7 and claims to have an answer: a lack of space between the battery and the rest of the case. In their analysis, the authors of the report also speculate that the lack of space shirks such obvious design rules that it must have been intentional.
The problem is a fairly straightforward one: batteries pack a lot of energy and feature both a positive and negative layer with separation layers between them. IF the battery is compressed and the positive and negative layers touch, the battery can heat up and explode. Batteries naturally swell, so it's good practice to give them a little room to expand into so this doesn't happen.
Instrumental's report claims that Samsung designed the phone in a way that the battery took up all the available space, leaving no headroom for it to expand into.
This would explain why the Note 7 was recalled entirely, instead of Samsung merely offering to replace dangerous batteries with safe ones as it initially tried to do; if the Note 7's design was fundamentally flawed, a new battery wouldn't have fixed the problem.
We've yet to confirm the report's point that it's a common engineering practice to provide that much extra room for the "mechanical swell" of batteries, but it does make sense. We've seen first-hand the batteries on ultraportable laptops that swell to the point that they can deform screws and even crack the computer's LCD display, so this swelling is no joke.
If true, this is a pretty damning report. We've reached out to Samsung for comment, though it's important to note that this is a third-party firm doing the analysis and not an industry or government watchdog, so it is largely based upon speculation. But until Samsung makes an official announcement about what exactly was wrong with the Note 7, speculation is all we have to go by.