Galaxy Note 7 recall FAQ: Everything you need to know about returning and exchanging your phone

PhonesOctober 11, 201612:03 PM PDT

Death of Samsung's Note 7 leaves unanswered questions

If Samsung wants to win back consumer trust, it needs to first answer questions about why its phone is prone to catching fire.

by Bridget Carey
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What is the Galaxy Note 7 recall about?

Every single Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phone needs to be returned -- even the supposedly safe replacement phones.

Samsung is in the middle of an active 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 and leaking dangerous chemicals. As of late September, the company said that over half of US customers opted to return their phones, and 90 percent of them exchanged their original Note 7 for a replacement Note 7 phone.

But the replacement Note 7 devices appear to be faulty as well. After five reported incidents of replacement Note 7 phones catching fire, Samsung and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are telling every single Note 7 owner around the world to stop using, shut down and return the phones.

While the replacement Note 7 hasn't been formally recalled -- yet -- Samsung's intentions are clear. Samsung has permanently stopped manufacturing the Note 7, and instructed every cellular carrier and retailer around the world to stop selling it. You can't get a new or replacement Note 7 at any AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon or Sprint store, as all major US carriers -- and those in other countries -- have agreed to pull it from shelves. The phone is effectively dead.

Here's what happens next.

This Note 7 got burned. Bad.

Crushader/Reddit

What are my options to return or exchange the Note 7?

Samsung will give you back your money, or help you exchange your old Note 7 for a different phone. Exchange programs may differ by region, and many aren't in place quite yet for the replacement Note 7 -- but generally, 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. If you bought your phone from Samsung.com, call 1-844-365-6197.
  • UK: Details aren't finalized: "We are currently working with our channel partners across the region to put in place a replacement programme which will allow you to exchange your Note 7 for a Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge," the company said in a statement. "When you exchange your device you will be refunded the difference in price. Alternatively you can obtain a full refund." You can watch this Samsung UK page for more specific guidance. If you bought your phone from Samsung, call 0330 7267467.
  • Australia: Return your phone directly to the store, or call 1300 362 603 if you bought from Samsung. Details aren't finalized: "Samsung Australia is working with all its partners to ensure all customers can receive an exchange -- including to a Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge (plus a refund for the difference in price) -- or full refund for their Galaxy Note 7." You can watch this Samsung Australia page for more specific guidance.
  • Singapore: "Samsung Electronics Singapore is in talks with our telecommunication operator and retail partners to work out a resolution for our Galaxy Note 7 customers. Details of the remedy will be shared very soon. In the meantime, Galaxy Note 7 customers who require a courtesy device on loan (subject to stock availability) can visit the Samsung Customer Service Centre at Westgate (#03-01) from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily." Watch this Samsung Singapore page for more details.

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

Aloysius Low/CNET

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.

What should I do if my phone catches fire?

If you can, 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.

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

In some regions, Samsung has issued a software update that caps the battery's recharge capacity at 60 percent. It isn't clear why this isn't a worldwide process, but that could depend on local laws. (It's also not clear if it will be issued to replacement phones.) The idea is that a battery that stops short of reaching its full capacity might prevent the issues that are causing the combustion.

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?

Large-screen phones are easy to find.

CNET

In September, a Samsung spokesperson told CNET:

"Standard return policies have been extended to allow for a full refund or exchange. Consumers should check with their point of purchase for further information. We are asking owners to power down their Note 7 devices and exchange them today."

In other words, the return window is unclear. 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.

Is Samsung doing anything else for Note 7 owners?

Depending on your region, Samsung may offer a small cash incentive to use a different Samsung device. In the US, that used to be a $25 credit to folks who switch to a Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge. We're not sure if that extends to replacement Note 7 exchanges, but Samsung has promised a $25 gift card or in-store credit for all Note 7 returns.

An example of what not to do with your Galaxy Note 7.

Josh Miller/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. We've now had a chance to fully review the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus; both are good choices, but like any phone, they may not be the best choice for you. The large-screen Galaxy S7 Edge is an excellent phone that's basically the Note 7 minus the stylus, and the S7 is a smaller version of that but with a flat screen.

The LG V20 and Sony Xperia XZ are also promising devices we have seen but have yet to fully review, and the Google Pixel phones are already available for preorder and coming in November.

Update, October 11: Updated to reflect that replacement Note 7 phones are no longer an option, as Samsung is unofficially recalling those as well -- and ceasing production of the Note 7 entirely -- after at least five reports of fire. Article originally published September 13 and updated continually since.

Additional reporting by Sean Hollister.


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