Samsung charges back

The rhythmic thrum of a beyond propellers sends startle waves by my body, while a high-pitched bemoan hurts my ears.

Thwap-thwap-thwap-thwap. Wheeeeeeee! Thwap-thwap-thwap-thwap. Wheeeeeeee!

I jam splendid orange earplugs in my ears, nonetheless that usually muffles a unpleasant ringing. Two mins later, my stomach lurches as a 11-passenger AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter soars over Seoul’s skyscrapers and heads south. Our end is Gumi, South Korea, about 140 miles away.

I’ve trafficked scarcely 6,000 miles from San Francisco to get there, a site of one of Samsung’s 9 factories building phones and tablets. I’m among a initial reporters to get an inside demeanour during a company’s flagship Galaxy S8 — creation a entrance Wednesday in New York — and to debate a trickery that’s contrast a phone.

Samsung isn’t throwing open a doors given it’s feeling generous. It’s perplexing to deliver both its repute and consumer trust after dozens of videos, photographs and reports final year showed a Galaxy Note 7 ripping into flames. Samsung identified a battery as a law-breaker and — reduction than a month after a Note 7’s high-profile, mid-August recover — recalled a scarcely 2.5 million units on a market.

And afterwards it happened again. Some of a “safer” deputy phones went adult in smoke, too.

Samsung knew it had messed up. Badly. So after dual recalls, a association killed a Note 7 in Oct 2016. The disturbance cost Samsung an estimated $17 billion in sales. It also cost it a lead in a tellurian smartphone market, with Apple leapfrogging Samsung in a fourth perform of 2016 to turn a world’s biggest smartphone vendor. (The final time Apple reason a lead was in 2014 when it introduced a initial big-screen phones, a iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.)

“It was an eye-opening experience,” Koh Dong-jin (better famous as D.J. Koh), conduct of Samsung’s mobile business, tells me from Samsung’s sprawling Digital City campus in Suwon, about 21 miles outward of Seoul.

“Afterward, we set adult a principle: Meaningful creation should keep going where we can make a business happy continuously. But on tip of it all, keep as a tip priority patron safety,” Koh says a day before my helicopter flight. “I strongly trust we can move a customers’ trust back.”

Which is where my revisit to South Korea comes in.

The Galaxy S8 could be Samsung’s singular many critical product. Ever. The chunk of steel and potion with a 5.8-inch arrangement (6.2 inches for a S8 Plus) has to perform exquisitely with nary a sniff of smoke, while wowing consumers with a neat new shade and modernized features, including a digital voice partner named Bixby. If a S8 delivers, Samsung usually competence lift off one a biggest comebacks in corporate history, recover consumers’ trust and safe past archrival Apple forward of a 10th anniversary iPhone — approaching to be a doozy — after this year.


Jaehyuk Oh

“The Galaxy S8 was always [going to be] a vast deal, nonetheless after a Note 7, it puts some-more vigour on Samsung,” says Neil Mawston, an researcher with marketplace investigate organisation Strategy Analytics. “If they get it wrong, it would have inauspicious effects for their mobile business.”

Safety first

A T-shaped bar inside a transparent potion box solemnly squeezes a battery opposite a vast chunk of steel that lines a floor. When a plates lift apart, a battery sticks to a bar instead of resting on a floor. After about dual minutes, we see smoke. Suddenly, a battery turns red prohibited and bursts into flames.

I watch in astonishment — and a bit of fear — as a glow dies out, withdrawal behind a charred black scale of what used to be a Galaxy S8 battery.

I’ve never seen a battery raze before.

Fortunately, a blast happened in a Gumi factory, where Samsung assembles 1 million phones a month. It’s also where we see a company’s extensive, new contrast process. In this case, a battery reason glow given a bureau workman practical 20 kilonewtons of vigour on it instead of a customary 13 kilonewtons. (A singular kilonewton of force can strike down a 225-pound person.)

If a battery had been truly defective, Samsung would have sent a whole lot behind to a supplier, potentially as many as 15,000 units. “It unequivocally occasionally happens,” a workman in Samsung’s continuance contrast lab tells me.

In January, Samsung suggested a Note 7 battery failure stemmed from dual detached issues. The outmost surrounding of a initial battery was too tiny for a components inside, causing it to short-circuit and ignite. The retailer of a second battery had introduced a totally opposite production forsake that led to a same result.

“That was a unequivocally unpleasant experience, a unpleasant accident,” Koh says, echoing his comments from January.

Samsung satisfied nothing of a prior checks would have reason those problems. So it altered a process, instituting an eight-point investigation exam that includes some stairs that were new and others a suppliers had conducted.

During my 3 hours in Samsung’s Smart City campus in Gumi, usually 5 miles from South Korea’s scenic Mount Geumosan provincial park, we see many of those tests in action. The battery application test, for example, is partial of Samsung’s continuance check. Samsung conducted those tests before a Note 7’s problems, nonetheless now does them some-more regularly.

“The importance is to make certain a batteries don’t have any problem,” says Daniel Lee, executive of tellurian production and innovation.


Josh Miller/CNET

Step it up

In a factory, Lee literally walks me by Samsung’s public slight and eight-point reserve check. Durability tests check batteries that have been overcharged, punctured or unprotected to impassioned temperatures. One appurtenance is set to 130 degrees Celsius (266 degrees Fahrenheit) for 60 minutes. Another bakes a phone during 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit) for 7 hours.

Workers visually check any battery and take X-rays to demeanour for abnormalities. They also dismantle batteries to check altogether quality. we don’t get to see any X-rays nonetheless we watch dual workers flay detached a battery in a well-ventilated room, regulating images and a checklist of a functioning battery as their guide.

As Lee and we travel along a bureau floor, we mark vast rows of phones being charged and liberated while they rest on black foam-covered shelves. It’s one of a 3 new tests Samsung has combined to a reserve check. Samsung can run as many as 60,000 phones during a time by a assign and liberate test. It’s checking 6,000 a day we visit.

Other tests demeanour for steam or voltage changes.

I step into an area that’s been walled off from a rest of a open bureau floor. It’s many cooler in here to recompense for a feverishness generated by dozens of phones. Samsung’s electronic, poppy ringtone, called “Over a Horizon,” echoes around a room as one Galaxy S8 after another cycles by an programmed program test. After a ringtone, a video pops up, afterwards Angry Birds and afterwards YouTube. The phones’ program is simulating daily use during a many faster shave than normal.

Workers, wielding orange laser thermometers, check to see if a inclination are regulating hot.

Within 30 seconds, we comprehend I’d go crazy from all a pointless dings, chimes and “Over a Horizons” echoing opposite a chamber. But for some employees, spending time in that room is now partial of their daily routine.

The phones are going by Android Control Tests, partial of Samsung’s accelerated use process. Overall, it takes 5 days to finish this test, in partial given there’s no approach to speed adult a battery’s discharge. Samsung skeleton to check adult to 100,000 units this approach before releasing them to customers. By a time of my visit, dual weeks before a Galaxy S8 launch, it’s tested 50,000.

Samsung’s “doing some-more than all a right things, nonetheless how many years can they keep this up?” says Gerbrand Ceder, a highbrow of materials scholarship and engineering during a University of California during Berkeley. He’s also a member of Samsung’s new battery advisory board.

Ceder visited a Gumi trickery a day before we did. “At some indicate someone will contend this costs a lot of money. But they can't means any problems with a Galaxy S8.”

Bad news

Samsung has an engaging story with fires.

In 1995, Chairman Lee Kun-hee (who still binds that pretension notwithstanding being in a coma given his 2014 heart attack) detected a Samsung phones he’d handed out as New Year’s gifts didn’t work. He was outraged.

So Lee trafficked to Gumi, where he had 150,000 phones dumped onto a margin as 2,000 workers watched. Then according to legend, he systematic some employees to set a raise on glow and others to plow over a charred stays with a bulldozer.

“If we continue to make poor-quality products like these, I’ll come behind and do a same thing,” he reportedly said.

Since that moment, Samsung has stressed peculiarity in a devices, assisting it to acquire a pretension of world’s biggest phone builder in 2012. Lee never systematic another bonfire.

Last year’s Galaxy Note 7 seemed like a ultimate phenomenon of those ambitions. The phablet featured a winding 5.7-inch AMOLED shade and an iris scanner that let we clear a phone with your eyes. It also boasted H2O insurgency and a zippy stylus. Reviewers, including CNET’s Jessica Dolcourt, called it one of a best phones ever made. You know what happened next.

But a Galaxy Note 7 isn’t Samsung’s usually new crisis.

Lee Jae-yong (also famous as Jay Y. Lee), Samsung Electronics’ clamp authority and inheritor apparent to Lee Kun-hee, has been related to a crime liaison that forced South Korean President Park Geun-hye out of bureau progressing this month. Samsung’s de facto personality was arrested and formally charged in February with embezzlement and bribing Park to benefit support for a 2015 merger that cemented his control of a company.

The day after we arrive in Seoul, we event on thousands of people celebrating Park’s impeachment in Gwanghwamun Square outward a ancestral Gyeongbokgung Palace. Bands perform a throng from a stage, as vendors sell snacks and cushions to make a day some-more pleasant.

Organizers pass out splendid red signs that, translated from Korean, say, “This is how a nation should be. This is justice.” Later that week, we ask a lady training me Korean cooking what she thinks of Lee’s partial of a scandal. “We’re used to it,” she says. The elder Lee had been convicted of taxation semblance in 2008, nonetheless pardoned a following year.

Samsung continues to contend a younger Lee’s innocence.

Beyond perpetually

It’s opposite that backdrop that we lay my eyes — and my hands — on a reason I’m here.

The Galaxy S8 feels opposite from any other phone I’ve held. It’s many taller and narrower. What unequivocally catches my attention, though, is usually how vast that black shade is. It stretches scarcely opposite a whole front of a phone, curving somewhat around a prolonged sides to give a outcome it goes on forever. This is Samsung’s new “Infinity Display,” that builds on a progressing Edge winding shade technology. The Galaxy S8 and a incomparable sibling, a S8 Plus, embankment a earthy home symbol so Samsung can squeeze a bigger shade into a device.

The support around a arrangement is roughly nonexistent. In fact, 83 percent of a phone’s front is screen. The Galaxy S8 is also 9.8mm (about 0.4 inch) narrower and 9.3mm (0.12 inch) shorter than Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus, nonetheless a arrangement is incomparable — 5.8 inches contra 5.5 inches.

The “contradiction” for consumers “is they wish to have a bigger shade distance nonetheless a tiny form factor,” says Kim Gae-youn, clamp boss of Samsung’s smartphone product formulation and product manager for a Galaxy S8. “To solve that issue, we have to use a Edge technology.”

And yes, of course, they addressed a battery.

Samsung says it’s altered a battery so it starts with a reduce ability than a one in a Galaxy S7 Edge nonetheless should final longer given of appetite government program and other tweaks.

After about 6 months of use, it will have improved battery life than batteries in a prior devices, Samsung claims. That’s given a association focused on creation a battery some-more durable and means to withstand hundreds of charging cycles.

“Where many batteries reason about 80 percent of their assign after dual years, this battery should be able of 95 percent of a bizarre capacity,” says Oh Boo-keun, clamp boss of Samsung’s mobile RD team. He oversees a division’s battery record development.

While Samsung isn’t giving adult on a Note line (Koh says Samsung will emanate a Note 8), currently is all about a Galaxy S8, a new mainstream phone.

It doesn’t reinstate a Note 7, and it isn’t that device’s successor. The S and Note lines have coexisted given a initial Note phablet went on sale in late 2011. But a law is a S line has always been some-more important. The Note represents about 12 percent of Samsung phones in use globally, while a Samsung S models make adult 60 percent, according to Creative Strategies.


Jaehyuk Oh

The Galaxy S “is a vast deal,” says Creative Strategies researcher Carolina Milanesi.

I use unlocking a phone regulating a facial approval underline and check what videos demeanour like with a bizarre new shade ratio (18.5:9). The iPhone, in comparison, facilities a shade ratio of 16:9.

Samsung says a new distance gives a “best experience” when examination TV shows and movies. You’ll get black bars around videos we watch on a Galaxy S8, unless you’re peaceful to wizz in and remove partial of a pattern around a edges.

Samsung has also altered a phone’s software. A new Samsung Connect app lets we control internet-connected appliances and TVs from one place.

The Galaxy S8 also outlines a entrance of Bixby, a digital voice assistant. Like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant, Bixby responds to oral commands. Unlike those other intelligent assistants, though, Bixby focuses on determining a phone, not responding questions like, “Who was a 30th boss of a United States?” Bixby can do things like find and revise photos in your picture gallery, as good as brand landmarks, forms of booze and content for translation. It can also commend photos of products and, in a US, send we to Amazon to buy them.

“A lot of [our competitors’ AI assistants] are some-more saved extensions of search,” says Injong Rhee, conduct of RD for Samsung’s mobile program and services operations. “We’re looking during revolutionizing a phone interface.”

People looking for those accessible hunt options on a Galaxy S8 can ask Google Assistant for assistance by dire a phone’s digital home button.

Rebuilding trust

Even with a adorned new facilities on a Galaxy S8, Samsung knows it has to work to win behind customers.

“I won’t ever use a Samsung phone again,” says Ty Gates. The 26-year-old from Los Angeles says he can’t shake off his battery concerns after his Note 7 overheated in his pants slot one night while he and his partner were out carrying dinner. The phone didn’t locate fire, nonetheless it stopped working. “If that happened before, who’s to contend it won’t occur again?”

Samsung is counting on a new reserve check to “gain a small bit of trust,” says Lee Young-hee, conduct of selling for Samsung’s mobile business. “Fortunately, we are saying a business inexhaustible adequate [to say], ‘I trust in Samsung. [It was a] one-time mistake.’ That’s what we are anticipating for.”

Mikey Martin, 21, is one of those customers. He reason onto his Note 7 notwithstanding a dual recalls and mixed incentives by Samsung to switch to another Galaxy device. Martin eventually gave a Note 7 adult after Verizon infirm his wireless service. He’s now regulating an iPhone 5C with a damaged microphone as a holdover until a Galaxy S8 arrives.

“I bought a Note 7 given it was, in my opinion, a best hardware accessible during a time,” Martin says. “I devise to buy a S8 during launch for a same reason.”

Samsung hasn’t nonetheless pronounced if it will offer special Galaxy S8 promotions for a millions of people forced to palm in their Note 7s. Preorders start Thursday, and a phones will strike stores on Apr 21.

CNET’s Dolcourt calls a Samsung Galaxy S8’s tall, curve-screen pattern a stunner, nonetheless worries that Bixby could event if Samsung doesn’t residence some diseased spots in time.

A new “Dream”

Three hours after we overwhelmed down in Gumi, we rush behind to a helicopter. The pilots are on a despotic schedule, and we’ve got to get behind to Seoul.

As a belligerent falls away, I’m reminded of something Koh told me a day before.

For him, a Galaxy S8 is some-more than usually Samsung’s newest flagship phone. It’s a perfection of 5 years’ work formulating new hardware, program and services. The Galaxy S8 is THE device Samsung has been operative toward for years, he said. It’s usually wise a codename for a Galaxy S8 was “Dream.”

“I do not wish to boast, nonetheless we would contend this is a starting point,” Koh says. “We are on a [starting] line of a marathon.”

But as anyone who’s run a competition knows, it’s not how we start nonetheless how we finish that matters.

CNET News’ Alfred Ng contributed to this report.

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