Opinion: Talk about adding insult to injury. Consumer advocacy group Choice has piled one of its Shonky awards on Samsung's Galaxy Note7, and isn't pulling any punches in what it says is "an extreme pocket warmer with a nasty tendency to catch fire." That, and some more colourful language, is punishment for Samsung's apparently "fiasco"-grade handling of its Note7 recall in Australia, but there's some serious dirty laundry being aired by Choice with this particular Shonky.
Before we go any further, have a read through Choice's explanation of why Samsung gets dinged with the Least Improved award for 2016. Here's an abridged version, emphasis added by us:
"Hold the phone! (Or maybe don't.) When you launch a product, people expect it to be safe – WOW! Who knew? The motivation for tech businesses to get a product to market before a competitor is clear: to make more money. But what if this pursuit of profit resulted in consumers being injured? And three Australian airlines banning your device from flights for fear their planes might plummet from the sky in a ball of flames?
"Talk about being at the cutting edge of convergence. Not only does the Galaxy Note7 work as a phone, it doubles as an extreme pocket warmer with a nasty tendency to catch fire. And 51,060 of these potentially dangerous phones have been offloaded onto the Aussie market alone."
If you were reading this in a vacuum, you'd presume that Samsung had imported phones that it knew to be dangerous into Australia with the express intention of hocking them to customers and turning their backs as handsets were exploding left and right. That could not be further from the truth.
Gizmodo first reported the Galaxy Note7's battery issues in Australia, and has followed the recall every step of the way until now. In our opinion, Samsung did a very good job of addressing the issue as soon as it became apparent, and was proactive in taking steps from making customers aware even before a recall was decided upon by the company's head office internationally.
In everything from capping charging of existing handsets to lower the risk for customers potentially unaware of the issue, to pushing notifications to all Note7s to advise customers of the issue, to offering refunds or replacements or repairs with a proactive courier pickup service and trained customer support staff and updates to media along the way — Samsung's conduct has been exemplary. The company learned from its mistakes with the voluntary and then forced recall of washing machines in 2013. It has tried to make a shitty situation better for its loyal customers.
This is not any justification at all for the fact that the Note7 recall was necessary, and the phone itself was clearly released without a stringent enough battery testing regime at at least one of the company's newly contracted suppliers. Choice's Shonky for Least Improved, though, talks about how the company handled its washing machine recall, and says the company — one of the largest tech manufacturers in the world — clearly did not listen to its wise words. Again, abridged and emphasis added by us:
"Now, before we dial up this Shonky, let's air some dirty laundry. Avid Shonky watchers will recall last year Choice gave Samsung a lemon gong for its flawed recall of 144,000 dodgy top loader washing machines. We hoped that by shining a light on Samsung's dangerous washing machine the company would improve its approach to product safety. Yet, a little less than 12 months later, the electronics giant is at it again with the Galaxy Note7.
Choice's Shonky lemon boils down to the advocacy group pushing for stronger product safety laws in Australia — saying that "companies don't have a proactive obligation to make sure their product is safe before it hits the market — they just clean up any mess they make if they get something wrong" — but the Galaxy Note7 is not the right poster child for this campaign. This whole Shonky award just has a bad odor to it.
The crux of the matter, it seems, is that Choice is unhappy at Samsung sending a lawyer's letter over some comments made by Choice to the ABC and AAP. Choice says: "When Choice sought to amplify the message about the dangerous device and encourage consumers to seek a full refund, the company was less than impressed. They fired a legal letter at us for discussing in the media the problems consumers were experiencing with their phone."
Samsung says in its letter, though, that Choice had made a representation that not only the Galaxy Note7 but other Samsung smartphones were potentially unsafe and may be subjected to a recall, and that replacement Note7 devices delivered to customers may themselves be unsafe. Choice's comment to AAP, that customers should seek a refund rather than a replacement, ran with a quote — "You don't want one of those flaming devices in your pocket." To the ABC, it said "the challenge for Samsung will be to demonstrate that this isn't just a one-off problem". That's not common sense or measured consumer advocacy. That's just fearmongering.
And that's on top of the fact that Samsung offered a refund to any customer that wanted one in the first place. If you look at units sold versus units recalled, Samsung's track record of smartphone safety in Australia has been far better than other brands like Big W, whose Abode brand had a shocking track record of consumer safety but that has not yet end up with a Shonky. This particular award just comes off as anger at a lawyer's letter — over poorly worded comments — manifesting itself as public grandstanding.
It really, really sucks that the Note7 had its battery issue. But Samsung's dealing of the issue has been so, so much better than its handling of the washing machine recall. That's a Most Improved for me, not a Least Improved.
Here's the just-finished broadcast of the 2016 Shonkies, if you're keen on tuning in: