Chinese state TV smears Samsung for “design flaw” in Galaxy phones

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UPDATE: Samsung has officially apologized to Chinese customers and agreed to fix the phones for free.

Chinese state-run broadcaster CCTV yesterday aired a 30-minute episode (video in Chinese) claiming all of Samsung’s Galaxy S and Note models have a serious design flaw that forces the phones to suddenly lose power and require the battery to be removed and reinserted before powering back on, sometimes causing irreparable damage. Economic Half-Hour says Samsung (KRX:005935) refused to fix the ‘bricked’ phones despite still being under warranty. Repairs reportedly cost between RMB 800 and RMB 2,000 ($131 to $328).

So let’s just start by saying that yes, this is a real defect, not something invented by CCTV. The problem is a firmware bug that can cause physical damage to the eMMC chip embedded in the motherboard of the phone. Preventative fixes for the small minority of phones affected were issued by Samsung back in June. An app is available on Google Play if you want to check if your phone is at risk.

Is the flaw bad enough to warrant a 30-minute smear campaign against the company? Probably not. The story on Economic Half-hour based its findings mostly on anecdotal evidence – starting with claims made by one woman who owned her phone for nine months. She says her phone had to be restarted 30 times per day. A CCTV reporter followed her into a Samsung repair shop and customer service center with a hidden camera, where employees told her the problem was not covered under warranty.

CCTV cites the number of search results and social media posts that include the keyword used to identify the flaw (字库门). Sina Weibo returned 817 results. A QQ group included 400 people. Baidu returned one million results, but it’s likely only a small percentage of those are actually relevant.

CCTV also interviewed one third-party phone maintenance worker who said about 20 percent of his repairs in September dealt with this problem.

Samsung says the defect rate due to this problem is very low and can be fixed with a firmware upgrade. The company says any needed repairs can be done for free within 12 months of purchase under warranty, despite CCTV’s claims to the contrary.

Either way, CCTV has blown a minor defect way out of proportion as a way to defame the South Korean smartphone maker’s brand and ethics. Let’s be honest; every phone has its issues. The report attacks Samsung for lack of an adequate response. It says all Samsung Galaxy model phones are at risk, which is clearly not the case. Samsung is also accused of shirking responsibility and rushing the release of its products.

The criticism recalls CCTV’s accusations against Apple in March. In that report, CCTV stated that Chinese consumers were given used replacement parts for broken devices, while international customers were given brand new parts or devices. Both stories were likely intended to drive up ratings, though the attack on Samsung seems less politically driven, whereas Apple was essentially accused of prejudice.

Samsung is the most popular smartphone brand in China, selling over 15 million handsets in the first half of this year.

(Source: Techweb – article in Chinese)

(Editing by Steven Millward)

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