Before the Samsung Note7, you’d probably have been called paranoid for worrying about whether or not your smartphone’s battery might explode.
Not that we hadn’t heard about batteries exploding. Assorted smartphones, hoverboards and laptops have made news for blowing up. But it was the large-scale regularity of the Note7’s explosions that was alarming — after all, this was the flagship product of a leading electronics manufacturer, not some throwaway device from a no-name operator.
For all of their potential volatility, lithium-ion batteries are relatively safe. After all — minus the Note7 — think of all the millions of batteries out there being used in the world right now, without incident. The problem is that when things do go wrong, they can go wrong very badly.
If there’s one good thing that’s come out of the Note7 incident, it’s that Samsung is taking battery safety more strictly. It’s instituted a new 8-point battery safety check, which they believe is the most stringent in the industry.
The tests include puncture, extreme temperature and accelerated usage tests, tests I also witnessed in LG’s battery testing labs, housed inside the LG Digital Park in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul. I watched as LG tortured the batteries for its new G6, as well as last year’s V20. One test pierced a battery with a sharp nail and another test smashed a battery with a 9kg weight. The batteries punctured and bent, but didn’t react.
However, the same stability could not be said of other batteries. We watched a video record of one of LG’s more alarming tests, which involved setting a battery on fire to make it explode. An LG battery was set on fire, and it combusted but burned within its own radius. Another company’s battery, however, exploded angrily and flung debris all around; if that had happened in a crowd it would have injured people.
When I asked LG if they had instituted any new battery testing procedures after Samsung’s Note7 incident, I was surprised to hear that they hadn’t. The reason given was that their existing battery tests already exceed the industry’s standards (something that Samsung is now also claiming).
The only thing LG has changed is to include the battery testing earlier in the development cycle. That might explain why the new LG G6 comes with a software feature that quietly checks the battery age and temperature in the background, and why it’s the first LG phone to come with a heat pipe to dissipate heat.
Users shouldn’t have to worry about their devices exploding. We can let go of a lot of things, a less than stellar camera, a device that needs rebooting once in a while, but there’s no leeway for something that can cause harm to life and limb.
Strict tests like what LG has done and what Samsung is now doing should be de rigueur for devices that we put in our pockets, dangle from our bags and put next to us while we sleep. I sure hope that everyone else out there, like Apple, Huawei, Oppo and Xiaomi, is taking battery safety as seriously as well.