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Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Owners Keep Using Their Fire-Prone Phones

by Alex Johnson /  / Updated 
A Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is demonstrated in New York in July.Richard Drew / AP

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Safety agencies and technology experts around the world have pleaded with owners of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone to stop using them because their batteries can catch fire — but they refuse to listen.

Five days after the Consumer Product Safety Commission told U.S. users to stop using them, the federal agency announced a recall of 1 million Note 7s on Thursday, saying owners "should immediately ... power down" the model.

Samsung itself announced an international recall Sept. 2 and on Saturday told users not to use the phones at all.

But data compiled by the mobile analytics firm Apteligent indicates the message isn't getting through. About 87 percent of Note 7s were still actively being used as late as Wednesday.

That was 12 days after Samsung announced its recall. And it was:

"It appears that the usage rate of the phone among existing users has been almost the exact same since the day of the [initial] recall," Apteligent said in an analysis of its data.

The Note 7, Samsung's flagship device for 2016 and the latest in its long line of intended iPhone killers, was launched Aug. 19. Within a matter of days, it grew to represent about 0.25 percent of all smartphones being used worldwide.

On Aug. 31, Samsung announced that it was halting shipments of the $850 phone to conduct more tests for "product quality." Sales and use of Note 7s kept growing, however, according to Apteligent, which measures smartphone usage day by day by monitoring mobile apps when they're opened on individual phones and ping the internet.

Two days later, on Sept. 2, the Note 7 hit a new high of 0.30 percent of worldwide smartphone use. But then, Samsung recalled 2.5 million of the phones as reports grew that some of their batteries caught fire while being charged.

Use of the phones dropped slightly but quickly recovered. According to the data, the Note 7 has remained the phone of choice for 0.26 percent to 0.30 percent of all smartphone users worldwide through Wednesday. It remains to be seen whether, and how much, Thursday's announcement — which doesn't apply outside the United States — changes that.

The data should be considered only a broad indication of Note 7 use, because several factors could skew the numbers.

For example, they're likely to include reports from China, where Samsung says it uses a different battery not affected by the manufacturing flaw — so users would have little reason to believe their phones aren't safe.

 Samsung Galaxy Note 7s on sale in New York in July. Richard Drew / AP, file

And particularly knowledgeable tinkerers can unlock the core operating system, allowing them to load the operating system from another Samsung phone. So not all Note 7s in the data would report themselves as being Note 7s — and some phones would report themselves as being Note 7s even though they're not.

Still, the high rate of continued use all reflects what the phone industry has known for a long time: Samsung customers, like Apple fans, are remarkably loyal to their brand. The two companies have long battled it out for supremacy at the top of sales numbers.

In its July report on U.S. smartphone sales, the international data management and analysis firm Kantar said phones from Samsung and Apple made up the entire list of the 10 top-selling smartphones in the second quarter of 2016, the latest for which full results are available.

During that period — from March 1 through May 31 — Samsung accounted for 37 percent of U.S. smartphone sales, to Apple's 29 percent, Kantar said. Combined, that's two-thirds of the American market.

It's a similar picture worldwide. Gartner Inc., a leading technology research company, reported last month that Samsung was the top-selling smartphone brand in the world, with more than a fifth of international market share during the second quarter.

And that didn't include sales of the Note 7 — which hadn't even been released yet.

Waves of replacement Note 7s won't begin arriving in the United States until Sept. 21, according to Samsung.

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