U.S. regulators issued an official recall of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 phone on Thursday because of a risk of fire. Samsung has said the problem involves 2.5m smartphones worldwide; authorities say that includes 1m in the US. While the company was previously offering to replace the phones, it will now offer consumers the choice of a replacement or a full refund.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is stepping in on a formal recall. Its chairman, Elliot Kaye, blasted Samsung for trying to do the recall on its own, saying that anyone who believes that to be adequate “needs to have more than their phone checked.”
Samsung promised replacement devices, but that was put on hold while regulators reviewed the situation. Kaye said customers will now be offered full refunds, not just replacement devices, if they choose. Note 7 owners need to contact Samsung and provide a number from the back of the phone to determine whether that unit is at risk. Kaye said about one million devices are affected.
The discovery that batteries on the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone could ignite created a tricky task for Samsung: orchestrate a recall of 2.5 million devices spanning 10 countries for a product that is increasingly essential to daily life. Samsung had already initiated a voluntary recall, but the company has been criticized for not offering clear information about the problem or how it would be resolved. While speaking with reporters, Kaye appeared to blast Samsung for not coordinating with his agency.
Health Canada and Samsung Canada issued a product recall earlier this week, noting that they received one report of a phone battery overheating. No injuries were reported. It states approximately 22,000 of the recalled phones were sold in Canada.
Samsung said Note 7 owners who don’t want a refund can choose to get a new Note 7, which the company now says will be available in the U.S. by Wednesday, or the smaller and cheaper Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge right away, with a refund of the price difference.
The recall comes as Samsung is locked in a fierce battle with Apple for the attentions of high-end smartphone buyers. Apple just introduced the latest versions of its iPhone, which go on sale Friday. The Note series is one of Samsung’s most expensive and demand for the phone had been high.
Meanwhile, U.S. aviation safety officials have taken the unusual step of warning airline passengers not to turn on or charge the phone during flights, and not to put them in checked bags.