Samsung May Bring Back Its Fire-Plagued Galaxy Note 7


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A customer returning a Galaxy Note 7 smartphone at a Samsung store in Seoul, South Korea, in October.

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Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

SEOUL, South Korea — The star-crossed Samsung Galaxy Note 7 — the ambitious new smartphone whose problems with fires prompted an unprecedented and costly product axing, warnings from airlines and a host of one-liners from late-night comedians — may be headed back into the hands of consumers.

Samsung Electronics said on Monday that it might sell refurbished versions of the phone. The company said in a statement that some of its existing Note 7s would be “considered to be used as refurbished or rental phones,” while others would be subjected to recycling processes, extracting parts like camera modules as well as metals like copper, nickel, gold and silver.

A company spokesman said on Tuesday that detailed sales plans had yet to be completed, including in which countries the device might appear. That would depend on demand as well as Samsung’s discussions with regulators and phone operators around the world, he said.

The announcement raised eyebrows across the technology world. The company’s flagship smartphone was discontinued in October after some phones overheated and caught on fire, leading Samsung to pull it from the market entirely. The episodes put a major dent on the brand and cost the company $5 billion.

Samsung has already suffered a spate of unwelcome headlines in the political world, as its de facto leader is in jail awaiting trial on bribery charges related to a major political scandal. Samsung has said the executive — Lee Jae-yong, also known as Jay Y. Lee — did not commit bribery.

The announcement came as Samsung was preparing to unveil on Wednesday the newest version of its most popular smartphone line, the Galaxy S8, which is viewed as the company’s first big effort to put the Note 7 debacle behind it. The company is still working on a more direct successor to the Note 7, a broad device with a big screen sometimes called a phablet because it combines the attributes of phone and a tablet.

“This is one of those decisions that make you stop and scratch your head,” Bryan Ma, vice president for devices research at IDC, a research company, said in an email. He added, “The last thing they need in the run-up to the S8 launch is another reminder to the world about what happened with the Note 7.”

The Note 7 has risen before only to fall again. Over less than three months beginning in August, Samsung released the phone, recalled it, released it again, then recalled and canceled it.

The device, which was intended to counter the popularity of Apple’s new and similarly plus-size iPhones, initially received universally glowing reviews from critics and was an instant hit with consumers. But Mr. Ma said the decision to bring the Note 7 back to market carries the risk of “coming across as being petty.”

Safety concerns over the phone led many regulators across the world to ban the phones on board flights. Many airlines called out the Note 7 by name to passengers before planes took off.

An official at the South Korean ministry in charge of transportation said the ban continued to be in effect but declined to comment on Samsung’s plans, citing a lack of detailed information.

Environmental activists have urged Samsung to produce a recycling plan for the millions of recalled phones. Activists from Greenpeace last month interrupted the company’s news conference at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, a major mobile network and smartphone technology trade show, to press the issue.

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