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Don't fear Frankenstein's Galaxy Note 7

Rumors suggest that Samsung may be preparing to sell refurbished Galaxy Note 7 smartphones, but should we fear or embrace these Frankenstein smartphones?

Published onFebruary 22, 2017

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 pen against back of phone.

We’d probably all thought that we’d heard the last of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7, but up popped speculation yesterday that the company may end up selling refitted Note 7 models in a selection of countries. Vietnam and India were among the names suggested, however Samsung India has since stated that “the report on Samsung planning to sell refurbished Galaxy Note 7 smartphone[s] in India is incorrect.”

Done and dusted? Well perhaps not quite. While we may not see the Galaxy Note 7 reappear under the same branding, or even with the same aesthetic design, there are still some merits to the argument that Samsung will seek to recover some of its losses through reclaiming and reselling handsets and/or components. According to The Korean Economic Daily’s sources, such a device could have its 3,500mAh battery swapped with a smaller 3,000 to 3,200mAh cell, and could even feature a new case, look, and branding. So, it wouldn’t really be a Note 7 relaunch at all then?

Update: Korean government confirms Samsung's Note 7 investigation results

Wasted materials and costs

We don’t really want to see the return of another set of Note 7’s with battery replacements, but otherwise the handset was full of perfectly serviceable AMOLED display and main-board parts, which had nothing to do with the defect. Samsung may be eyeing up using these components for use in a new device, especially as mainboards are the most expensive portion of a phone. They house processor, memory, radio, and other expensive integrated circuits on them, which the company will already have ordered in bulk.

Furthermore, Samsung produced many of these components itself, including PoP flash and RAM, and the Exynos 8890 SoC found in some regional Note 7’s. The recall was a double hit for Samsung in this sense, and there’s a strong incentive to repurpose these parts for another phone. Especially as the company would have to pay out even more to dispose of these components anyway.

Rather than simply selling refurbished units, Samsung may launch entirely new models built from remaining, unused production line components. With a new case and design, such a phone probably won't resemble the Note 7 anyway.

Even if Samsung has no intention of using returned Note 7 parts, there’s still the question of what to do with all of the component orders placed for the Note 7 global roll out. Samsung will have invested considerable time and expense into its AMOLED production line, securing fab time and space for its processors and memory, and will have built production lines to actually put all of the parts together. It’s a potentially huge write off, but one that could be mitigated by putting these orders to use elsewhere.

It’s unlikely that these parts could be used for Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S8, as orders and production plans will be difficult to change just months before launch. Not to mention that there’s an all new processing package and different display sizes tipped for the S8.

So what does Samsung do with these AMOLED displays, spare flash memory, and Exynos 8890 processors? It could sell them to some of its competitors, like Meizu, or reuse these components in some of its own new devices. After all, the Exynos 8890 will be a bit old in comparison to the Snapdragon 835 and/or Exynos 9 series in the Galaxy S8, so a lower mid-range handset is a possibility. Combined with a new case design to prevent any battery issues, and we’re looking at a pretty good use for all those spare parts.

Just don’t recycle the name

If any of this turns out to be true, the biggest question remains – how to market such a ‘not quite flagship’ phone?

It’s extremely unlikely that Samsung would relaunch the Note 7 name for at least two reasons. A: the two recalls have tainted the name that no-one would trust a third launch. B: it’s been too long and runs the risk of conflicting with the Galay S8 and even Note 8 launches.

A lower cost model might not sell so well in the Note range's typical markets, but Samsung could introduce such a phone to more price competitive regions.
However, without the familiar Note branding, it seems unlikely that Samsung would be able to shift this Frankenstein phone in its traditional high-end markets, where branding is key. Consumers in South Korea, Japan, Europe, and the US are unlikely to flock to a lower cost off-schedule release instead of paying the usual premium for the Galaxy S8 or Note 8.

This is perhaps where the original report’s mention of other markets comes in to play, ones that are more discerning on price and features than just a brand name. A lower cost Note 7 alternative would probably sell a lot better in Asia and perhaps even Southern America than in the US. Samsung India has already confirmed that refurbished Note 7’s won’t be reappearing in the country, but this doesn’t rule out any number of different Galaxy ranges, or even an entirely new one, which could sneak in a few of the Note 7’s unused components.

Wrap Up

There’s certainly a fair amount of logic behind the original rumor, but we’re almost certainly not looking at a Note 7 relaunch or the direct sale of refurbished units. Of course, Samsung will likely never tell us if it’s reusing part of its Note 7 production line for a new handset. But we shouldn’t shy away from an Exynos 8890 powered phone with a 5.7-inch AMOLED display, as these are great components that had nothing to do with the Note 7’s battery problem.

That being said, Samsung is a large and profitable enough company to be able to suck up the costs and simply move on to its new devices. We will just have to wait and see what Samsung announces over the next few months.

Would you like to see Samsung launch a device using Note 7 parts, or is the handset tainted too much that you would rather avoid anything associated with it?

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