Commentary
8/25/2015
06:10 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
Commentary

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Stylus Can Damage Smartphone

Inserting the S Pen backwards can wreck the Galaxy Note 5's ability to detect the stylus.



Samsung Galaxy Note 5, S6 Edge+: Side By Side
Samsung Galaxy Note 5, S6 Edge+: Side By Side
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Samsung may have a big problem on its hands. Its Galaxy Note 5 has a critical design flaw that can easily break the phone's stylus functionality. It's serious enough that a recall or replacement program might be in order.

The Note series devices have always included a stylus that Samsung calls the S Pen. The S Pen is generally tucked into the handset's frame. In past iterations of the hardware, the S Pen could only be inserted one way: pointy-end in. A nub at the top of the stylus prevented it from being stored incorrectly.

The Galaxy Note 5 is different.

In order to clean up the exterior design, the Note 5's stylus sits flush with the bottom edge of the handset. The stylus is thus a uniform size and shape along the entire length (with the obvious exception of the tip). This means it can be inserted into the slot in either direction -- point first or top first. Herein lies the problem.

If Note 5 owners accidentally stick the top end into the S Pen slot, it can become stuck. (To be clear, there's no resistance or indicator when the stylus is inserted incorrectly.) Worse, when inserted incorrectly and then removed, the stylus has damaged the sensor that determines whether the S Pen is inside the Note 5 or removed. Yikes.

(Image: Samsung)

(Image: Samsung)

With a damaged sensor, the S Pen's Action Center control panel won't appear, and the stylus's main functions are rendered more or less useless.

Android Police demonstrated the flaw on video and permanently ruined the handset's S Pen sensor. Moreover, the S Pen became irretrievably wedged inside the handset. Ars Technica was able to repeat the flaw. The publication fiddled with the stylus a bit and got the sensor working again, but Note 5 owners shouldn't bank on being able to resuscitate their handsets in such a fashion.

[There's still a lot to like. See Samsung Galaxy Note 5: Top 5 Features.]

How serious is this really? Many Note 5 owners will likely never stick the S Pen into the phone the wrong way on purpose, but accidents happen. Since the stylus slides in either way, it could be easy to pop it in backwards when not paying attention. Moreover, children playing with the phone might not know to put it in correctly and accidentally damage the handset.

The Note 5 is an expensive handset. Prices for the phone start around $700 and ramp up to $900. Since the entire point of the Note 5 is the S Pen accessory and its added functionality, it would be a shame for consumers to shell out lots of cash only to end up with a busted device.

Samsung has yet to respond publicly to the matter. Until it does, phablet lovers may want to put their Note 5 purchase on hold.

Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio
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