A Brief History of Exploding Gadgets

From laptops to wearables to the infamous Galaxy Note 7

As long as lithium-ion batteries have been around, technology has run into occasional flare-ups. Here's a look at some of the most headline-grabbing incidents of personal electronics catching fire in recent years, from a Motorola Droid 2 to the infamous Galaxy Note 7.

01
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Motorola Droid 2

A Motorola Droid 2 — though not the affected unit. Jourdan Cameron

Way back in 2010, a Motorola Droid 2 owner in Texas made headlines when he claimed his smartphone exploded in his ear. He explained that he heard a pop and felt something dripping, and showed his handset complete with a burn and a crack to reporters.

02
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Hoverboards on Fire

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue

Hoverboards — who could forget the self-balancing scooter trend, or the explosions that came with it? In December 2015, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that it was aware of no fewer than 12 incidents of hoverboards catching on fire. These reports contributed to major US airlines banning these devices on board and various institutions banning hoverboards from their premises. Naturally many retailers discontinued selling these items altogether as well. As is generally the case in such situations, the gadgets' batteries were found to be the problem, but the issue was complicated by the fact that the explosions were tied to products from a variety of manufacturers. 

03
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Samsung Galaxy Note 7

KKJ.CN

Few exploding gadgets have had such wide-reaching impact as the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, which came under fire (ha) in 2016 for issues with the handset's batteries that led to overheating. After various instances of fires and explosions were reported by Note 7 owners, the US Department of Transportation banned the device from both carry-on and checked baggage on flights to, within or from the United States. While this was hugely inconvenient for affected travelers, few people would argue that denying boarding to those carrying a notoriously explosive phone was the right move. And after user reports of Note 7 explosions reached an incredible 35, Samsung took the drastic measure of recalling all sold units of the phone — a number estimated to be as high as 2.5 million! Making an already-bad situation even worse, even the replacement Note 7 units were susceptible to overheating and explosions.

04
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Apple iPhone 7 Plus

Briana Olivas

While 2017 hasn't proved to be quite as smoldering a year (personal tech explosion-wise) as 2016, the Apple iPhone 7 Plus grabbed headlines in February for an explosion of its own — made all the more viral by the fact that the flare-up was caught on video. Briana Olivas tweeted a clip of her iPhone 7 Plus on fire in its case, and she added that steaming and a "squealing noise" alerted her and her boyfriend to the gadget's issue. (For the record, Olivas did take her smartphone into Sprint store due to trouble with getting the turn on prior to its going up in flames.)

05
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Dell Inspiron: A Repeat Offender

Devon Johnson

Not only did one Dell Inspiron owner's laptop catch on fire in February 2017, but it combusted an astounding four times in a row, each time after he had extinguished the fire. And no, this wasn't simply made-up; the blazes were caught on home security footage. The Inspiron in question was charging on the owner's sofa when the flare-ups began. Dell eventually issued a statement saying that the laptop's battery was not manufactured by Dell and discouraged customers from using third-party batteries.

06
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Battery-Powered Headphones Explode in Flight

ATSB

Lest you think laptops and Android- and iOS-powered smartphones are the only culprits when it comes to personal tech explosions, consider this incident on a flight from Beijing to Melbourne in March 2017. While she was sleeping, a passenger's battery-powered Beats headphones exploded, burning her hair, face and hands. The potential serious implications of such a catastrophe are pretty clear — especially when you remember this incident happened in the air. Luckily the extent of the injuries were the passenger's burns (meaning since she was on a plane, a fire could have potentially spread).

07
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Fitbit Flex 2

Fitbit

What's worse than your smartphone spontaneously catching on fire? A piece of tech strapped to your wrist that explodes without notice. That's unfortunately just what happened to an owner of the Fitbit Flex 2 activity tracker in April 2017; it combusted on her wrist while she was reading a book. She received second-degree burns as a result, and the doctors who treated her had to remove melted pieces of plastic and rubber from her arm. 

For its part, Fitbit released a statement expressing concern in wake of the incident. It also offered the affected user a replacement device, and later followed up its original statement with a comment that concluded the explosion wasn't a result of the Flex 2 device itself, placing the blame on "external forces" instead. For what it's worth, this does appear to have been an isolated incident.

08
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Tesla Fires

Tesla

Cars count as tech, right? Especially when they're electric models from the much talked-about company Tesla, they do. Back in 2013, the company garnered some negative attention after three Model S vehicles caught on fire after a crash. As the company pointed out, in all three incidents the fires occurred after damage was done to the vehicle; no blazes were entirely spontaneous. More recently, in February 2017, a Model S crashed and exploded upon impact, resulting in one fatality.

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How to Prevent This From Happening to You

Clearly, no category of personal electronics is completely safe from the possibility of an explosion. So, how can you ensure you and your tech stay safe? Well, first the bad news: Anything that uses a lithium-ion battery essentially carries some risk — since these batteries are pretty much always the culprit.

That said, there are some ways to minimize your risk. For one, don't use third-party batteries — as in, those from a manufacturer other than the one that made your piece of tech — since these could be made up to less-rigorous standards; knockoffs should definitely be avoided at all costs. Additionally, do what you can to minimize your gadget's exposure to heat. This means you should avoid storing it in an overly warm environment, and if you feel it getting hot against your lap or hand, try turning it off and letting it cool down before powering it on again. And it should go without saying that a routinely overheating gadget is probably cause for contacting customer service. After all, better safe than sorry.