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Boy Burned as Blackberry Curve 9320 Catches Fire

Boy Burned as Blackberry Curve 9320 Catches Fire

Click here for an update to the story at the bottom of this page.

The Telegraph (and others) have gone to town on RIM this month after a Blackberry Curve 9320 caught fire and almost killed Kian, 11 in his bed. While this is terrible news for the poor lad who's now scarred for life, we'd like to educate you as to why you're not about to experience the same fiery fate that this young lad did. Kian's family are calling for Blackberry 9320's to be taken off the shelves before more people risk the same issue. This has nothing to do with Blackberry.

First of all, the phone didn't catch fire. That, my friends, is the batteries fault. The media hype has so far done a comparable job to saying "Don't buy any (insert name here) cars because a car battery exploded". It's scaremongering like this that can damage a companies reputation and lead to poor decisions from current consumers. I'd like to set the record straight on behalf of RIM and shed some insight into why this happened and how you can stop it from happening to you.

The deadly Lithium-Ion Battery?

Your mobile phone is powered by a Lithium-Polymer battery. These batteries are great, keeping what is essentially a miniature computer alive for hours on end. But, as with all things that require electricity, there's inherent risks with batteries and these are well documented in the phone's instruction manual that you will no doubt ever read. Essentially "Don't bang, bend, heat, cool, submerge or bin your battery". Inside of that magic rectangle is all sorts of wizardry (read: Safety Requirements) that'll try to keep you out of a flaming pickle, but it can only do so much before it'll throw in the towel and go up in smoke.

The main cause of a battery bursting into flames like this is a short circuit. That can be caused by a hard knock, extreme heat, extreme cold, moisture, or just a bad battery. One comment about this story in particular that got me thinking was "It was cold on that night". Yes it certainly was, and you might not know this, but you're not supposed to charge a Lithium-Ion battery if it's temperature is below 0 degrees. It might look like all is well, but there could be a storm brewing inside of your phone. Equally, if your radiator is on, don't put the phone near it.

Things you can do to avoid your mobile going up in smoke are:

  • Treat your phone with TLC. Don't throw it about, regardless of how cheap it might have been. One big knock to those battery contacts and you're going to have a bad day.
  • Keep your phone out of your bed. Your phone will get hot under the covers, pillow, or you when you roll on it.
  • Leave it nowhere near a radiator or direct sunlight. Or a glass of water.
  • Make sure you're using the original battery and battery chargers. £4 batteries off eBay are notorious for simply giving up and refusing to power on than bursting into flames, but cheap = corners cut.

Will My Smartphone Catch On Fire?

I'll answer that question with another question. How many plane crashes do we have per year compared to the amount of actual plane journeys? With an absurd 8million-to-one chance of your trip to Ibiza coming to an abrupt end in the Atlantic Ocean, you're likely to see similar figures about the possibility of your mobile phone going up in smoke too. The media LOVES hype so rambling on about how a "Young boys Blackberry burst into flames almost killing entire family" is newsworthy gold. The thing is, the Blackberry was simply the shell around the problem. The problem was the battery - or dare I say it, the owner.

Apparently this poor lad only had the phone for a week before it caught fire. Having seen images of the box, it's pretty obvious that it isn't a week old box. There's so many things that you need to account for here. Was the phone an insurance refurb? Was the battery the original battery? Did the case make the phone overheat? Was it an original charger? What actually happened between it being unplugged and randomly being left on a young boys bed at 2:30am?

Care for your battery. Simple.

Battery safety isn't really thrown down our throats and to be honest it doesn't need to be. A Lithium-Ion battery has so many cut off features that you'll be hard pressed to make one go nuclear yourself; it tends to be a manufacturing fault that'll stop the safety gizmos from working - or a knock off charger, or even (and this is pushing it) an act of utter, utter stupidity. I personally have owned so many different types of mobile phone, smart phone, and laptops and I can honestly say this has never happened to me. I once found an old O2 XDA lying around, the battery was in tip top condition, and that particular phone was probably celebrating its 10th birthday when I found it, with 8 years of sitting in a drawer. Had that been an old Ni-Cad battery, i'd have had to call in a HazMat team to extract the offending article.

The internet is awash with stories of burning phones, some are blatant fakes like the man who microwaved his phone to get a new phone, some are simply acts of Darwinism where a phone has been repaired by an inexperienced person, and some can be real. It's unfortunately an inevitability that this will happen once every so often, but the safety margins are so good that when a one-in-200,000 failure rate in laptop batteries was found, it triggered a recall of nearly six million Lithium-Ion batteries used in laptops manufactured by Dell and Apple. Yes, 30 out of 6,000,000 batteries could have gone up in smoke so they were all recalled and replaced.

I'll give you the world's oddest yet most relevant analogy. Like a dog, buy your phone from a reputable place. If it's been someone elses dog for a while, check to make sure it's ok inside and out. Make sure the dog was fed the right food in the correct amounts. Don't let your dog get too hot or too cold. Don't poke and prod your dog in bad places. If your dog gets ill, take it to a vet and don't try to deal with it yourself. Do all of that and your dog will love you. Don't...and you might get bitten.

Have a safe Christmas everybody, and we hope Kian gets better soon.

Original article here.

Update 07/12/2012

The skeptic inside of me knew this was coming. The phone, battery and charger have all gone missing.

RIM say in a statement: “A senior member of our team met with the family yesterday to initiate a full investigation into this matter. In order to proceed with this investigation we require the products that were involved in this incident to be made available for a full technical review. At this point in time the family has not provided RIM with the battery or charger for analysis and have said they are unable to locate the device itself. We have a team on standby to conduct this investigation as a priority as soon as the family makes these products available to us.”