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All Nokia 5800 come with a defect?!
We have been looking into the situation around the faulty earpiece on the Nokia 5800 and analyzing feedback from the users since early December. For me this work was exciting from several perspectives – for one, I was able to find a connection between warranty claims and certain usage patterns, as well as put together a thorough picture of various types of defects (both hardware and software) present in this phone. We are not going to cover the 5800 XpressMusic’s software issues, though, as they are fairly easy to rectify with a new firmware version, whereas its hardware flaws require the user to return the phone for repair, so they are a lot more crucial. Also, we won’t touch upon the statistics on warranty claims and issues of this nature – rather, we’d like to tell you more about the design flaws in the Nokia 5800 and also the real scope of the problem.
Before we start I want to note that since December we have torn apart over ten retail units of the Nokia 5800 – basically, we put them through a whole array of tests and experiments, in an effort to find out what the reason of breakdowns was. While one could argue whether we have tested enough phones to make any sort of competent conclusion, we have reached the point when we are no longer eager to spend money on these experiments, as no matter how many phones we try, the end result is always the same. The same defect manifests itself under similar circumstances in all units without exception, including those that were fixed by Nokia’s authorized service centers.
The main problem that many users complain about is the top right corner of the casing that tends to loosen up with time, and, supposedly, causes the earpiece to give up the ghost or, at very least start making creaking noises and spontaneously changing its volume while in a call.
Apparently, it stood to reason that we needed to investigate these two flaws as one, since a loose-fitting part of the casing probably made the earpiece slip several millimeters down from its original position. Skipping the details, I’d like to say that this approach has proven to be inadequate – these are two separate problems, because over the course of our experiments we ran into several phones that didn’t have any issues with their casings, however their earpieces were barely usable and vice versa.
The right corner of the phone tends to loosen up because of a slightly displaced screw. All in all, this design flaw is characteristic of most 5800 XM units. However, it’s rather an unpleasant feature, as the frame surrounding the earpiece doesn’t go anywhere, meaning that the abovementioned issue with the 5800’s casing has absolutely no effect on its earpiece performance (in that it doesn’t slip down or start to wobble in its slot).
With this in mind, we decided to focus on the problem with the 5800’s earpiece and here is what we have managed to find out.
Nokia 5800’s earpiece
The Nokia 5800's earpiece isn't soldered onto the contacts on the circuit board, rather it's pressed into the circuit board. In fact, the 5800 XpressMusic is not the only phone that employs this design, most other Nokia-branded phones do too. However, their percentage of failures isn’t nearly as substantial as that of the 5800 XpressMusic.
As a rule, you can get a malfunctioning earpiece to work simply by disassembling the phone and putting it back together, without touching the earpiece module at all. This method was stumbled upon by employees of Nokia's service center and in truth it made the situation even more perplexing, as we managed to bring one 5800 XpressMusic back to life in this manner.
This indicates that the problem probably lies in a thin oxide film that forms on contacts and breaks down whenever moved. Although the question remains as to why similarly designed earpieces found in other phones (like Nokia N85 and Nokia E71) don’t suffer from this effect as well? However it turns out that they do too, just like the Nokia 5800, but the number of failures is insignificant.
Through trial and error we learned the following:
And now, here is what we found out during our experiments with several retail units of the Nokia 5800. We turned on one of them and put it in a drawer (it didn’t make or receive any calls, nor was it touched at all); then we used another 5800 XpressMusic as our main phone without any carrying cases, and we didn’t take any precautions either. The third unit was placed in a box with a relative air humidity of 65% (without condensate!!!), and we regularly made calls with it for 2 weeks (around 20 minutes a day). We didn’t do anything to the fourth unit, and for our reference sample we used the Nokia N85 (put in a box together with a separate earpiece module) and we also made/received calls with it.
The results were stunning to say the least. After two weeks in the box the third unit had all the symptoms of the earpiece problem (creaking noise and so on) as well as tiny furrows on its contacts (although it seemed they hadn’t changed, we didn’t have the tools to provide a more accurate assessment of this parameter or prove the presence of an oxide film). On the other hand, we didn’t experience any sound quality issues with the Nokia N85, furthermore, the earpiece that spent two weeks with it in one box didn’t show any signs of creaking noises either. So the conclusion is pretty simple – air humidity is the main reason behind the Nokia 5800’s earpiece problems, although 65% (the level we used in our tests) isn’t uncommon in many regions. Again, I should emphasize that there was no condensate in the box whatsoever; neither did we find it in the phone itself or any proof that it was there. The only part of the phone that got affected was the earpiece of a working 5800 XpressMusic, even though the Nokia N85, packing in the same earpiece type, came out of the box unharmed.
Key conclusion. The failure occurred only when a working phone was placed in the box with the abovementioned air humidity level, our reference sample that spent two weeks in the same box, but was turned off, didn’t show any signs of this problem.
On top of that we examined the earpiece’s contacts, measured their resistance (and found that there was no difference between “before” and “after”), but didn’t came to any specific conclusion. The earpiece module that spent two weeks in the box with the Nokia N85 worked perfectly when we took it out, however then we placed it into a new Nokia 5800 XpressMusic and after two weeks it started malfunctioning as well. In other words, air humidity level matters only when your phone makes and receives calls, which also explains why some people never experience these issues after months of use – those who make fewer calls or prefer to use headsets aren’t as exposed to the earpiece problem as the users who spend a lot of time on the phone (specifically in the street or places with high air humidity levels), so the latter usually run into this flaw much sooner.
Based on the analysis of these results, we devised two primitive ways to fix the phone – the first option is to solder in the contacts, and the other one is to use a sealant in order to limit the exposure of the earpiece’s contacts to moisture. However neither method proved successful, as the earpieces on both phones we used for this experiment started malfunctioning, although it took them slightly longer to get into that condition.
Starting mid February service centers have been receiving warranty claims regarding the 5800 XM’s earpiece issues – those were the phones sold in early December, and all of them got fixed. As it stands today, there haven’t been many repeated warranty claims, and according to service centers and retailers the percentage of malfunctioning phones is somewhat low at this point, revolving around 7 percent, although the peak of returns will probably occur in spring (for phones retailed in November and early December).
We tried to figure out the nature of this defect and define it more clearly, but we didn’t have much success. Starting January 21st all authorize service centers have been receiving new earpiece models that have a slightly different color, but sport the same part number.
Nokia’s official response
Mobile-Review.com’s request for information about the defect was answered by Viktoria Eremina, Nokia's PR Director for Europe & Asia. Below is the full text of the letter:
All the faulty earpieces have been replaced with units produced by a different manufacturer, both those used in production models and those in the warehouses. I shall emphasize that we haven’t changed the model of the 5800 XpressMusic’s earpiece, but rather changed our supplier. It’s easy to prove since the new units look differently, which you can see in the following images.
Starting in late January all authorized service centers have been receiving packages with the new earpieces and any users who made warranty claims after that time shouldn’t experience the problem again.
It’s worth noting that the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic is one of our company’s top-priority products therefore its sales have been monitored by our Research & Development (R&D) division from day one, and as soon as we found out about this defect an official representative of Nokia’s R&D department visited Russia to study the issue on-site.
Recurring warranty claims mentioned in Mobile-Review’s article started with the first phones sold in the region, as back then we didn’t have a solution, and therefore all the faulty earpieces were exchanged for the same units, which were manufactured by our previous supplier. However, as we gained a greater understanding of what the real cause of the problem was it became obvious that a simple replacement couldn’t solve the issue. I can’t name the company that made these flawed speakers, but I can say that it’s a respected and world-renowned vendor whose quality standards could not be doubted. Unfortunately, nobody is immune to these sort of mistakes.
Also, it needs to be mentioned that with the scope of the problem and Nokia’s global operations in mind, the single month that we took to deal with this issue is a very short period of time given the problem. Naturally our record-breaking sales of this phone in December led to the fact that more consumers were ultimately affected, but we have put a lot of energy and resources into rectifying this defect and we believe that it no longer poses a problem.
Therefore, we would like to assure our clients that it’s safe to buy the 5800 XpressMusic. Furthermore, if you returned your phone for repair some time after the end of January you shouldn’t run into this flaw ever again, and if you have just encountered it with your phone bought in 2008 then you can claim for repair and have the earpiece changed for a new unit.
Essentially, it’s safe to say that the 5800 XM’s record-breaking sales have turned into a record-breaking level of failures as well. Nevertheless, no phone maker is immune to this. Speaking of the 5800 XpressMusic’s world-wide release, on January 27th Nokia announced that they shipped to distributors one million units, and given that it takes a while to change all faulty earpiece modules, it’s very na?ve to expect that they could rectify with this defect by then. Therefore there are all reasons to believe that before that day all 5800 XpressMusic phones sold or shipped to retailers contained faulty earpieces. The question remains, though, whether all of them will eventually start malfunctioning or not, but that’s not the main point. The crux of the matter is that no phone was defect-free.
As far as the Russian market is concerned, by mid January they had sold around 140 thousand units, (which makes this phone one of the most popular offerings in this price segment), and all of them had the faulty part inside. On the other hand, at this point in time only 7 percent of the owners have returned their phones for repair, but the number of warranty claims is yet to reach its highest levels (probably in April or May).
Those of you who have already encountered this issue and had your 5800 XM repaired, the only thing I can recommend is to take your phone back to any service center and get them to replace the earpiece again. And if you are about to buy a 5800 XpressMusic, but wouldn’t like to visit Nokia’s service center at least once, then pay close attention to the phone’s production date – it seems that all units manufactured in February are defect-free. Unfortunately, there is no way to learn about a new phone's production date from its box or manual - to do that you will need to contact a service center and tell them your IMEI code, and this is the only way to do that at this point in time. However the good news is that given how popular this phone is, it's safe to say that by mid March local retailers won't have any flawed units left in stock. So another option would be to wait until April before buying the 5800 XpressMusic.
Everyone should decide for him/herself whether the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic's pros outweigh its cons, including the added possibility of the earpiece defect. My opinion that this phone is the best offering in its class hasn't changed at all. While this phone's earpiece is its weakest spot, it's simply one of the things you need to be aware of and have the whole story on your hands, rather than rumors and guesses. However I shall warn you that any attempt to disassemble the phone and fix the earpiece on your own may nullify your warranty, on top of that, there is a very slim chance you'll manage to bring it back to life.
The fact that Nokia has publicly admitted that the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic contains a defect is a good sign - to be honest, when I made several posts about this issue in my blog, where I mentioned that Nokia readily replaced all faulty parts but refrained from any public statements, I was guided by similar cases with faulty displays on some of their other models. However, when I asked Nokia's officials for a commentary, I was surprised to find out that they had already acknowledged the fact that the 5800 XpressMusic came with a faulty eapriece, and, what's more, they were willing to comment on this matter. When I was investigating the Nokia 5800's case I completely forgot that there was a much easier way to make everything clear, and for that I apologize. It's a pity that we could have gotten that commentary much ealier - the fact of the matter is that we had started our tests long before Nokia made any official statement.
Getting back to the Nokia 5800, we consider the case closed, or, at least, there are no reasons to believe that new earpiece modules won't work as intended. And since we'll have to repair the units we used for this review anyway, we might decide to put them through these tests again, once we get them back from the service center. But for now we assume that Nokia have fixed the problem and new earpiece modules are defect-free.
We sincerely hope that this article won't make you change your mind if you were about to buy the Nokia 5800.
Published 27 February 2009
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