We are big fans of the recent devices by Samsung, which marked a new era for the company. Finally no longer relying on the same shapeless plastic shells for their phones, and vastly improving the design and materials of their flagship devices, Samsung has made strides when it comes to the design of their phones, which makes this story that more bizarre. Apparently, all it takes to completely and irreversibly break stylus detection on the recent Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is inserting it backwards, which the mechanism allows. Some critics are even dubbing it #StylusGate or #PenGate, as is tradition with any sort of scandal these days. Let’s take a look at this issue a little bit closer, and find out what you should and shouldn’t do if this ever happens to you.
To be clear, if the description doesn’t do it justice, in order to trigger this issue there obviously has to be some mistake by the user. The pen won’t break itself. However, the real issue is how easy this is to do. Basically, the S Pen is able to go into the device both ways, instead of being designed to only allow the stylus to go in one direction, but even worse, if you’re inserting it backwards, there is no real resistance or indication that you’re doing do, and once you do it, that’s it. It’s stuck in there and removing it damages the device. This is something that could trivially happen by accident, without you even realizing what you did until it was already done, or it could very easily be done by someone you hand over the phone to. Yes, it does require user intervention, but it’s still laughably easy to do and there are no safeguards against it, which is the real issue.
This is a weird story, in the sense that from a first glance, most people rightfully assume that it takes an intentional user mistake to make this happen. However, as more and more people picked up the story, it became clear that this was so trivial and easy to do that it could very well be considered a serious design flaw. After all, even if you somehow are able to remove the stylus after it gets stuck, removing it does damage the hardware permanently. One such example is Leo Laporte, the famous tech broadcaster, which unintentionally did it live while talking about how ridiculous the issue was, surprised at how easy it was to do without even having to fully insert the pen into the phone. Eventually he did manage to remove the stylus, but stylus detection is permanently broken on his device.
Samsung has responded to this issue, but its response wasn’t exactly what people were expecting. The company claims that the manual specifically references the fact that inserting the stylus backwards can cause permanent damage, and that users should basically look out. There has been no solution offered and apparently it’s not covered under warranty, with carriers refusing to take broken devices in and instead referring to Samsung. The manual does advise against inserting the stylus backwards, but obviously that is common sense. No one is intentionally forcing the stylus in. The issue is how easy it is to do, and how all of this could be avoided with a better designed S Pen, like previous models which had an intentionally wider top that made this far harder to do and required some force to enter.
Now, if this has happened to you, and your stylus is stuck, first of all, I’m sorry. But there are a couple of things you can try at this point. The most obvious is not forcing the stylus out. Once it’s inserted backwards, there is this little latch inside that latches onto the grooves of the tip and holds it firmly in place, along with a secondary latch that detects whether its inserted or not. You will not get it out by force without damaging the device. You can see that latch below:
The thing you should do is see if you can gently rock the stylus in place to dislodge it from the latch. Do not employ force. Just gently rock the stylus in place and see if there’s any give. If there is, just very gently push it outwards while shaking the device and see if it moves at all. If there is any resistance, stop immediately. At this point, in order to remove the stylus with the mechanism intact, you most likely will need to open the device. Chances are that your device is still in warranty, so your best bet is to send it in and hope Samsung takes care of the issue. If you’re feeling adventurous, here’s where the hold latch is located in the device:
If you already forced the stylus out, pen detection on your device is most likely already broken. This may manifest itself with Pen Mode being always active, as you can see from the floating icon that appears, and your device randomly vibrating as if you’re inserting or removing the pen all the time. The hardware latch that detects the pen is physically broken at that point. I understand how some people may look at this and just dismiss it as idiocy from the user’s part, but the fact that this is so easy to do is without a doubt poor design from Samsung’s part, which is especially bad considering the Note 5 is a flagship device. It could even be done maliciously, essentially damaging the hardware in mere seconds. This can probably be fixed in later models with a redesigned S Pen or clamping mechanism, but at this point Samsung is refusing to admit this as an issue and dismisses it entirely, which doesn’t help affected users. Hopefully, that stance will change as more and more pressure is put on the company to address this issue.