We try not be hyperbolic here at Android Police, so allow me a moment to explain our title here, and why we think it is justified.
It is extremely rare that a modern, expensive electronic device ships with an easy-to-encounter design flaw that can result in apparently permanent, or at least not easily corrected, damage to the device. At this point, we feel strongly that the S Pen in the Galaxy Note 5 does suffer from a design flaw that will be encountered by some end users of the device, a flaw which could permanently break a feature of the phone.
The flaw stems from Samsung's new S Pen slot design on the Note 5, and you may have read about this already elsewhere, but here's our take on it. Basically, on previous Galaxy Note smartphones, attempting to insert the S Pen in the device in the wrong direction resulted in obvious futility - they won't fit, or if they do, they require substantial force to get into the S Pen slot the wrong way, enough that you'd immediately realize you were doing something wrong.
On the Note 5, inserting the S Pen the wrong way provides exactly as much resistance as inserting it the right way. Which is to say: basically none at all. Once you insert the pen far enough in the wrong direction (again, which causes no strange resistance or feel than putting it in the right way), it will get stuck. It doesn't even have to "click" in. At this point, of course, you will panic. And you will try to get it out - and most likely, you'll succeed. The problem is that if you do succeed, there's a very real possibility you'll break whatever mechanism the device uses to detect whether the pen is attached or detached from the phone. Which is exactly what happened to our review unit.
Yes, seriously. Watch the video.
We're really not sure how this made it past testing at Samsung - it seems like such an obvious thing to design into the S Pen slot, especially when Samsung has full reason to know that inserting the pen the wrong way can damage the direction-sensitive detection mechanism in the slot.
Pen detection on our review unit is completely broken, and during the making of this video in an attempt to show how easy it is to insert the stylus the wrong way, the S Pen became hopelessly jammed in the slot, and I am now totally unable to remove it without the assistance of tools I'd rather not try, in the interest of avoiding further damage to the device. The reason we did this was simple: to see if the defect, which we'd read about elsewhere, was real. It seems very real to us.
We will be reaching out to Samsung for a statement on this, and in the meantime, advise everyone with a Note 5 to be exceptionally careful to make sure you don't insert the pen in the device in the wrong direction (and by relation, maybe don't let your kids play with the stylus, because yeah). We can only speculate what action Samsung may take, but I would have to think either a new S Pen stylus design must be implemented that cannot cause this problem (and pens can be provided free of charge to owners), or the devices themselves should probably be recalled.
This is highly unusual, and not the kind of engineering we expect from a company of Samsung's caliber.
Dom Esposito over at 9to5Google did a bit of dirty work and took apart a Note 5 to show just how the S Pen could get so completely stuck (and how the pen detection mechanism can break), and the results are not pretty. Essentially, there are two lever mechanisms in the slot that the S Pen's new clicky-top can get stuck on. The first one, encountered just halfway into the slot, is the pen detection lever. Once you're stuck on that, pulling out the S Pen can badly jam the detection lever or just flat-out bend it so badly that it becomes detached from the main board and is essentially irreparably damaged.
Pictured: "God damnit." via 9to5Google
But if you push the S Pen all the way in, you may be, to use the technical term, totally screwed: the second lever is more of a hook that keeps the pen in the slot, and it will latch onto the gap in the click-top mechanism of the pen. And at that point, extricating it may become impossible without damaging the S Pen or the hook itself permanently. The thing is, the only way to remove the S Pen without potentially doing damage is to remove the rear cover of the phone... which is only possible when the S Pen is removed from the slot. Yes, really.
Way to go there, Samsung.
Samsung's US arm has issued a statement to us, and it's basically similar to the one provided by Samsung UK to the BBC. Here it is, regardless:
We highly recommend our Galaxy Note5 users follow the instructions in the user guide to ensure there are no issues.
We have asked Samsung in follow-up whether or not the company actually plans to address the issue at a hardware level, and will update this post if and when we receive a statement.
Speaking to the BBC (Samsung has still not responded to us), Samsung provided this statement:
We highly recommend our Galaxy Note 5 users follow the instructions in the user guide to ensure they do not experience such an unexpected scenario caused by reinserting the S-Pen in the other way around.
This statement does not make it sound as though Samsung plans to address the issue, merely that it expects people not to do this. We'll update this post if we receive or hear of any more on-the-record comments from Samsung.
It seems Samsung was aware of this issue when it shipped the Note 5 and still did not seek to actively address it - the official manual for the phone very clearly states that the S Pen should not be placed in the device backward, lest damage occur to the phone or pen.
This makes a compelling case that Samsung was not only aware of the ease with which the pen could be inserted incorrectly, but the damage it could cause. A similar warning does not appear in the user manual for last year's Galaxy Note 4. Here's the same page for stylus eject instructions from the Note 4.
The addition of the warning for the Note 5 strongly suggests Samsung was aware of the design flaw and specifically chose not to correct it leading up to the launch of the device, instead relying on a small instructional disclaimer. While it is certainly good of them to include this information, it's unlikely most users will ever read this manual page, and of course nigh-impossible that someone inexperienced using the device would have a way to intuit or discover this information.
We have still yet to receive any comment from Samsung.