Google's latest flagship handsets have been seen their fair share of bugs since releasing in October, but spontaneous combustion thankfully wasn't among them — at least until this week.
Reddit user DysonBorkSphere says his Pixel 3 XL "spewed flames" after overheating while charging. It's the first report of its kind linked to Google's newest phones, and it doesn't appear to be a widespread issue based on the description of how this incident went down.
As it turns out, the device that exploded was actually a replacement for another Pixel 3 XL that the customer returned because it was also getting abnormally hot while charging. That first phone didn't catch fire or even engage thermal throttling, but DysonBorkSphere explains that they used the adapter and cable from the original handset to charge the new one. And that's when things started to get toasty.
"I charged [the replacement Pixel 3 XL] with the charger from the first Pixel, left it to go play on my PC," the user explains. "I came back to it extremely hot like the first one and it had two notifications, one that certain features where limited due to overheating and another saying it shut off due to being too hot."
DysonBorkSphere notes that this replacement unit was marred with a nasty scratch underneath the notch, which immediately sent up a red flag well before this episode even began. Once the Redditor noticed the overheating, they took it outside to cool down.
It didn't work.
"It was getting hotter and released a bit of smoke before the screen shut off and it got thrown onto my balcony where it promptly released more smoke, started to glow red, and spewed flames," the user writes.
DysonBorkSphere notified Google of the incident, which the company is reportedly investigating now. It's not entirely clear what caused the phone to combust, though the common link between both the customer's overheating Pixel 3 XLs is that charger, presenting a likely culprit. We've reached out to Google for any insight and will update this story if we receive a response.
Although reports of exploding smartphones are understandably alarming, the fact is that the lithium ion batteries that power all our modern mobile electronics carry an inherent risk. If the physically-separated electrodes inside the cell inadvertently touch — as they might if a charger shorts, or if the battery distorts and expands with excessive heat — the battery combusts. It's that simple.
Of course, batteries today are built with stringent safety standards, and the probability of such a scenario playing out with your phone, tablet, laptop or any other device is extremely minimal. The Galaxy Note 7 debacle was the product of a specific, traceable fault in manufacturing, as a consequence of space constraints inside the phone nudging components into each other. There's no evidence to suggest that's the story with the Pixel 3.
That said, anomalies can happen — which is why every year or so you'll hear about an iPhone blowing up. External factors could also play a huge role. A particularly nasty drop or impact could compress the battery, for example, engulfing it in flames. (And yes, that includes biting the battery, too.)
Ultimately, we don't consider this lone report a cause for concern. However, it is a critical reminder to always be mindful of any abnormal overheating or strange behavior from your phone related to charging or thermal management. Although batteries are designed with safeguards in place to manage excessive heat before it become a serious issue, these are almost always initial signs before something goes horribly wrong.
Should you find yourself in such a situation, unplug the phone immediately and, if possible, leave it in an isolated location where it won't harm anyone or come in contact with any flammable materials.