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The Pixel 7 is the latest smartphone with spontaneously shattering cameras

The Pixel 7’s biggest design change over last year was in the camera bar, which switched from a single big sheet of glass covering every camera to a solid aluminum block with smaller glass cutouts over each camera lens. The thought at the time was that less glass would lead to fewer light streaks in the camera and maybe even slightly better durability thanks to a smaller glass area. Ironically this smaller glass seems to be more prone to breaking. Tons of reports have started to pop up on Reddit, the Google support forums, and Twitter claiming the camera glass just shattered one day. Besides the hundreds of responses on Reddit and the support forums, hitting up #pixel7brokencamera on Twitter will give you an endless stream of gruesome pictures.

We’ve seen this exact problem several times before in the world of smartphones. Samsung was hit with this issue in 2016 on the Galaxy S7 and again in 2021 the Galaxy S20, both of which kicked off class-action lawsuits. In the Samsung and Google cases, the shattered glass doesn’t look like it shattered from impact, which typically shows an impact point and outward spiderwebbing. In these cases, a large, round hole appears in the glass—it looks like the phone was shot with a bullet.

These specialized smartphone glass panels increase scratch resistance by building stress into the glass. We don’t know the manufacturer of Google’s camera glass, but a Corning engineer explains the general process in this Scientific American article, saying, “There’s a layer of compressive stress, then a layer of central tension, where the glass wants to press out, then another layer of compressive stress.” If you mess something up in your glass formula and these layers aren’t in a perfect balance, one day the glass will just go “pop” and you’ll get these outward mini explosions.

A Galaxy S20 from a few years ago. This is all so familiar.

A Galaxy S20 from a few years ago. This is all so familiar.

That sounds like what people are describing, with some suspecting temperature changes from frigid outdoor weather to indoor heat are what set off the glass. To suggest it’s from a drop would be pretty difficult to believe. The camera cover is a tiny circle of glass surrounded by aluminum—even if you were trying to make the phone land on the camera cover, it would be extremely difficult.

Despite the difficulty in imagining this is user abuse, some users say Google isn’t dealing with the problem under warranty. Alex Hatzenbuhler, one of the victims of Google’s exploding glass, posted a screenshot from Google device support claiming the issue isn’t covered under warranty. Some users are being quoted around $200 for a repair.

Samsung’s class-action lawsuits over camera glass were both defused thanks to Samsung’s terms of use, which require “mandatory individual arbitration provision and class action/jury trial waiver provision.” Google defaults users into a similar agreement that provides them almost no rights, and while you can opt out of mandatory arbitration, most people don’t, so a lawsuit is unlikely to go anywhere.

What arbitration can’t stop is online pressure and negative press from websites like this one. So, hey, Google, cover your obviously defective hardware under warranty. The Pixel hardware division is very small and wants to grow, but you won’t get anywhere if you start screwing over your small customer base. A public statement saying this is covered under warranty would help people deal with customer support. You’ve got our email.

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