Meet the die-hards who refuse to give up their recalled Samsung Note 7 phones

Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy Note 7
SeongJoon Cho | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy Note 7

Jack Estes, an IT consultant in Indianapolis, doesn't think people who know him are too surprised he kept his recalled Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

"A number of them know me as a little bit of a maverick." Estes said. "I regularly wear pants printed with dogs and whales ... I'm not the same type of buttoned-down businessman that you see in stock pictures. Some people have said I'm tilting at windmills, but no complaints from clients. I have a somewhat healthy disrespect of authority."

In his attachment to his Samsung phone — now more famous for its exploding battery than any of its features — Estes is by far in the minority: Samsung said earlier this month that about 96 percent of phones have been returned, after they were recalled due to the danger they might catch fire.

The devices have essentially vanished from public life. They were banned from American planes. They've had their battery life throttled by software updates from Samsung and have been aggressively pursued by carriers like Verizon. The trade-in incentives at Sprint have ended. But some consumers, "the 4 percenters," have found ways to keep their phones working. Of the 20-odd consumers that reached out to CNBC, most said they plan to keep it at least until the Note 8 is released, if not longer.

Jack Estes Galaxy Note 7 owner
Source: Jack Estes
Jack Estes Galaxy Note 7 owner

Some back-of-the-napkin math indicates this group numbers about 76,000 people in the U.S. — about as many folks as live in Camden, New Jersey, or Santa Fe, New Mexico. (About 1.9 million total devices were covered by the U.S. recall, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.)

For Estes, who said he has owned every Note device since the Note 2, the stylus has enabled him to run his small business more efficiently — thanks to its large screen and "sporty" processor, he no longer has to lug around a laptop. He said he'd happily let his daughter use the phone too, given that she is careful.

Most users said there's no other phone on the market like the Note 7, and resent having to essentially "downgrade" to phones like the Galaxy S7 edge that many already owned. Some consider the recalled phone a collector's item.

And many also point out that it's statistically unlikely that a phone would catch fire now, if it hasn't already. Out of the less than 2 million handsets out there, Samsung received 96 reports of batteries overheating, 13 reports of burns and 47 reports of property damage this fall, the CPSC said.

(Samsung and U.S. regulators have urged consumers that it is not safe to keep the recalled phones.)

"We live in a free country, we don't have to be forced beyond our will." -Jay Ringgold, Note 7 Rebels organizer

"We've been insulted in the media: 'They're foolish, they're dumb,'" said Zack Cernok, a 26-year-old resident of Quakertown, Pennsylvania, who installs swimming pools. "Very few people have reached out and heard our side of the story."

Some users of the phone, Cernok said, just think what Samsung is doing is wrong, and that they should be given a free version of the next Note device Samsung releases. Samsung declined to comment specifically on this demand as of the time of publishing.

"The main reason is not just because it's a great phone. Yes, it is. But we feel that Samsung put us in an unfair predicament," said Cernok. "I have never been a tech enthusiast, until after this phone came out and the recall started happening. That is what turned me on to tech."

In fairness, Samsung has put considerable effort into easing the pain of the recall, offering kiosks at airports, special return packaging, trade-in phones with no fees and sizable bill incentives of up to $100 to help customers switch over.

This Oct. 9, 2016 photo shows a damaged Samsung Galaxy Note 7 on a table in Richmond, Va., after it caught fire earlier in the day.
Shawn L. Minter | AP
This Oct. 9, 2016 photo shows a damaged Samsung Galaxy Note 7 on a table in Richmond, Va., after it caught fire earlier in the day.

The remaining Note 7 owners have established insular and extremely active online communities where they give each other advice on switching carriers, avoiding updates that "brick" their phones, and providing IT and moral support.

One group, the Note 7 Rebels, has about 4,000 members, and accepts donations to do upkeep of a bespoke $1,100 software solution. The Note 7 Alliance has about 1,300 members on Facebook.

Cernok helps moderate the "Rebels" group, which is run by Jay Ringgold (who also goes under the online alias Jay Boss), a technology professional in San Diego who said he is something of a social media guru.

Ringgold, who spends a minimum of 25 hours a week on the "Rebels" community, has started petitions and confronted Samsung at technology trade show CES. He said it was not receptive to his complaints.

"There's a certain ethos that goes with the champions of each brand. I'm into sharing the knowledge." -Jack Estes, Note 7 owner

Ringgold said he doesn't think the phones are a danger to others at this point. Cernok said while he doesn't condone it, he knows people who have flown with the phone. (The Federal Aviation Administration has called the phones an "imminent safety hazard," and anyone who flies with the phone risks criminal prosecution.)

"They tell everyone its voluntary. That's like a store saying, 'You can have this have this candy bar if you want,' but then they say, 'We're still going to arrest you if you walk out with it,'" Ringgold said. "We live in a free country, we don't have to be forced beyond our will."

Shanda Edstrom, a payroll administrator in Portland, Oregon, has come to dread the weekly "return your phone" messages from her carrier — when her data unexpectedly ran out once, she "almost had a heart attack," thinking that Samsung had finally figured out how to get around the software that's protecting her Note 7.

Edstrom said she had to wait hours with rude staff the first time she did the recall, and didn't want to have to go through it again. But she loves the ability to easily annotate screenshots on the Note 7, and said she has always been the type of do-it-yourself person that finds her own solutions to problems. She also believes in open source technology.

"Yes, I'd consider myself a rebellious person," Edstrom said.

Estes — the "maverick" IT consultant with the colorful outfits — agreed.

"I'm a Linux guy," he said. "There's a certain ethos that goes with the champions of each brand. I'm into sharing the knowledge."

John Jackson of Amherst, Mass., is one of a few thousand consumers who says they still have the recalled Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phone.
Source: John Jackson
John Jackson of Amherst, Mass., is one of a few thousand consumers who says they still have the recalled Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phone.

John Jackson, a Note 7 owner from Amherst, Massachusetts, said he doesn't consider himself a particularly idealistic person. He likes the phone because it has superior storage so he can take cute videos and pictures of his two young kids. But pragmatically speaking, he thinks he, not the corporation, should be able to weigh the risks and benefits of owning the phone.

"Samsung is looking to make sure it takes care of Samsung above all else, and saying safety is their concern would be a big thing for them to say. Why you would you look unfavorably upon someone who says they're looking out for you?" Jackson said. "They just want it to go away, they want it to be behind them ... I want to make my own decision."

While some members of the online community admit there are a handful of "conspiracy theorists" who have gravitated to the Galaxy Note 7 movement, there's a sense of solidarity.

"I hope [you'll] talk to the ones who don't sound like heretics," one message to CNBC read. Another commenter jokingly replied: "We're all heretics."