Lately, I’ve been having a few charging issues with my Samsung Galaxy SIII where, despite being connected to the charger, it refuses to completely charge on occasion. There are numerous posts online which claim the problem is in the connector, the cable, the charger and so forth, but I would reckon the problem is actually with my battery. The original battery provided in the phone, once sat flush with the rear of the phone, now sits proud of the rear and pushes on the rear plastic shell.
The good old “problem” of swelling lithium-ion cells seems to have reared its head. While the capacity hasn’t reduced too much, it’s a sign that the cell itself is having some internal chemical reactions which may make it somewhat dangerous in the sense that it might vent due to pressure build-up.
It might not look like it from the image on the left, but it’s actually fairly swollen. It’s most obvious when you place it on a flat table and press down on a corner, only to see the opposing corner lift cleanly into the air.
It’s a sign that the battery may be overcharged, or exposed to extreme environmental conditions. I know for a fact, because it’s been with me most of the time, it’s definitely not been “baked” in the sun … so it’s likely that the charging threshold is somehow improperly set, or the cell itself is defective somehow. It’s past its warranty anyway, so it was time to hunt down a new cell.
The market for aftermarket batteries is massive, and many replacements exist, but due to my interests in preserving the NFC functionality of the phone, I decided to opt for a genuine replacement. I found one from a seller nearby, at a good price (not too cheap), and I ordered it.
Is it real, or is it fake?
The battery arrived today, in a padded envelope, in a thin cellophane bag. This is what it looks like …
It looks like the real deal at first glance. The product code of EB-L1G6LLU is the correct code for my i9300, and the date looks pretty fresh. The capacity is even stated at the “stock” 3.8v 2100mAh or so it claims – capacity inflation is a common trick by copy-cats.
I even put it in my phone, and it works. It charges, it runs the phone. At this point, most consumers will smile, and be delighted in receiving what they wanted.
As it turns out, it’s a pretty well made fake. The guys in China probably have no shame in copying every detail, in a way, it’s almost like art. How can we tell it is a fake? Simple. NFC DOES NOT WORK!
Using NFC Tag Info for example, you should be able to read various types of NFC card including contactless bank cards, and some contactless transport and ID cards. Using the original battery, I was able to do it just fine. Swapping over to this battery, there was absolutely no detection of the card at all.
The lack of NFC is visible if one pays close attention to the label – on the original batteries with NFC, the NFC antenna is just visible as a series of concentric “rectangular rings” on the rear. This is notably absent on this clone.
This isn’t the first time it has happened, some other people have been stung purchasing from places as reputable as Amazon. That’s also not to say that all clones lack NFC functionality as some aftermarket batteries are starting to feature it as well.
Clone vs Original
To the seller’s credit, once they were contacted about this problem, I was able to get a refund (and because I was nice about it, I also got to keep it). At this point, the regular Joe might have just pocketed the battery and walked away … but I had no interest in doing that. Lets compare it with the original and find out what’s inside.
The LEFT cell is the genuine cell, which came with the phone itself. Its genuine status is hence, unquestionable. The fake cell is on the RIGHT.
- Label seam is nicely aligned in the original, and less nicely aligned in the clone.
- Cell is assembled in Vietnam in the text in many different languages.
- A few missing Chinese characters in the line just above the double-underline on the front side of the battery.
- Slight font differences in spacing of the text.
- Polarity symbols not as close to the terminals.
- Surface luster is slightly different – the fake one feels very “smooth” like glossy plastic, while the genuine one has a subtle matte-ness to it.
- Rear batch codes are printed in one consistent pass with the genuine cell, whereas the clone has disjoint sized text and positioning.
- The 2D barcode density on the clone is much less than the genuine battery. The fake datamatrix barcode encodes AA1D120VS/2-B whereas the real one encodes GH43-03699A+EB-L1G6LLU+C6NTX04261.
Taking the label off the clone battery reveals … a very anonymous cell with no markings. Note the complete lack of NFC antenna or circuitry – the label is merely stuck onto the cell as many simpler batteries do.
I decided I would destroy the battery during the teardown and I wasn’t going to “repair it” for use. I removed the protection PCB for inspection.
The PCB has its two battery terminal tabs glued into place with silicone or hot glue at each end. The insulating materials is very much cardboard or paper which I’ve seen in many Chinese clones. Removing it reveals a pretty bare PCB.
There seems to be no one-time thermal or current fuse at all. The largest IC is marked 8205A and is likely this MOSFET. The other IC is marked with 100B G625 (or similar, it’s hard to read) and may be the main protection IC but I could not find a datasheet for it.
The rear of the PCB is marked with HM-19300-73, and is otherwise very “anonymous” as well.
At this stage, I think the proof is pretty clear that it isn’t a genuine battery. In the process, we’ve also destroyed the clone battery. But let me take this one step further by showing you a little bit of what the genuine is made of.
Peeling back the first wrap reveals a black plastic “adhered” to the surface of the battery, connected by a flexi ribbon. The NFC coil pattern is visible – this is the antenna which is missing from the clone and enables NFC to function. Peeling the wrap back further reveals …
… a genuine Samsung cell. Samsung cells always proudly have their model numbers showing – this is an ICP51561A which is listed with identical specs to that printed at Samsung SDI’s data pages.
Interestingly, because the cell is a special type of cell, the maximum charge voltage permissible is increased to 4.35v/cell. This in itself, when applied to regular 3.7v cells which expect 4.2v/cell maximum can cause them to fail earlier due to added voltage stress or swell or explode. I’m not sure, but it is likely the prismatic cells in the clones are “regular” 3.7v cells rather than the newer, fancier 3.8v type. Their discharge curve will also have lower voltage throughout, so the gauge may show empty sooner on the clone cells even if their capacity was comparable.
I won’t take apart the genuine battery any further since I still need it to run my phone. All in all, a very convincing fake battery, but not quite good enough to take the place of a real replacement. Buyers beware! I’m fairly sure the same thing might be happening for Nikon EN-EL14’s amongst other batteries
It was definitely a lucky thing that I bought from a nice seller (who I will not name, for their benefit mainly) who was very understanding, but it just goes to show that the fakes can be so sophisticated and visually perfect that nothing short of a trained eye would spot it. Even dynamic elements like serial numbers and 2D barcodes are being emulated. However, this one falls functionally short in the element of NFC, and gives away its clone status.
It is, however, quite sad that these products are sold as genuine, to buyers who would otherwise not notice the fact that it isn’t genuine, and sellers are often buying these products to resell from their upstream suppliers on the information that these products are genuine. Whoever actually manufactures these has gone to great lengths to disguise the batteries as genuine – definitely immoral, and possibly also risky to the reputation of Samsung should anything go wrong. I’m sure Samsung has received numerous queries about batteries and their authenticity.
Unfortunately, I can’t see an easy way around it. Holograms were used by Nokia, but themselves have been faked. Verification codes on the hologram may work, but rely on the consumer being concerned enough to check it out. DRM through “specific” tests of the battery through its interface are easily reverse engineered (“decoded”) and emulated. There’s really no sure-fire way to know for certain, especially when purchasing products sight-unseen through the internet.
If you’ve recently acquired an NFC-reliant device (e.g. Bluetooth Pairing) and it doesn’t work, maybe you should think back, did I change my battery, and if so, is that the reason?
Meanwhile, the quest continues to obtain a legitimate original replacement – another order has been placed, and this time, I think I’ll be lucky.