RIP, Nexus 5x | My Encounter with the LG Boot Loop Tragedy

**I decided to publish this just for the hell of it during this late-night writing sesh. Don’t mind any incoherence, I’ll edit this post later to make it better.**

While this event isn’t nearly as relevant and widespread in recognition as something like the Note 7 disaster, the LG hardware boot loop phenomenon has affected thousands of customers in the past year or so. Any forum based on the Nexus 5x, LG G4, LG V20 and other LG products released throughout that timeframe will be riddled with posts titled “another one bites the dust” or “I thought I was safe”. Something along those lines… Well, I was finally touched by the plague late last week and decided to sit down tonight and type up a little article documenting my experience and outlook on the LG tragedy.

For anyone out of the loop with phone news or who hadn’t encountered this story due to not being involved with LG products, I will start by explaining the situation. The second half of this post will be my experience with a Nexus 5x and the devastation once I had been struck with this issue.

The Issue and Responses/Repercussions

During the past 1-2 years, there have been many reports of specific LG phones shutting of randomly one day and failing to turn back on. Sometimes, after many attempts, these devices will turn back on but only for a very limited time before ensnaring themselves into a vicious hardware boot loop. This means the phone will attempt to launch its bootloader and subsequently the Android operating system but will crash during the process and immediately begin rebooting. This will happen indefinitely until the phone runs out of battery or is forcefully powered off. While many devices can go through boot loops due to user error or damage, this wasn’t a situation where a few guys essentially bricked their phones themselves; this began happening to mass amounts of customers who owned an LG G4, Nexus 5x or other LG device released within a year of those phones. Countless forum threads have been posted throughout 2015-2017 documenting the issue and drawing a large and clear conclusion that this was a hardware issue and the fault of LG’s manufacturing rather than user error.

Temporary fixes such as leaving the phone in a freezer for a while or heating specific areas of the affected phone’s motherboard would allow these phones to power on long enough to make some quick data backups before degrading back to a state of eternal boot loops. It is widely accepted that these freezing/heating tactics have worked as fixes because the hardware boot loop issue is likely due to a soldering problem underneath certain chips soldered to the motherboards of the afflicted devices or a similar connectivity issue between components. LG had stated themselves that this was an issue resulting from a “loose connection between components”. While these self-repairs don’t involve the heat required to properly resolder the connections, these janky heating methods are thought to expand or morph the solder to a point where it could make a connection long enough to use the phone for a short while. These temporary fixes were the furthest users could get in terms of home remedy and repair.

With reasonable self-repair largely out of the question, the only thing left would be reliance on a warranty system. Customers of Google’s Project Fi phone service who had purchased a Nexus 5x (one of the affected devices) through Google had a fairly easy time receiving a replacement device, though these replacement Nexuses would most likely suffer the same issue later down the line anyway. For everyone else who hadn’t purchased through Google, options become limited to contacting LG and relying on their 1-year manufacturer warranty. LG was compliant enough at the beginning, but having their Nexus 5x, G4, V20 and other phones sent back at the same time would prove to be too much for them to handle. Shipping your defective phone to LG for a replacement or repair became less viable as many angry forum posts would outline the 1-3+ month process of trying to get through to LG support. Some customers would detail their experience of sending a defective phone into LG for repair and having to wait multiple months before any sort of confirmation that their phone would be repaired were reflected on LG’s website. For most, at this point, it would be more worthwhile to ditch the LG phone, buy something else, and avoid the 4-month back and forth to get a broken phone fixed.

Eventually, a lot of customers and industry folk gathered to file a class action lawsuit against LG in regards to this hardware defect that had affected thousands of customers at this point. I’m not a legitimate reporter and am discussing this point just for context, so I won’t be dropping exact legal details in this post. You can view a better article on this matter here. Overall the points addressed in the lawsuit made sense and it seemed as though this pressure on LG may have resulted in some sort of reparation on LG’s part for their customers. Eventually, this case would be dismissed, though some other legal lingo is used to describe the situation. The lawsuit happened and almost got somewhere. However, customers aren’t getting a $20 check and “sorry” note in the mail from LG anytime soon. That last comment is a reference to the lawsuit against Sony in regards to their PS Vita system in which customers actually did receive a small amount of financial compensation.

My Story of Love and Loss

I had purchased an unlocked Nexus 5x through Amazon on October 4th, 2016. It was a phone that I had been looking forward to getting my greasy hands on for a while and was a phone that would treat me well throughout its lifetime.

A clean, stock build of Android that would always be up to date. “Nexus Imprint” technology for some of the fastest fingerprint scanning around useful for phone unlocks and mobile payments. Superb photos through a 12MP camera sensor with some of the best low-light performance of any phone and video capabilities ranging from 720p at 240fps for slow-motion to crisp 4k at 30fps for cinematic shots. A new and relevant Snapdragon 808 hexacore processor paired with 2GB of ram. A vibrant and bright screen. A soft touch back that acts as a built in grip. All of these features along with the typical NFC capability, USB-C fast charging, and solid integration via Google account for syncing and backups.

Those are the praises that I have for the phone. I had filmed school projects with it and pushed it to its limit with my Android power user habits. It is definitely the best phone I have owned up to this point. You can probably imagine my disappointment in regards to this phone being singlehandedly killed off by some incompetence on LG’s part in their manufacturing.

My Nexus 5x had boot looped last week on the day that I was about to spend a substantial amount of money, at least from my point of view, on a new desk and other related hardware along with undergoing the tedious process of repainting and refurnishing my entire setup. I couldn’t focus on my phone that just axed itself with these exciting changes underway.  It should be obvious that I’m dramatizing the whole situation, but the timing of my phone breaking down was definitely both an inconvenience and a disappointment.

My next step was getting to work on any last-ditch attempts at reviving my Nexus. Thanks to the iFixit teardown of the 5x I was able to disassemble the phone, remove the motherboard + heat shields, and go to town on the problematic chips with a heat gun. The strategy with these temporary repairs is to heat up the problematic solder enough for it to reform and cool back down. After accomplishing that, I reassembled the phone and managed to power it on and boot into android for a solid 30 minutes. In that time I was able to back up important stuff and copy down my home screen layout just to avoid the headache of reorganizing apps on a new phone. Then as the phone began to heat back up, the expected happened. It died once again and resumed its boot loops. At that point, it was time to remove my Sim card for good and put the old dog to rest.

1 week later I am now temporarily using an LG Stylo 3 Plus as my daily driver. Yes, another LG phone. LG does release some of the best phones out there. Despite this issue, they are a competent smartphone manufacturer. This phone, being released in 2017, is far away and safe from the list of defective phones released in 2015-2016. LG has since solved the hardware boot looping issues for 2017 released phones. The Stylo 3 Plus is a budget phone. It does not by any means compete with my Nexus 5x, but does offer very surprising performance for an MSRP of a little over half of what the Nexus 5x’s was in 2015. I may post a quick review of the Stylo 3 Plus on this site later on this week if I feel up to it. It is definitely a compelling device for its price point.

While this experience was definitely a bummer and one for the history books of smartphone manufacturing f-ups, there is some good to come out of it, at least for myself. The frantic repairs that I had made on my Nexus 5x creating a stepping stone for myself into the world of phone repair. I now know a lot more than I used to about smartphone assembly, repair, and architecture. While this entire blog post is somewhat pointless considering the hundreds of big-time articles about this situation, I wanted to share some insight into why I’m so pissed about this issue. I guess this is exactly the type of thing I have a personal blog for. Anyways, I don’t really have much cash floating around as of now, but I am beginning to shop around and look for what I want to save up to. Right now the Oneplus 3t looks promising and offers probably the best performance in many areas for the price. I might do my own quick review of whatever phone I end up with next or even the Stylo 3 Plus as it is my temporary budget replacement phone. That’s all I have to say, for now. I’ll be working on some more relevant and coherent blog rants soon.