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Why have Samsung Crippled the Galaxy S4, Just as Everyone’s Warranties Run Out?

Samsung release Android Lollipop update that breaks previously excellent smartphone Galaxy S4, just as everyone’s warranties and contracts come to an end. This may lead folk who were planning to keep on to the phone for another year or two to change their minds and upgrade. Or am I being too cynical?

I’m a big fan of Android, and it just so happens that the last 3 smartphones I’ve owned (which is all the Android ones I’ve owned) have all been Samsungs. They’ve generally been excellent and my Galaxy S4 which I’ve had for just over two years was no exception.

Until recently, one of the only downsides of owning a Samsung (which is probably the same of any non-Nexus Android phone) is the huge long wait to receive updates to Android, which is made even worse by the fact that after the manufacturer does all their tinkering the mobile network does all its tinkering too, so by the time you get the “new” update it’s far from new. Anyone who knows anything about me knows how much I hate Ap*le, but at least their customers get the updates straight away and straight to their devices. That’s the benefit of Nexus, I guess…

So, as is customary, Three (my network here in the UK) were being as bad as ever with communicating news of when Galaxy S4 owners would receive the Lollipop update. As a geek, I started to get impatient for the update despite being perfectly aware that there are far more important things in life than an update to the latest Android operating system. Still, it was annoying that I knew that Samsung had (finally) released the update for the S4 months previously, but I was still being made to wait.

I bugged them on Twitter now and again, but the social media team seemingly never had any information fed down the chain to them. Although one tweet was interesting:

Now, that tweet implies to me that Three themselves definitely do some work on the firmware themselves. They tell us, of course, that it’s to ensure that it works properly on their network however we all suspect it’s just tweaking of the bloatware that they’ll include in the ROM in the hope to get us to sign up to their music service or something.

Samsung’s Android Lollipop Update for Galaxy S4 causes terrible bugs

One Monday morning as I was getting ready to cycle into the office, I noticed that I had an update alert on my S4 and – whoo! – the Lollipop update had finally arrived! And it better be good, after all Three must be 100% happy with it, otherwise they wouldn’t have released it according to their previous tweet! Well, let me tell you about this update that Three were 100% happy with…

1. No Audio on Normal Voice Calls

This is probably the most major and also most infuriating, which essentially makes the phone unusable as you can no longer rely on it, especially not for business use. Very frequently, I will receive or make a call to find there’s no audio. I can’t hear them and they can’t hear me. Reboot the phone, and the problem goes away… for an indeterminate and random length of time.

2. Video Recording Bugs

The video camera on the Galaxy S4 is (or should I say, “was”) brilliant for capturing those blink-and-you’ll-miss them family moments, especially of my daughter growing up. Except now, those priceless family moments are being captured with jerky video which breaks up, and audio that gets completely out of sync.

3. Keyboard Unusable

Being able to type into your phone is a fairly fundamental need. Yet the keyboard since the Lollipop update exhibits two infuriating bugs:

  1. I use the Swipe continuous text input method, as over the years I’ve come to find it the best and quickest method that works best for me. Part of how it works is it puts spaces in between words for you automatically. Since the Lollipop update, it more often that not fails to put a space in, so a simple sentence typed out takes another minute or so positioning the cursor and adding spaces in!
  2. Less frequently, but still often enough to cause frustration is the keyboard crashes altogether, with a single, uppercase “I” highlighted in the input area above it. Yep, only a Reboot will fix it.

4. Can No Longer Attach Photos Directly to Hangouts

I often have to take photos of items and send them quickly to colleagues over Google Hangouts, and my wife and I also use this privately to share pictures of our daughter in whatever she’s up to. It used to be really easy: press the paperclip button, choose “Take Photo”, take the photo, press save, write something with it and press send. Now: if you try that, after pressing Save you return to Hangouts and – where’s my picture? Often it will also have scrolled you a few weeks up in your conversation, too, and you’ll have to manually scroll all the way back down with your finger. Usually the picture did save to the phone’s internal storage so you can go and attach it from there, but the whole thing adds several frustrating extra steps and is clearly a software bug as I’m not the only one experiencing it.

Three and Samsung’s Response

Every single one of these faults has appeared since the Lollipop update, and NEVER happened before the update. They also all started within a couple of days of each other, all immediately after the Lollipop update.

Those are just the issues I’m experiencing, and a quick Google search confirms that I’m not the only one unhappy with the update. So, I contacted Three (as well as a general shout-out) about the issue, and this was their response:

A stock “turn it off and on again” type answer. I’m not sure what they are expecting that factory reset function to do, because I’m pretty sure it doesn’t include a module that examines the firmware’s source code and goes through fixing bugs and making general improvements!

Although I knew it was a waste of time, I did as they asked just so that I could say I had and they would help me further. They then pushed me to Samsung, who refused to enter into any dialogue about a possibly buggy update ROM, and instead wanted me to go and have my phone inspected by a repair technician AT A COST TO ME!!

Having worked part time front-of-house in a repair centre during my University years (which I realise doesn’t make me an expert!) I know they’re great at fixing hardware faults and replacing parts, but software wise all they can do is flash the phone. Which a) I could do myself, and b) won’t fix a buggy update.

So, to summarise:

  • My phone is 2 years old, so out of warranty, but having been well looked-after it’s still in perfect condition and works (worked) excellently. Back in Jan/Feb of this year it did go slightly faulty and they replaced the motherboard, and I also bought a new battery, so it’s effectively almost a brand new phone
  • Samsung have chosen still to provide “support” to this 2-year-old device by producing and releasing a firmware update for it.
  • It worked excellently before the Lollipop update, but since then has started exhibiting the faults described above, none of which existed before Samsung pushed an update to the phone.
  • So, it wouldn’t be unreasonable of me to surmise that Samsung have broken my phone
  • Samsung now want to charge me money to examine my phone, supposedly to fix the damage they’ve done?

Call me a cry baby, but isn’t that just a tad unreasonable?

The cynic in me thinks it’s awfully convenient timing, just as S4 owners are coming to the end of their contracts and the warranties are running out. Samsung’s shareholders wouldn’t want all their customers who last helped push their stock price up 2 long years ago to hold onto their excellent, fully-functioning devices for too long before buying new ones, would they? If my suspicions are correct (and I hope they’re not) it’s a cunning yet terribly unethical way of persuading repeat custom.

So, what’s the point of this blog post?

I’m calling on Samsung to:

  • Investigate this update and take seriously the reports of bugs
  • Quickly release an update to fix the problems, at no charge to their valued customers
  • Start having a bit more respect for their customers – after all, I’m out of contract and can do whatever I like, who’s to say my next smartphone purchase will be a Samsung?
Paul Freeman-Powell

Paul Freeman-Powell

Paul (@paulfp) is the main presenter of the award-winning Switched On Network YouTube Channel, which covers a variety of interesting topics usually relating to his love of technology and all things geeky. He also founded and runs Innobella Media, where he leads in all aspects of video production, video editing, sound & lighting. A father of 3 children including twins, his hobbies used to include photography, playing the drums and cycling. With a degree in Modern European Languages, Paul speaks French, Spanish and a little bit of Italian, and holds dual British & Irish citizenship.

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