ÜberTech

Could Your SD Card Cause Your Android Smartphone to Crash or Lose Data?

Summary:A mysterious problem that appears related to SD cards has caused many Android smartphones to crash or lose data, angering owners.

One of the things Android fans like to point out is that their device-of-choice includes an SD card slot for cheap, removeable storage for photos, songs, apps etc., unlike the iPhone or iPad.

But a small but persistent number of Android owners are blaming SD card-related problems for causing their smartphones to spontaneously crash and lose precious data.

That's what happened to Michael Maurer's Motorola Droid 2. Maurer says the SD card from his device, running Android 2.2 (Froyo) would suddenly 'un-mount' (meaning the OS stops detecting/communicating with the card, usually, if things are going right, in preparation for/during its removal), causing his phone to restart and/or offer the discouraging error message, "SD card damaged."

Maurer, who posted his complaint on this Google-run newsgroup and also e-mailed me, says his Droid 2 stopped "crashing or freezing" after he removed the SD card altogether.

While the phone still works, the "functionality is greatly reduced (can't take pictures, no angry birds, etc.) I may dump the phone over this and go back to my Blackberry as I cannot afford this kind of problem on a business phone," Maurer wrote, adding that he still has not retrieved the data from the card yet (for those who think that Maurer may have some vested interest in the Great Device Wars, he says that he works in the movie industry.)

Many other users report corrupted data on their SD card, forcing them to reformat it, and losing their data in the process.

This problem is not exactly news. Reports go back all the way to October 2008, or 2.5 years ago.

On the other hand, the problem continues. Besides the two above threads, check out this one. And this one. And this one.

And no one - from the handset makers like Motorola, LG or Sony, or the SD card makers like Sandisk or Samsung, or Android's maker Google - appear to have publicly owned up to the problem, much less provided a definitive fix.

And it's caused users like this one to ask plaintively, "Dear Google: if there is ANYTHING I can do to get you information, logs, examples, pictures, margaritas...anything regarding this issue...please let me know. This has tainted my Android experience, but I still love it."

There seem to be several potential explanations for this problem, which someone besides me has surely already compared to Windows' Blue Screen of Death.

The first is that poorly-manufactured slots and cards are resulting in loose connections that make SD cards prone to spontaneous loosening and/or popping out. This can be aggravated if owners are rough with their Android device, i.e. dropping it or swinging it around quickly.

If that's the case, I wonder why we haven't heard about SD card-related problems with other portable devices, like Canon or Nikon digital cameras, or media players like the Archos Jukebox?

Another explanation is a problem with the SD card controller software. This built-in software interfaces with Android and helps manage how - and how quickly - data is transported back and forth. Some users claim that the Class 4 SD cards (4 denotes the speed class rating) are more vulnerable to problems, and that upgrading to a Class 6 card fixed that. They base that on the fact that Class 4 cards from multiple manufacturers seem vulnerable.

The third explanation is a problem with the Android operating system and how it manages data, detects errors or avoids crashes. Because as it is now, the results (crashed/frozen phones, lost data) are catastrophic.

That would explain why there appear to be problems across multiple brands of smartphones. But if that's the case, why have there been relatively few reports of these problems with Android tablets?

Though I personally use Apple devices, I'm a fan of Android and think it will likely fulfill the prediction of market researchers to become the equivalent of Windows on smartphones and tablets. But this is the downside of Google's open approach: with many OEM hardware makers, you're more vulnerable to imperfectly manufactured hardware or imperfectly-implemented software or platforms. The difficulty of QAing for tens of thousands of different pieces of hardware is the cause of most of Windows' bugs, not Windows code itself.

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Have you experienced this problem? How bad was the result? And how did you fix it?

Topics: Enterprise Software, Android, Google, Hardware, iPad, iPhone, Mobility, Processors, Smartphones, Tablets, Windows

About

Eric Lai tracks the latest news and trends in enterprise mobility. A veteran tech journalist most recently covering enterprise software for Computerworld, Eric joined Sybase, an SAP company in April 2010. Eric's views are his alone and do not necessarily represent those of SAP. This blog is sponsored by SAP.

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