In October of last year, Samsung sent me a Galaxy Note 2 phone to try. I blogged about it a couple of time, and have been using it as my primary device since. I like it a lot, and was getting used to its large dimensions.
But then it started to act up. Random reboots and freezes, crashing apps. Not good. I did some research, and my unit appears to be suffering from “Sudden Death Syndrome”. Here’s what I’ve found out so far.
Phones suffering from SDS tend to freeze, crash and/or reboot. Usually, this starts happening after about six months of use, and judging from reports I’ve read it seems to get progressively worse. In many cases I’ve read about, phones will eventually not turn on anymore and are “bricked”. In other cases, phones die suddenly, but I get the feeling that “Slow and Agonising Death Syndrome” would have been a better name.
I don’t think Samsung has confirmed this, but the likely culprit is the phone’s eMMC chip. This chip contains the internal memory of your phone, and early 16 GB models of the Note 2 had what’s now called an “insane” chip. These chips can become corrupted, and corrupted memory (in any computer) causes crashes and all sorts of instability. 32 GB models seem unaffected, as are more recent 16 GB ones.
There’s an extensive thread on the XDA forums about this problem, with many users offering tips that have helped make their phones more stable. But in most cases though, those tips come down to the same thing. Keeping memory usage low. Disabling apps with large cache storages might help a little. Not using corrupted memory segments probably means the bug will get triggered less, but the hardware defect is still there.
What can you do?
First of all, upgrade your Note 2 to Android 4.1.2. Samsung put a “fix” in the 4.1.2 update that should prevent (further) memory corruption. It’s not going to repair earlier damage, but it seems the appropriate first step. If you’re using a custom ROM, check that your ROM has this fix in place.
If you own a 16 GB Note 2 (model number GT-N7100), I recommend installing the eMMC Brickbug Check app. It checks whether the eMMC memory chip in your phone is vulnerable. Below is the output for my phone.
As you can see, my chip is “insane”. The “VTU00M” and “0xf1” confirm this. If you see the same thing, there’s another app that can help you troubleshoot. Dummy File Generator is an app that lets you fill up your eMMC storage with bogus data. Doing so on a device with SDS can trigger the bug, which allows you to confirm the diagnosis. Here’s how.
- Download Dummy File Generator from teh Play store
- Select the “internal storage” tab
- Click “Generate (FULL)”
Depending on the free space on your phone, this may take a while. In my case, the process froze about 2/3 though, and I had to remove the battery from my Note 2 to get it to boot again. Some people also report that running this app has made their phone more stable. It is assumed that it helps the filesystem map bad blocks.
Once your eMMC has become corrupted, I don’t think any software fix will help. Chances are your phone will need to have its motherboard replaced. Since the Note 2 has only been on the market for seven months, getting it fixed warranty should in most cases not be a problem. If your phone has an “insane” chip, you’re experiencing these symptoms, and you’ve used it with Android 4.1.1 or earlier, I guess getting it repaired is that best option. I’m going to try getting this done without a proof of purchase. Wish me luck.
P.S. Forgot to mention that Sudden Death Syndrome is also available on the Galaxy SIII. Ouch.
UPDATE (June 5th, 2013)
In was planning to visit a Samsung Service Point today, to claim warranty. I knew they might ask whether I’d tried re-installing the phone’s firmware and doing a factory reset, so I did those things. And now my phone hasn’t crashed in hours. Here’s what I did.
- I installed Samsung Kies on my laptop
- Connected my phone and backed up some stuff
- Let Kies do a full firmware upgrade/re-install (this took quite a while, even though I was already running the latest version)
- Did a full factory reset on the phone (through the settings menu, not connected to Kies)
- Installed Dummy File Generator and let it “Generate (FULL)” (see above)
- Proceeded to personalize the phone, install apps, etc
The strange thing is that “Dummy” was now able to fill up the entire internal memory of my Note without the phone locking up. It’s not frozen once since I ran “Dummy”, and only once before that. It seems that this little app indeed has some healing effect. Although probably only when combined with the other steps I listed. I’ve set up some 50 apps, changed the launcher, and basically used the device quite intensively today, and it seems fine.
I’ll keep you posted!
UPDATE 2 (June 6th, 2013)
Crashes are back, and getting more frequent. Looks like the “solution” above is – at best – a temporary band-aid. I’m now convinced that my phone’s eMMC is beyond repair. I’ve switched back to my old HTC, and will try to get the Note 2 fixed. If that turns out to be too pricy, I’m thinking of getting an entry-level Windows phone like the Lumia 620.
UPDATE 3 (June 13th, 2013)
Investigated whether the SIM card was causing crashes, because it seemed to work better without one present, but that turned out to not be the case. Sent the phone to Samsung today. I hope they do a good job testing the phone, and do not return it unfixed.
UPDATE 3 (August 8th, 2013)
I got my phone back earlier this week. The repair slip said “board swap”, and it now has a “sane” chip. It’s given me precisely zero issues since. Not a single crash and no sign of any instability.