Windows Phone 7 Allegedly Breaks MicroSD Cards

Windows Phone 7 Allegedly Breaks MicroSD Cards

Windows Phone 7 devices support additional storage via MicroSD but making use of that capability has become problematic. Users who attempt to re-use MicroSD cards they purchased for older phones are in for a nasty surprise. Insert a legacy MicroSD into a Samsung Focus, and the device may crash, slow considerably, or suffer data corruption. Worse, there's no going back—an incompatible SD card that's been plugged into a non-compatible handset can no longer be used the original reader.

According to Microsoft, SD cards should only be inserted by the carrier and only certain specific SD cards are reported. WP7-compatible SD cards will ship with a specific logo advertising said support, but according to AT&T: "This information is not currently marked on any microSD packaging in market today. As a result, we are advising customers to delay purchasing an external microSD card until the cards identified as 'Certified for Windows Phone 7' are available commercially or in AT&T stores."

Microsoft claims that SD cards must support certain transfer speeds and random read/write rates to qualify for certification, but that's not the whole story; the official Windows Phone 7 documentation explains the rest. When storage is added to a Win 7 phone, it performs the following tasks:

  • It reformats the SD card
  • It creates a single file system that spans the internal storage and the SD card.
  • It locks the card to the phone with an automatically generated key.
Once the SD card is integrated, removing it will kill all phone functionality save for emergency calls; the phone will only function if the original SD card is reinserted. If a non-compliant SD card is used, Microsoft states that apps may not start properly, application transition time could be impacted, and the phone might become unresponsive.


Now with fewer features

There are two other significant limitations:
Integrating a Phone with a Different Windows Phone 7 Compliant SD Card: If your phone already has an SD card and then a different Windows Phone 7 compliant card is integrated with the phone, you will lose any data that was stored on the phone, including any applications that you installed from the Marketplace hub. Examples of data that might be stored on the SD card include manually linked contacts, start customizations, and data that applications do not store remotely.

Adding an SD Card to a Phone with an Empty SD Card Slot: If you purchase a Windows Phone 7 device with an empty SD card slot and you add an SD card to the phone after you start it for the first time, the phone will continue to work properly, but it will not recognize the SD card. The phone will not save applications or files to the SD card.To use an SD card with the phone, a Windows Phone7 compliant card must be integrated with the phone in one of the scenarios described above in the section. [SD cards can only be added when the phone is first initialized or after a full factory reset. Similarly, it's possible to remove an SD card when reformatting the phone, but said card will never work in another device.
Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?

Every phone, camera, or MP3 player that heretofore supported microSD has treated the additional space as a discrete space that can be moved between devices and holds multiple types of data. Microsoft's decision to flip this model on-end and treat external storage capacity as additional irremovable internal storage is baffling to say the least. According to Microsoft's documentation, users don't even have the option to use a microSD card in the traditional manner. If users aren't supposed to add their own microSD cards, it might be a good idea to prevent them from doing so. Just a thought.

Microsoft has, at least, decisively beaten Apple in one area. While the iPhone also lacks external storage options, it doesn't lock SD cards into particular devices or refuse to save data to them. Faced with the absence of a feature, the boys of Redmond worked night and day until they came up with a feature that's worse than having no feature at all. 
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dose this mean the wp7 dosen't have a card in when it's new and if it does and you want to take it out you can only use it in that phone (very strange)

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>> According to Microsoft, SD cards should only be inserted by the carrier

Are they @%^#ing serious?

That's the craziest thing I can recall a tech company ever saying, and obviously meant to mislead 1st time buyers into thinking this is a non-issue.  I don't know of anyone with any other phone that hasn't put in their own SD cards.

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It's Microsoft's way of doing things. They have to maintain an unreasonable amount of control over their customers and as we know now, they'll even go so far as to break the normal functionality of removable devices in their phones. This thing shouldn't even have removable storage if you can't change the storage at will.

Super Angry How totally arrogant is this? Super Angry

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Never assume malice where stupidity sufficiently explains the problem. At a guess, handling the microSD card this way improves device performance. Think about it this way:

1) Carriers, not MS, are responsible for disseminating this info and telling consumers what products are and aren't compatible.

2) The iPhone has no external storage. All data transfers are handled via USB. People

It's the carriers that decide whether or not to provide a user-accessible microSD port. Therefore it's not MS's problem.

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Do you take the RAM out of your computer and move it around? no. Do you take the muffler out of your car and stick it in another car? No. It's a one time upgrade to the memory of the phone. How hard is that to understand.. If this was an Apple innovation you'd be crapping yourself with glee. just shut up already.

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ABarker:
Do you take the RAM out of your computer and move it around? no.

Yes, I do

ABarker:
Do you take the muffler out of your car and stick it in another car?

We're not talking about cars, were talking about undue control over personally owned electronics. Microsoft branded parts and software exhibit 'control' features built-in that are unnecessary for the device's or software's function. While it not so for SOME of their products, it is on many of them. It sucks too.

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ABarker:

It's a one time upgrade to the memory of the phone. How hard is that to understand.

We don't understand?  You're equating removable storage to a muffler, and we don't understand?

MicroSD cards now have 16x the capacity of the first one I installed in my phone.  I like that I was able to upgrade without having to take the phone to a store and pay someone to prevent my phone from self-destructing.  You don't even have to turn the phone off to replace the storage on mine.

I have multiple cards for my phone - some full of MP3s and one with Knoppix on it so that I can connect the phone to any PC and boot my own personalized OS.  That's the whole point of removable storage.

This is what people are accustomed to doing, and that's why MS's implementation (which will have people breaking their phones) "sucks".

ABarker:
f this was an Apple innovation you'd be crapping yourself with glee. just shut up already.

No, I say the iPhone is full of fail for not having removable storage and Flash.  The venom you threw out here makes you sound like a real die-hard MS fan.  I can't understand that rabid devotion to a company selling a product that's defective by design.

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Moving RAM around is a completely different issue. This is removable storage. I am not a fanboy of any platform but after checking the "features" of each platform I chose to go with the Nokia N8 because I wanted a phone first, and the rest of the features offered value for money. This is not to say that the other phones are not good, as each serve their users to their satisfaction. So if it does not work for you, don't buy it. Let the people have their choice. However, crippling the phone if the "removable" storage is separated from the phone is uncalled for as some people may want to increase their microSD storage as time goes by. Backing up and restoring everything is not going to be fun whenever one wants to upgrade or swap cards between devices. So make your choice based on this "feature."

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I don't think it's accurate to describe what WP7 does as "crippling the phone." That sort of phrasing is typically used when Company A is accused of deliberately hampering the function of Peripheral B.

Microsoft's decision to utilize "removable" storage in this way was a poor one but it's not as if the company gets some hidden kickback or profit. Everyone has individual preferences where semantics are concerned but I think this falls into the category of "blindingly stupid oversight" as opposed to "Screwing over customers to make more $."

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>> I don't think it's accurate to describe what WP7 does as "crippling the phone."

FTA: "Insert a legacy MicroSD into a Samsung Focus, and the device may crash, slow considerably, or suffer data corruption. Worse, there's no going back..."

If that's not "crippling", I don't know what is.

>> That sort of phrasing is typically used when Company A is accused of deliberately hampering the function of Peripheral B.

There's nothing about the word cripple that indicates deliberate intent. I think you mistook my "defective by design" comment. I probably should have said "defective because of poor design" so as to not confuse the issue with the meaning of "Defective by Design" that is typically used when Microsoft purposely inflicts horrible DRM on us in their products.

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3vi1,

Ok. I did take your comment to indicate Microsoft was intentionally crippling the device. If we remove deliberate intent from the occasion, I've got no problem agreeing that this was one seriously boneheaded move. :)

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This article is misleading and misunderstands the intent and purpose behind the microSD slot. The original specs released to the public back in March (search the web for WP7 and microSD articles dated in March, 2010) clearly stated that the microSD expansion slot would be for permanent storage and not designed to be user-replaceable.

The common confusion among people who haven't researched the question, and is exacerbated by articles like this one, is that any storage that CAN be made removable SHOULD be removable.

I totally get it. I think Microsoft gets it. I think the carriers and manufacturers also get it. Consumers typically associate Secure Digital (SD) and similar technologies as interchangeable and not a permanent part of a device's storage (think digital cameras, video cameras, and other mobile devices). Some WP7 manufacturers, like Samsung, made the microSD slot visible and accessible to the user. Others, like HTC, took a wiser path (in my opinion) by concealing the microSD slot behind an additional panel requiring a small screwdriver to gain access. In all cases, the documentation in the user manuals, carrier's websites, and manufacturer's websites state clearly that the expansion slot is for use STRICTLY by the carrier or device manufacturer ONLY and is not meant to be modified by the user.

Those facts aside, removing a microSD card or adding a new one won't "cripple" or "break" a WP7 device. Your data must be backed up before replacing the microSD card to avoid data loss. If you remove the microSD card and don't replace it with another, you have to hard-reset your phone back to factory defaults so it can reformat and configure itself to only use internal memory. There are well-documented processes about how to perform those tasks without losing data, provided to the carriers and manufacturers because they are/were the intended audience -- not the end user.

Technically-savvy people can find the information and steps needed to replace the microSD cards themselves, but the persistent warnings on the packaging and in the user manuals are to dissuade the average consumer from apparently "breaking" their phone out of ignorance (though the phone isn't permanently broken anymore than a computer without one of its hard drives is permanently broken).

I personally think Microsoft's implementation of the microSD card is a fantastic feature compared to the iPhone and Droid phones because I can now add fast, secure storage to my phone without having to pay the manufacturer or carrier any more money (e.g., upgrading from a 16GB iPhone to a 32GB iPhone via buying a totally new device plus paying carrier penalties or signing new contracts). I can take my base 8GB WP7 phone and upgrade it to 40GB without paying for anything more than the high-performance microSD card certified for WP7. And I know for certain that if someone steals my phone, I can remote-wipe the whole device for free online. And if someone swipes my microSD card, they can't access any private or confidential information -- or any data at all -- because that card has been completely secured against being used with any other device.

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BarKode,

I appreciate your thoughtful commentary and post. This story was written with direct reference to Microsoft's own KB2450831, which describes the function and use of SD cards in WP7 phones. Allow me to quote:

  • "You should not remove the SD card in your phone or add a new one because your Windows Phone 7 device might not work properly. Existing data on the phone will be lost, and the SD card in your phone can't be used in other Windows Phones, PCs, or other devices."
  • "The phone will stop working properly if you remove the SD card, and the SD card cannot be read by another phone, device, or PC."
  • "If you remove an SD card that has already been integrated with the phone, the phone displays an error message that tells you to reinsert the SD card. All phone functionality is disabled except for the ability to make emergency calls. The phone will function normally again only if you reinsert the original SD card and then start the phone."
  • "If your phone already has an SD card and then a different Windows Phone 7 compliant card is integrated with the phone, you will lose any data that was stored on the phone, including any applications that you installed from the Marketplace hub."

I do agree with you that based on the WP7 usage model , SD card slots should be hidden from the users' sight. Beyond that, it seems that your response is the misleading one in this conversation. Microsoft's own documentation clearly states that removing a MicroSD card *will* cripple the phone's function and result in a total loss of data+non-functional SD card.

Perhaps it is possible to at least re-enable the microSD card. If so, good--but this does not address the greater concerns.

 

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Thanks for your reply.  It seems that Microsoft needs to revise its KB article with some realism instead of so much doom and gloom.  The reality from first hand experience and drawing on the growing community of WP7 users, is that removing the microSD card will put the phone in an error state exactly as mentioned above, but it's totally recoverable -- the device doesn't become bricked or useless. Users can:

  • Reinsert the SD card
  • Reset the phone to be used without an SD card (resulting in a reformat and device reset, hence my previous comment urging a backup prior to touching the card slot)
  • Insert a larger/different SD card and performing the reset in order to expand the device's storage.

I understand now why your article read the way it did, if you're going by the text of that KB article. I'd like to assume the KB was written to scare end users away from touching the SD card since the carriers and manufacturers were given other information describing how the process of changing SD cards works. This tactic seems similar to other companies who create consumer products and provide one set of guidance to the public while giving their authorized repair centers or installers a different set of guidance to enable modifications or upgrades. I can't see Microsoft wanting to support end users who didn't read the manual first or read the two warning stickers on the back of new phones (one on the battery cover, the other on the SD card slot itself), stating the SD slot is not a removable device.

Bottom line is that end users shouldn't consider the SD card a "user-configurable" option, but rather as something they CAN take back to their mobile carrier store to be upgraded.  For more advanced users out there, a simple web search can uncover tons of useful information about how to replace the SD card and drastically expand the phone's available storage for music, videos, podcasts, apps, games, etc. The process is akin to replacing your system hard drive and reinstalling your operating system (exactly what happens when the SD card is replaced) and isn't for the "average bear".

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Thanks for the info BarKode.  I, for one, was certainly confused by all of the talk about removable SD-cards in WinPho7 - when such a thing should really have never be advertised (by 3rd parties that assumed the user-accessible cards worked just like on other phones) as a feature.

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BarKode,

I've put out some feelers to Microsoft on this. If you know of websites / user communities that have discussed these issues in detail, please post the information here or email me. Certainly we'd want to cover instructions on how to backup / replace these cards if it became necessary.

My disagreement with Microsoft's decision to use external storage in this way arises from concerns over customer confusion--if you Google "Windows Phone 7 SD cards" that KB article is at the top of the list. I'm certain there's a technical advantage to doing things the way MS did them--knowing how to backup phone data or insert larger approved SD cards would go a fair way towards bridging the information gap between what customers expect from a microSD slot in general and how MS is actually using it.

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BarKode has it right as far as my experience goes. Thanks!

I inserted a class 10 16GB card by Wintec in my Samsung Focus and reformatted the device as described in the user manual. It worked for about 10 days, then the phone would lose all its settings when I turned the phone off (e.g. removing the battery) and I would have to set it up all over again.

When I then removed the micro SDHC card and reformatted the device (with only its built-in 8GB memory) the Focus now works fine again.

When speaking to the AT&T rep he explained that only certain cards will be certified and just because I had a fast class 10 didn’t mean it would work (which it obviously didn’t). He expected further information to come out from Microsoft by early January, around when a software upgrade is also expected.

However here is the really screwy news, the micro SDHC card is now unusable! I cannot use it in my PC card reader, in a Nikon D40 camera nor in a Countour HD camera. It seems that after using it in the Samsung Focus the card is now unusable. I wonder if it is because the card broke (manufacturers problem) or if the Focus did something to the card to make it unusable. I cannot get any of the devices to recognize the card so that I can format it.

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HSderbom:
I cannot get any of the devices to recognize the card so that I can format it.

Find someone with a Mac computer and use the Mac's 'Disk Utility' program to erase it and format the card back to a windows readable standard.

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I'm not certain who is and isn't right, since BK modified his original statements after reading the MS KB article--my original story predicts the outcome you describe, HS. At least we all ended up on the same side. ;) 

It may be possible to use a Linux or specific PC util to perform the low-level reformat but I don't know which would work.

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Joel H:
It may be possible to use a Linux or specific PC util to perform the low-level reformat but I don't know which would work.

I suggested the Mac way because it bailed me out a few times with stuffed hard-drives. I had a guy give me a 1TB external usb HDD that he used on a dish network recorder. After he canceled his service his external drive was useless to him, so he gave it to me, the guy who seldom throws anything away.

My UBUNTU CD didn't see it, but the Mac did and I'm still using the drive after the Mac fixed it.

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Another reason to definitely abandon Microsoft. Do they seriously believe users are stupid enough to accept being willingly shackled like that? I GUESS THEY DO!

It's high time users revolted against this war the big corporations are waging against us and to send the message these corporations are LYING TO USERS, SEDUCING THEM INTO SLAVERY WITH SNAZZY CANDYCOATING!

You can be sure my next phone will NOT be operating under Windows Phone 7!!!

THOU SHALL NOT PASS, MICROSOFT!

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