BLOG: What’s With The Bricked Windows Phones?

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Windows Phone 8 LogoThere’s no sense in beating around the bush: the Windows Phone is having a hard time of it. It’s certainly not a bad OS by any means; it is, after all, still around. But there’s no denying that it’s having a very difficult time gaining any traction in the mobile market, which is dominated by iOS and Android.

To put things in perspective, as of Q4 2012, Android and iOS combined to account for 91% of the smartphone market (Android at 70.1%, iOS at 21%), according to research firm IDC. Where did Windows Phone find itself? In fourth place – shockingly behind BlackBerry OS – with a paltry 2.6% market share. To say that it’s struggling to get a foothold in the market is an understatement.

Nokia LogoBearing that in mind, Microsoft needs every last bit of help it can get in its efforts to make Windows Phone a competitor. What it doesn’t need is to be undermined by the hardware on which the mobile platform runs.

Unfortunately for the company based out of Redmond, Washington, some of its efforts are being undone by a not-so-publicized, but nonetheless serious issue with some of the Windows Phone 8 hardware out on the market today. The issue of several HTC 8X and Nokia Lumia 920 handsets being bricked (rendered irreversibly inoperative) is much more serious and widespread than the lack of publicity – or acknowledgements from the hardware manufacturers — would lead you to believe, and that’s not doing Windows Phone any favors.

Lack of quality hardware can be a real knife to the heart of any operating system. For a platform like Windows Phone that’s already struggling, a mob of unhappy customers complaining about their handsets breaking and needing to be returned is the last thing it needs.

What’s happening, exactly?

HTC LogoThe reported conditions under which the phones are rendered useless vary slightly, but for the most part they’re all relatively similar. Some users are reporting that their phones lock up during or immediately following the factory reset process. This could mean that the freezing occurs while the gears icon is on the display (indicating that the rest is in progress) or during the boot following the reset. Infinite loops have also been reported, where a post-reset phone cannot complete the boot sequence, instead continually restarting partway through the process until the battery dies.

The other ways that bricking may occur are as a result of an update or a full battery drain. In some cases, users find that their handset freezes during an automatic reboot that takes place during an update, at which point they let it sit until the battery dies. After plugging it in to recharge it, the phone attempts to boot and freezes on one of the logo screens (either the Nokia/HTC logo or the carrier logo).

Other users, meanwhile, are reporting that after letting their battery completely drain under normal circumstances, they plug in their phone only to find that it is either entirely unresponsive or freezes during the boot process.

This all being said, some people have reported being able to unstick their phones through a certain combination of button presses – which initiate a factory reset without having to go through the phone’s software – but this hasn’t worked for everyone. It’s also not an option for those whose phones are stuck in infinite boot loops or won’t power down, as the process requires users to start with the power off.

Bricked HTC 8XSome claim that it isn’t entirely accurate to refer to these handsets as “bricked,” as there is technically a means to reflash the phone, but there are two problems with this. For one, it’s only an option for Lumia 920 users (since the process involves using the Nokia Care Suite) so 8X customers are still out of luck. Then there’s also the fact that this is a massive inconvenience that users simply shouldn’t have to go through, regardless. And for those whose phones locked up during an update (as opposed to a reset) this would be especially infuriating to go through, since they would be erasing all of their personal data when they had no intention of doing so in the first place.

Why haven’t we heard more about this?

Oddly enough, despite the severity of the problems, the 8X and Lumia 920 issues are not getting a whole lot of coverage in the news. Running searches for the phones with any sort of keyword similar to “problems,” “issues,” “bricking,” or “freezing” returns almost nothing other than an abundance of forum posts about customers complaining about the same issues.

There are a few reports in the news about 8X and Lumia 920 bricking problems and admittedly, Brighthand is addressing this for the first time now since we only just became aware of the problem. But most searches for problems with these two handsets return articles that typically focus on less severe or non-permanent issues with them (e.g. random reboots, freezing that can be undone by restarting the phone, etc.). Only occasionally will one of these pieces focus on or even make an offhand reference to the handsets getting bricked completely.

Windows Phone 8 UpdateBut, as said, if you go to any number of forums, including those on popular sites like WPCentral or even Microsoft’s support forums, you’ll find that they’re rife with users all complaining about the same issues with the same phones. It’s telling that users’ bricked Windows Phone 8 devices are almost always either 8Xs or Lumia 920s, and that the issues always occurred under very similar, if not identical, circumstances.

Even we here at Brighthand can vouch for the validity of the claims. We have precisely two Windows Phone 8 handsets in house, a Lumia 920 and an 8X, and they were both bricked under the same circumstances as those described on the forums. In fact, the problems we experienced were what led us to look into the issue in the first place, only to discover that it’s surprisingly widespread.

The Lumia 920 belonged to one of my fellow editors and was rendered useless after a freeze during an update and a subsequent battery drain, at which point he had to return it for a new unit. The 8X, meanwhile, belonged to me and was bricked in the factory reset process. It now gets stuck at the AT&T logo upon booting up and will only shut down once its battery has been drained; hitting the power button simply restarts the booting process instead of turning it off. I have not attempted to return my unit since the 8X was a review unit and not my personal device. But had it been my own, I’m sure I would be livid, too.

What’s being done?

As far as we can tell, not a whole lot. The Portico update, which is currently in the process of rolling out and is, ironically, supposedly the cause of the bricking in some cases, is said to fix many of the less drastic issues like battery life or random reboots. But there’s no word yet about any updates being issued to prevent the bricking problems; neither HTC nor Nokia have released any sort of statement saying that they intend to release a fix for the bricking issue or that they’re even aware of it.

Bricked Nokia Lumia 920The lack of coverage/acknowledgement is a serious problem, because there needs to be awareness among those who haven’t already made the choice to switch to Windows Phone. Customers deserve to know if the switch they are about to make to Windows Phone will ultimately result in them jumping ship back to Android or iOS after they see how bad the situation is. They’re better off just never crossing over at all, at least not until this situation is sorted out.

But lack of awareness aside, the real issue is that the problem still exists and that the OEMs have yet to get their acts together. If HTC really cares about the Windows Phone platform – like president of global sales Jason Mackenzie told Brighthand it did in a recent interview – then it needs to show it. If HTC wants to make sure that Windows Phone not only survives, but “gains traction,” then it needs to fix a very serious deal breaker that will surely drive away not only potential adopters of the OS, but possibly even existing customers. There is no shortage of those who have taken to the forums to complain that have said their solution to the problem was to simply exchange their busted Windows Phone for an iPhone or Android phone instead.

Analysis

The same goes for Nokia, which is in an exclusive partnership with Microsoft. It has put all of its eggs in the Windows Phone basket, so the stakes are high for the Finnish phone company; more than anyone else, Nokia should be worried about creating as high of a quality experience as possible. At this point, Nokia’s success is more or less contingent upon the success of Windows Phone, so letting something like this persist unfixed shouldn’t be an option.

If the OEMs step their game up and at least ensure that Windows Phone is running on quality hardware, they can at least say that they did everything they could to help Windows Phone succeed, no matter what ultimately becomes of it.

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