How can I get Android KitKat to work with my SD cards?
You’re not the only one complaining: the Android 4.4 (KitKat) upgrade broke a lot of third-party apps, including paid-for apps. It would have been a PR disaster for a company that cared about public relations.
There are ways to fix the problem, though I can’t guarantee that any of them will be acceptable. These include “rooting” (aka jailbreaking) the device, which may bring up a message that says you have voided your warranty There may be other implications with regard to over-the-air updates, Google apps etc.
Your problem arose because the vast majority of SD cards and other external devices are formatted using Microsoft’s FAT32 file system. This is a boon because it means the same cheap card will work in thousands of PCs, phones, cameras, digital recorders and so on. The drawback is that FAT (File Allocation Table) dates back to the 1980s, and doesn’t provide for file directories with detailed access provisions.
With FAT32, any app can write to any directory, so you can take a photo with a special camera app, edit it using a different app, and so on. Users love this, but it’s a security risk. Google is reducing the risk by using Android to stop apps from writing to directories they don’t own. This is already the case with internal storage, where Google uses the extfs file system from Linux. However, forcing SD cards to use extfs would probably have created even more pain and anguish.
This should not have created mayhem. According to app developer Media Monkey: “As of Android 3.0 Google introduced restrictions that prevent 3rd party applications from writing to the secondary storage location such as an SD card. Until Android 4.3, most device manufacturers did not implement this restriction … but in Android 4.4, this restriction was implemented on most devices.” Google had finally decided to get tough, but app developers should have seen it coming.
As I understand it, an updated app should be able to write to its own directory on an SD card – but this isn’t the directory it’s using now. I think the workaround would go something like this. First, use a PC to copy all your files off the SD card, so you have a backup. Second, uninstall the old app and restart your device. Third, install a new version of the app written to work with KitKat. Fourth, use the PC to copy your old files to the new directory.
This is subject to correction. Although I’ve been using Android for years, I don’t have anything that runs KitKat so I have not used it myself.
If the latest version of Polaris still does not work the way you want, there’s a free alternative. In 2012, Google bought QuickOffice, and it started installing this by default with Android 4.4. If you haven’t got it, you can download it from the Google Play store. (Good luck, Polaris.)
NB: if you uninstall an app, this will also take with it any folders it “owns”. This makes it even more important to make sure all your data is backed up.
Rooting your tablet
Another option is GeekSoft’s KitKat External SD Card Patch (“Curse you, Google! Your KitKat update broke my SD card!”), which you can download from the Google Play store.
GeekSoft says: “Here we are providing a FREE, SIMPLE, and Ads-free app which helps you magically restore all your previous access to external SD card. Once this patch in installed on your phone, the third-party apps can run normal as before.” But there’s a catch: “This app requires Root Access and must grant superuser permission to use. (If your device is not rooted, please Google your device model root method and apply.)“
Another option is simply to change the write permissions, which I expect is what GeekSoft’s patch does. This is essentially a file-editing job that most ordinary users will not want to attempt. However, NextApp Inc has released SDFix: KitKat Writable MicroSD, which will do the job for you. But again, you would have to root your Samsung device.
You should really be able to “roll back” an update to get back to what you had before. Apple and Microsoft usually if not always provide this option. Android devices always (in my experience) let you reset to factory condition – the Samsung Note 8 has a “backup and reset” option under Settings – but I don’t think this will restore 4.2 once you’ve installed 4.4. I suspect the only way back is to root the device and use Odin to install the correct version of the Samsungfirmware downloaded from the web.
This is risky, and you could end up with a “bricked” tablet. I’d avoid it if possible, and if it isn’t, look for a local expert to help.
Finally, there’s the nuclear option: install an alternative, Google-free version of Android such as the open source CyanogenMod. This doesn’t include closed, proprietary Google apps such as Gmail, Maps and Google Play, which some privacy-aware users see as a benefit. However, it seems to be acceptable to back up these apps from the original device and then re-install them on the modded version. (Google said: “these apps aren’t open source, and that’s why they aren’t included in the Android source code repository. Unauthorized distribution of this software harms us just like it would any other business, even if it’s done with the best of intentions.”)
Again, this is not something I would recommend to inexperienced users. Obviously, no one should make any changes to a rooted device unless they know how to restore the original operating system.
In general, suppliers would like everybody to run the latest version of the operating system, but some users don’t want to make the effort, or are wary of the damage updates can cause. Silent, over-the-air (OTA) updates provide a way to move users to new versions without them having to do any work, but you are usually given a prompt that forces you to accept or postpone updates that have been downloaded. (Whether you can put them off forever is another question.)
Either way, if you go to settings and find the software update entry, there should be an option for disable. Once you have done that, you should be able to force stop it and clear its cache. (In some cases, these options may be greyed out.)
Whether you can get any recompense is an interesting point, but it’s a consumer rights issue that is out of my area of expertise. You have rights under the sale of goods act that apply to faults or deficiencies inherent in a product when you buy it. However, I don’t know how the law applies to “faults” that result from software updates, unless these were integral to the original purchase. For example, if you bought a phone running Android 4.2 and you were told it would run 4.4, then you would have a case if it didn’t. You would have to consult a consumer affairs or trading standards expert to see if you can make a case against the retailer, or Samsung.