EE finally began pushing out the eagerly awaited, long-overdue Android Lollipop update to Samsung Galaxy Note 4 last week despite Samsung appearing to indicate that their flagship device would be the first to get this major update shortly after its launch late last year.
As Note 4 owners will be well aware, the reality of the situation has been that 6 months have passed with no news of the update for UK Note 4 owners. The Galaxy S5 saw the update some time ago and the new Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge both launched with Lollipop before the Note 4 update began to appear. The majority of the blame can be laid at the feet of Samsung, however the networks don’t escape their share – and they both deserve a thoroughly good hiding for the abject lack of communication provided to their customers.
To add insult to injury, if you’re expecting to be running the latest flavour of Lollipop (5.1) then you’re going to be rather disappointed. What you’re going to be getting is 5.0.1 – not even the slightly more polished 5.0.2 that the Galaxy S6 has just launched with. Expect, therefore, to find yourself in a strange obsolete-at-launch limbo – when you update, you’ll have the bugs that were fixed in 5.0.2 introduced to your Galaxy Note 4. Still, it could have been worse – it could have been the critically flawed 5.0.0 release.
It has to be said that this is of course one area in which Apple beats Android handset manufacturers hands-down, and it’s one of the few things that I miss about owning an iPhone – an actual availability date for an OS update seems to be an impossible dream for the majority of Android phone users.
It’s by no means a level playing field however – Apple does have the luxury of only having to run iOS on a dozen or so variants of its own devices and therefore on a very limited subset of hardware which is accordingly of their own specification – Android has to run reliably on hundreds if not thousands of devices of varying specifications from an array of manufacturers too numerous to list here.
What this means in practice is that manufacturers have to migrate their own modifications, apps, clutter and idiosyncrasies to the new version of the OS prior to testing and ultimate release to the carriers. The carriers then add their own tweaks and test the update on their own network. Once it gains technical acceptance they will begin pushing the update out to their customers. What this means for you is that when Google releases a new OS to manufacturers, as a Samsung customer you can expect to be the last to get a given Android release. Owners of unlocked ‘international’ versions can update directly from Samsung at least, giving them the option of avoiding the carrier phase of the aforementioned delays.
Devices running stock Android such as the Google Nexus range of phones are obviously exempt from this and so receive the updates almost immediately. It should also be said that some manufacturers are far more proactive than others in this regard – HTC generally leading the pack, Samsung almost universally lagging breathlessly at the back. For a company the size of the South Korean tech giant to be seen as a persistent offender in this respect leaves a bad taste in the mouth of users and will leave many pondering other brands come upgrade time.
Samsung has a history of crippling its devices with bloatware though, so it undoubtedly takes longer to update everything – although it has improved on that with recent TouchWiz builds. HTC’s approach is historically a cleaner and more minimalist one, which it would seem aids them in pushing out updates and keeping their customers happy. I’d imagine it’s also resulted in a few disgruntled Samsung customers jumping ship – especially given the quality of HTC handsets compared to some of the questionable, quirky, plasticky smartphones that have emerged from Samsung’s efforts in the same period. I’m looking at you and your awful chrome-effect bezel, Galaxy S4 – and the faux stitched leather back of the Note 3 for that matter. Thankfully, even if they’ve not quite got their software approach sorted out, at least they’re finally turning out some beautiful hardware. The Note 4 is a sturdy and elegant handset and the new S6 and S6 edge are absolutely beautiful devices that can finally take on Apple and HTC in terms of design and build quality.
Anyway, I digress. The point I’m trying to illustrate here is that it’s going to be a while yet before 5.0.2 or more likely, 5.1 appear on your Samsung Galaxy Note 4. If you read on, you’ll see why you should consider waiting for those.
So what’s the big deal?
One of the first things you’ll notice about Lollipop on the Note 4 are the various design tweaks, although you’ll not get the full Lollipop experience on a Note 4 due to TouchWiz – Samsung’s own UI overlay / launcher. Some elements of Google’s Material Design approach do make it through though, and in Samsung’s usual way, it’s a sometimes beautifully seamless, sometimes phenomenally clumsy arrangement. Overall, it’s an improvement over 4.4 – less cluttered and more polished. Don’t expect anything earth-shatteringly different – the way TouchWiz was presented on the Note 4 at launch already encompassed many of the Material Design elements from Lollipop.
The good, the bad and the downright ugly.
Battery life – I’d initially thought that this had improved substantially based on a few hours of it sitting around immediately after the update. I’d obviously not used it much that afternoon. A couple of days later it was pretty clear that battery life is a good 15-20% poorer under 5.0.1 than 4.4. A bit of googling soon showed that I was by no means the only person affected by this. As someone who uses their phone a lot during the day, battery life is a really big deal to me. Of course I’m not naive enough to think that a ‘phablet’ with a screen of this size is ever going to win any awards in this department, but it was robust enough in this department previously and an update that makes it significantly worse has got me off-side from the outset. Usual advice applies after a major update – back up your content, factory reset and set up from scratch. I may get around to that when I’ve got a few hours to potentially waste on putting my phone back to precisely how it was, with no guarantee of improving anything one iota. A cache wipe in recovery mode seemed to improve matters slightly on this front, but not substantially.
EE WiFi Calling – Looking forward to this addition? Yeah me too… Our office has tremendously sketchy 2G/3G coverage, resulting in many calls made to our mobiles going straight to voicemail and SMS messages not appearing. As VoLTE (Voice over 4G) on EE is still a pipedream, one of my biggest reasons for wanting Lollipop on my Note 4 was the expectation of Wifi Calling – no more going outside to check for texts and voicemails. Having set this up on an S6 test handset only a few weeks ago and having been pretty impressed with it, I was more than a little peeved that it’s currently not available for the Note 4 despite it having the same modem hardware as the S6. There’s no option to enable it in this build. Maybe we’ll get it in the Note 4 5.0.2 or 5.1 updates. Nobody seems to know the answer, but that’s EE all over – a communications behemoth seemingly and ironically incapable of communicating anything effectively to end users aside from Kevin Bacon’s face.
These are now a bit of a mixed bag and with the default settings they splash your personal communications all over the place. Electing to mitigate this rewards you with a slew of nondescript notifications of dubious value – a lock screen full of application names followed by ‘contents hidden’ which sounds far more devious and nefarious than it needs to.
A better approach would perhaps be to show the app name and message count, or in the case of SMS, E-mail, WhatsApp and the like – who had sent you the message – without displaying the message content. Despite the welcome addition of now being able to manage individual app notifications in one place under Lollipop, the amount of customisation available seems minimal and inadequate. Perhaps some of this is down to the apps themselves. Still, at least under 5.0.1 the ‘silent’ mode has returned, having been somewhat unbelievably removed from the initial 5.0.0 launch version.
Arguably the most annoying element of the new notifications are those that pop up when you’re doing something else, covering a chunk of the screen for several seconds. If I hand my phone to someone to show them an article for example, I don’t especially want the contents of my personal messages to be displayed on-screen for them to read as well. As things stand, it doesn’t seem like I can do much about that – the ‘do not disturb’ mode is a counter-intuitive mess and having to battle through countless options to try to simply disable these notifications is ridiculous, and it still doesn’t achieve the desired result. The ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’ approach of turning off all notifications for a given app removed these pop-ups, but it also means you get no notification whatsoever and then have to rely on unread badges on screen icons to see if you’ve got any new items. Not a desirable scenario.
There’s not really anything revolutionary about Lollipop as it stands for the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – whether you elect to update now or wait for a later evolution of the OS is entirely up to you, but with hindsight it’s difficult to find any compelling reasons to move from Android 4.4 KitKat to 5.0.1 Lollipop. Perhaps that will change as later revisions emerge. If you still want the Note 4 Lollipop update, then there are some points to consider below that will help you.
How do I get the Android Lollipop update on my Note 4?
If you’ve not had a software update availability notification on your Note 4 yet, all you have to do is go into System Settings > About Device > Software Updates and check for available updates. You’ll need to be connected via Wi-Fi to download the update – it’s a fairly hefty 1.1GB download – you’ll probably also want to have your device close to fully charged and connected to your charger for the duration of the update. Alternatively you can update your device via the rather hit-and-miss Samsung Kies software from the manufacturer’s site. It’s worth noting that these updates are released in batches, so if you’re still running Android 4.4.4 (Kit Kat) on your Note 4, just check back in a day or so until it shows as available. You may want to read the rest of the article before doing this however.
If you have a case on your Note 4, we’d recommend taking it off before updating. It seems that these things get hellishly hot during the process and it’s not going to enjoy wearing any extra layers. You have been warned… also – back up the phone before getting started.
You’ll also want to clear the cache after the update (see below). Generally speaking this will increase the Note 4 performance. You will not lose any of your data if you follow this procedure. Do not select any other menu items unless you know precisely what you are doing with them – you do so entirely at your own risk!
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Cache Wipe instructions:
- Turn your Samsung Galaxy Note 4 off.
- With the Note 4 turned off, press and hold the volume up, home and power buttons simultaneously. If you’ve done this correctly, shortly afterwards you’ll see the usual logos appear, with the addition in the top left hand corner of ‘recovery booting’ in very small blue text. Shortly afterwards, a menu will appear.
- Navigate the menu using the volume up and volume down keys until you highlight ‘wipe cache partition’. Press the power key to select this item.
- The yellow text at the bottom of the screen will confirm the outcome of this a short time later with ‘Cache wipe complete’.
- Using the volume and power keys as above, select ‘reboot system now’ and your phone will restart. You can now use your phone as normal.
Downgrading the Note 4 back to Android 4.4 KitKat
It is possible to downgrade the Note 4 to 4.4 KitKat if you find that you can’t live with the issues I’ve highlighted here. The SamMobile website maintains a repository of Samsung firmware. You’ll need a bit of know-how and a few bits of readily available software to do this, but the information is readily available. Again, you do this at your own risk.
IMPORTANT: Note that a downgrading the Note 4 from Lollipop to KitKat 4.4.4 WILL WIPE YOUR DEVICE. It’s essential therefore to back up your data beforehand.