Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Smartphone USB Connectivity Issues

I've got an Android phone which is classified, in the increasingly misleading realm, as a smartphone.  I wonder if there is a definition for smartphones.  In case you are curious, I've got a Motorola Atrix 2.  I like it.  It's a sturdy phone and I haven't had too many issues with it.  Until Monday.

On Monday, of this week, my computer at work quit recognizing my phone.  In case you've been living under a rock, I'm a geek.  I set my phone on my desk beside me and keep it plugged in.  I tether it (via USB) for Internet access.  Our work Internet access is old-fashioned DSL and is often quite slow considering it's shared amongst 50 people.  I use it to take pictures and then copy the pictures (via USB) to my computer.  It also charges (via USB) so I always have plenty of battery left.

On Monday, this all quit working.  I did a quick Internet search and apparently I'm not the only one.  There are a whole host of complaints about various "smartphone" devices losing USB connectivity to their computers.  I even saw some (shudder) iPhone complainers.

I won't lie.  I worked on it for a couple of days off and on.  It worked sporadically.  I have 10 USB ports on my computer.  One of which worked about 20% of the time.  I probably looked like a monkey in a cage participating in some kind of odd scientific experiment moving the plug from one port to another anticipating different results.

I plugged it into my server computer across the hall and it worked immediately -- same cable, same phone, same OS.  Therefore, I figured, it was the computer.  But, was it hardware of software?  Was there something wrong with the phone drivers causing the computer to misbehave?  Or were the internal USB hubs actually causing this disaster?

I tried several troubleshooting techniques including removing old USB drivers, re-installing the USB hub software for my motherboard, and doing multiple reboots.  All were fruitless.

Well, today, I finally fixed it.  Once again, I can tether, charge, and share from my Android phone via USB to my Windows 7 PC.

The trick was so simple it's almost silly.  I plugged an old USB hub into one of my 10 USB ports (so now I've got 13 ports) and plugged my phone into the hub.  Now, once again, it works flawlessly.  I'm still kind of mystified as to why it quit working.  But, I'm happy that it works again.  You can get USB hubs for less than $5 which is far less than the pain it was causing me.

I guess I should mention that I used a powered USB hub.  Not sure if the power made a difference or not.  Let me unplug it and I'll let you know.  It doesn't appear to matter.

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