Two-Steps-Forward-and-One-Step-Back_SQWe’re all pretty much used to seeing software updates, especially security updates, breaking up some of the functionality in the process of fixing a problem. Although it’s frustrating, it’s understandable, given that there is often an urgent need to get security fixes out and available to the public as quickly as possible before hackers find them and exploit them (or legit security researchers with “automatic full disclosure” policies publish the details).

What’s not quite as understandable is why brand new models of tech devices or entirely new versions of software so often seem to take two steps forward and then one step back, removing important features or even adding serious problems that weren’t in the previous versions.

Many, many people look at Windows 8/8.1 this way. When I first started using it (way back in the beta days), I was impressed with the increased performance and loved the better support for multiple monitors, improvements to some of the built-in applications (such as the Task Manager) and new logon options (PIN, photo pattern) as well as the redesigned Explorer and Hyper-V (in the Pro version).

What I didn’t like was what was missing; like many others, I wanted my Start menu back. Installing Start 8 fixed the problem for me, but the MIA Start menu continued to be the top complaint of new Windows 8/8.1 user. Microsoft slowly capitulated, bringing back the Start button (without the menu) in Windows 8.1 update 1, and the menu itself, in a slightly different form, will finally be restored in Windows 10.

The big question isn’t what took them so long, but why in the world they took it away to begin with. Acceptance of Windows 8 would, in my opinion, have been far different if the desktop mode had included the familiar Start menu from the beginning. It’s a classic example of two steps forward and one step back.

It’s certainly not the only one. I have two new tech devices that I really love in most ways and am really disappointed in and frustrated with in other ways. I also owned the previous versions of both devices. In both cases, some awesome new features were added but so were some problems that made the new devices less usable than their predecessors.

I’ve been using Galaxy Note phones for quite a while now – I fell in love with the “phablet” concept way back in 2011 at the Consumer Electronics Show when I saw the original 5.3 inch, stylus-equipped device. I eagerly awaited the release of the Note 2 and then the Note 3, enjoying each more than the one before it. I had no reason to believe it would be any different when I got my Note 4 a couple of weeks ago.

The Note 4 is an awesome phone in every way – gorgeous display, fantastic camera, nice metal frame, heart rate sensor, most of the same cool bells and whistles as the S5. I love it – except for one VERY important issue: the battery drains before my eyes. If I charge to 100% before bedtime, it’s dead in the morning with NO usage. Actually using it, I can watch the percentage drop every couple of minutes. That’s with scree…n on lowest brightness and maybe two apps running. Note 3 lasted a day and a half with moderate to heavy usage, brighter screen and 5-6 apps always open.

It’s very likely that I just got a defective phone.  Web searches reveal that some other new Note 4 owners report the same problem while many others say battery is great. I’m taking it back to Verizon store, but it’s an example of a new model breaking functionality, albeit unintentionally.

My second example is the more annoying because I know it can’t be fixed by returning the device and getting a new one.  I was really looking forward to upgrading my Surface Pro 2 to the newest model, and in most ways I wasn’t disappointed. Like the Note 4, it’s an awesome machine with a larger screen, greatly improved touchpad and faster response. The new, more adjustable kickstand makes typing more comfortable and even with these improvements, it feels thinner and lighter than the Pro 2.

However (and it’s a big “however”), for those who use the pen (I do, though not as much as some), it sort of sucks. That’s because they switched from Wacom technology to N-trig, which means – among other problems – my Note pen no longer works on my Surface. For me, that’s a big deal, because there’s still no GOOD way to secure the Surface Pen when not in use so it’s a pain to keep up with and likely to get lost. (And no, that little adhesive tab is not a good way. I had to struggle to get the pen into it, and then it came unstuck and fell off on the first day).

My first problem is a huge one, a deal breaker since this fantastic phone is basically useless if it won’t hold a charge more than 4-5 hours – but potentially fixable, since it seems to be a hardware problem. The second one might be considered by some to be nit-picky, but it will negatively impact my use of the Surface Pro for drawing and diagramming. With the first two Surface Pros, since I always had my Note phone with me, I always had a stylus available that worked on the Pro, too. Now, most of the time I won’t, because I don’t have a secure way to carry the Pen. If I were a tad more cynical, I’d think they want me to lose it so I’ll have to shell out another fifty bucks for a new one.

The problem with the Surface, while seemingly less serious, is the more exasperating of the two because the change was intentional, and seems like another case of change for no good reason that breaks functionality – at least for artists and others who depend on Wacom compatibility. I realize that’s probably a minority of Surface users, and I guess like the purported 6 percent of us Windows users who depend on Windows Media Center, we don’t really matter from a business standpoint.

And it’s not a deal breaker. I’m not going to get rid of my Surface Pro 3 and go back to the 2 because my drawing ability has been reduced, but I won’t be quite as happy with my shiny new Surface Pro as I would have been otherwise. Two steps forward and one step back is still a net gain for the customer, but I’ll keep wishing that we didn’t have to do this dance.

UPDATE:

I returned my Galaxy Note 4 to Verizon and got a brand new one. They didn’t even blink when I explained the problem, which made me think they might have been hearing this a lot. I brought the new phone home, set it up – and a day later, experienced the same battery drain problem. It didn’t seem likely that I’d received two defective phones, so I set out, determined to find what was causing it. I had already turned off all the “usual suspects” and turned the screen down, put it in power saving mode, and so forth, with no luck.

I had also gone through numerous web posts and tried the suggestions in the forums, but I turned to the web again, and after hours of research, I found the answer. The culprit turned out to be the Samsung Link service. I turned it off (you do this in Application Manager, if anyone reading this happens to be suffering from the same problem) and lo and behold – now my battery lasts from first thing in the morning, overnight without a charge, to late the next afternoon or evening. That’s more than acceptable, and many times the battery life I was getting before.

That this application/service is running by default and causes such a dramatic battery drain – a problem being experienced by a significant number of Note 4 owners – is a good example of a fantastic new product breaking something that worked well in the previous version.