Samsung seems to be trying to discourage users from modifying the software on their new Galaxy Z Fold 3s, giving them a message that unlocking the phone’s bootloader will render the phone’s cameras unusable (via Android Police). This isn’t the first time we’ve seen phone manufacturers pull this sort of trick, but it seems to represent an escalation in Samsung’s fight against its users who want to gain complete control over their phones.
An XDA Forums user confirms that after unlocking the bootloader, the Z Fold 3’s cameras were completely non-functional: facial recognition, loading the camera app, and trying third-party camera apps all failed for them. The user reports that re-locking the bootloader made the cameras work again.
According to a photo (seen above) posted by a member of the forums, the message users receive when trying to unlock their Z Fold 3’s bootloader reads:
Unlock the bootloader to install custom operating system software. Doing so will cause the camera to be disabled and may cause your phone or apps to stop working correctly. To prevent unauthorized access to your personal data, your phone will be factory reset, which will erase all data, including files and downloaded apps.
Volume up: Yes
Unlock bootloader (may void warranty)
Volume down: No
Do not unlock bootloader and restart phone
(A factory reset is generally standard after a bootloader unlock, as is the possibility of a voided warranty.)
While this may be an escalation, Samsung has previously had a somewhat unfriendly stance towards modders. Samsung’s Knox documentation says that, if you root your phone and flash it with an unofficial Android build, anything having to do with its Knox security will be permanently disabled, and will only be restored if you replace the phone’s hardware. This means that, if you root a Samsung phone, features like Samsung Pay and Secure Folder won’t ever work again. To be clear, this doesn’t happen if you just unlock your phone’s bootloader — it only occurs after you make changes to the phone’s OS (though doing so is the main reason to unlock your bootloader, so it’s perhaps a distinction without much difference).
Giving up your cameras seems like an unreasonable ask
While that’s certainly more destructive and permanent, you could also argue that it’s not unreasonable to give up Samsung Pay and Secure Folder if you really want root access to your phone. Giving up your ability to take pictures is a much bigger ask. Plus, unless Samsung’s changed how Knox works, rooting your Fold 3 after unlocking it will also shut down those features, leaving you with a phone that has no cameras, no NFC payment, and no Secure Folder (not that you could take any sensitive pictures anyways).
There are some ways in which turning off features for rooted users makes sense. In the case of Knox, the phone doesn’t know what code is running on the phone, so it can’t make any promises of security. In the same vein, it wouldn’t be unreasonable if Samsung didn’t let you use the Fold 3’s facial recognition unlock feature. But it’s hard to see how turning off the cameras entirely is anything but a punishment for users who want to mod their phones.
It’s hard to see how turning off the cameras entirely is anything but a punishment
If you’re a US-based Samsung customer, though, you’d have to try a lot harder to even run into these issues — because Samsung reportedly doesn’t officially allow bootloader unlocking on Snapdragon-based phones sold in the US. There are services you can pay for that claim to unlock your US phone’s bootloader, but it’s not the relatively simple process found on the global version of the phone.
At the moment, it’s unclear whether the Galaxy Z Flip 3 will also have the same limitation, though one of XDA Forums’ members posted a picture of the unlock bootloader screen on their Flip and the notice doesn’t mention the cameras. Samsung didn’t immediately answer The Verge’s questions about whether the policy also applied to the Flip, or provide a statement about the policy in general.