Samsung will let you unlock your Z Fold 3’s bootloader, but at the cost of your cameras

Photo by Dieter Bohn / The Verge
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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.

The message shown to users trying to unlock their bootloader.

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).

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.

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.

Comments

Not sure Fold target users are buying this device to get root access to it.

I agree with the sentiment- almost noone’s gonna buy a brand new Fold at launch and instantly flash the OS, I really hope that Samsung changes this policy going forward though, being able to do this kind of hackery is what gives Android devices longevity past being personal smartphones and makes them useful for things like attaching to weather balloons for citizen-science projects or being repurposed into parts of home-automation systems.

The only concievable defence I can think of for removing camera access for flashed devices is it might allow people to install camera software which takes photos or video without generating an audible sound, which is a legal requirement in a number of Asian countries (including Korea). Maybe Samsung doesn’t want to be the go-to brand for creepers?

Ugh. Thanks for reminding us all of that – only took me a few years to forget the first time around.

Rooting was fun back in the day, but google and Qualcomm have ruined it over the last few years. Anyway no point in rooting and having less features on your galaxy phone, aosp is as bland as can be.

Sure, but this thing screams for development support. I’d love to try a Linux district on this thing and really lean into the mobile workstation aspects.

Almost no one is running AOSP on custom ROMs, it’s always something like Lineage, Google Experience, Ressurection Remix, or any one of the hundreds of tweaked ROMs.

This extends to custom ROMs in case of Samsung devices. I have a Samsung Tab and the custom ROMs have noticeably poor audio quality, poorer camera quality, random app issues, poor video-out quality compared to DeX, among other stuff.

My purpose for rooting was to completely debloat the stock ROM which makes it just about as fast as the custom ROMs. Samsung’s extended support declaration is a farce as they can go even 2 quarters without releasing a security update, especially for mid-tier devices.

However, custom ROMs are indeed a good option to have towards EOL. Considering that no other Samsung device loses camera access after unlocking, this is a deliberate move on the part of Samsung for whatever reason they think it was worth doing it for.

So dumb

They really don’t want you removing that bloat.

I’m curious how many people having paid $1,800+ dollars for a Fold 3 will want to Root the phone 5 minutes after getting it out of the box? Seems to me like a very, very small edge case.

I feel different…if anything my anticipation is that a pretty decent percentage of these devices will be landing in the pockets of well to do geeks who are fans of tech and would be inclined to play with ROMs

This most likely has to do with intellectual property rights related to the camera firmware. A ton of image processing now has nothing to do with the camera hardware and is done in the firmware instead. When running a custom OS, that would probably not be licensed for that use.

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