Samsung punishes Galaxy Fold 3 modders by disabling their cameras

Enlarge / The Galaxy Fold 3. Nice cameras! It would be a shame if anything happened to them…


If you try to mod your Samsung phone, Samsung will disable the camera?!

That’s the report coming out of XDA Developers this morning. During the confirmation process to unlock the bootloader of the spiffy new Galaxy Z Fold 3, XDA user 白い熊 found that a surprising new message popped up on the phone. “Unlocking the bootloader to install custom operating system software. Doing so will cause the cameras to be disabled and may cause your phone or apps to stop working correctly,” the message said.

Part of the functionality of a “bootloader” on an Android phone is to verify that the OS is signed by the company that manufactured the phone, ensuring the software hasn’t been tampered with. Some payment apps (and games concerned with cheaters, oddly) demand that this security check is in place in order to work. Unlocking the bootloader disables this security check, allowing the phone to boot with an OS compiled by a third party. The Android community has built up a whole world of custom ROMs, so you can wipe out the default software and install whatever you want on your phone, just like on a PC.

Samsung's blue "unlock bootloader" warning says that the cameras will stop working, and it's not kidding.
Enlarge / Samsung’s blue “unlock bootloader” warning says that the cameras will stop working, and it’s not kidding.

Samsung’s bootloader message isn’t lying. Users who went ahead with unlocking the bootloader have confirmed that all five of the Fold 3’s cameras stop working. The device doesn’t become permanently broken: if you flash the stock Samsung firmware, which allows for re-locking the bootloader, the cameras will work again. Samsung just isn’t allowing phone modders to use the cameras… as punishment? The payments apps have a plausible excuse for disabling themselves (even though people use banking software on “rooted” desktops all the time), but I don’t think there’s any excuse for disabling the camera.

We’ve asked Samsung for a comment and will update this article if we hear back. While this report is focused on the Fold 3, there’s a good chance this issue affects other recent Samsung phones, like the Flip 3, as well.

The custom ROM community is always full of new ideas and experiments, and since nobody really has foldables figured out yet, you might think that Samsung would want users experimenting on its wild new form factor. After all, Samsung and other manufacturers haven’t been shy about raiding the custom OS community on Android, iOS, and Windows Mobile for software ideas over the years. Letting people experiment has made everyone’s software better, and root-level control has allowed the community to popularize ideas like theming, a quick-settings panel, and app permissions long before these features started officially shipping on devices. Seeing the company go out of its way to punish modders like this is inexplicable.

Samsung software was supposed to be getting better, too.

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