Unlocking the bootloader on your Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 kills camera access

nanoguy

Posts: 969   +14
Staff member
In brief: People who are planning on buying a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 to play with custom software on it will have to make a bigger tradeoff than ever before, with the simple action of unlocking the bootloader being enough to disable all camera functionality until the process is reversed.

One of the reasons why phone enthusiasts choose to buy Android phones is that they typically get more freedom to fiddle with the software that's running on them. However, a number of early adopters of Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold3 found that unlocking the bootloader comes with some serious penalties on top of the usual risks associated with the action.

It's no secret that Samsung is not a big fan of people rooting and modding their devices, but until now the biggest consequence of doing so was that your phone would permanently lose the protection afforded by the company's Knox security solution. In turn, features like Samsung Pay and Secure Folder would be rendered unusable, but the former in particular may be an acceptable tradeoff for some.

However, two senior members of the XDA Forums found that when they tried to unlock the bootloader on their Galaxy Z Fold3s, they received a message warning that all five cameras would be disabled as a result. On closer inspection, the two enthusiasts found that all camera features such as facial recognition are indeed disabled, and third-party camera apps no longer work after unlocking the bootloader.

As of writing, there's no workaround for this, but re-locking the bootloader does reenable the cameras. Either way, it looks like Samsung really, really wishes that you not change anything about how its devices work, which some may find is a similar behavior to that of a certain fruity company we won't name.

Permalink to story.

 

Dimitriid

Posts: 1,085   +2,062
Hmm, odd choice since I imagine mostly enthusiast are interested in the fold 3. However I've seen *plenty* of Linux environments available on the play store many advertising as not needing root so I wouldn't think you're fully without options if you want to do a lot more with your phone in say dex mode, however I'm not sure what's the state of Linux containerization/virtualization in Android at this time so it might not be as feasible as I'm thinking.
 

Shadowboxer

Posts: 1,717   +1,322
So this is actually worse than an iPhone as you can “jailbreak” an iPhone which is the same thing as rooting on Android but the cameras will still work.
 

m4a4

Posts: 2,536   +3,020
TechSpot Elite
Since when is rooting your device with unsupported cr@p a "repair" ?
Because, it's also about the right to own what you buy (so you can do what you want with it, including repair).

Do you think they should lock out hardware that you own just because you don't use/repair it like they want you to?
 

mbrowne5061

Posts: 1,915   +1,115
Since when is rooting your device with unsupported cr@p a "repair" ?
"Since when is upgrading the suspension on your car with aftermarket parts a 'repair'?"

No one says the OEM has support their actions, but they need to stop trying to babysit their users.
 

yRaz

Posts: 3,851   +4,033
Since when is rooting your device with unsupported cr@p a "repair" ?
If I choose to change the oil on my car instead of taking it to the dealer, why should I lose functionality of the backup camera?

If you buy something you should OWN it. If you would rather rent a house than own one, you can do that. If you want to lease a car over buying one, you can do that. When our only option is to buy a phone but never actually own it then we have a problem.
 

BSim500

Posts: 855   +1,943
Since when is rooting your device with unsupported cr@p a "repair" ?
Right to repair laws are less about arguing over what a "repair" is, or protecting the user from a bad self-repair, and far more about preventing manufacturers from artificially crippling their devices for absolutely no reason...
 

Shadowboxer

Posts: 1,717   +1,322
If I choose to change the oil on my car instead of taking it to the dealer, why should I lose functionality of the backup camera?

If you buy something you should OWN it. If you would rather rent a house than own one, you can do that. If you want to lease a car over buying one, you can do that. When our only option is to buy a phone but never actually own it then we have a problem.
In the US at least, you do own your hardware and you absolutely have the right to install anything you like on it. But that hardware is not guaranteed to work with anything but the OS provided by the OEM. This was all summed up back in a court ruling in 2018 I believe.

So it looks like Samsung have effectively done as much as they legally could to prevent users from rooting their devices. In Asia it’s quite common to have a locked boot loader on an Android device. It’s the US legal efforts preventing that from happening in America.
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 8,223   +6,980
Once again another claim on the title given by Microsoft of an "undocumented feature" ..... ahemm ..
 

yRaz

Posts: 3,851   +4,033
In the US at least, you do own your hardware and you absolutely have the right to install anything you like on it. But that hardware is not guaranteed to work with anything but the OS provided by the OEM. This was all summed up back in a court ruling in 2018 I believe.

So it looks like Samsung have effectively done as much as they legally could to prevent users from rooting their devices. In Asia it’s quite common to have a locked boot loader on an Android device. It’s the US legal efforts preventing that from happening in America.
If samsung can arbitrarily disable features because you want to access certain parts of the device then you don't own it. You aren't even rooting or installing a new OS on it, you're accessing developer mode. What you do from that point is your business, but if accessing developer mode disables the device you don't own it and nothing actually changed. If I undo the unlock does it re-enable the camera?

And are you seriously going to try to justify a company limiting your access to their hardware? If I can install custom software on a laptop then I should be able to install it on a phone
 

Shadowboxer

Posts: 1,717   +1,322
If samsung can arbitrarily disable features because you want to access certain parts of the device then you don't own it. You aren't even rooting or installing a new OS on it, you're accessing developer mode. What you do from that point is your business, but if accessing developer mode disables the device you don't own it and nothing actually changed. If I undo the unlock does it re-enable the camera?
I think Samsung would claim the cameras are just only compatible with their software rather than that they have disabled them. There might be some security implications. You’d need to see a lawyer really, if enough people are negatively affected it could be class action I guess.
 

yRaz

Posts: 3,851   +4,033
I think Samsung would claim the cameras are just only compatible with their software rather than that they have disabled them. There might be some security implications. You’d need to see a lawyer really, if enough people are negatively affected it could be class action I guess.
How are you defending not owning your device? I can install Linux on a laptop from 2005 and have everything work, why isn't that the case with phones and tablets?
 

Shadowboxer

Posts: 1,717   +1,322
How are you defending not owning your device? I can install Linux on a laptop from 2005 and have everything work, why isn't that the case with phones and tablets?
I’m not defending anything. I generally agree that users should have autonomy over their hardware. But if say Samsung needed to write code to get the camera to work outside of their OS then I don’t blame them for not bothering. I don’t know enough about this to jump to any conclusions. At the moment we just know the cameras don’t work, that might be by design or there could be a genuine technical reason.

Personally I’m not interested in rooting or modding any device I purchase. With exception to my gaming PC, which I built myself and just install windows on. So I’m not going to watch this with much interest. OEMs will always protect their software.

I wish I had enough spare time to spend tinkering and modding my mobile phone. But if I did I can think of much more fun uses of said time.
 

DZillaXx

Posts: 373   +495
Unlocking the bootloader or rooting does not change the drivers the device uses.

My guess is that the Cameras communication must be encrypted or go through some security process. And with Knox being disabled when unlocking the bootloader the Camera must be effected.
 

ZedRM

Posts: 631   +395
Right to repair (which should include not being able to pull crap like this) can't come fast enough...
Completely agree! Samsung, Apple and Microsoft all desperately need to be put in their place and forced to respect user rights!

Screw you Sammy! Guess who's phones I don't consider for purchase anymore?..
 

mbrowne5061

Posts: 1,915   +1,115
How are you defending not owning your device? I can install Linux on a laptop from 2005 and have everything work, why isn't that the case with phones and tablets?
Exactly. I can think of exactly one instance where my webcam didn't work after installing a weird version of linux (I forget which, years ago). And it was the drivers that didn't work, not the hardware - I was able to write some janky code and get OpenCV to recognize the camera enough to take a single picture.

This isn't a case of Samsung not guaranteeing their firmware and hardware will work with alternative OSes. This is Samsung straight-up disabling hardware because someone might install an alternative OS.
 

Danny101

Posts: 1,860   +796
I suspect it's partially a security feature if a hacker unlocks the device. That much, I appreciate. As long as Samsung is supporting the device, I wouldn't have issue with this tradeoff. However, once they officially stop supporting it, then they should be obliged to remove it. I would even accept that if you want to unlock it during the supported period, Samsung isn't obliged to support warranty.
 

hwertz

Posts: 72   +33
Hmm, odd choice since I imagine mostly enthusiast are interested in the fold 3. However I've seen *plenty* of Linux environments available on the play store many advertising as not needing root so I wouldn't think you're fully without options if you want to do a lot more with your phone in say dex mode, however I'm not sure what's the state of Linux containerization/virtualization in Android at this time so it might not be as feasible as I'm thinking.
Android runs on top of Linux, and can run native (ARM) Linux binaries, the "no root" Linux environmnents basically give you a text terminal (and X server if they're fancier) and install like Ubuntu or whatever onto the sdcard or into the apps "data" area, when you open the terminal is starts a shell in that installed environment.

That said, that's one reason people root, but they also like to remove or add apps to the base image, over or underclock, put on a leaner or more tweaked version of the OS, put on newer version than the vendor is shipping, and get support after end of support period (I put CM7 on my Droid 2 Global, the final Android version released for it had serious memory management bugs (nasty, it'd close apps for "low memory" when I had like 30% memory free!), which were fixed by Google about a month later but they never released that update; Cyanogen did.)

I think Samsung would claim the cameras are just only compatible with their software rather than that they have disabled them.
Except at this point they didn't flash after-market firmware on yet. Having a early release of Cyanogenmod missing camera drivers (or having drivers not work at first) was not unusual (and I'm sure it's not unusual with LineageOS either), they don't need a special disclaimer for this. Unlocking the bootloader, you are still running exactly the same software you were originally running. This is Samsung being bastards and intentionally crippling the cameras.

Disabling the secure wallet and such, Samsung concludes when the phone has an unlocked bootloader they cannot assure the security of the device, so they disable this 1 or 2 security-related items. This makes sense. Artificially disabling hardware on the phone is ridiculousness; I say to Samsung, Apple much?

I suspect it's partially a security feature if a hacker unlocks the device. That much, I appreciate. As long as Samsung is supporting the device, I wouldn't have issue with this tradeoff. However, once they officially stop supporting it, then they should be obliged to remove it.

Turning off secure wallet etc. if it's unlocked is a security feature. Disabling the cameras is not.
Maybe Samsung will disable this in an update due to backlash. If not, I can guarantee Samsung will not remove this restriction when they quit supporting their phone; all the vendors do is hit that end of support date and quit shipping updates (in some cases, like the D2G I had years back, even when the final release is buggy and it'd only take a minor update a month later to fix it.)
 
Last edited:

DZillaXx

Posts: 373   +495
Android runs on top of Linux, and can run native (ARM) Linux binaries, the "no root" Linux environmnents basically give you a text terminal (and X server if they're fancier) and install like Ubuntu or whatever onto the sdcard or into the apps "data" area, when you open the terminal is starts a shell in that installed environment.
While Android uses the Linux Kernel, it is not GNU Linux. Other than the Kernel Android is a completely different beast and hard to really call it Linux as we know it.

Linux GNU applications have so many dependencies that they would never run on Android. This is why Android has completely different drivers and performance differs so much between a Android install and Linux install on something like a raspberry pi or other SBCs.
 

hwertz

Posts: 72   +33
While Android uses the Linux Kernel, it is not GNU Linux. Other than the Kernel Android is a completely different beast and hard to really call it Linux as we know it.

Linux GNU applications have so many dependencies that they would never run on Android. This is why Android has completely different drivers and performance differs so much between a Android install and Linux install on something like a raspberry pi or other SBCs.
Oh yeah it's very different for sure! What things like Termux do is take advantage of NDK (Native Development Kit)... NDK includes a C library and compiler (and Android has methods to call into native libraries and binaries), mainly meant for things that are either very speed-critical, or simply not easy to port from C/C++.. for example, a video rencoding app usually will call an included copy of ffmpeg to actually reencode the video. Instead of just a single app (like ffmpeg), termux takes advantage of NDK to have a full more-or-less GNU/linux base system and packages with more stuff to install. (You're right, I thought it installed regular ARM Debian or Ubuntu packages after that, it does not, it uses packages where the binaries are all built with the NDK.)