Android repair mode: Why we need it, what it should do

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Having to send in a broken phone for repair is a really stressful experience. You find yourself without your basic means of communication, hoping that it will be fixed quickly without any critical errors or additional costs, and you depend on a shipping company not to lose it or delay its delivery. But there is also a feeling of “sickness” in knowing that one of your most special possessions is now in someone else’s hands.

This precarious situation is exacerbated when you can’t (or don’t know how) to reset your phone before sending it away. Some countries’ laws require repair companies to wipe devices to protect your data, but many other countries don’t have any specific regulation. Some carriers or brands may enforce this as part of their internal repair protocol, but others do not. And let’s not talk about mom-and-pop repair shops. This uncertainty is definitely baffling for us users.

Ultimately, if the repair clerk isn’t asked to reset your device, they’ll be left in one of two situations: Either they’ll ask you for an unlock method to verify that everything’s broken when they’re done fixing things, or they’ll return it after doing minimal checks. Neither solution is perfect, which is why Google should create a safe and secure Android repair mode that allows anyone to check devices without exposing any personal data.

That thought was prompted by the recent Pixel leak that grabbed the headlines, and while the issue turned out to be unrelated to the repair process, it made us wonder why Android still lacks this essential feature. After all, this wasn’t the first horror story or other fix we’d heard, and they didn’t all end in multi-million dollar settlements.

Our phones hold our lives

app lock

When we think of someone else taking on our most personal device, our mind first jumps to our pictures and any privacy issues that might arise there. But phones carry much more sensitive data these days.

Giving access to our devices to a stranger means that they can, if they want, check our chats and conversations, read anything and post on our social networks, open our emails, see our home address on maps and everywhere we’ve been, see the upcoming schedule, open our documents. If we own any smart home devices, they can open our door, disable the alarm system or watch footage from our security camera.

You should refuse to give up your phone unlock code if a repair staff asks you to.

Now imagine having your business accounts — and any potentially private company data — on your phone, too. Even worse, once a stranger knows the PIN or pattern, they can also unlock any banking or password app that uses Android’s built-in screen lock for security.

That’s why, if you send your device in for repair, you’d better reset it first. If that is impossible, you should refuse to give up the unlock code if you are asked about it.

Android Safe Mode hardly solves anything

Safe mode is almost enabled on Google Pixel 3 XL

Android already offers a safe mode that disables third-party apps and services. It helps you to check if any issue you are facing is system-wide or due to an installed app. Although it’s a neat utility, it’s designed to be used by the owner of the device, not a stranger, for two reasons.

The first is that you still need to unlock the phone with your fingerprint or face — or a PIN or pattern as a backup — to access anything. This negates the whole point of asking the repairman to switch to safe mode to diagnose your device.

Huawei Mate X2 lock screen at hand

Chris Carlon / Android Authority

The repairman is already able to check a lot of hardware items, even though the phone is locked. They can check the screen and touch function; Try the power and volume buttons; Turn on the camera and take a video to check the different lenses, microphones and speakers; Obviously, make sure that the battery and charging are working.

However, other features may or may not be accessible depending on the version of the software and what Android looks like — and whether they let you toggle any quick settings on the lock screen. For example, if your phone is in Airplane mode and cannot be disabled while it is locked, no one will be able to check if the SIM tray, network antennas, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi are working.

Anyone should be able to run diagnostic tests without unlocking the phone or seeing the user’s personal data.

Finally, it may be impossible to diagnose some sensors without unlocking the phone. In the limited anecdotal tests I did on my Pixel 5 and 6 Pro, I noticed that there was no way to check if the compass, GPS, gyrometer, accelerometer, or proximity sensor were working while the lock screen was on.

A proper Android repair mode should unlock all of these things, no matter what the device owner has selected. Without unlocking the phone, anyone should be able to switch into this mode, run any tests, and access any sensors or hardware items to verify that they are working. It should all be possible in a secure manner, without being able to see any of the user’s personal data. The files, photos, apps, contacts, messages and all private information are not required to be accessed in any way.

Do you reset your phone before sending it in for repair?

9 votes

The key word here is to be able to do it While the phone is locked. That is why secret connection codes that allow you to start certain tests on Android in general, and some brands in particular, do not count. You need to unlock the phone to access the caller.

So what if there was a built-in diagnostic app that could be launched from the lock screen, just like the camera or emergency call function? We can even run it on our own if we feel something is wrong with our hardware, to avoid wasting the repair team’s time and resources.

Even better, how about the diagnostic mode in Fastboot on Android? It will then be available even if the screen is not working and will remain isolated from the rest of the operating system. This seems like a perfect solution and would ease our mind a bit when we really need to send our phone in to be fixed.

Continue reading: Android operating system problems and how to fix them

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