March 28, 2023

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Samsung Repair Mode lets technicians look at your phone, not your data

Samsung Repair Mode lets technicians look at your phone, not your data

Zoom / The smartphone is repaired.

Getty Images / krisanapong detraphiphat

Samsung is introducing an interesting new feature for people who send their Galaxy phones in for repair: Repair Mode. When charging your phone, you may want to do something to protect your data, and the new feature seems like a great solution. It locks your data, but not your phone.

Dealing with data during the mail repair process is difficult. You can wipe your phone, but that’s a big deal. You don’t just want to send a device that is completely locked, as technicians can’t accurately test it if they are locked out of everything. While you’re in repair mode, technicians can still walk around your device and test everything, but they’ll only see default apps with blank data. When you get your device back, you can re-authenticate and disable repair mode and you’ll get all your data back.

The feature was first spotted by SamMobileSamsung has so far only announced the feature in a file korean press release; It was first launched in Korea for the Galaxy S21 (S22 is Samsung’s latest flagship phone). Repair mode can be turned on from the Settings menu, Samsung says (through Google Translate), “You will not be able to access your personal data, such as photos, messages, and accounts”, and anyone with the phone will “use only the default installed apps”. The repair mode can be exited the same way, although you will need to authenticate with a pattern, PIN, or fingerprint.

Samsung doesn’t explain how the feature works, but Android has a number of built-in capabilities that make it relatively easy to implement such a feature. Android supports multiple user accounts, allowing for multiple separate groups of apps and data. It wouldn’t take much to shut down the root user and run a “guest” user with no data for the people who fixed it to work with. It is also possible for Samsung to lock down the entire user data partition. Repair technicians can obtain a temporary data store and access the read-only system partition, which houses all the operating system files you might need for testing.

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Whatever the feature works, it’s a great idea, and something we’d love to see other manufacturers implement. Currently, the repair mode is only available on one device model and only in Korea, but Samsung says it will roll out more widely in the future.