Using the Wrong Wallpaper Can Crash an Android Phone


Modern smartphones are incredibly complex, with the ability to display a huge range of content and to navigate a complex set of color gamuts, file formats, and media types. Occasionally, however, some of those capabilities interact with each other in unanticipated ways, and you get a problem like this.

As first spotted by Twitter account Ice Universe, using the wrong wallpaper on an Android phone can send the device into a soft brick. While it isn’t technically dead, the phone will endlessly boot-loop due to Android’s inability to handle the color space used for the following photo. Note: Viewing the photo won’t damage your Android device — just don’t set it as your wallpaper.

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Here’s an example of what the actual soft boot looks like.

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Device behavior seems to vary slightly depending on the model and manufacturer. Sometimes people have been able to change their wallpaper before the device crashes or use the TWRP recovery tool, but this appears to be more the exception than the rule. Most of the time, affected users have no choice but to perform a factory reset. Samsung is reportedly working on a fix in UEFI, and Android 11 should also resolve the problem. In the meantime, don’t use this image for wallpaper.

According to developer Davide Bianco, the problem is caused by a lack of support for non-sRGB images in the Android SystemUI itself. This is why you can view the image just fine in-browser, but setting it as a wallpaper will temporarily brick your phone. When SystemUI attempts to map color values, the values in the image above exceed the array size and crash the phone.

In theory, these sorts of images can be used as a booby-trap. Send someone a gorgeous wallpaper, they install it, and boom — their device is now boot-looped. Android 11 will fix the problem by supporting non-SRGB wallpapers without this kind of problem.

Weirdly, not every single Android device is vulnerable to this problem. A Huawei Mate 20 Pro didn’t crash when tested by 9to5Google and OnePlus devices are also rumored to be immune. Products from Samsung, on the other hand, very much aren’t. It’s possible that the specific restrictions or software changes on the Huawei and OnePlus devices allow them to handle this kind of content differently.

Either way, best not to source wallpaper from random people until this problem is resolved, unless you’ve recently backed your phone up. Apple, of course, has had similar problems — on two separate occasions, sending the wrong character to an iPhone has been demonstrated to cause it to crash.

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