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Report: Setting this photo as your wallpaper bricks your Android smartphone

Remember chain messages? Those sent via SMS (or snail mail, depending on how old you are) that warned you that failing to forward the message would result in all sorts of horrible things happening to your device—and yourself? Well, as it turns out, we have a modern-day version out in the wild now: users have reported that using a particular image as a wallpaper soft-bricks their smartphones.

We first came across the issue via a Tweet from a reputable figure in the technology industry, Ice Universe. The serial leakster tweeted an image, along with a heavily-worded warning that the attached photo would cause your device to crash if set as a wallpaper:

My first reaction? This has got to be a hoax. As mentioned above, the entire situation reminds me of the chain SMSes that I used to delete without a second thought. However, the leakster warns that “this is not a joke”, and warns readers against recreating the issue; in rather contradicting fashion, the original image file is attached for easy downloading.

What in the world is happening?

Users have complained of the issue affecting devices from various brands, and the whole thing appears to be very mysterious. According to Android Authority, smartphones from Samsung, Google, OnePlus, Nokia, and Xiaomi are affected, with Ice Universe saying that Samsung devices are especially vulnerable.

When the image is set as a wallpaper, users report that their devices are soft-bricked, and the device is then caught in a loop where the display repetitively turns on and off. Basically, this means that the device can’t be used—even to make calls, or other simple tasks. However, the difference between a soft-brick and a hard-brick is that you can still rescue your device fairly easily: just do a full reset.

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So, how is a simple, innocent-looking image bricking devices from various major manufacturers?

Apparently, the issue stems from the colour gamut of the image in question. When the image is edited, or is automatically enhanced (like it is on Weibo), it supposedly becomes harmless. In a reply to the Tweet, a user also claims that drawing a line through the image also rendered it safe to use as a wallpaper.

According to an expert speaking to Android Authority, the bug is caused by how the SystemUI handles non-sRGB photos for wallpapers. When the RGB image is used as a wallpaper, and the system tries to display sRGB, this causes the crash. 9to5Google also says that it isn’t a problem that’s exclusive to this particular image, with other images also potentially crash-inducing.

A similar issue was actually reported back in 2018, with the complaint describing a “System UI crash loop” on a Google Pixel XL on Android 8.1.0. The case was reopened in 2020, with the Pixel community team saying that a fix will be included in a future Android update.

Meanwhile, Samsung has apparently resolved the issue, according to Ice Universe. As such, if you’re on a Samsung device, be sure to look out for a new OTA update that should remedy the issue. And, y’know, avoid the wallpaper at all costs in the meantime.

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For what it’s worth, I’ve attempted to recreate the issue on a Huawei P40 Pro, and it runs perfectly fine. I do have a few other devices, but I think I’ll take the warning and wait for a fix to become widely available before I proceed to experiment with pretty wallpapers from unknown sources.