Tech reviews

The Pixel camera curse could be beyond a software fix


The Google Camera app, an exclusive to the company’s Pixel phones, has seen a spate of one-star reviews on the Play Store recently. In fact, its overall rating has declined over the last year and a half from 3.8 stars to 3.3, and details in the bulk of complaints may indicate that the well-known Pixel camera curse is spreading to affect more devices. However, Google tells us there aren’t any known app or software issues related to the problem, implying the apparent increase in customer complaints is due to hardware damage.

For context, over the last year or so, reports of problems with the Pixel 2 and 3-series cameras have been increasing, and the nature of the issue indicates it’s not a software problem. For some, the rear-facing camera simply stops working, either displaying a black screen when the app will load, spitting an error message (like that below), or crashing out entirely. The problem can be consistent or the camera may occasionally work for brief periods. The issue affects both the first-party Google Camera app and third-party apps from Snapchat to Duo when trying to use the rear camera. Troubleshooting steps like wiping app data, factory resets, and even rolling back system software are apparently unable to fix the issue.

One symptom of the problem in Google Camera but it also affects third-party apps. 

Some customers believed that a software update triggered the issue, as many reports claim that the problem first appeared immediately following an update. Others theorized that even if software changes weren’t directly responsible for the inconsistent failures, it’s possible something else happening at the same time could be — phones tend to get warm while installing big updates. However, these claims may simply be a result of timing; Pixels get more updates than basically any other Android phone, and people like to blame updates generally when things go wrong as a more visible trigger of change.

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Ultimately, we still don’t know what the cause is. Some claim that placing a magnet near the camera can fix it for a short time, which may indicate a hardware fault. Either way, the volume of reports appears to be increasing.

The primary thread of affected customers at the Pixel Phone Help forums has crested 800 comments, and around half of the recently submitted reviews on the Play Store appear to mention symptoms associated with the problem. That in itself is hardly a scientific metric, but paired with the general decline in the App’s rating from 3.8 stars to 3.3 since October 2019 and a spot check among prior reviews for those that mention similar symptoms, and complaints regarding the issue seem to be picking up.

The Play Store rating has fallen in the last year, and reports are increasingly mentioning this problem.

Most reports that name a device call out the Pixel 2, which seems to be the most affected by this problem, but there are some reports for the Pixel 3, 3a, and 4 series as well. Though we’ve been following reports since it began affecting more devices last year, newer Pixel devices don’t seem to be affected (yet?).

We reached out to Google for more information regarding the issue and if anything new has come to light about the problem, and we’re told there aren’t any known app software or OS software camera stability issues that would cause these problems on Pixels. Instead, the company offered hardware failures as a potential explanation — either due to wear and tear over time, or abuse such as physical damage or drops. Paired with Pixel’s regular update schedule, a hardware problem could be blamed on the more visible software changes, even though there’s no connection. The company invites those affected to contact Google’s customer support to explore their options.

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Previously, those affected by the problem that are still in-warranty have received RMA replacements, but you may have worse luck if your phone is beyond that support window — though Google’s been known to make exceptions.





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