Popular Samsung firmware download site ‘Updato’ pulls its Android app from Google Play
Unlike Apple, most Android device makers never immediately roll out updates globally. Thanks to carrier interference and regional customizations, users in different countries may receive updates weeks or even months after the update first rolls out in one area. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S10’s camera night mode update first rolled out for international models in April but was only recently rolled out this month for some U.S. models. Enthusiasts with a compatible smartphone model thus often turn to third-parties to get updates early. One of those third-party Samsung firmware download sites, Updato, is in hot water over allegations that it’s scamming users out of their money.
Companies like Google, OnePlus, and Xiaomi provide download links for their respective devices’ latest firmware, but Samsung offers no such service. Officially, the only way to fetch a new update for a Samsung phone is to either use the built-in checker in Settings or to use the Samsung Smart Switch service. Neither way guarantees that you’ll be given the latest update, but third-party websites like Updato and SamMobile offer a database of Samsung firmware downloads. These websites scrape Samsung’s servers for the latest firmware releases and categorize them by model number, carrier/region, and OS version. What neither of them do is the actual firmware flashing; both Updato and SamMobile provide firmware for users to flash using leaked builds of Samsung Odin, Samsung’s internal tool to flash firmware.
Controversially, both services charge users to download Samsung firmware at high-speeds. In the case of Updato, the free download rate is limited to 56 KBps, and users will have to pay an annual fee of $34.99 for faster download speeds. At the free download rate, a firmware download of ~700MB would take at least 4 hours, if it ever completed. However, the reason Updato, in particular, is in trouble is because a security researcher from CSIS discovered that Updato had an Android app on the Google Play Store called “Updates for Samsung.” The app is clearly designed to draw in users looking for the latest updates on their Samsung Galaxy devices. The app was found to simply operate as a WebView for the Updato website, bypassing Google Play’s in-app billing requirements.
After this fact was drawn to the attention of the Updato developers, they removed the Android app from Google Play. The developers spoke to BleepingComputer, informing them that their service is not intended for the “typical Android phone user.” They argue that their service provides a “convenience” for their audience as their database “allows people to easily search for firmware in any location for any version for any device…saving them many hours of potential searches and [the] uncertainty of origin/safety of file.” Lastly, the developers promised to remove the firmware service portion from the app and switch to Google’s in-app billing, which they say “was an honest ignorance on our part which we will remedy immediately.”
Is Updato a scam?
One word that’s been thrown around a lot in articles written about the “Updates for Samsung” app is “scam.” Does Updato actually deliver upon what they promise? If you’ve been around our forums for long enough, you may be aware that the service was started in mid-2016 by two XDA forum members: zxz0O0 and peterjitg. At first, the service didn’t have any download speed restrictions, but on June 12th, 2019, the Updato team announced that they were going “freemium” in order to keep up with their growing database and bandwidth requirements. Besides this change in policy, Updato has long been recommended by members of our forums as a way to get the latest Samsung firmware.
If you know what you’re doing, you can get the latest firmware for free by using the SamFirm tool which was actually developed by zxz0O0, a founding member of Updato. However, not everyone is comfortable with that process, and the tool only pulls the latest update available while Updato offers a large, constantly updating database of firmwares. Thus, to call Updato a scam isn’t really fair, though it’s clear their Play Store app was optimized for search in such a way as to attract the average user just looking for the latest update, which contradicts Updato‘s claim that their service isn’t for the average user. SamMobile evades criticism here by not offering a comparable Play Store app, while Team MT’s Firmware Finder for Huawei devices offers firmware downloads straight from Huawei without any fees.
We’ll be keeping an eye on Updato to see how this story evolves. We personally recommend following our tutorial on how to install the latest Samsung firmware for free, but we understand if you prefer the convenience of a service like Updato or SamMobile.