Android Developer Options & ADB

My Android phone broke today. This morning I had just gotten out of the shower and was using my phone when the touchscreen stopped responding to input. This can happen when moisture gets into the phone, so I did the old put-your-phone-in-a-bag-of-rice (actually, lentils in my case) trick to see if I could desiccate the phone and get it working again.

After about 10 hours of being in the lentils I pulled it out, and the touchscreen was working again! All was well with the world for about 5 minutes, until it mysteriously stopped responding to input again. I’m currently re-lentiling the phone to see if I can get it working again.

Besides the fact that having a broken phone is a bummer, I have some data on the phone that is going to be annoying to restore if I can’t get the touchscreen working again. So what I really, really want right now is to be able to access data on the phone so I can grab the files I’m afraid of losing. Most of my data is synced to the cloud, but restoring my 2FA stuff is going to be annoying, and I had a small amount of bitcoins stored locally on the phone in Mycelium that I’m going to have to go through the fun exercise of restoring.

It occurred to me just now that if I had the developer options enabled I’d easily be able to access all of my stuff using adb. I’m not currently doing Android development, so I have the developer options disabled as is the default. But if I did have them enabled, getting all of my data off would be a cinch.

It also occurred to me that this type of failure has happened to me numerous times. This is at least the third Android device I’ve had where the phone has been on and running, but is effectively bricked since the touchscreen doesn’t respond. Anecdotally, the two primary failure modes I’ve seen of smartphones is either that the screen breaks in some way (won’t respond to input, is all black, etc.), or the charging port gets damaged and the phone runs out of battery and won’t boot anymore. The adb/developer options trick wouldn’t help in the second case, but it sure would in the first.

So the lesson of the day is: if you’re a hacker with an Android, enable the developer options even if you’re not writing Android software. It could save the day if your touchscreen breaks.