Unlocking the FreedomPop Samsung Galaxy SIII

Recently, I purchased a refurbished Samsung Galaxy SIII from Newegg to use with the free phone service FreedomPop. For various reasons, I quickly decided I’d rather not use the FreedomPop service. I won’t go in to those reasons here; this isn’t a review of FreedomPop. When I decided to use another provider, I thought it would be as simple as cancelling service with FreedomPop and activating the phone on another carrier (I chose Ting). So that’s what I did. I had no problem cancelling service, but when I activated with Ting, I realized that all phone calls and texts were “locked in” to the FreedomPop messaging app. So I decided to figure out how to fix that.

The first and most obvious approach was to uninstall the FreedomPop app. Play Store…FreedomPop Messaging…Uninstall. Except FreedomPop managed to make the app an Android default app, so I could only uninstall updates, not the whole app. I tried uninstalling updates and making a test call, but as I imagined, the FreedomPop app still activated when I used the dialer. It became clear that I’d have to pretty much reinstall Android. Unfortunately, I’d never done this before. But with some careful Googling, I figured out how to get my device back to stock Android (4.4.2, the latest version natively available for the SIII) so I could make calls and send and receive texts with another provider. Here’s how I did it – the simplest way I know how. No rooting required.

Disclaimer/info: This is what worked for me. It may not work for you, and it may brick your phone. If that happens, it’s in no way my fault. Also note that this guide is for SIIIs with model number SPH-L710, which I believe is the only kind FreedomPop uses. But be sure to check your model number (under Settings -> More -> About Device -> Model Number) to make sure. This guide is also for people who have never done something like this with their phone, so if you regularly dive in to the guts of your Android phone, you probably won’t need to bother reading this.

How to do it

You’ll need three files: one is the Windows program you’ll use to do the reinstall, the second is the stock Android firmware for the SIII, and the third is the installer for the Samsung phone USB drivers. I had to wade through a bunch of forums and download sites (the annoying ones with the ads and wait counters) to find the files, but I figure I can do you a favor and host them myself to make it easier. Here is the reinstall manager, called “Odin”, here is the stock Android firmware, and here is the Samsung USB driver installer. Download all three and extract the ZIP files. The firmware file will unzip to a .tar.md5 file – do not attempt to decompress it.

Most forums say to make sure your device is at least 80% charged, but when I did this mine was at 50% . The process only takes 15 minutes or so, so 50% should be plenty. Make sure the device is not plugged in to your computer when you begin. Start by installing the Samsung USB drivers. It’s a simple next…next…next installer, no crapware to dodge. Once the drivers are installed, run Odin3 (the EXE from the first download above). It should start up with only the “Auto Reboot” and “F. Reset Time” checkboxes checked – something like this. If that’s not what yours looks like, change the checkboxes accordingly. Next, check the box next to the “AP” button, then click the “AP” button. This will bring up a file browser. Find the .tar.md5 file extracted from the second ZIP file and click open. Odin will now verify the file. Since it’s a big file, the program might become unresponsive for a moment or two. When it’s done, the “Message” pane at the bottom right will say (among other things) “Checking MD5 finished successfully”. It should look like this.

You’re almost ready to being flashing the phone. Power off your phone. Once it’s off, boot it in to download mode by holding the volume down, home, and power buttons. Continue to hold them until you see the warning. The warning will tell you that you can damage your phone doing this (final disclaimer: yes, you can damage it, and it’s not my problem!). Just press whatever it tells you to press in order to continue – likely volume up. Your phone is now in download mode – you should see the Android, with a message saying “Downloading…”. Now plug your phone in to your computer via the micro-USB port. The Odin log will show a message that says “Added!!”. Now, press the Start button in Odin and the firmware flashing process will begin. This will take some time as the files are transferred, and needless to say, do not unplug or otherwise disturb your phone or computer!

When the process is finished, your phone will automatically reboot. It will boot as if you had just done a normal firmware update (which you more or less have), and all your files and settings should be intact. You should notice during the boot that the FreedomPop splash screen is replaced with the stock Android/Samsung one. More importantly, FreedomPop Messaging will be gone, replaced with the default messaging app and dialer. You now have a normal Sprint Samsung Galaxy SIII, which you can use on any Sprint-based carrier that supports the SIII.

I hope this is helpful to people who were in the same boat as I was. The Galaxy SIII is a nice phone, and the reburb off Newegg is pretty cheap. I’m not sure if you are somehow “required” to use FreedomPop service on the phone since you ostensibly bought it to use with them, but my view is that when you buy it, it’s your hardware and you should be allowed to do whatever you want with it. I’m also not sure if this voids the warranty (according to Newegg, the device has a 90-day warranty, presumably through FreedomPop), but if I had to guess, I would guess that it does, so be aware of that. Also be aware that if something goes wrong here, I probably won’t be able to give you any advice. I only vaguely understand how/why this works, and I consider myself lucky that it worked at all for me. Give it a try, though, and hopefully it will work for you too!

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