How to sideload new updates on your Pixel phone if you don’t like waiting

Even though Pixels get updates first, sometimes users still have to wait; for the impatient, sideloading is an option

One of the promises of the Google Pixel line of smartphones is fast, frequent updates. For the most part, this holds true: Pixels get monthly security updates, are the first to get most major Android updates and often get new Android features first.

However, when updates don’t come, it can be a frustrating experience. If you’ve ever spent time tapping the ‘Check for Updates’ button on your Pixel, you know what I mean. Some Pixel users may have experienced this more than others, especially lately, with the Pixel 4 missing out on or having delayed updates. For example, the Pixel 4 review unit I had didn’t get either the November or December update.

For the most impatient Pixel owners among us, there is another way: sideloading updates. It’s not particularly hard to do and can actually be faster than waiting for the automatic over-the-air (OTA) update to hit your phone.

Although some may argue that they shouldn’t have to manually sideload updates on their phone, that’s a debate for another time. This is about how to get it done so you have the latest software and can move on with your life.

Make sure you’ve got ADB, the latest update file and some computer know-how

To start, you’ll need the Android Platform Tools, which give you access to things like Android Debug Bridge (ADB), which you’ll need for sideloading updates to your phone. If you’ve already got that on your computer, great! You’re ready to go.

Otherwise, check out Part 1 of MobileSyrup’s guide for flashing the Android Q Beta. While the rest of the guide isn’t entirely relevant to what we’re doing here, Part 1 does detail how to install the Android Platform Tools on your computer so you can use ADB.

The other thing you’ll need is the latest OTA file from Google. Thankfully, Google uploads them to the Android Developers website. All you have to do is find your Pixel device and the relevant OTA file to download. Make sure you don’t go to the factory image page, as those won’t work for what you’re trying to do.

OTA files are usually about 1-2GB in size, so it may take a few minutes to download. Once downloaded, move the zip file into the folder with the Platform Tools. You may want to rename it to something easier to type, such as january-update.zip.

Prepping your Pixel

Now that you’ve got everything ready to go on your computer, grab your Pixel as you’ll need to do a few setup things on it as well. First up, you’ll want to enable Developer options if you haven’t already. To do that, go to Settings > About phone > tap on Build number about 10 times. After the final tap, your Pixel will ask you to authenticate yourself if you have a screen lock, then will tell you that you’re a developer.

Once Developer options is enabled, you’ll be able to access it from the System menu in Settings under the ‘Advanced’ tab. Open it and enable USB Debugging, which will allow you to use your computer to communicate with your Pixel through ADB.

Then, plug your Pixel into your computer. You should get a prompt on your phone to allow USB debugging with that computer. Tap allow. Then open a Command Prompt or PowerShell window in the Platform Tools folder (Hold Shift and right-click on Platform Tools, then select ‘Open PowerShell/Command Prompt window here.’ For Mac users, right-click on the Platform Tools folder and click ‘New Terminal at Folder.’

Sideloading the update

Now you’re ready to sideload the update. Below are the commands you’ll need to enter in order to sideload the update. The commands are the same on both Mac and Windows, save that Mac users must type ‘./’ before the command, i.e. ‘./ adb [command].’ Also, for Windows users, if you get ADB error messages, you may need to set up PATH for ADB to work (instructions for that are available in Part 1 of the Android Q Beta how-to).

  • Check your Pixel is connected
    • Type ‘adb devices’ (this will show connected devices, you should have one Android device in the list)
  • Enter Recovery mode
    • Type ‘adb reboot recovery’
    • Your Pixel should now show a screen with an Android robot that says ‘No command.’ You’ll need to first press and hold the phone’s power button then press the volume up button after. The screen should switch to a list of options.
    • Use the volume keys to scroll down to ‘Apply update from ADB.’ Press the power button to select it. The Pixel will display a screen that asks you to send the update package to the device.
  • Sideload the update
    • Type ‘adb sideload [name of the file]’
    • If you changed the file to january-update.zip, it’ll look like ‘adb sideload january-update.zip’
    • Your Command Prompt or Terminal window will show the status of sending the update, and eventually cycle through the process of installing the update. Just be patient and let this happen.
    • If it finished properly, you’ll get a message saying ‘Install from ADB completed with status 0’
  • Finally, use the volume keys and the power button to select ‘Reboot system now’

That’s really all there is to it. With future updates, you’ll only need to download the new OTA file and use the commands to push it to your phone, making it a bit easier. In my case, after sideloading the December update, I got the January update almost immediately via the Update menu on my Pixel when it became available. In other words, sideloading an update may put things back on track if you’ve missed a few updates.