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There are a number of ways to get your Google Pixel smartphone updated to the latest available patch or OS. If you’re happy to take matters into your own hands, you can skip the wait by sideloading OTA update on your Google Pixel, and we’re going to show you how.

Luckily, the entire process is fairly simple and while many hardcore Android fans will know exactly what to do, not everyone is as adept at getting their phone updated. Firstly, there are a few differences in the kind of updates you can install on your Android phone.

Monthly or regular updates are incremental with full updates reserved for major releases. In this instance, an OTA or “over-the-air” update can be flashed with relative ease and will not restore any of your app or system settings when applied. To go back to a previous Android version, you will want a “factory” image. We have a dedicated guide on how to downgrade your Pixel which explains this process.

To recap, there are a few ways to get your Pixel update to the latest official Google OTA update – you can wait until your phone gets a notification which will prompt you to download any waiting updates to your phone. This is normally the slowest method.

You can also force your smartphone to “pull” any waiting updates by heading to Settings > System > System update > Check for updates. This process is marginally faster and can be done as soon as an announcement confirms that an update is available. However, like the OTA notification method, it can be a while before files are available.

The quickest method to get the very latest update on your Google Pixel is to sideload the official OTA file. Google offers a number of ways to do this, but both rely on access to a PC or laptop.

It’s also worth noting that this method will work for almost all Android devices, but you will need to obtain the official OTA files for your specific device manufacturer prior to attempting to sideload using this method.

Download and install Android SDK Platform-Tools package

You’ll need to use ADB or Android Debug Bridge to sideload an OTA update on your Pixel – we recommend installing the unzipped platform-tools package on your desktop for quick access when running commands. You can download the latest platform-tools zip file from here. The Universal ADB Drivers from ClockWorkMod also make the process much easier if you are on a Windows machine versus the drivers already on your machine.

Alternatively, Nexus Tools from Corbin Davenport offers a very simple way to ensure that you have the very latest version of Platform-Tools on your Windows, Mac or Linux machine at all times. Nexus Tools has been written in Dart, so it can run on Linux, macOS, Windows, Windows Subsystem for Linux, and Chrome OS. Once Nexus Tools is finished, you can run adbfastboot, and other commands with zero problems or issues.

Enable USB debugging

How to sideload OTA updates on Google Pixel - Enable USB debugging

Firstly, ensure that you have Developer Options enabled on your Pixel. You can do that by heading to your device Settings > About phone, now tap “Build number” until a message confirms that you have Developer options enabled.

Now you need to head to Settings > System > Advanced > Developer options (you may need to expand a hidden menu for this). Scroll down to the “Debugging” section and tap the “Allow USB debugging” option. It’s also worth noting that if you want to downgrade again at any point, you may want to enable “OEM unlocking” but it is important to note that you can still sideload OTA updates on your Pixel without this option being enabled.

Download the latest OTA file for your device

Before you attempt to sideload an OTA file to your Google Pixel, you’ll need a few things. Firstly, we need the very latest OTA update that is available for your specific Pixel device. Google hosts all of the official builds for each Pixel on the dedicated developer site.

It is important to pick the right OTA file for your device, as this method will fail if you attempt to install the incorrect build for your device. You can find OTA files with dates and carrier-specific builds for every Pixel released right here for each device (with codenames) below:

If regional builds exist for your device, it is important to sideload the correct OTA for your specific Google Pixel. Doing so ensures that you have access to all features available within your global market. However, you can restore if you experience problems.

Boot your Pixel into Recovery mode

How to sideload OTA updates on Google Pixel - How to enter Recovery mode

To initiate the process you’ll need to boot your Pixel into Recovery mode. This mode simply enables the sideloading process to take place. To access recovery mode, fully power down your phone. Then, hold down on the Power button and the Volume down button at the exact same time until you get to the Bootloader page.

Using the physical volume buttons to navigate, scroll down to Recovery mode. To select this option just click the power button. Alternatively, if you have your smartphone connected via USB-C to a computer, you can use the reboot recovery command:

Windows: adb reboot bootloader

Mac: ./adb reboot bootloader

You should see a smaller Android lying down with an exclamation mark over it. When this screen is showing, press the Power button and the Volume up button for about a second to fully enter Recovery mode. Releasing the Volume up button will send you directly into Recovery mode.

Navigate to ADB sideload

How to sideload OTA updates on Google Pixel - Applying an update from ADB

Using the volume buttons again, scroll down to “Apply update from ADB” and select this option using the power button. This will launch a mostly blank screen with text near the bottom directing you on how to sideload an OTA.

Connect your smartphone to a computer with ADB tools installed

Provided you have followed the early steps to install ADB tools on your computer and placed them in an easy to access folder or drive, then you can connect your smartphone to your computer if you have not already done so. You will need to open a Command Prompt or Terminal window within the directory or folder where you have saved the platform-tools file.

A quick method here is to locate the correct folder and type “cmd” into the address bar on Windows, or shift-click and tap “Open PowerShell window here”. PowerShell is effectively the same as Command Prompt, so don’t worry too much as it works just the same, but you’ll need to use the Mac-specific commands here.

If you are using a Mac and have placed the platform-tools folder on your desktop type: “./cd desktop” hit Enter and then “./cd platform-tools”.

To check if your Pixel is recognised and connected just enter:

Windows: adb devices

Mac/Powershell: ./adb device

Provided that you have connected your smartphone correctly a random serial number will appear with other details to confirm it has been connected safely. You might see a prompt on your Pixel screen to “Allow USB debugging”. If you are using a trusted PC toggle the “Always allow from this computer” for seamless future updates.

Enter the sideload command

As long as everything is in place, you can now sideload the OTA file. On Windows, ensure your Command Prompt is directed to the ADB tools folder and type in:

Windows: adb sideload

Mac/Powershell: ./adb sideload

You’ll then need to insert the file name of the original .zip folder you downloaded from Google and hit enter to start the OTA sideload process on your Pixel. If everything is working properly, you should see some dialog on your computer and handset that shows the process of the sideload and installation process. This might take a while and in some rare cases, the process can fail. If it does, just start the process again as it can take multiple attempts for reasons we still don’t fully understand.

Reboot your phone

Once the OTA is done installing, you will be taken back to Recovery Mode. The last step to jump into the new update is to select the Reboot now option with your power button. Once your phone has rebooted, you should be safely updated with the very latest OTA.

A simple way to check if you have followed all of these steps correctly and sideload the OTA file is to head to Settings > About phone > Android version. This should be on the exact patch that you have sideloaded, indicating that you’ve successfully managed to complete the process.

Note: This process won’t wipe your device, but it’s good practice to backup any irreplaceable data in the case something goes wrong.

If you have any questions, make sure to leave them in the comment section below.

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About the Author

Damien Wilde

Damien is a UK-based video producer for 9to5Google. Find him on Twitter: @iamdamienwilde. Email: damien@9to5mac.com

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