The AT&T (NYSE:T) carrier version of the Google Nexus 6 and has been found to be SIM-locked and a tethering check built into the ROM.
With the release of the Google Nexus 6, came the release of individual carrier versions of the device as well, those include T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint. The Nexus line of devices that have been put out by Google with a stock Android experience. Now with the Nexus 6 AT&T version it was revealed last night that the device is branded with the AT&T logo, both on the back of the phone and the boot screen. Now there are revelations that there has been the inclusion of items from AT&T to lock down the phone. First off the device is SIM-locked and will only be able to be unlocked with a code from the carrier after the AT&T contract is over or the device is paid in full, alternatively there are third parties that sell unlock codes if you are willing to pay for them.
The second problem that was found was that there is a tethering check that checks for a tethering subscription on the users plan. This will prevent the device from sharing its connection via Wi-Fi if there is no provision for tethering on the customer’s plan. What makes things worse is that the check is built into the roots of the Android Nexus 6 at the AOSP level, and this will mean that if you have any Nexus 6 (not just AT&T) the check will be done if there is an AT&T SIM card being used. The third issue is that the ringtones are stored in a separate partition called “oem“, a part that will not be able to be removed. The section may be able to be removed with root access or a custom ROM.
Though the device is supposed to be providing a pure Android experience that the Nexus line is known for, the addition of such carrier add-ons definitely will tarnish that pristine feel. These issues will no doubt be wiped away for those that like to install custom ROMs on their phones and tinker with the inner workings. But it is highly unlikely that for the standard user these issues will be overcome easily. Not to mention that any OTA updates to the Android operating system beyond Android 5.0 Lollipop will likely take longer for AT&T to qualify and verify due to having their own customizations. This almost entirely invalidates the purpose of the Nexus platform which is that whenever Google releases the update to the Android OS, the Nexus users almost immediately start to get it.
Editor’s Take (Anshel):
Keep in mind that T-Mobile’s Nexus 6 has none of the bloatware that AT&T’s version has and it will work on AT&T without any problems. Furthermore, if you buy the Nexus 6 direct from Google Play or T-Mobile you should have no problems activating the phone with a Verizon SIM card and using it on their network as well. The beauty of the Nexus 6 is that it will work on virtually every network. These AT&T ‘customizations’ are similar to what Google did with the Galaxy Nexus and removing Google Wallet and that was already a huge deal and had a lot of people in arms. AT&T’s move with the Nexus 6 is arguably much much worse because it doesn’t only reduce the customer’s ability to choose, but it also reduces the functionality of the device and does not make that aware to people looking to buy the Nexus 6 for AT&T. The fact that they restrict tethering, SIM card access and put in their own ringtones clearly is a breach of what Nexus is about and AT&T should be ashamed of what they’ve done. Google is not without fault here either, after all, they are ultimately the final deciders of whether they want to have the Nexus 6 on AT&T in its current form, and they somehow believe that this is okay.