If you’ve ever bought a carrier-branded phone before, it should come as no surprise that said carrier wants to keep that phone on their network at all costs. Many times this comes in the form of massive logos on phones or custom versions of the phone’s OS, while other times it’s something as deep as locking the bootloader of the device to keep users from modifying its OS and contents. Google’s brand new Pixel and Pixel XL phones, exclusive in store to Verizon in the US, will come with a fully locked bootloader when purchased from the Big Red carrier. This means that, while you’ll likely be getting the best network coverage and speeds thanks to Verizon’s new LTE Advanced network, you won’t be able to unlock the bootloader to get custom firmware or updates.
For many years now Google’s Nexus line of phones shipped with a bootloader that can be easily unlocked with a single command through Google’s Android Debug Bridge, or ADB for short. This command line interface allows power users and developers everywhere access to Android’s most basic, deep level functions. Many of these functions won’t work while the bootloader is locked, however, and particularly prevent users from loading custom firmware, such as the popular CyanogenMod or other custom ROMs in the industry. This means that users who buy the Google Pixel or Pixel XL through Verizon must wait for Verizon and Google to deliver updates in a timely manner.
As you may have seen in our hands-on of the Google Pixel and Pixel XL, the phone is quite gorgeous by any measure. Google’s new designs show a continuity between products that we simply haven’t seen from the company in years past, and clearly show the move to a brand new Google-controlled set of devices within the Android ecosystem. Part of this control of the look of its products means there’s simply no room for carrier placement on any device, and as such you will not find a single Verizon logo anywhere on the phone. While Big Red is locking down the phone in an effort to keep people from roaming away from its network, it’s clear that Google’s influence in the industry is growing stronger, and a more tightly controlled, clear and concise Google future may yet be upon us.