Why are Motorola handsets still shipping with locked bootloaders?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: October 23, 2011

Android is about choice. When you head to the carrier store to pick your next phone, Android gives you a wide variety of choice in manufacturer, price point, hardware, form factor and software. Sometimes such vast choices make deciding on one phone a difficult thing to do. But chances are, if you keep up with mobile news, there are other, underlying trinkets of information that could help you sift through phones a little more quickly.

These trinkets can range from a manufacturer's preferences in display technology, attention to battery life, custom software or even build materials. You may be a fan of HTC's superior build quality and materials, or you may dislike Motorola's custom Android skin. Preferences like these easily make it quicker to narrow down your options. Sometimes, however, it may go a bit deeper than that. A manufacturer's stance on third-party development on their devices can turn a consumer away faster than anything, especially for a custom ROM enthusiast.

This past Tuesday was a big day in helping me decide on my next phone. Two phones were announced, one that I have been keeping an eye on intently (Galaxy Nexus), and one that I was more or less uninterested in until I watched the announcement, the DROID RAZR. The RAZR, though it's specifications aren't quite as nice as the Galaxy Nexus packs a serious punch in an unbelievably thin package. While I was probably going to choose the Galaxy Nexus from the start, I was still considering the RAZR ... that is, until Motorola confirmed a locked bootloader on the Verizon version.

Nearly every other manufacturer is moving in the opposite direction, making third-party developing and modding easier to those who care to partake. Samsung has supplied the ever-popular CyanogenMod team with a few models of their popular Galaxy S II phone and HTC has provided customers with a bootloader unlocking tool.

I honestly can't wrap my head around it. Why is Motorola still locking down bootloaders?

It isn't entirely Motorola's fault. The international version of the RAZR will come with a bootloader unlock solution, much like HTC's. But carriers have the ability to have the feature removed from the phone's software Verizon has done just that. In this instance, Big Red is to blame, likely in favor of the added security and because they feel their services and applications (VZ Navigator, VCast, etc.) are more "enhancing" than your basic Android experience they have a better chance of users using them if they can't "root" and remove them.

Motorola announced back in April that they would be revamping their bootloader policies late in the year. So the RAZR being the first Motorola handset to come with an unlocking option should not come as a surprise. Congrats to you potential international buyers. Quite honestly, though, Motorola needs be a little more assertive with their new policies. Unlocking the bootloader is a choice the customer should have control over ... not the carrier. We choose Android for a multitude of reasons, one of those being the open ability to do as we please. After all, that's the beauty of Android. Having a bootloader locked down takes away from that and will ultimately drive customers elsewhere, despite whether it was the manufacturer or wireless provider who decided to lock the phone down.

As Jerry Hildenbrand of Android Central points out, there is a good chance that since international versions can be unlocked that the Verizon RAZR, too, could be unlocked with the aid of a trusty developer. But that's a long shot to say the least. I have made the mistake of buying a few phones with locked bootloaders on the presumption that something would eventually be done to unlock said bootloader before. Needless to say, I will not make that mistake again. And unfortunately, no matter how sweet of a phone the RAZR is or will be, I cannot force myself to buy it, solely due to the bootloader situation.

I'm curious, readers. Will the RAZR's locked bootloader turn you away? Should the carrier be able to choose whether the bootloader is unlockable, or should that be left to the consumer? Sound off below!

Image via VentureBeat

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