Nexus 6 on AT&T won’t be as pure as you expected

This logo isn't the only modification AT&T will make to your Nexus 6. Photo: AT&T

This logo isn’t the only modification AT&T will make to your Nexus 6. Photo: AT&T

If you’re buying your new Nexus 6 on AT&T, you’re not going to get the completely pure Android experience you were probably expecting. We already know that the carrier is slapping its logo onto the back of Google’s latest smartphone before shipping it to customers, but it seems a number of changes are being made to its software, too.

Nexus 6 handsets on AT&T will look and feel like any other Nexus 6 for the most part; they’ll have Android 5.0 Lollipop pre-installed, and it will be free from third-party user interfaces and design tweaks. But if you dig around inside Lollipop for long enough, you will find a number of additions and modifications made by AT&T.

Not only is AT&T’s Nexus 6 SIM-locked, so you cannot use it with another carrier, but it has a built-in tethering check that ensures you have a valid subscription to use hotspot features before it will enable them. What’s more, you’ll also find a bunch of AT&T’s own ringtones inside your sound settings.

And the worst thing? You cannot get rid of any of it yourself.

Android Police explains that the SIM-lock is stored independently of the system ROM — “somewhere that factory images don’t touch” — so flashing a different Nexus 6 ROM will not remove it. The only way you’ll be able to unlock your device is with a code from AT&T, and it won’t give you that until your contract is up or you’ve paid the full cost of the device upfront.

As for the tethering check, that’s built into the Nexus 6 ROM as AOSP level, so every Nexus 6 firmware variant will have it baked in. And because third-party ROMs are also based off AOSP, they’ll have it, too. Even the ringtones cannot be removed with a different ROM.

“The ringtones are stored on a separate block partition called “oem”,” Android Police explains. “This partition first made an appearance on the Android One devices, and gives a separate space for OEM- or carrier-specific ringtones, APKs, etc. Usually, factory images will never modify this partition.”

You may be able to remove AT&T’s ringtones with root access, but unless you require root anyway, it’s a lot of effort to go through just to remove some tones that you can simply ignore if you want to. Ringtones are certainly the lesser of the three evils here, and they’re unlikely to bother most users.

What do you think about AT&T’s modifications to the Nexus 6? Will they persuade you to switch carriers, or perhaps buy your device unlocked from Google Play?