i1_Tmob-spin 380 - FRONT_00001

The new Xperia Z1s on T-Mobile is almost identical to the international Z1, except for the radio bands and some software tweaks. One thing that definitely isn't the same is the bootloader – it appears that T-Mobile has requested Sony not allow bootloader unlocks on this device. For a company trying to upend the traditional carrier model, this is awfully old-fashioned carrier behavior.


Reports have come in from a variety of sources including XDA, Reddit, and blogs that make it clear this device is more locked down than the original Z1. With that device, all one needs to do is head to Sony's develop portal and get an unlock code that can be applied via fastboot. The Z1s, however, doesn't allow unlocking through any official means at this time.

So if flashing ROMs is a big deal to you, this probably isn't a phone you want to run out and buy. Maybe the bootloader situation will be rectified in an update down the line.

[Xperia Blog, XDA, Reddit (image via /u/hitechl0wlife)]

Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play. http://goo.gl/WQIXBM

  • Ambroos

    Well, it was to be expected... Are there any US carriers that allow bootloader unlocking these days? All carrier branded phones I've seen in Belgium/the Netherlands the past years were still unlockable.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Tmobile usually does, as well as Sprint. Att and Verizon are openly against it. I'm surprised Tmobile didn't allow it, actually.

      • Patrick Lee

        Maybe, just maybe it was on Sony's end and something they just overlooked?

  • Mystery Man

    Can someone explain the reasoning behind locking bootloaders? If I am paying $650 for a phone (More in most non-US countries) why should I not get to do whatever I want to it?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      They don't want to deal with supporting a phone with unapproved firmware (whoops, tried to root and bricked, guess I'll try to swap it for a new one). Also, they want only approved services you paid for, like tethering, to be allowed.

      • https://plus.google.com/108596272537415356460/posts Jason Farrell

        Yeah - it's pretty sad running into the (k)idiots on XDA (and elsewhere) who proudly admit to committing insurance fraud because they bricked their phone. "Duuuude, just put it in the microwave for a couple seconds and they'll never know!". Those punks have to be an exceedingly tiny minority, though, and it's the other points that the carrier bean counters are hoping to control.

        I, for one, will never buy a phone with a bootloader that can't be unlocked. That would make as much sense as buying a PC/laptop where you couldn't be root/admin and/or install any OS you wanted, and/or update the BIOS. ("TrustedComputing" didn't win (disable secureboot)).

        • Robert Boluyt

          That sounds a lot like an OEM Win8 laptop. Disable Secure Boot, W8 will no longer boot. Want to upgrade to W8 Pro? Sorry, you'll get a key mismatch error because the OEM key is embedded in the UEFI. Want to install Linux? Sorry, the EFI makes doing that a crap shoot at best.

      • hp420

        You don't need an unlocked bootloader, root, or anything of the sort to get beyond their tethering limits. Simply installing PDAnet and changing useragent on your browser is enough if you're on windows. If you use linux, it's even easier because they don't recognize the useragents as being desktop versions, so all that's needed is easytether. Both apps run without root. All you need is to sideload them or install them from the play store.

        I've tethered over 40GB in two weeks on the $70 unlimited prepaid plan.

      • echo.one

        I bought Z1 from friend who bought it without contract at Vodafone partner store, for sth about 800€ (in Croatia, yes, that's price, 6000 HRK) and it came with unlockable bootloader just like Z1s!

      • h4rr4r

        So they can flash it back to stock before doing anything else.
        You can't really brick a phone via flashing, certainly not in a way the OEM can't fix. They had to get the bootloader on there from nothing at one point. If it does not boot flash it again.

        That last one is the real reason. They want you to have to pay for tethering and not be able to remove bloatware.

        • dan

          Yes, but now T-Mobile has had to dedicate time and resources to troubleshooting and arranging to get a phone fixed because someone didn't understand what they were doing. It's not a question of "can," but rather "how much is it going to cost us?"

          • h4rr4r

            Which is why the simple solution and one they often use anyway is to always flash a fresh image when a phone comes in for any issue.

            The best solution to this would be to have one locked recovery partition and one unlocked one for the user to use. For support purposes always do a factory reset and reload from the locked recovery partition.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

          Whether the OEM/carrier can restore the phone doesn't matter - it's them having to deal with people who messed something up and are now using up their resources in one way or another. A soft brick or any side effect of custom firmware - any side effect that an average Joe can't deal with, and someone has to waste time with support, no matter how easy it is to rectify the issue.

          • h4rr4r

            soft brick? Talk about a contradiction in terms.

          • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

            Soft brick = your device isn't operational, but can be restored via various software manipulations.
            Hard brick = your device isn't operational, and you can't restore it via software.

          • TJ Jewett

            explanation appreciated, i think h4rr4r was just poking fun at the concept of a brick made from clay that is soft.

          • Addee

            Lol it is, but...it's a reference to level and type. In "most" cases a soft brick can be repaired or undone. A hard brick lessens or makes that ability impossible.

          • h4rr4r

            Brick means cannot be repaired. No such thing as soft brick.

          • Addee

            Yes...way, waaaaaaay back in BB OS, Symbian and windows mobile 5/6 days. Nooooowwww, there are two possible uses for the term "bricked". Mostly for consumer level developer terminology lingo. Showing our age are we?

          • Karlo

            Yesterday friends GS3 SoftBricked after OTA.
            The service guy told him that mainboard must be changed(pricey).
            He gave his GS3 to me and i just flashed stock via Odin.
            Phone now works fine no parts where removed or changed.

          • Mike Reid



            The greed of many carriers and resellers is often enough to drive even the more ethical people to less than 100% honourable acts.

            Do unto your carrier as he does unto you, LOL.

          • Cerberus_tm

            If that happens, the manufacturer can say "this soft brick was your own fault" and bill the stupid customer. That is in fact what they often do, I believe, because messing up the software is not covered by warranty. That would be a whole lot better and rational. But no, they prefer to lock customers in. I'm glad I live in a place where carriers have no power over phones.

      • Vince

        If you know what you are doing you are not gonna call them for any support since you already know that you lose the warranty when unlocking bootloader or installing custom ROM so they wont do anything for you.

    • qd

      I never understand why bootloaders are locked in most countries. Most countries do not have a carrier model. A friend of mine bought a Galaxy Nexus from Dubai, which had its bootloader locked. Yes, a Nexus.

      • Hosam Arnous

        All Nexus devices come from factory with locked bootloader. But it can be unlocked easily using single command from your PC.

      • hp420

        You are confusing a locked bootloader with an encrypted bootloader

    • Niels

      I'm guessing you pay a lot less than that retail price if you get a Z1s through T-Mobile, it's more like $200 and the rest of that you pay over the course of 24 months. That's the way it is in Europe anyway, I don't know what policies T-Mobile has in the US. So since T-Mobile is subsidizing your phone, they get the right to decide what software you can run. Is that fair? No, in the end you'll still pay the same as if you'd have paid up front. But let that be a lesson, don't be a puppet for carriers, just pay for the phone because you're not saving anything and you're stuck without customization options.

      • Timbo1

        Tmobile does not subsidize their phones anymore.

        • TJ Jewett

          Well... in effect, they do. what you don't pay extra each month when you buy the phone outright is basically the difference between what you used to pay on contract with a phone subsidy. I guess you could look at it the other way and say that they never really subsisted phones. Still has always been better than att / verizon as far as total cost.

    • Luka Mlinar

      Because it's T-mobile. Not sure why you expected more from them.

      • KlausWillSeeYouNow

        You must have AT&T or Sprint... jealous, I see.

        • Luka Mlinar

          Nope. I use a Croatian carrier. My monthly bill is just a bit under 10 dollars. Got more data and minutes than i ever use. T-Mobile is super expensive here.

          • KlausWillSeeYouNow

            Wow! That explains it, then. In the U.S., no carrier is less expensive than T-Mobile. And unlimited talk, text, and data. :-)

          • Luka Mlinar

            There is a simple explanation as to why this is happening here. In Yugoslavia we had only one telecom operator. T-Mobile bought the whole set up of that one company. Even trough tehre are a ton of operators most of the people never switched so T-Mobile has half of the country as costumers. No reason to lower the prices. Not like a pensioner is gonna go online looking for a cheaper price.

    • calmdownbro

      This way you have all the crap they install and you can't even remove them. The phone is (sometimes) much slower than the unlocked/clean one. So you have to replace it sooner than the other unlocked model.
      It's about money, like always.

  • Jorden Nading

    Good thing I bought my Z1 a few months back. My carrier is T-Mobile, I have an unlocked bootloader and 4.4.2 on this bad boy. :P

  • Cory_S

    Yeh, Uncarrier my acne covered ass.

    • Hoggles

      You may want to exfoliant...

    • KlausWillSeeYouNow

      Wow. Aren't you overreacting a little bit? I'd sit on some Noxzema to chill...

  • Jesse

    On T-Mobile with the XZ, and though I can't unlock my bootloader it's still nice to be able to flash non-carrier FTF's If official releases come out or get leaked you don't have to wait on T-Mobile, and of course NO BLOAT. Personally I'm really enjoying the stock ROM scene and feel Sony's software isn't worth giving up even if I could unlock.

    If Sony would get on the ball in the US and not wait so long to release phones here I would pledge my allegiance.

  • hyperbolic

    Right when you want to buy a Sony phone you find out you can't.
    This is why Samsung is selling more phones than Sony...

    • Jack Jennings

      Considering the international Z1 is unlockable this is clearly T-Mobile, not Sony.

    • David Sousa

      The reason why I stopped buying carrier phones since they became smart phones. I know the economics may not be there in the US subsidy model, but I'd even consider it to be worth the extra dollars. Bloat, unsound restrictions and God knows what else they put in there (tracking software) to make the phone slower than it should be.

      I don't put a value in my patience lol. I'd rather buy a simpler/cheaper phone like the Moto G.

  • hp420

    Wouldn't it just be as easy as flashing an unencrypted bootloader from the sim free model? I mean, if the phone is near identical to all the other variants, why wouldn't this work?

    • Bluewall

      But can you flash an unencrypted bootloader on it, without having it unlocked ?

      • calmdownbro

        No. The device is totally locked this way. Nothing you can do with it.

    • Niels

      You can't flash a bootloader, it's a hardware restriction. This has been like this for a few years with Sony now. The people that bought the device as I have (Xperia S), with a locked bootloader haven't figured it out in 2 years now. Best we could do is getting CM10 working on a stock Sony kernel. The firmware of the locked and unlockable bootloader devices is exactly the same, so flashing that doesn't help either.

  • Sad Panda

    So much for getting this on my "JUMP" I pay extra for 6 months and they finally have a decent device and they pull this crap! Sad Panda!

    • Firehawkws7

      Decent device? And here I was thinking the S4, Z1, and Note 3(which I own) were great devices.

  • Cuvis

    Goddamnit, T-Mobile. You're usually better than this.

  • http://www.geordienorman.com/ George Byers

    Ugh, and it just so happens that Sony has the worst skin ever!

  • calmdownbro

    The Xperia U (ST25i / Kumquat) / Sola models also come with locked bootloaders.
    Hence you cannot install a custom rom on them, and you will have to suffer through every single time you using the phone.

    F..k you T-mobile. Really, the greediest scumbags on earth (at least when it comes to carriers.)

  • vinnyjr

    T-Mobile didn't ask or request a locked down bootloader. For whatever reason this is a Sony fiasco. Was going to add that phone to my collection but will wait to see if bootloader issue is fixed.

  • fsured

    Could this be one way for T-Mobile ensure customers fully pay for the device before they can unlock it? They did away with contracts and put phones on payment plans for customers but they still need some methods to have customers pay for the phone in the end. I thouht the government passed requirements that once the customer owns the phone then carriers are to supply the codes needed to unlock it IF the customers requests it.

    • IkariShinji

      Remember though, you don't own something until it's fully paid off. That's the loop hole here. I mean, like a car or a mortgage you don't have the deed to property until you paid the full price required for ownership. So they are not required until you either pay off after 2 years or pay off right away which is possible.

      • fsured

        Exactly. I don't see why people are in an uproar as all phone companies do this and this isn't something new. I understand it prevents people from putting whatever rom they want on the phone but if a customer is paying for it in EIP then they don't own the phone yet. T-Mobile has the right to protect their investment in that phone until the customer owns it fully and if device failure can occur by improper software being installed by people who have no clue what they are doing, then they can request it be locked from the manufacture. Customers using EIP are essentially doing a lease to own on the phone. Want to do whatever you want with it then pay it off and the company is bound to unlock the phone when you ask for it. That would also be the method for a customer to take their phone to another carrier. People just have to complain about something. T-Mobile is no worse than Verizon, At&t, or Sprint here. They are actually way better since they have no problem unlocking your phone once you own it. The company has no issue with unlocked devices and it was part of their bring your own unlocked device campaign.

  • RodderRodney

    I read the article to completion. Sadly, not a single shit was given.

    A single device is not going to change my opinion of Sony OR T-Mobile.

  • Seth Forbus

    GAH. My T-Mobile xperia Z is the best phone I've ever owned, and I was so pissed when I realized the bootloader isn't unlockable. Will probably go with the google play edition of the Z1 ultra just because of that.

  • brett77

    Don't hold your breath on the situation being rectified with an update, the Xperia Z on T-Mobile was the same way.

  • ZAndrew Lazetera

    I just got off the phone with TMobile - they are trying to say it's Sony (which it's not), however they blatantly agreed (and customer service AND tech support both told me they themselves root/flash their own phones) that since I paid for it, I should be able to do as I please. They gave me a "direct" number to Sony (1-866-766-9374) to work with them (disclaimer: haven't called it yet) to get the bootloader unlocked. They also opened up an internal discussion (one week of open forum to try to figure the problem out), to which their engineers are saying they had no input and I should be able to unlock it as per their usual policy (they gave the standard "we don't officially recommend it as it voids your warranty, but you paid for it, you should be able to do anything you want with it and we don't try to stop you").

    I'll keep you guys updated but it would be pretty awesome if Sony provides a way even if it takes direct contact - better than nothing right?

  • Carlos M Dominguez

    Have some once any solution in order to unlock bootloader in Xperea Z1s?