When the Samsung Galaxy S III came out in the US, it started a huge controversy because the Verizon model came with a locked bootloader. All other models were luckily unlocked, but one carrier locking their device was bad enough. We hoped that something similar wouldn’t happen the next year, but we couldn’t put it past Verizon.
However, with the Galaxy S 4, it’s a whole new level of disappointment. The Verizon model won’t come out for another month, so we won’t know if it’s locked down until then, but now we can confirm that the AT&T model is bootloader locked. Crap. Steve Kondik, better known as Cyanogen, posted on Google+ about the situation:
The AT&T Galaxy S4 has a locked bootloader
Yep, it’s confirmed. The AT&T S4 authenticates the recovery and boot images before executing them.
I can’t see what AT&T has to possibly gain from this. GSM and LTE aren’t magical, tethering is controllable on the server side, and theft-of-services is not possible from the application processor side (or even from the modem side as far as I know). The same device is available on every carrier, so it’s not an exclusivity issue either. The modem processor has always been locked, and the casual user doesn’t want to mess with that part anyway. Samsung has always been developer-friendly, so I am guessing their hand was forced.
The only outcome I see here is stacks of bricked devices being sent back for warranty replacement due to the ease of causing a permanent boot failure, especially since the device is trivially rootable.
The arms race continues. News flash: MILLIONS of people run custom firmware (and I have the STATS to prove it). This is just a stupid move that will cost you customers and money.
I would not recommend buying this device on AT&T if you want to run CyanogenMod or another custom ROM, or if you are a developer and need to work with or debug the lower layers.
And no, we’re not talking “locked bootloader” like HTC’s devices, because they have an unlock method. So far, there is no way to unlock the Galaxy S 4. And even worse, according to AnandTech’s Brian Klug, the other two carrier models (Sprint and T-Mobile) may be locked down too. If they are, the idea of it being carriers pressuring Samsung would be thrown out the window. Could it be extra security for their KNOX business software (which isn’t even on the devices yet)? Would they alienate all power users for extra business benefits? We don’t know, and a lot is still left unconfirmed, but we’ll bring you updated news as it comes.