It’s a Nexus Thing

Nexus 5 Bootloader

What we’re looking at here is a Nexus 5 with a newly-unlocked bootloader, courtesy of Droid Life. If you read their walk-through of the procedure then you will begin to understand the unique selling point of all Nexus devices, and all the goodness it brings. In the same way that there is no fair comparison of the Galaxy Note to other non-phablet phones, a Nexus stands apart from all other Android hardware.

The Nexus is certainly not the only Android device that can be rooted and otherwise exploited by the user, but an unlockable bootloader makes it especially easy. Perhaps as a result a Nexus will always enjoy the widest available selection of custom firmware. So a Nexus review that doesn’t at least acknowledge this standout feature is akin to writing about the Note 3 without mentioning the S Pen — it kind of misses the point of what this line of devices represents to its most ardent supporters.

It’s a Nexus thing.

If this sounds unnecessarily harsh and/or elitist, kindly indulge me for a few minutes while I explain where I’m coming from…

The Dream

Back in 2009 when I first started using Linux on my desktop computers a startling future became apparent — that one day smartphones would inevitably become commodity items, just like desktop PCs. And on these slabs of mostly screen users would be able to install the operating system of their choice.

I had an early taste of this in 2010 when I successfully installed Debian on a Nokia N900. The future was coming, but that future turned out to be Android.

The Nightmare

Cut to 2011, and this Nexus S user was struggling to unlock the bootloader on his retired Nexus One. The difficulty was getting my phone and computer to talk to each other. I was inundated with terms from a new language that I barely understood — adb, fastboot, nandroid, udev rules…

There were (and are) various one-click tools you could use on Windows computers to get the job done without really knowing what you were doing, and root the device while you were at it. But being a Linux user I had to do things the hard way. In hindsight I think it was for the better.

Enlightenment

I eventually came to a limited understanding of the various partitions on a Nexus (and Android) device, and that adb and fastboot were merely protocols for communicating with it. When my bootloader was finally unlocked and a custom recovery installed, everything was once again familiar.

If you didn’t know, a Linux Distribution is really only two things: (1) a desktop environment, like Cinnamon, KDE or Unity, and (2) a collection of built-in software and tools to get you started. A standout feature of Linux is that if you’re not happy with your desktop environment you can simply add another, without having to reinstall the entire OS. In fact, you can have all the desktop environments installed on a Linux machine at the same time; switching between them is as easy as logging out from one and logging in with another.

If I’ve spent more time than I should explaining this it’s because a custom Android ROM is almost exactly the same thingproprietary radio firmware aside, it’s a collection of apps, tools and maybe tweaks plus a launcher, running on top of an Android base.

Thus, the particular version of Android that ships on a Nexus is almost a sidebar for Android modders, as whatever new features present in the new OS will be added to the user’s favourite ROM, and probably made better.

In the same way, the limitations of a Nexus or other Android device can be addressed by the modding community as well. Bad battery life on the Nexus 5? Franco Kernel. Problem solved.

Extra Perks

I don’t think Google gets the credit it deserves for selling the Nexus 5 without a SIM-lock. Every Nexus before it has been factory unlocked in the same way, even the ones sold by carriers (except Verizon and Sprint), and there’s no reason to expect this latest iteration to be any different.

I can remember when I got my Nexus One from Mobilicity back in 2010. There was a lively discussion on these very forums as to whether it was unlocked or not — probably because a SIM-free phone being sold by a carrier was unheard of in the mobile backwater that is Canada.

A year later, when the Nexus S was launched pretty much simultaneously on all Canadian networks, it was also sold SIM-free. Carriers never spoke of it but it was there nonetheless — and the tradition has continued on the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 4.

Sure, unlock codes for SIM-based devices are plentiful and often cheap, but as a user who doesn’t take phone subsidies and prefers factory-unlocked hardware on principle, a Nexus is a great fit.

An additional perk for Nexus users is the OS updates direct from Google. For modders though this is more or less irrelevant, as we’ll be installing the latest version of Android via our custom ROM of choice. Or we’ll hold back, or even downgrade if we so choose. Because we’re the ones in control.

Clearing The Air

Lest you get the impression that this post is meant to bully every Nexus owner into rooting their device it’s absolutely not. If I can pique the interest of just one person reading this then I’ll have done my job.

Likewise, I’m not trying to dump on yesterday’s piece by Steve Punter. But I do feel very strongly that it’s an omission not to include the perspective of a statistically small but dedicated community that has made the Nexus their hero device.

For modders, the following might suffice for a write-up of the Nexus 5:

This year’s Nexus is again made by LG. The loudspeaker is crap but it’s got a 1080p screen and LTE. Upgrading from a Nexus 4 is a no-brainer.

Everyone else is invited to read Steve’s review, if you haven’t already. Maybe modders too. 🙂