Sony warns unlocking Xperia Z3 bootloader will kill the camera’s low-light performance


Sony Developer World Bootloader Unlock page

Unlocking your smartphone’s bootloader, for the most part, has traditionally yielded some pretty awesome advantages. Aside from voiding out your warranty (which, in most cases, can be reversed), you gain unfettered access to the wonderful world of custom ROMs, some would argue Android’s greatest benefit over rival platforms like iOS.

But it’s not all roses, specifically when dealing with the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact. Now keep in mind Sony actually provides a bootloader unlock solution for their devices — so they’re hip to what’s going on. But after some users began reporting degraded camera performance after unlocking the bootloaders of their Xperia Z3 Compact, Sony responded.

In a small amendment to their official bootloader unlock page, Sony adds a disclaimer mentioning how DRM security on the phone can keep some of their specialty software from functioning properly, namely, the camera and how it handles low light and noise filtering. This also means you can’t download a few Sony apps as they’re also protected.

“Certain pre-loaded content on your device may also be inaccessible due to the removal of DRM security keys. For high-end devices running recent software versions, for instance Xperia Z3, the removal of DRM security keys may affect advanced camera functionality.

For example, noise reduction algorithms might be removed, and performance when taking photos in low-light conditions might be affected. The secure user data partition may also become inaccessible, and you will not be able to get any more official software upgrades if you unlock the boot loader.”

If you’re curious to see exactly what people are talking about (so you can judge for yourself if unlocking the bootloader is worth it), check out the same pics below.

Sony Xperia Z3 camera bootloader unlock performance

Top: unlocked bootloader, bottom: locked

XDA via Xperia Blog

Chris Chavez
I've been obsessed with consumer technology for about as long as I can remember, be it video games, photography, or mobile devices. If you can plug it in, I have to own it. Preparing for the day when Android finally becomes self-aware and I get to welcome our new robot overlords.

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  1. Wow SONY,you just can’t help yourself,can you?

  2. It must be deeply embedded company culture, Sony has always had a way of shooting themselves in the foot with DRM. Why not install a few rootkits while your at it?

    **EDIT** What’s the deal with the battery/clock/Nav Bar showing on the second one? And is that the flash indicator in the top left hand corner?

    1. My (uneducated) guess is the second pic’s nav bar is due to the screen being recently touched, whereas the first pic has allowed the phone’s display to settle to full screen.

  3. This device *was* on the short-list to replace my razr m which is still going strong with the latest CM11 nightlies. No thanks, Sony.

    1. Sloooow down. Be patient. Let the phone get released in the USA, let some devs get it, new root methods will come and I bet will come without bootloader unlocking and then this will not be a worry. We only found out about this as this very first root method requires bootloader unlock – which is odd – and thus, things broke. A root method with no unlocking bootloader is what we want. Something of that sort will surely come in time.

      1. No, root is nice and all, but having it without bootloader unlock is a half-baked hack that’s no better than a jailbroken iPhone. If I was OK with that kind of hack, I would very seriously consider buying an iPhone. I’m just not interested in a phone that requires custom software developers to hack around the bootloader by cooking custom versions of the stock ROM with security keys baked in. I’m philosophically invested in supporting companies that embrace my right to boot *my* device with whatever software I want. On the surface, Sony seems to be doing that by releasing utilities to unlock the bootloader. It’s just that their company is so disjointed that they can’t even get the entire android development team on the same page with this philosophy. I won’t even consider a phone from a company that purports to support bootloader unlocking but utterly fails to deliver it out of sheer incompetence.

        1. Say what???? I have rooted every single phone I have ever had – and tablets. And, dozens for others. NEVER had to unlock a bootloader (though I have on a few tablets since they were out of warranty) and still achieved every awesome benefit of root with only root: kernel changes, ROM changes, hack and mod the system UI and system apps, recovery install, remove bloatware, sideload apps that must have root (AdAway, etc.) and so on. Unlocked bootloader never and not needed.

          So I do not buy into this comment 1 bit, “but having it without bootloader unlock is a half-baked hack” not 1 bit. For 99% of the people out there, simple root opens up everything and a whole new world on your phone. Unlocked bootloader never and not needed.

          1. I didn’t say it was needed to have the full experience. One could argue that you can get something that equates to “the full experience” on a jailbroken iphone, as well. That’s not the issue.

            When I said it was a half-baked hack, that wasn’t an invitation for you to choose your own (poor) definition for the term and build a straw man argument around it. It specifically means the locked bootloader requires a workaround to fool the device (read: hack) into thinking it’s running the original OS that was ‘signed’ to work with the locked bootloader. I agree with everything you said. It’s just that it doesn’t have anything to do with what I said or what I’m looking for from a phone manufacturer.

          2. I guess I just take real umbrage with stating root sans bootloader unlock is a “half baked hack”. Root came before unlocked bootloaders. It opened the whole phone up and can and does. All of the awesomeness of root can be had with zero bootloader interaction.. so not even sure how you can call root with no bootloader unlock a “hack”. They are mutually exclusive and having one – root – without the other – unlocked bootloader – is not a kludge or a hack nor loose you anything. It seems to me like saying without changing your kernel when you are doing a ROM change, it is a hack. And it is not, both are not needed to leverage the value of the other.

          3. you are very misinformed, bootloader then root, some phones bootloader came unlocked or without a lock even. You cant change recoveries, kernels or roms well with a locked bootloader, opening the bootloader opens the floodgates these days not root, root is just gives you SU accesses, bootloader is even deeper.

          4. Sorry.. you are 100% totally wrong. I have rooted DOZENS of phones and tablets. DOZENS. NONE have had to have an unlocked bootloader. ALL have been able to then take custom roms, kernals, recoveries, system UI tweaks, NinjaMorh hacks, new and advanced OS release, etc. So It amazes me you even say, “You cant change recoveries, kernels or roms well with a locked bootloader,” as it is utterly wrong. And I know, as I have done it so many times to so many phones and tablets.

            All of the things I have said that are of value to the average root user are just that. Yes, we agree an unlocked bootloader does allow you to go a level even “deeper”. BUT to get all of the things I have pointed out here 10 times, and to get what MOST people want, simple root gets ALL of that for them sans any bootloader touching.

            You just sit back and wait because when root comes with NO need to mess with the bootloader, we will see who opts to use the bootloader method and who doesn’t. And, we will see just how many people win from ONLY having root and only having SU access… which for most all root users is the holy grail to tweaking their phone.

          5. can you name your devices for me? and what custom kernel you ran on them, and I know how will use the bootloader method right, those of us who loves flashing roms with less fear of bricking, those same people who make your custom roms, Doomlord on xda the xperia handler will unlock that bootloader without hesitation. you want test builds unlock your bootloader

          6. You are wrong to feel that way because all I’ve done is state a simple fact. Two points to clarify the *fact* for you:

            1. It is a hack because all ROM development done within the bounds of a “root with no unlock” scenario requires a workaround using a modified version of the manufacturer’s stock software to trick the bootloader. This is, by definition, a hack.

            2. It’s half-baked because there are limitations (legal and technical) on the type of software development that can be accomplished with a locked bootloader.

            Again, neither of the above points preclude the possibility of a complete experience of awesomeness wherein all discernible features of a phone are “opened up” for you to enjoy. If you find yourself feeling anger as you read these facts and directing that anger towards my words, then you’re just wrong. That’s all there is to it.

  4. Wow!! Ridiculous

  5. Thanks for he warning Sony. I can now scratch this off our potential phone list

  6. You should still be able to gain root without unlocking the bootloader and also backup drm keys before unlocking the bootloader so you can restore them after relocking again. That’s what happened with the Z2 after some devs hooked it up.

    1. 100% agreed.. it WILL happen. Just needs some time to sort out once the devs get the phones in hand. I have high hopes this will resolve so I am not feeling that worried at all honestly.

  7. Well, crap. This was my last hope for a high-end Android phone under 5″ this year. Maybe vendors will come to their senses next year, or else I’m gonna have to buy a man purse just to carry my f-king phone around.

    1. Nexus 6.92 Is on the way October 2015 :D

    2. I had a knapsack about 12 years ago. It might be time to get one again, haha.

    3. Don’t give up yet man. Z3 JUST came out. So many awesome devs don’t even have it yet so root methods are still new and still only what, 1 method. The Z3 needs USA release, needs to get into the hands of a boat load of great devs at XDA and then… we will see other root methods – which is what we want – without needing to unlock the bootloader.

  8. If you buy an Xperia Z3 unlocked, does that mean the boot loader is unlocked? Or does that only mean it can be used for any carrier?

    1. SIM-unlocked, bootloader-unlocked, and isn’t there one more kind of “unlocked” a phone may be? We need different names for these. It is needlessly confusing and even misleading.

      In this case it is “bootloader unlocked”, I think, one in which you can change the OS/ROM. It has nothing directly to do with a SIM-unlocked phone , one that can be used with a SIM from any carrier.

      Someone else please correct me if I’m wrong.

      1. How do I find out if my boot loader is unlocked?

        1. its shipped locked more often than not, you go to sony to unlock it.

      2. You are correct about the terms, but you are incorrect about the need for new names. These controls are implemented with hardware “locking” switches that can be turned on/off (oftentimes one-way only) with the right kind of software. We already have different names… “carrier unlocked” and “bootloader unlocked”. These aren’t cute nicknames that were created for android phans to discuss in the comments section. They are technical terms, and there’s nothing *needlessly* confusing about appropriately assigned technical terms like these.

    2. Typically buying an “unlocked” phone means carrier unlocked, not bootloader unlocked.

  9. It seems pretty straight forward to me, and at least Sony is being upfront about the issue. They are worried that some of their IP can be abused if allowed on a DRM-free device. So, they check bootloader to see if DRM keys are there, if not, some of their software doesn’t run.

    I guess it is a matter of choice for the end-user, on whether the benefits of unlocked bootloader outweight the benefits of Sony’s software.

    1. It’s funny seeing all the outraged comments. It’s this kind of reaction to a perfectly reasonable business decision that will turn phone makers away from Android.

      Sony are hemorrhaging money in their smartphone business and they are simply trying to protect a little of the intellectual property.

      1. They “outrage” will dissipate, I think, when root is achieved without bootloader unlocking. No one really cares or wants or needs unlocked bootloaders per se to get what we really want: root. But, in THIS case, the first version root methods requires it so it revealed to people what suddenly happens. This is not a normal setup. Tying their apps to bootloader is one thing, having to achieve root by unlocking the bootloader is wholly another and what people in the community want is root. Root needs to come sans bootloader unlocking and I bet in time it will and none of this will matter.

        1. No one really cares or wants or needs unlocked bootloaders per se to.

          I kinda need it just realized I been replying to you all day lol

  10. That’s cool, I’ll just stick with Samsung. That’s what happens when you throw up roadblocks, Sony. But thanks for making the choice easy!

    1. You’re referencing the Samsung that historically has refused to distribute non-binary drivers for Mali GPUs on their Exynos platform? Or the Samsung that has a flash counter on all of their devices that voids the warranty when you flash non-Samsung firmware? Or the Samsung that puts KNOX (complete with that e-fuse thing I think) on all their devices making it insanely difficult to install aftermarket firmware? Samsung doesn’t even provide an easy — or really any way — way to unlock a bootloader so, no, Sony isn’t “throwing up roadblocks;” *they’re being honest* and protecting their intellectual property.

      Make no mistake, Samsung is openly hostile towards the Android hacking community, post-2012 Sony is not.

      1. But you can’t ride the Samsung bandwagon if people know any better

  11. Seems fair enough to me. They have spent time developing an algorithm for good low light camera performance and see that as a selling point. Camera performance is one of the key reasons you’d buy a current Sony phone – seems ludicrous to allow people to reverse engineer their USP.

    1. There are other ways to protect their intellectual property than tying it to the bootloader. Other manufacturers certainly try to DRM protect their unique bits, but don’t tie it to the bootloader.

      1. Sony are giving you an option to unlock the bootloader.

        I trust their judgement about the best way to protect their IP over yours ;-)

        1. You’d prefer to trust the IP protection practices of a company with a history of stealth-installing poorly secured (oh, the irony!) rootkits on the computers of legitimate, paying customers in the name of protecting their IP?

          Even with the differences in the situations as so far presented, I find that very impressive.

  12. I quit rooting once I switched to the note 2. So I no longer need to worry about all the bootloaders. I do think it’s smart of Sony to protect themselves. I can’t fault them for doing this since they do at least give you an unlock option.

  13. I’m sure the community will come up with a solution.

    1. I am willing to bet, with 89.878% certainty, some devs at XDA will solve root with no bootloader unlocking needed. The issue is, IMHO, so few Z3’s out there in so few good devs hands, the best guys don’t have the phone yet to start hacking it. When it starts rolling out in the USA, I bet things change quick on the root front.

      1. There already is a solution, but it relies on needing a root exploit BEFORE unlocking the bootloader (which is a little harder). After that all you apparently have to do is backup the special Sony “drm” partition, unlock the bootloader, then restore the drm partition with the valid keys.

        1. I bet, given time, there will be a “1 click solution” – a common root term – for all of this. Load an app or connect to your computer and run and executable, phone reboots, root is obtained. And IF somehow it forever stays that root and unlocked bootloader must go hand in hand on this phone – which would be odd – a “1 click solution” would unlock, root, backups keys, boom….

          1. like the xperia flash tool

          2. Nah!! I, personally, wouldn’t want a 1-click. Not saying it’s a bad idea, Something like that, I’d want to do it manually. I’m afraid the 1-click will mess up for me because I just have that bad luck. LoL!! I want it to be my fault for not backing up my keys properly.

  14. Ouch. OUCH! That being said, since my HTC One m7 got its latest update and I got a Shield tab, I find myself not rooting my devices anymore. I’m sure there was some other way to not have to gimp their devices with custom ROM’s, though. Also, don’t care, still want one!

    1. Rooting can be achieved without unlocking bootloader.

      1. Awesome. I will probably still leave it unrooted until I find a reason to do so. It’s one of the few things I dislike about my m7- having to unlock to root.

      2. Bingo… maybe not here, maybe not yet, but this is the first time I have seen a device I am interested in that to gain root – what you really want here – you have to unlock the bootloader. I personally think that is only because it is the first root method for the Z# released by anyone. It is so very common to see 2-3 different root methods for a phone or tablet, unlocking the bootloader should NOT be a required step.

        1. unlocked BL are really needed for custom roms and firmwares, yea some bootstrap, some 2nd Recoveries. but nothing compares to unlocked

          1. What? Unlocked bootloaders are NOT needed for custom roms, firmwares, recoveries. Not true at all.

          2. they are if you want a “real” custom recovery a “real” custom rom with a kernel built for it , otherwise its more of a headache for the dev, ask any dev if they prefer unlocked BL or Locked when deving. you will find unlocked boot loader is best. like I said recoveries are pushed elsewhere that isn’t the recovery partition, meaning the Bricks are more time consuming to fix and work around, the kernel cant be touched on locked devices so no under volt or over clock. roms must be wrote work on the stock kernal its no fun man.

  15. I guess I’ll stick to my g3 and oneplus one for now. So sad that this happens. I hope its fixable with an update.

  16. If unlocking the bootloader kills the camera’s low light performance, then:
    1. it is a software problem, not a hardware problem
    2. It is Sony’s own fault
    3. In the 21st century, hardware that has closed source bits to achieve its full potential automatically goes to the bottom of my shopping list below its competitors

    1. Not only that, people are only unlocking the bootloader ONLY to gain root. A setup that is not all that normal. That is, I have rooted dozens of phones and tablets and NEVER had to unlock a bootloader to gain root it. It seems in THIS case, to obtain root currently – which is the real key “to the wonderful world of custom ROMs” – the current known root tool unlocks the bootloader. I just have to believe a method will come to root with no need to also unlock the bootloader and then this is a non issue.

      1. I was under the impression to install a custom ROM, you have to unlock the bootloader, but if you want to just want to use Root apps, you can have a locked bootloader, but still be rooted.

        The bootloader controls what happens when the phone boots. So if you’re bootloader wasn’t unlocked and you installed a custom ROM, when you restart the phone, it would revert back to it’s original state. You don’t root to install a custom ROM. You can actually have a custom ROM that isn’t rooted. Like the cases where root gets broken and you cry because you think your phone is broken. LoL!!

        1. Nope, to root some devices (like Nexus whatever) the bootloader must be unlocked.

          1. You just have to be patient and wait for a root/cfw available for a locked bootloader. Did so on my Xperia S ^_^

  17. its just Sony protecting their proprietary in-house camera software ASSets

  18. Sad. I was considering this. But with news of the nexus 6 coming to verizon…

  19. Don’t care. Still want the Z3 on Verizon or Sprint.

  20. Always do a TA backup, this should be known for all Sony phones as was with the Z1 when it initially killed the camera completely until Sony patched it. You also lose some of Sony’s gimicks as well. Damn those DRM keys!!!

  21. I’ve very proudly avoided buying any Sony product since they rootkitted my computer in 2006.

    Screw ’em.

  22. Nobody likes you Erick…Nobody.

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