HTC Sensation 4G will be hackable, may be on AT&T

T-Mobile’s HTC Sensation 4G isn’t due to hit store shelves until Sunday, but it could be followed by a version for AT&T (s t). According to the Wireless Goodness blog, the handset with support for ATT’s network passed through the FCC’s certification process, usually an indication that a device will soon arrive. Regardless of the carrier, Android (s goog) power users are trying to figure out if HTC will lock down the phone and prevent deep customizations. According to the company and my own light research, odds are good that the Sensation 4G will indeed be hackable.
The lockdown in question has to do with the bootloader: If the bootloader is locked, the Android handset won’t accept a modified operating system that isn’t signed by the smartphone manufacturer. This would effectively prevent the ability to install a customized operating system, a practice that only a minority of Android device owners do but one that’s extremely important to this audience. I count myself in that group, having flashed different software on my Android phone and tablet well over 100 times in the past 18 months.
Originally, HTC indicated that it would be locking phones going forward, but on May 26, the company recanted with this official statement on Facebook:

There has been overwhelmingly customer feedback that people want access to open bootloaders on HTC phones. I want you to know that we’ve listened. Today, I’m confirming we will no longer be locking the bootloaders on our devices. Thanks for your passion, support and patience. — Peter Chou, CEO of HTC

Unfortunately for the current HTC Sensation 4G on T-Mobile or a future offering by AT&T, it will take time for HTC to implement a change. Forum members at the XDA-Developers site have inquired as to when the Sensation 4G would have an unlocked bootloader, but no firm time frame has come from HTC, based on this chat statement from the company:

We are currently developing new bootloader unlocked software for your phone. HTC is still committed to allowing our customers to unlock the bootloaders if they wish, however we are still implementing the policy and many updates were already finalized prior to our change in policy. We apologize for the inconvenience, but be assured that we are working on a solution for our customers and our commitment has not changed. Please stay tuned to our official channels for ongoing updates on how we will be implementing this policy.

Hopefully, the effort won’t take too long to change. The review unit I’m testing indicates the device doesn’t require a boot file signed by HTC, as evidenced by S-OFF in a picture of the bootloader screen I took. Since this is a review unit, I won’t unlock or hack the device. Perhaps HTC can revert back to this image for the device, which may save time. But with the handset hitting retail shelves soon, it’s nearly impossible to flash all the inventory before launch.
My guess is that customers who purchase an HTC Sensation 4G at launch — or before, since Wal-Mart(s wmt) is reportedly selling them early — will see a locked bootloader for at least a few weeks while HTC works out the software change. The same could apply to AT&T devices, if and when the Sensation arrives there, although HTC can work with the carrier to adjust the software before it makes it out to customers.
Related: our first-look video at the HTC Sensation 4G and HTC Sense 3.0 software