When Google launched the Android N Developer Preview program earlier this month, it was initially limited to the company’s favored Nexus phones and tablets — you couldn’t test an Android N on a Samsung Galaxy S7, for instance, or on an HTC M9. But today, Google’s ever-so-slightly cracking open the doors of its developer program to a greater pool of users: It’s making available a build of Android N for the Sony Xperia Z3.
The Xperia Z3, at first blush, might seem like an odd choice — it’s almost three years old, after all, and two generations behind Sony’s flagship Z5 — but there’s historical precedent. Last year, Sony announced its Open Device program, a company-wide initiative aimed at granting developers greater access to the under-the-hood code on the Xperia Z3 and Sony’s bevy of other mobile devices. As part of the program, it made public the necessary configuration files, drivers, and binaries (the proprietary bits that Sony uses to adapt Android for its devices, in other words) for installing the Android M Developer preview on the Xperia Z3, and even published instructions on how to do so. It followed suit with updated files for for Android Marshmallow in the fall, and in mid-March seeded a beta release of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow to the Xperia Z3 and Z3 Compact for early adopters.
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Getting the Android N Developer preview up and running on the Z3 isn’t too much more difficult than Android M, it seems. You’ll need a compatible variant of the Xperia Z3 (model D6603 or D6653), plus Sony’s Xperia Companion software for PC (version 1.1.24 or later). Assuming you meet those prerequisites, upgrading’s as simple as pairing your phone to your PC via USB, launching Xperia Companion, holding down the alt key on your computer and clicking “Software repair,” and following the on-screen instructions. If Android N’s too buggy for your liking, you can return to a factory default state by clicking the software repair button sans alt key.
The installation process may sound simple enough, but a word to the wise: While the Android N Developer Preview packs a bunch of cool and desirable features like multi-window app view, a battery-saving Doze mode, and bundled notifications, its bound to have a few kinks ahead of its official release. And the version specific to the Xperia Z3 lacks many of Sony’s additions to Android, such as the Xperia launcher. For that reason, it’s probably best you don’t install the Android N Preview on your primary phone. If you do, be prepared to put up with more than a few annoyances.
So, what’s the Xperia Z3’s Android N gain mean more broadly? Probably not much. Security concerns and carrier relationships have manufacturers reluctant to let developers install vanilla distributions of Android. While companies like Huawei, LG, and Motorola offer tools to unlock some elements of their respective devices, few have supplied the development files required to compile custom software. Barring a major shift in developer climate, Sony’s approach seems likely to the exception rather than the norm.