As of April 3rd, 2017 the Nexus 6/Shamu has truly reached end of life status. Although we knew it was coming, it seems it was easier to keep the buildbots running until more major changes were made. We’d like to take this time to sit back and reminisce on our fond, and large, memories of the device. Death, however, is not the end, but a new beginning. Or, at least, an excuse for those of us without upgrade fever to move ourselves over to a nice and shiny new ROM. While Google may have given up on on Shamu, some devices just can’t stay down. And there are a few different flavors for your favorite fish out there.
Free Willy, or what now to do with your Shamu?
We all know what is dead may never die (as long as your kernel sources oblige), but I’m going to operate under the premise that we’ve all made it past denial and bargaining and into acceptance on the sad but inevitable fate of Shamu. Fortunately there are a some options for software going forward detailed below, and it’s worth taking the time to sit down and consider exactly what you want and need.
Unlocking your bootloader, installing a ROM or custom recovery (and rooting, if that’s your preference) are all things that should only be done when you understand the steps involved and the risks associated. Remember: a bricked device isn’t the worst case scenario, the really bad things just start there.
Unfortunately, as Google’s base AOSP has gotten better, fewer features have been wanted by the sort of power-users that spearhead ROM development. A lot of old projects have fallen by the wayside and the selection has dwindled.
For those who haven’t followed things, LineageOS is the continuation of the popular CyanogenMod Android ROM, and that is a long and storied history in all regards. It’s been around in commercial and noncommercial forms since 2009, and although its most up-to-date releases (based on Android 7.1.1) are labeled as nightlies they are (mostly) stable. It’s basically a “stock+” ROM based on a blend of the CAF sources released by Qualcomm and Google’s AOSP (the Android Open Source Project handled by Google), but it does have a lot of extra features added in. For those hoping to hang onto their devices for a couple of years while still reaping the benefits of monthly security updates, LineageOS is probably your best bet, and my personal recommendation. Download.
AOSPA (Mostly Dead)
AOSPA used to go by the name Paranoid Android and has a shorter history. Their release schedule has also slowed down quite a bit since OnePlus hired a few of the developers. As a result the latest release they have available for Shamu is fairly old, sitting at 6.0.3. For perspective it’s worth noting that 6.0 (Marshmallow) originally came out in 2015, and that AOSPA release didn’t land until mid 2016. For the security conscious or those wanting to run the latest versions, the lack of a regular build schedule or nightly release is a significant impediment, but AOSPA has a reputation of stability and an excellent feature set, and historically they were on the bleeding edge of interesting new features and modifications for stock Android. Download.
Pure Nexus Project
The Pure Nexus Project is only a few years old, but it’s become one of the most popular AOSP-based (based on Google’s open-source android code) distributions for Nexus and Pixel devices, and especially in regards to the Nexus 6. It’s also up to date (Android 7.1.1), and has a good record of receiving regular updates in the past. But it is worth keeping in mind that, compared to LineageOS or AOSPA in its heyday, it is a smaller project. Download.
There are plenty of other distributions available for the Nexus 6 worthy of note, like Bliss ROM’s builds and Ressurection Remix, but many of them are a bit less focused on general use, less frequently updated, or unofficial and unsupported individual projects. For the truly adventurous, however, the options are there, and some have very interesting or unique features. But, be fully prepared for home-made ROMs to have weird bugs, include potential privacy concerns, or to end development at inconvenient times.
Spring, Summer, Fall, Dead Nexus
Shamu may have reached Autumn in Google’s eyes, but it doesn’t have to in our hearts. Thankfully you have some choices to make when you’re finally ready to put it down and move on. Although, I don’t think anyone would blame you for making eyes at a Pixel XL.
There are resources out there for collaborative help when you need it at places like XDA or reddit, but if you don’t know how to pull a log or use ADB and fastboot you’re not going to find a lot of sympathy. Education, as always, is key. And, frankly, ADB and fastboot aren’t too difficult to learn to use.