[UPDATE 27/10/11: If you've installed CyanogenMod's Android port for the HP TouchPad, find out how to gain full, unfiltered access to the full Google Android Market in our step-by-step guide here.)
Hewlett Packard’s cut-price TouchPad tablet (reviewed here) has proven a stunning bargain, but isn’t exactly future-proof: although the company is supporting the device with updates at present, sooner or later webOS development will cease.
That, along with the massively richer third-party development ecosystem, is one of the prime reasons for efforts to port Google’s Android platform to the device – efforts which, we’re pleased to report, have finally borne fruit.
We previously showed you how to tweak the performance of the standard TouchPad device – now, thanks to a team of enterprising developers, you can install a completely new operating system on the device.
The team, known as ‘CyanogenMod’ – behind the Android ROM of the same name – has released an early alpha build of a fully-working Android port for the TouchPad, turning it from a tablet running a custom operating system to the world’s most powerful sub-£100 Android device.
Before you get too excited, however, there’s a few things we have to cover…
WARNING: Although the current release, Alpha 2, is a ‘release candidate,’ it’s still an alpha release. As a result, it’s likely to be full of bugs and comes with absolutely no guarantees whatsoever.
Worse, HP has already confirmed that anyone fiddling with Android on their TouchPad will automatically void their warranties – meaning if you destroy your TouchPad by trying to install Android, HP won’t give you a replacement. With no restocking of the UK sales channel likely, that means you lose your nice cheap tablet.
While it’s true that the software is in the very early stages, and isn’t supported by HP, it’s also surprisingly robust: the vast majority of the TouchPad’s various functions work just fine under Android, and if things do go wrong it’s relatively straightforward to recover your device by using HP’s webOS Doctor software.
Installing Android also gives you access to a massive array of software that simply isn’t available for webOS, including Gmail, Google Maps, Burn The Rope, Google Books, Marvel Comics and more.
You don’t have to give up webOS, either: the installer provided by the CyanogenMod team allows the device to boot into either webOS or Android on demand, meaning you get the best of both worlds.
You’re going to have to evaluate the risk for yourself, however: if you can’t live without your TouchPad, don’t bother installing Android. If you’re willing to risk all, read on.
Preparing the TouchPad
Before you leap into the world of Android, it’s a good idea to do a few housekeeping chores on your TouchPad to ensure as smooth an installation as possible.
First, charge the battery. While it’s possible to install Android without a fully charged battery, keeping it topped up means that there’s less risk your tablet running out of juice half-way through the process.
While it’s charging, head into the Settings menu and choose ‘System Updates.’ HP has just released webOS 3.0.4, which brings some much-needed speed improvements to the platform – but installing the update after Android will break the dual-boot functionality. It’s fixable, but you’ll save yourself some time if you install the update now.
Finally, back up everything you can. The Android installation process is theoretically non-destructive, but it does involve resizing partitions – and that doesn’t always end well. If you end up using webOS Doctor, you’ll lose your files too – so make sure anything you care about is safely stored elsewhere.
Downloading the files
To get Android on your TouchPad, you’re going to need some software on your laptop or desktop.
The first thing you’ll need is a copy of Novacom, HP’s debugging utility for webOS. You can find this on HP’s SDK download site for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
You don’t need to download the full SDK, just the Novacom package. For Windows users, the easiest way to get Novacom without installing the full SDK is to download the universal version from here.
Install the software, and you’re ready for the next step.
The Android installer for TouchPad is split across multiple files: ACMEInstaller is the Novacom image for actually getting Android onto the TouchPad; CyanogenMod 7.1.0 is the Android ROM itself; ClockworkMod Recovery is a tool for updating Android once installed; and MoBoot is the software that allows you to choose to boot back into webOS if you need to.
If that sounds like a lot, it is – but the files are relatively small, with the largest being CyanogenMod itself at around 90MB. All the files can be found by heading over to the project page on RootzWiki and scrolling down to the ‘Downloads’ section.
Although it’s not strictly required, we’d also recommend you download the ‘Gapps’ package: it’s a bundle of all the official Google apps including Maps, Gmail, Talk, and provides access to the Google Market. You can find the Gapps archive at the bottom of the CyanogenMod distribution page.
Sorting the files
Once you’ve downloaded all the necessary files, connect your TouchPad to your PC via the microUSB cable and put it into ‘USB Drive’ mode, so it shows up as a removable storage drive.
Browse to this drive, and create a new folder called ‘cminstall’ (without quotes) and copy the files ‘update-cm-7.1.0-tenderloin-a2.1-fullofbugs.zip,’ ‘update-cwm_tenderloin-1012.zip,’ ‘moboot_0.3.3.zip,’ and ‘gapps-gb-20110828-signed.zip’ into this folder. When they’ve finished copying, eject the TouchPad – but don’t remove the cable just yet.
Finally, extract the contents of the ACMEInstaller ZIP file – there should be just two files in there – into a new folder somewhere on your system.
For the next step, you’ll have to reboot the TouchPad into a special debugging mode. Hold the power button on the device to switch it off, then switch it back on again while holding down the ‘Volume Up’ button.
After a few seconds, you should see a bright white USB logo – this means it’s in USB boot mode, and you can safely let go of the ‘Volume Up’ button.
pen a terminal window on your PC – on Linux or Mac OS X, this is called a ‘Terminal’ and on Windows a ‘Command Prompt’ – and browse to the folder where you downloaded the ACMEInstaller files.
Check that the ‘ACMEInstaller’ file is in that folder, then execute the following command:
novacom boot mem:// <ACMEInstaller
This tells Novacom to push the ACMEInstaller file into the TouchPad’s memory and execute it, which kicks off the Android installation process.
This is the most tense part of the process: the text that’s flying by on the screen is the installation process itself, which involves resizing the internal memory’s partitions to make room for Android.
If anything’s going to go wrong, it will almost certainly go wrong here. Keep an eye on the screen, but don’t worry if the system pauses for a few minutes here and there. If this screen hasn’t gone away in about ten minutes, it’s time to worry: check the messages for errors, and search the web to see if anyone else has had the same problem.
After the installation process is complete, the TouchPad will reboot – and if everything’s gone according to plan, you now have the world’s most powerful sub-£100 Android tablet.
The CyanogenMod version of Android – based on Android 2.3.7 ‘Gingerbread’ – is ‘rooted’, meaning it has a wealth of extra facilities above and beyond the normal Android install.
It also means that you can install tools like SetCPU, which allows you to overclock the TouchPad’s CPU from its default 1.2GHz as high as 1.7GHz.
Enjoy playing with your new Android tablet, but be sure to keep an eye out for updates: the CyanogenMod team will soon release a new version, which will fix some of the few outstanding bugs still remaining in the code.