HP TouchPad ultimate hacking guide – upgrading WebOS, performance tweaks, overclocking and installing third-party apps review

Photo of HP TouchPad ultimate hacking guide –  upgrading WebOS, performance tweaks, overclocking and installing third-party apps

Getting your hands on one of HP’s discounted TouchPads – a bargain £89 for the 16GB model and £115 for the 32GB model – is tough, but if you’re one of the lucky few to get your hands on what we’re tentatively calling the greatest bang-for-buck purchase of 2011, there are ways to boost the capabilities of your device still further.

The TouchPad runs webOS, an operating system which is relatively untested in the tablet market: unlike Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, webOS has previously only been used in smartphones. While the TouchPad is likely to be the last outing for webOS on a tablet device – given that HP has decided to concentrate on making software for enterprise server farms – there are ways and means of extending the life of your latest toy.

Upgrade the operating system
Out of the box, the HP TouchPad (reviewed here) runs webOS 3.0, the latest build that was available at the time of its launch. As anyone who has spent any time around software knows, using a ‘point-zero’ release means bugs – and plenty of them.

Thankfully, HP has already released an upgrade which brings the version from 3.0 to 3.0.2, adding performance and stability improvements to the core operating system, as well as tweaks to the calendar, email, music, photos, and web browser. There’s also a raft of security fixes, plus a tweak that makes the tablet less sensitive to tilting – meaning it’s not so quick to rotate the screen just because your hand is getting tired.

WebOS Quick Install

Upgrading the software is easy, but slow. The installation takes about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on your connection speed. Get the TouchPad talking to your wireless router, then bring up the app launcher and choose ‘Settings’ followed by ‘System Updates’. You’ll be prompted to download the webOS 3.0.2 update, and then once the download is complete prompted again to install it.

HP TouchPad app launcher - Settings

Update your apps
Once your core operating system has been upgraded, you can install the latest versions of the various applications that come pre-installed on the tablet. Go back to the app launcher and choose ‘Settings’ again, followed by ‘Software Manager.’

At the bottom of the screen, you’ll see the number of updates available. Poke the button, then hit ‘Install All’ to benefit from the latest versions of the apps – including an update which introduces editing of Microsoft Office files into the Quickoffice HD app.

Disable logging
Once you’re running the latest release, it’s time to start tweaking. There’s a handy trick to improving the performance of your device above and beyond the stock software release, but it does involve a little fiddling.

A series of ‘hash codes’ are used by developers to enable and disable various features of webOS, but they’re only accessible via the ‘Phone & Video Calls’ app. This is fine on a smartphone, but on the TouchPad – which has no built-in modem – you’ll need to sign up for a Skype account and associate it with your TouchPad before you can do the next step. Just follow the on-screen instructions when you launch the app.

Once logged in, you’ll be given access to a dialpad. Enter the code ‘##5647#’ and press the green ‘Call’ button. A menu will appear that allows you to tweak one of the main reasons for the sluggishness of webOS: the logging.

By default – and so that HP has an easier time of it if you call for support – webOS logs loads of information in the background. Every bit of information logged saps the processing power of the device slightly, taking the edge off what should be a powerhouse of a tablet. So, let’s fix that.

In the menu that appears, choose ‘Change Logging Levels’ and then ‘Set Logging to Minimal.’ Confirm that you’re sure, and enjoy a speedier TouchPad with no ill effects. If you’d like to go still further and disable logging altogether, you’ll want to read on.

Read on for advice on Developer Mode, overclocking and third-party apps.

Enable Developer Mode
Hidden within the webOS software is something called ‘Developer Mode’. This allows various system settings to be tweaked and prodded, and is – for very good reason – hidden from view on a stock device.

Thankfully, there’s an easy way to get access to the Developer Mode: on the home screen, tap into the box labelled ‘Just type…’, and enter the following: ‘upupdowndownleftrightleftrightbastart’. Readers of a certain age may recognise this as a variation on the ‘Konami Code’, known for giving mere mortals a passing chance of getting off level one of Contra.

TouchPad - Konami code

As soon as the last character is entered, an option to launch Developer Mode will appear:

HP TouchPad Developer Mode on

Flicking the toggle in the upper-right of the screen to ‘On’ will enable Developer Mode, which allows you to install third-party software that HP hasn’t necessarily approved. That’s a useful thing to be able to do, as third-party hacks fix many of the issues remaining in the latest release of webOS, enable new functionality – including a private browsing mode for the webOS web browser – and allow you to overclock the TouchPad’s processor.

How? Read on.

Read on for advice on installing Preware and overclocking the TouchPad’s processor.

Installing Preware
‘Preware’, named after the Palm Pre – the webOS-powered smartphone for which the operating system was first developed – is the greatest thing since sliced bread for webOS users. It’s an entire third-party app store ecosystem, filled with patches, fixes, and entire software packages that didn’t make it through HP’s official channels.

Once your TouchPad is running in Developer Mode, you’ll need to download the WebOS Quick Install package on your PC. Thankfully, it’s written in Java and is totally cross-platform, working equally well on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. You can grab your copy here.

You’ll need to allow it to install the Novacom communications drivers when prompted, and then you’ll be able to plug your TouchPad in with the included USB cable. If the software doesn’t find it, try a reboot. Once the WebOS Quick Install package has loaded, you’ll want to hit the globe icon below the minus sign at the right-hand side of the menu. Type ‘Preware’ in the search box and then choose ‘Install.’

The software will then scoot off to the Internet, download Preware, and install it on your TouchPad where you’ll find it in the ‘Downloads’ section of the app launcher.

Installing Preware patches
When Preware is installed, disconnect your TouchPad from your PC and load it up by tapping its icon. After a few seconds of package file downloading, you’ll have access to everything that Preware has to offer.

HP TouchPad - Preware available packages

But before you start excitedly browsing games and productivity apps, head to ‘Available Packages’ and ‘Patch’. This contains a list of useful hacks and patches that change the way webOS works, from blocking adverts in the web browser to removing the irritating ripple effect when you tap the screen.

Pick whichever ones sound interesting – we’ve installed patches that reduce the minimum brightness level for reading in bed, increase the smoothness of scrolling, unthrottle the download manager, and speed up the card animations – reboot when prompted, and you’re done.

Turn off all logging
As promised, Preware offers a way to disable all logging, rather than just turn it down to the minimum that the webOS Developer Mode has to offer.

In the Preware Patch list, find ‘Muffle System Logging’ – if you can’t see it, hit the magnifying glass and do a search. This patch completely disables logging, speeding the tablet up still further and improving overall responsiveness.

It’s not officially supported by HP, however – but we’ve had logging muffled since day one, and have yet to encounter any adverse effects of our eager fiddling.

Install Kindle
One of the biggest disappointments for UK TouchPad buyers was the lack of Amazon’s popular Kindle Reader. Although available in the US HP App Catalog, it’s notable in its absence from the UK version – and rumours of its impending launch look increasingly unlikely as time goes by.

Thankfully, Preware offers you a way to install the US Kindle Reader Beta on your UK TouchPad. Using your TouchPad, grab a copy of the Kindle IPK file from here.

When the download has finished, tap the file’s icon in the Download Manager and Preware should automatically load. Hit the ‘Install’ button and you’re done – you now have Kindle on your TouchPad.

Kindle on TouchPad

There is one slight problem, however: as it’s the US edition, it ties in to the Kindle Store on Amazon.com, rather than Amazon.co.uk. As a result, you’ll be unable to buy new books – but you should have access to your existing titles.

Overclock the processor
Now for ultimate hack: unlocking the true potential of the dual-core processor at the heart of the TouchPad. Although running at 1.2GHz by default, the ARM-based chip is actually a 1.5GHz-capable part – and with a bit of tweaking you can increase the performance of your TouchPad considerably.

This final step isn’t for the faint-hearted, however: it involves replacing the kernel at the core of the Linux-based platform on which webOS runs, a hairy process which can – if performed incorrectly – result in a device that no longer boots. While there are ways of recovering a dead TouchPad – using the webOS ‘Doctor’ mode – it will suck up hours of your time, so tread carefully.

HP TouchPad Preware - add new feed

The kernel which allows overclocking is hidden away in a non-standard part of Preware, so to get at it you’ll need to add some custom package feeds. In Preware, hit the ‘Preware’ option in the top-left and choose ‘Manage Feeds’. At the bottom, in ‘New Feed’, enter the following two feeds:

Name: webos-testing-all
URL: http://ipkg.preware.org/feeds/webos-internals/testing/all

Name: webos-testing-armv7
URL: http://ipkg.preware.org/feeds/webos-internals/testing/armv7

Both should have the ‘Is Compressed’ option set to ‘Yes,’ which is the default. Once added, choose the ‘Update Feeds’ option from the drop-down at the top and go back into ‘Available Packages’.

This time, you’re looking in the ‘Kernel’ category for a package labelled ‘UberKernel (TouchPad)’. Install this, but ignore the tablet’s desire to reboot afterwards. Instead, head into the ‘Application’ category and look for ‘Govnah’ – that’s the app you’ll need to enable the overclocking.

HP TouchPad - Govnah overclocking

Once both are installed, switch the TouchPad off and back on again – crossing your fingers for luck. When the tablet has rebooted, head to ‘Downloads’ in the app launcher and load Govnah, selecting the ‘OneDemandTcl 1512′ profile to enable overclocking to 1.5GHz.

If you’ve worked your way through all the steps in this not-so-little guide, you should find that your TouchPad is a significantly more powerful little device than when you first switched it on. With more webOS updates promised from HP, that should be enough to keep you going – at least until Android finally makes its way across to the TouchPad.