Saturday, January 21, 2012

HP TouchPad on Android (CM7 Xron Beta vB2.9)

    I was one of the lucky ones who was able to purchase the TouchPad during HP's first fire sale.  I bought the 32GB version for $150.  Although I like webOS and the amount of apps available are decent, I felt it was not enough.  However, I was not interested in porting Android especially since the software was still in an Alpha stage (almost experimental stage with many bugs).  I did use my TouchPad a lot in the beginning but lately was becoming more like a paper weight.  I found the development of CM7, a popular ROM that is available for many devices, to be slow.  However, I discovered a variant of the CM7 Android port called XRON.  With decent reviews, I decided to give it a try.

     I have been installing ROMs on my Droid X for a long time so I was very comfortable installing Xron on my TouchPad.  Since you will still able to boot into webOS, it is nice to have this dual boot feature.  (You can obtain the links and instructions on installing CM7 Xron from XDA-Developers, a popular forum where developers posts hacks, customized ROMs and exchange information.).  So what do I think of CM7 XRON vB2.9, continue reading...

    A developer named Leoisright has taken the CM7 Alpha build and made some tweaks to it to make it faster and better.  Although I am not able to compare this ROM to the actual CM7 that is developed by the popular CyanogenMod team, this review would be based soley on the XRON ROM.  Be aware that CM7 uses Android 2.3 although the CM team is already working on Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich/ICS).  The Xron developer is always updating with further tweaks and improvements.  This is great to see as some developers will only make occasional updates.  The version that I am testing is the vB2.9 (there is a newer version vB2.9.1) although I did use the vB2.8 version briefly.  Anyhow let's dig in.

     I will not go into details on how to install the ROM but this YouTube video does a great job explaining it (don't worry that there is a newer version, you can still use this same video.  One step he skipped is that you will not see "Boot Cyanogenmod" once you get the dual boot menu where you pick either webOS or Cyanogemod.  You have to boot into Clockwork Recovery and then install the zip file (use volume buttons to move up & down, click install zip, find ROM zip file and click home button).  In addition, the guy on the video mentions the gapps file (all the Google apps), but you do not need it.  Also as a tip, you have less than 5 seconds to change the boot option.  If you do nothing, the TouchPad will automatically boot into webOS. 

     Unlike my typical reviews which include the hardware, this review is strictly on the software.  The picture shows the homescreen which I customized myself.  The wallpaper is provided included and it does look nice.  The developer includes two launchers: ADW and an ICS launcher.  I had many force close (where the app freezes and one must close it) with the ICS launcher.  However, I use the VTL launcher which is optimized for tablets.  You can use any launcher as there are many good ones.  With the ROM being Android 2.3, you will not have Android 3.x-type widgets so some of the widgets are not really optimized for a tablet.  Android 2.3 is specifically designed for phones.  Android 3.x and Android 4.x are optimized for tablets.  I am using Android Pro Widgets for the Facebook and Twitter feeds (also a calendar which is not shown).


     I tested certain apps to ensure they run.  Since this ROM is still in Alpha stage, certain apps may not work properly.  The following apps worked without any problems:  Facebook, TweetDeck (Twitter app), DropBox, Box.net, Gmail, Dolphin Browser HD, Google Music, OfficeSuite Pro, Amazon Appstore, ezPDF Reader, AirDroid (one of my highly recommended apps) and Zinio.  Google Currents does freeze a few times.

     As for multimedia, I used mVideoPlayer to play our test videos: M4V & MP4 format with 1250 & 1500 bit videos, three 720p HD files (AVI, MOV & MP4 format) and a 1080p HD MKV file.  The player was not able to play the MOV videos but played everything else.  The 1080p MKV file played but with heavy pixelation.  However, one does not gain anything by playing a 1080p video on a 1024x768 screen.  720p is the max where you will see results.  Therefore, we would not recommend playing 1080p videos on the TouchPad.  I have not tested this but it has been reported that Skype video chat does not work.  However, the camera does work.  Music works fine but only tested using Google Music.

     The ROM does partition the internal storage to create an 'internal memory/storage' and a SD card.  Remember that the TouchPad does not have a SD card slot so one is created (uses the same partition that webOS uses).  For the Android internal memory (where most of the apps are downloaded), you only get 1.58GB which is OK (for comparison, I have about 100 apps on my Droid X and that equals about 1.2GB).  The SD partition is about 27.3GB.  [Remember I have the 32GB version so these amounts will change for the 16GB.]

     Of course, I ran some benchmark tests and compared them to other tablets.  Below you will find the results:

      The TouchPad's dual core processor will dominate the single core Cortex A8 that the ViewBook and Cruz Tablet have.  However, it couldn't compete with the Xoom's Nvidia Tegra 2 although its an older processor and running at 1.0 GHz.  (On a side note, this proves that one should not be focused on GHz.  Higher does not always mean better.)  The TouchPad's GPU dominated the NenaMark benchmark.  Unfortunately, the Vellamo app kept crashing so no score is available.  Of course, these scores are subject to change once the ROM is further developed.  However, there may not be further updates as the developers are concentrating on porting Android 4.0.  We will run benchmark tests once CM9 is released (note: CM9 port was released during the time the article was written.  Its an Alpha 0 so there are many items that are not functioning.)

     Overall, I find that the ROM runs very well.  Of course, there are some occassional freezes and certain apps do freeze.  The WiFi issues are another reminder that this ROM is still not ready for public use.  In addition, there is the occasional reboot that occurs on its own.  I would not recommend one installs this unless you are very comfortable installing ROMs, following directions very carefully and accepting the limitations of Android on the TouchPad.  Also occasionally, the TouchPad reboots on its own.  I must say that I definitely am using my TouchPad more often than when it had webOS.  Great ROM and great developer.  I cannot wait until Android 4.0 is ported to the TouchPad. This Youtube video shows that Android 4.0 (CM9) is almost ready.  As noted above, the first Alpha has been released.  However, we will wait until the majority of the bugs are fixed before reviewing that ROM.  Until then, CM7 XRON is very good although buggy.

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