I finally installed the latest version of Android 4.x (CyanogenMod 9 Alpha
0.6 2 Ice Cream Sandwich) on my TouchPad and unlike with recent webOS 3.0.5 upgrade, the installation went very smooth. Yes, if you didn’t know, CyanogenMod 9 Alpha 0.6 2 is out, but you can always check the current release version(s) at RootzWiki Touchpad Cyanogenmod 9 page. I moved my simplified upgrade notes (for brave ones only) to another post.
First Impressions of CyanogenMod 9 and Android 4.x
Unless you’re a curious geek like me who’s done this just to see what it looks like even without all the features I really need, don’t rush to upgrade from CyanogenMod 7.1 on your TouchPad.
, at least not before HD video and hardware acceleration is fixed. There’s plenty of time (and updates) ahead of us.
Operating system, schmoperating system! I still stand behind my claims about the irrelevance of operating systems on computers and smartphones (and tablets in this case), if they are good enough. What matters most for common users (not geeks like us) is that the apps work, the data flow is available and reliable, and that the files and their formats are compatible with common standards. This is the case with both Android Gingerbread and Ice Cream Sandwich.
However, in spite of the previous paragraph I have to admit that the interface looks more polished than in all previous versions of Android. As always, the CyanogenMod team knows very well what beta edition is, better than most highly paid and profitable tablet, computer and software manufacturers. What doesn’t look great is the amount of moves you need to make to access some trivial and frequent settings, such as brightness (see under cons). People with disabilities will not appreciate this.
It’s a great irony that this officially abandoned and “orphaned” device gets to be among the first ones with an available installation of the Android 4.x Ice Cream Sandwich operating system, before many other fancy Android tablets. This shows the greatness and mobility of the CyanogenMod team and the excellent HP TouchPad hardware design, considering its great dual core 1.5 GHz CPU (if not left factory underclocked at 1.2 GHz) with abundant 1 GB of RAM (not to mention the best sound on the market).
I believe that after this Android 4.x port is finished the TouchPad will be one of the best tablets out there. The only possible limiting factors include the lack of the GPS, back camera and an external microSD slot, which I don’t need because my phone, far more convenient to constantly carry around with me, has all of these. I’m so glad I recommended this tablet to some friends and family after I bought one and saw how quickly Android was developing on it. This whole project is making this device very special.
The following is a list of my impressions with both CyanogenMod 9.x and Android 4.x (AKA Ice Cream Sandwich) that will grow with time:
– Nice and slick, very fast interface (no lags whatsoever). Pure speed always distinguished Android from always laggy webOS on my TouchPad.
– Intuitive (but not simple, see cons) access to settings from the “system tray” by the clock (positioned bottom right by default).
– The auto-hide option for the combined (status) bar works great for making fullscreen apps truly full screen (e.g., in YouTube). Settings > System > Combined Bar
– YouTube finally works in HQ (HD mode) and unlike in CM7, both in portrait and landscape mode (as of Alpha 2). Yippee-ki-yay!
– Network activity indicator! The blue wireless icon in the combined status bar (bottom right) flickers some mini black animation when the tablet’s WiFi card is receiving or sending data. I’ve missed this dearly on my Windows computers since Windows XP and now I have it even on my tablet (and still miss it on Windows 7). Fine details like this win my heart – this is the network geek’s pure bliss! 🙂
– Folders (created by dragging one app icon over another) finally allow for rearranging of the icons inside them. Before this you had to take icons out of the folder and put them back in in the order you want them to be sorted (or buying some apps that supposedly enhanced folder options).
– When moving icons around, a grid temporarily appears on the screen and eases choosing of the desired location
– Screenshots are now done easily (at least 1 second later, however) by pressing and holding both power and volume down buttons for about 1 second. The old slower option from CM7.1 is still doable if you press and hold the power button for 1 second and then select “Screenshot” on the resulting pop-up menu.
– Facebook Android app, updated since CM9 installation, finally works. It was constantly crashing in CyanogenMod 7.1, on both TouchPad and EVO 4G so I wasn’t using it at all.
– The built-in browser looks much better than the old one, close to home (close to Chrome). However Dolphin HD still works better (for now) on my TouchPad.
– Angry Birds seem to be running smoother than on the last two versions of CyanogenMod 7.1 for TouchPad.
– Roboto font, fancy Gmail app (should I say iPad-like), all the fancy looks, yadda, yadda… those are known Android 4.x improved features about which you have probably read about everywhere.
– It now takes two taps and two swipes to adjust the screen brightness, which is two moves way too many: this takes one tap and one swipe in webOS. Dude, what the heck?! Trying to worsen user experience?
– Similarly, it takes three taps and one swipe to access the Settings option from the home screen (two taps in CM7.1). Seriously, this is big, dude, what the heck?
– Currently the bootup lasts at least 15 seconds longer than in CyanogenMod 7.1, but it’s still faster than in webOS (well over 1 minute in webOS, about 45 seconds in CM9, and about 30 seconds in CM7.1). When Windows 95 first came out, Microsoft used to claim that it was faster than Windows 3.x and people believed it. It wasn’t. There is very little room for speeding up things on a device with more advanced operating system when the original design was done properly. I experienced the same bootup time in CM9 versions Alpha 0.6 and Alpha 2. I hope the bootup speed improves with newer versions of CM9 but giving up 15 seconds of bootup time on the always-on device is not a big deal.
– ICS (or was it CM9) upgrade removed all my shortcuts from the main screen and now I have to place them back there from scratch. Yes, I AM happy to have a spanking new great performing Android ICS on my cheap but fast tablet, but who likes repetitive tedious work?
– Yikes for the blingy and shiny bootup screen – why not keep it simple? I don’t know whether this is the Android 4 default but I prefer the CM rotating arrow much more (hear me, CM team 🙂 )
– “Add to home screen” interaction menu caused by a long press on an empty area of the home screen is now gone, so we can no longer create new folders, shortcuts or widgets using this method. This move now gives you only the wallpaper settings menu. (Does anybody know whether it’s possible to create a folder on any other way except by dragging and dropping one app icon or shortcut onto another?)
Still to Fix
I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones I am experiencing. I was listing these under cons but they belong to a separate category because these are on the list of issues to be addressed by the developers (who were kind enough to let us use and play with the unfinished versions):
– Many users are having issues with WiFi connection. I experienced them a few times and they are a major pain, but I haven’t had any since I switched to 802.11a (5 GHz radio frequency that requires compatible, dual band WiFi router). This may be just a coincidence, but it is my experience.
This is more a tip than a con because it’s on the waiting list of fixes – in order to get the YouTube videos to play you need to disable the HQ (High Quality) option, otherwise you get the endless rotating arrow on every video that comes in high resolution.
– Camera doesn’t work (standalone nor in Skype), but that’s expected considering that Android 4.x brings a completely renewed and improved camera experience. I suppose there’s a lot of work to do on this one.
– Voice recognition still doesn’t work. It didn’t work right on CM7 but I was sometimes able to fool the voice dictation using Vlingo first, then the built-in Android next.
– Apps that keep crashing and aren’t working on my unit: Gmail and Email apps worked initially
for a very short time in default dpi density screen, then they were inaccessible, crashing all the time after I deployed the 120dpi zip update, but now work again when I reverted to 160dpi (both are available for download from the RootzWiki linkn above).
– Gallery app keeps crashing all the time from the beginning.
– Google Chrome Browser (Beta) keeps telling me this is not an ICS OS and refuses to run. (fixed with latest Google Apps download and install).
CyanogenMod 9 Android 4.x is a promising, shiny new OS, very nice to play with, but yet unfinished. Until today (before February 22, 2012 when I installed version Alpha 2) I was recommending to stay away, because 7.1 seemed more stable and it definitely had less issues. Right now it’s a close call, depending on what type of user you are. Camera works in 7.1 but not in Skype, while it doesn’t work at all in 9. There are some very frustrating issues with WiFi connection in CyanogenMod 9 Alpha 2 because of which I still recommend ordinary users to stick with CM 7.1. There are more apps that keep crashing on CM9 as stated above, so if you are an average user, you probably want to wait
, or for others to thoroughly test it and figure out fixes. If you are still not running Android on your TouchPad, then don’t even bother with CyanogenMod 7 – choose 9 from the get-go. If you’re technical, I’m sure you either already have the latest version installed, or you are reading this just before having some time (or place, being away from home) to take the plunge, which I think it’s worth for geeks like us. You can always back up CM7 in ClockWorkMod as well as CM9 after installation and initial configuration so you can then restore and run either one at will. The CyanogenMod Android experience on the HP TouchPad keeps improving, so I still have great expectations of the final result of this great team’s coordinated effort, but since there haven’t been any version updates from Alpha 2 since February 2012 (as of May 11, 2012 – nightly updates are there, but they sometimes fix one and break another thing), I still prefer CyanogenMod version 7.1.
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I already donated to the team that’s making all this possible. If you’re using a CyanogenMod port you should as well. Donations are accepted on their website at cyanogenmod.com. It’s not the amount that matters but the number of supporters, so give what you can.