So you’ve gotten your hands on an IdeaPad A1 tablet and plan to tweak it? Here’s a handy tip on how you can create a custom ROM (Read Only Memory) by current PhD student gmarkall, who used a tablet we passed to him for this write-up. Those of you who are active in the IdeaPad tablet discussion boards will probably find his name familiar. A hardware junkie- turned-avid- Android developer discovered a new passion for building apps after getting his first smartphone – and has never looked back.
So why concentrate on developing Android apps, and more specifically, why share this particular tip with our community? gmarkall reveals:
“One of the great things about Android is that it is open source - this means that anybody is able to download a copy of the source, and build a completely customized Android system (a customROM) from scratch. When you buy an Android device, you get it with the stockROM – the Android system developed by the manufacturer for that device. By installing a custom ROM, you replace the stock ROM with the system of your choosing. Many devices have a number of custom ROMs available for them, usually maintained by individuals or small teams of developers from the community, completely independently of the manufacturer.
Above: Screengrabs of the Cyanogenmod 7
“There are several reasons why you would choose to install a custom ROM. Often the developers of a custom ROM will be able to respond quickly to bug reports as they have a direct connection to the community – they can often provide new features and bug fixes in a shorter space of time than the manufacturer. Custom ROMs are usually built from the very latest version of the Android source code, which means that the latest features are added to custom ROMs sooner than they appear in the stock ROM. Better performance or efficiency can be gained by using a custom ROM, since un-necessary features and bloat are not included, and performance enhancements and tweaks may also be added. Different custom ROMs will have had different features added or removed, so you can choose the ROM that is right for your needs, and get exactly what you want out of your device.
“From a developer's point of view, the Ideapad A1 is a great device to do development for in comparison to some other tablets that are currently on the market. First and foremost, Lenovo has provided the device completely unlocked – there is nothing preventing the flashing of custom ROMs to the device. It is often the case with other devices that some level of protection has been added that prevents the stock ROM from being modified – this protection is inconvenient for users who want to customise, and the protection is invariably eventually broken, but at the cost of time that could be spent doing ROM development instead. The A1 is built mostly from components that are open hardware, for which the full specifications and datasheets are freely available on the internet. These are invaluable resources because they explain how to control the hardware, so developers don't have to spend time reverse-engineering how the chips work, which is a time-consuming and complicated process. Finally, the A1 is very “safe” to do development for, as it is resilient against bad software being written to its internal storage – it has an undocumented feature that allows you to start up the system from an SD card, which allows you to repair the internal storage, much like booting up a PC from a live CD allows you to fix software problems on the hard drive.
“There are a number of custom ROMs and other modifications that have been created and are under active development for the Ideapad A1. Here's a short run-down of these projects:
ClockworkMod Recovery – ClockworkMod (or CWM) isn't a whole Android system but instead replaces the stock recovery system and adds lots of features, most importantly the ability to backup the entire current state of your device, allowing you to take your tablet back to any point in time. For supported devices, CWM is used by ROM Manager, a program that makes trying out and switching between custom ROMs simple and fast.
Cyanogenmod 7 – this well known Android distribution has an A1 port that is shaping up very nicely, and has already been installed by thousands of A1 users. Cyanogenmod's extra features include lockscreen gestures for quick launch of activities when the tablet is locked, OpenVPN support, custom theming, a variety of tweaks especially for tablets, an “Incognito mode” for internet browsing without leaving traces in your internet history, and many other features. The A1 port also has tweaks to improve the stability of the Wifi driver and keep the capacitive buttons lit whilst the screen is on.
Cyanogenmod 9 – the next version of Cyanogenmod, based on the latest Android 4.0 (or Ice Cream Sandwich as it is also known) is being started for the A1. ROMs for the A1 have not yet been released, but are on the horizon.
AOSP Ice Cream Sandwich – A version of Ice Cream Sandwich has been built directly from the Android Open Source Project's sources – this is as close to a pure Android experience as one can get. This ROM is also in the early stages, and there is not yet a public release suitable for general use.
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