I gained a new tablet computer this weekend, but I didn’t go to the Apple store, Best Buy, or order one from Amazon, instead I followed the instructions on webOS Nation to install CyanogenMod on my HP Touchpad. CyanogenMod is a customized Android ROM that is built to be installed on several different devices, mostly ones that have other versions of Android, but also available for the Touchpad. (Disclosure: I work for HP.)
Developers can create custom ROMS like CyanogenMod because Android is open source. In most cases the custom ROMs bundle software that is not provided by device manufacturers or the carriers that sell them. These custom ROMs may be the only way to get current versions of Android on older hardware that manufacturers have decided not to update. People often elect to install a custom ROM on an Android phone to remove software on their phones that carriers add but that they don’t want.
Touchpad owners have a good incentive to install Android on their phone because there are many more apps for Android than webOS. I actually think webOS is the best tablet operating system that I have ever used, and I hope that it gains success as open source, but sticking to webOS means being constrained by the number of apps available for the Touchpad.
I installed CyanogenMod Version 9, or CM9, which includes Android 4.X, the current version of Android also known as Ice Cream Sandwich. The process of installing CM9 on a Touchpad is easy, honestly the most time consuming part of the process is downloading the necessary files to your computer, but flashing a ROM on any device does come with risks of something going wrong that can render the device useless and its warranty voided.
Unlike some ROM installations that completely replace the software on the device, the CM9 installation for the Touchpad keeps webOS intact and provides a way to dual-boot between the two operating sytems, essentially providing the best of both worlds.
If you download all of the files that the instructions tell you to download, there will be two on your desktop computer that you won’t initially copy to the Touchpad, update-lcd_density_120-alpha2 and update-lcd_density_160-alpha2. You may want to copy these two files to your Touchpad in the same folder (/media/internal) as you install the google apps file. (Don’t install these files in the CMinstall folder.)
After you finish installing CM9, boot into Android, and set it up, you may notice that the screen resolution is not as high as you like. With the default resolution, you will not be able to get as many widgets and shortcuts on the home screen as you might like. To increase the resolution you apply update-lcd_density_120-alpha2 to CM9 by using “chose zip from sdcard” of clockworkmod. (The webOS Nation instructions explain more about how to do this.)
The screenshot above is taken with my Touchpad in the higher resolution. I do notice that with some apps like Gmail the font looks pixelated, while in Google Chrome fonts look perfectly fine. You will have to decide what is more important, more screen space or smoother fonts throughout. If after trying the higher resolution you decide that you want to switch back you can do that buy applying update-lcd_density_160-alpha2, using the same steps as you performed when apply the 120 density file.
Android runs very fluidly on the Touchpad, and so far I have been happy with it. One caveat is that while there are stable versions of CM9, it is still in development, and I have had a few instances where I have had to reboot the Touchpad. I’ve also noticed that the Touchpad microphone is not recognized so I can’t use Android’s voice search or voice actions as I can on my other Android devices. With an active development community behind it, I am confident that CyanogenMod will be updated to support the mic in the future.