Lenovo A1-07: The resurrection

Lenovo A1-07: The resurrection

My first (and only) tablet is an old Lenovo A1 tablet, bought about 3 year ago – I have written some stuff about it some months ago, so I am not going into details.

The tablet had some hard times in the past, being constantly flashed with various ROMs, including an unofficial one of Android 4.0.4 (which was rather buggy and battery-killer), so I ended up with some custom Android 2.3.4 ones. The last time I flashed the tablet was several months ago and something went wrong with the process restoring things from the 4.0.4, so I ended up with the only ROM that I could flash at that point – probably due to the incompatibility with the partitioning I did.

That last ROM was CM7not my favorite (compared to the excellent ones provided by Graham & Milaq who were porting Cyanogen nightly ROMs); it had some useless apps pre-installed (some of them had expired and I had to cope up with reminders and other messages from the app) and the whole user interface was rather ugly. I tried to get rid of it, but for incompatibility reasons I could not go back to the Cyanogen ROMs so I soon gave up; after all, I was not heavily using the tablet anymore.

A couple of days ago, while my 4-year-old son was playing with the tablet, he managed to lock it by playing with the dots of the lock pattern (which he thought it was a game). He tried so many times the wrong combination, that he locked the tablet for good. Even I was not able to unlock it in the end (the recovery using the email and password was not working for some strange reason) so after some hours of online searching for ways to unlock it or even to back things up through ADB) I gave up and tried to format everything and set the tablet to its previous state.

I tried finding some old guides I had for flashing my A1, but most of them were not available anymore while the links to the files needed were also broken…this made things even worse. In the end, I found a rather helpful guide by David Artisssome links were also broken there, but I managed either to find them elsewhere or to find them in old backups I had in several places. The steps I performed were the following:

  1. Using ClockworkMod 5.0.2.8 I flashed the original ROM of the A1 (the one that it came with)
  2. I re-flashed ClockworkMod 5.0.2.8 and then the latest one (6.X.X)
  3. I flashed the latest CyanogenMod nightly ROM for the A1 that I managed to download from Milaq’s list
  4. I rooted A1 by installing a zip file inside CWM
  5. I installed Google Apps through CWM
  6. I set up all the apps that I needed etc.

Unfortunately I did not keep track of the exact steps as I was mostly playing around and testing several different things on order to make things work, so the aforementioned list might not be 100% accurate. The point is that I was forced to do this process from scratch after many months and in this context I succeeded in installing a CyanogenMod ROM much better than the one I had before the tablet was accidentally locked by my son!

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Lenovo A1: ICS on board

My Lenovo A1 tablet was running a custom CM7 Android 2.3 version but I was really curious to try the new ICS 4.04 version. After reading some really detailed guidelines I decided to download the files described and with my previous experience on flashing my tablet (it proved to be really useful) I managed to flash the ICS 4.0.4 correctly, and started installing apps/setting up the tablet. It took me quite a while to be able to correctly complete the process, mostly due to the downloaded files, which seemed to be corrupted every now and then. I also managed to flash the wrong file at least twice (among other mistakes I made), since I got confused with an evergrowing files named update.zip after some time and the fact that my laptop does not feature a card reader, so I had to work with my netbook as well.

So far so good: I am still getting used to the new user interface and setting up my tablet from scratch. The operation is smooth, with no noticeable lags and some new features are really helpful and look like a significant upgrade (like the mail client and the creation of shortcuts at the home screen). I will post screenshots as soon as possible.

Lenovo A1 & USB OTG

Copied from Android Developers web page:

“When your Android-powered device is in USB host mode, it acts as the USB host, powers the bus, and enumerates connected USB devices. USB host mode is supported in Android 3.1 and higher.”

So this means that even if the Lenovo A1 has the native hardware support for USB Host mode, this cannot be used without an update of the Android version of A1 (currently 2.3.4). An upgrade to Honeycomb will be required before we can even test this feature…

On the other hand, this article also from Android Developers mentions that:

Open Accessory is a new capability for integrating connected peripherals with applications running on the platform. The capability is based on a USB (Universal Serial Bus) stack built into the platform and an API exposed to applications. Peripherals that attach to Android-powered devices as accessories connect as USB hosts.

Open Accessory is introduced in Android 3.1 (API level 12), but is made available to devices running Android 2.3.4 by means of an optional external library, the Open Accessory Library. The library exposes a framework API that lets applications discover, communicate with, and manage a variety of device types connected over USB. It also provides the implementation of the API against parts of the Android platform that are not directly exposed to applications in Android 2.3.4.”

And

Note: Support for USB host and accessory modes are ultimately dependant on the device’s hardware, regardless of platform level. You can filter for devices that support USB host and accessory through a <uses-feature> element. See the USB accessory and host documentation for more details.”

So this means that Android 2.3.4 supports USB host mode and it is up to the manufacturer to use the appropriate hardware in order for the tablet to feature the USB host mode. I wonder if Lenovo has opted for this…

But a few lines below, always in the same page:

No USB host support Android 2.3.4 and the Open Accessory Library do not support USB host mode (for example, through UsbDevice), although USB host mode is supported in Android 3.1. An Android-powered device running Android 2.3.4 can not function as a USB host. The library enables the Android-powered device to function as a peripheral only, with the connected accessory functioning as USB host (through UsbAccessory).

Confusing, isn’t it??

This review from Arpandeb.com mentions that A1 features USB OTG, but I do not know where this infomation comes from…

Information for a DIY USB OTG cable can be found iChris Paget’s blog.

Information on how to enable USB OTG in a ZTE Blade can be found here.

Lenovo Ideapad A1 – Incompatible apps

Incompatible1

(image taken from http://thesignalinthenoise.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/121)

A list of Android apps not compatible (for various reasons) with the Lenovo A1 tablet:

  1. Opera Mini Web Browser
  2. Posterous Spaces
  3. QRDroid
  4. FXCamera
  5. Google+
  6. ES File Explorer 1.6.1 update (1.6.0.4 is already installed!)
  7. Dolphin Browser HD (Mini is compatible)
  8. AirTickets.gr

It seems that other people started wondering about the same issue, but still I haven’t found any solid answer to the cause of this incompatibility.

A1-dolphinhd

Strange, huh? Can be installed in my cheap Android phone but not in A1… 

**EDIT – 06/02/2011**:  It seems that a large part of the incompatibility of A1 with Android apps was due to a strange combination of changed screen density to 200dpi (instead of the native 240dpi) and the new version of the Android Market. So, when I changed the screen density back to 240 dpi & uninstalled the Market update, I could install my long missed apps, like Opera Mini, Airtickets.gr, FXCamera, Google+ etc. The issue was solved by XDA user TippyTurtle, to whom I am grateful!

**EDIT – 21/02/2011**: I just installed Popsci and realized that it works both in 200 and in 240 dpi! Yay!

Apps still incompatible with Lenovo A1:

  1. Quill (Requires Android 3.1)
  2. Google Goggles
  3. Handy Scanner Free PDF Creator

List will be frequently updated; please make sure that you come back soon and contribute to this list with your own incompatible Android apps!

 

** Last Update: 21/02/2012 ** 

 

Lenovo A1 tablet: Facts

Ideapad-a1-tablet-hero1
Pros:
  • CPU: Cortex A8 1 GHz – fast enough for common tasks.
  • 16GB of storage
  • 512MB of RAM
  • 7-inch capacitive screen, 1024×600 pixels
  • Charging via micro-USB port – no additional chargers/plugs/ports.
  • Sturdy construction, feels solid in hand.
  • Hardware GPS receiver / works without 3G/WiFi

Cons:

  • No HDMI port /no video out (so no watching on large tv screens…)
  • Android 2.3.4 – it should be upgraded at least to 3.2 for tablets. A rumor exists about upgrading directly to ICS!
  • Annoying Skype issue, which shows the users video image upside down. The issue has been acknowledged and the Skype team says that they are currently working on it.
  • No USB host functionality (so far, maybe it is the cable so still investigating it…)
  • Various useful apps are not compatible with A1, such as Posterous Spaces, Google Goggles and Popsci (apps already installed in my ZTE Blade mobile phone). See a detailed list here.

How to solve various issues:

  1. USB Host mode: There is at least a post at Amazon by a user stating that even Android 2.3 devices without native (hardware) USB host mode support may be able to connect to other USB devices and transfer data from them, but a really special cable will be needed… too hard to even test that!
  2. Incompatibility with apps: It seems that a large part of the incompatibility of A1 with Android apps was due to a strange combination of changed screen density to 200dpi (instead of the native 240dpi) and the new version of the Android Market. So, when I changed the screen density back to 240 dpi & uninstalled the Market update, I could install my long missed apps, like Opera Mini, Airtickets.gr, FXCamera, Google+ etc. The issue was solved by XDA user TippyTurtle, to whom I feel grateful!

Everyday use includes (Updated 13/3/2012):

  • Checking emails: I download my last batch of emails before leaving home/office and check them on the road (in the train), so that I can be ready to reply as soon as I get home. Sometimes I reply on the fly and send the emails when I connect to my home/office network.
  •  I catch up with the latest Lifehacker/PopScience/Engadget articles using the corresponding free apps, doing the same trick: Updating them before I leave home/office so I have all the time to relax and go through the full text articles while I am offline in the train.
  • I read some ebooks using Kindle app or a pdf viewer. Mostly manuals and handbooks that I can refer to, while I am away from the office, as well as literature.
  • I browse heavily the web while I am at home, sitting on my couch and too bored to use my laptop.
  • Retrieving files that I have shared/uploaded using Dropbox or Sugarsync (this has been a lifesaver in a couple of project meetings, when I didn’t have my laptop with me).
  •  Web 2.0 tools: Updating my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. status and checking updates of my friends using the corresponding apps.

I haven’t tried to watch any movie yet, but I am pretty sure that it will happen within the next weeks. I have read a guide on optimizing the file before sending it to my tablet.

Rooted in order to install specific useful apps:

Useful links:

 

Lenovo A1 and Android ICS!

 

This post will be updated often, so make sure that you come back and see any additions/revisions

** Last update: 13/03/2012 **

And the winner is… Lenovo A1!

After about a year of checking out tablets and waiting to see the prices drop, I decided to make a present to myself and get a tablet. The choice was really hard and included the unsuccessful attempt to buy an HTC Flyer on sale from Dixons (199 GBP) and from Amazon (210 GBP). Being a big fan of HTC devices, I was really disappointed that I could not get one of these workhorses….

Then I started looking around, collecting information and asking users about their opinion for a 7-inch Android tablet below 250 euros. I had some basic specs in mind, being:

  • 7-inch capacitive screen: Since the tablet is going to be used mostly in the really crowded Greek public means of transportation, it had to be compact and light.
  • CPU at least at 1GHz
  • RAM at least 512MB / Storage about 8GB
  • High-res, more than 800X600 which was that case for the majority of the 7-inch screens around
  • GPS, HDMI would be a nice bonus
  • Didn’t mind about the 3G option, as I consider data plans to be expensive in Greece and apart from that, I am always online so being offline with the tablet would be a nice change!

I wanted the tablet in order to check my emails, surf the web, read books and watch movies while I am on the road or on the couch. I am not demanding, so I could compromise in some aspects in order to achieve a nice balance between cost and performance.

I heard various opinions, ranging from unknown Chinese products to really expensive models. Some of the specific models suggested by community members included the Archos 70 internet tablet, Archos 80 G9, Turbo-X Hive, Bitmore Tab 88. Archos models were rather powerful and sturdy; however, they did not have Android Market installed (a workaround was needed) and some really nice video codecs had to be purchased individually… Archos 80 seemed to suffer from a minor (?) screen issue as well, which brought it out of the competition.

The winner was… Lenovo IdeaPad A1: A 7-inch tablet with 1GHz Cortex A8 CPU, 512MB RAM, 16GB storage, 1024×600 reolsution and Android 2.3.4 (rather obsolete) for only 170 GBP (about 205 Euros) from Amazon.co.uk. It came from a well-known brand and had most of the features that I needed. It still had an old version of Android (but I hoped that it would be upgraded in the near future) and a GPS receiver but did not have an HDMI port, stereo speakers or a set of custom ROMs…

It was bought from Amazon, along with an 8GB micro-SDHC card and a case/stand from Ebay, to protect it from scratches in my backpack, which is usually full of cables, pens and books.