So, last week I got my replacement for my iPad, which I was dissatisfied with because of the completely inadequate Apple keypad (see earlier entry). I looked for a similar size Android tablet, because I did quite like the increased size of the iPad and my Nexus 7 was a bit long in the tooth. It seemed like the only Android tablet of similar size and with a decent screen resolution was the LG G-Pad 8.3, also known as the v500, which normally retails for around £250. However, I managed to get a last-minute discount as Amazon reduced its price to £200 just as mine was about to dispatch (if they’d dispatched a couple of hours earlier, they would have been £50 up) and they are still selling it for that price (make sure you get Amazon’s own deal, not the higher-priced one from LambdaTek). A major factor in my decision was that a version of CyanogenMod is available for this tablet, whose own OS is still two minor versions of Android behind (4.2 rather than 4.4). However, installing it on this tablet is much more involved than installing one on a Nexus, and somewhat riskier.
It has to be said that there is an awful lot of half-baked advice out there on modding this device, and much of it is incomplete and it relies on files that are often located on servers which also distribute junk software. Clicking the wrong link marked “download” means you will get some junk installed on your PC — I’m not sure if it’s malware as such but certainly it’s not the software I wanted (including a “malware checker” and a “file extractor”). Beware of unsolicited malware checkers; what they do is tell you you’ve got malware so you can pay them more to get rid of it.
There are three major differences to modding a Nexus phone. One of them is that you need Windows. The zip-files that root your tablet and install the recovery module (ClockworkMod Recovery) on your tablet only work on Windows, and the LG recovery software that you will need to use if you brick your tablet (which I did at first attempt) only works on Windows. The tablet does not have Fastroot, unlike the Nexus devices; it has LG’s “download mode” which only LG’s proprietary update app (which only runs on Windows) can communicate with.
The second, which they don’t tell you in the various how-tos that are out there, is that you need an SD card in the slot (a MicroSD card, not a full-size one that you will find on cameras). For some reason, neither the root script nor the ClockworkMod installer work if there’s no SD card.
The third is that you can’t sideload. I used sideload to install CyanogenMod and the Google Apps on my three Nexus devices; however, your computer will not be able to communicate with the phone when it is in recovery. The two zipfiles have to be on your tablet before starting recovery.
The question should be asked why you want to install CyanogenMod rather than use the supplied version of Android. In my case, it was because the supplied version is simply out of date, and also because I am used to the look and feel of that (and of stock Android, which are more or less identical — CyanogenMod offers more customisation). I also found that the interface was a bit buggy; when I double-tapped on the screen to enlarge the text when viewing websites in Chrome, for example, I sometimes found that it kept enlarging and then shrinking them again, and then would not enlarge again. This may be because double-tap is used to turn the device on and off, although in Chrome it did not do this. The website is not one that is particularly script-heavy. The supplied OS did not work with my stylus particularly well, nor with Swype, which would often not appear when I needed a keypad. LG’s keypad is better than Apple’s, but it’s nowhere near as good as Swype or SwiftKey (I could, however, use SwiftKey). I tweeted Swype to tell them of the problem.
First, you need the right tablet. If you’ve got the Google Play Edition (which is only available in the USA), this doesn’t apply — it’s only to the retail edition. GPE is model v510 and CyanogenMod is so far not available for it; this is only for model v500.
So, to start you need two scripts, a root script and a recovery install script. When the scripts have downloaded, extract them (you can do this by opening your Downloads directory in the Windows Explorer, right-clicking and selecting “Extract All”). You can find those files here (to save you going to those malware-ridden file-sharing sites). You need to install that SD card (the slot is at the top of the tablet, next to the headphone jack).
You need the OS bundle (find that here — at present, you want the ‘M3’ snapshot of ‘cm-11’) and the Google Apps bundle (find that here — again, you need the CM 11 bundle).
They need to be in the /sdcard directory, which is not the root directory of your SD card but is a directory on the tablet’s own storage — use the File Manager or Terminal Emulator to relocate them. You can either use the tablet itself to download them, or upload them from your PC using Windows Explorer.
Your tablet needs to be well-charged — 30% will do (if there’s not much charge left, ClockworkMod will just not work, and will show an android logo lying on its back with a red warning triangle).
You also need to enable the developer options. To do that, open Settings and find “About tablet” at the bottom, and then select “Software information”. Click where it says “build number” several times; you will get a message on the screen saying “you are now x number of steps away from being a developer” and eventually “you are now a developer”.
Then, go back to the main settings and find “Developer options” near the bottom. There should be an option “Enable USB debugging”; turn it on (and if it is greyed out, go to the top of the list, turn off “developer options” and then back on again; USB debugging will then be enabled and you can turn it on). Use the USB lead that came with your tablet to connect it to your Windows PC.
In your download directory, you should find two subdirectories called “root_gpad” and one beginning with “lg_g”; go into “root_gpad” and run the file called “root.bat”. (On the command line, just type “root”; you can double-click the file marked “root” if you’re using Windows Explorer.) Then follow the instructions on the screen; you will have to unplug and re-plug your tablet during the process. This will enable root on your device (which means allow you to act as a super-user, similar to an administrator on Windows) and upload programs that let you do this. Please note: some websites say that you can use a program called Framaroot to root your tablet. You can’t. I tried the latest version yesterday and it didn’t work; its developers state that it doesn’t support the G-Pad yet.
Then it’s time to install the ClockworkMod recovery utility; this is what will enable you to install CyanogenMod and the Google Apps. Using either the Windows command prompt, enter the directory (within your Downloads directory) that begins “lg_g…”. Now, you need to be able to see the batch file (name starts 1-click) because it opens up a shell program and doesn’t feed it the commands, so if you’re in Windows Explorer, right-click on the 1-click file and open it in Notepad (you can also open another command prompt and go to the same directory, and type “type 1-click…” — you can use the Tab key to complete the command). Run the script, and you will eventually see a prompt similar to “android:/ #”. This is where the authors of the script got it wrong and you have to feed the commands that appear below “adb shell” yourself. When you have done that, exit the shell by typing “exit” and it should return you to the Windows command prompt. Then type “adb reboot recovery” and it should then reboot and show you a menu: this is the ClockworkMod Recovery utility.
Using ClockworkMod Recovery
When in Clockwork, you use the volume switches to move up and down the menu and the Power button to select. You need to wipe the existing operating system before installing the new one; to do this, select where it says “Install zip”, then “Install from sdcard”; if you don’t find the two files containing CM itself and Google Apps, look in the subdirectory named 0. If it’s not there, then you need to reboot and make sure the files are there. If you proceed without making sure you have the two files, you may ‘brick’ the tablet (i.e. render it inoperable) and have to reinstall the old OS, which takes about half an hour.
Once you’ve found the two files, select “Go back” until you get to the main menu again. You need to perform the following operations:
- Do a “factory reset” from the main menu
- Wipe (format) the /system and /data partitions (DO NOT format /sdcard - that’s where the new OS is)
- Wipe the main cache
- Wipe the Dalvik cache (in the Advanced menu)
- Install the “cm” zipfile
- Install the “gapps” zipfile
- Return to the Main Menu and select “reboot”.
You should then see the CyanogenMod boot animation, and eventually it will prompt you to set up a CyanogenMod and a Google account (you can skip the first, as it’s really only of interest to developers at present).
If you brick your tablet
If you screw up your tablet (such as finding it only gets as far as the CyanogenMod boot animation or will only display the LG logo and does nothing else), you will need to re-flash the original operating system and then (if you want) start the whole process again. To do this, you need to make sure the tablet is turned off (I think you do this by holding down the Power and both sides of the volume switch until it turns off, and repeating until it doesn’t just turn back on again), then hold down the Volume Up and Down buttons and then plug the USB lead from your computer into the bottom of your tablet. A little box should appear in the middle of the screen which says “Download mode”. Start up the LG Mobile support program and then select the Recovery option from the menu at top right. It should then download and install the old OS, which takes at least 20 minutes on a decent cable internet connection.
The LG G-Pad is meant to be a mass-market Android tablet, and it is not a Nexus device, i.e. a device meant for running stock Android and made with developers in mind. That it requires Windows to do any hacking on it or to restore the OS shows that it was not made for modding. In addition, the port of CyanogenMod to this device is recent and appears to be unofficial, as there is no forum for this device on their website, and neither are there any instructions on the CM website, as there are for devices they actually support. So, it’s possible to install this and it works very well once installed, but it’s a very risky process. I’d advise it only if you really know what you’re doing and you can’t wait a couple of months to see if Google decide to bring out an 8in Nexus, as is rumoured they will.