The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet, when originally launched, was marketed as an iPad-killer, the “business-level” Android tablet due to being made by a major PC manufacturer. I know a lot of people bought into this hype. It’s unfortunate that the marketing mumbo-jumbo sold so many, but not enough, as Lenovo quickly abandoned it’s Android efforts and the quickly launched successor, the ThinkPad Tablet 2, is an x86-based Windows 8 tablet.
The ThinkPad Tablet was a mess when I was first given one, spurned from two previous owners. The Lenovo-branding on top of Android made things clunky. The Lenovo app store was a silly attempt at curation that was shut down in favor of just the standard Google Play store. Not to mention the peripherals – it came with a digitizer pen, a case with a keyboard (so flimsy it started to come apart), and a power adapter that would lose it’s power plug bit at the drop of a hat. I’m guessing this was for international power plug standards, but all it accomplishes is cheapening the experience.
Of course, you could attempt to charge via USB on a computer. It’d just be a losing game of power usage versus charge if you didn’t turn off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and the screen. So much so that I needed to buy a 20$ dock (2015 Update: This dock is kind of rare/expensive now!) just to beat the power draw and charge it in peace, but look at the size of that power brick. It’s the same size and plug as the one for dozens of Lenovo laptops! But it charges the thing ridiculously fast and is a recommended buy. The dock has USB and audio ports too to really help out.
So yeah, I was underwhelmed. At least with all this kit I could remove the Lenovo software, and painstaking update Android to a modern version (it came with Android 3.1 Honeycomb, and eventually got updates to 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich). But then all support stopped, and the tablet was made a memory, no more updates, just buy the new TPT 2.
So what to do then? Android 4.1 Jellybean was to bring about “Project Butter” to solve a lot of the lag issues on Android Tablets. In addition, it’d definitely be a requirement for apps to run under in due time. In the mobile world, app availability decides when a device is truly obsolete. Thankfully, a dedicated community to this exact device exists over at xda developers where the extremely useful CyanogenMod 10 was made usable (with Android 4.1 Jellybean,
here’s hoping we see 10.1 with Android 4.2 2015 UPDATE: No dice, no further development).
It seemed a little scary, but it’s actually a fairly short process.
0) I updated the TPT to the last official Lenovo update, and had a 2GB SD card available for taking a backup. This process will wipe your tablet, and as always could potentially brick it, but at this stage of development that seems rare.
1) Root the TPT – Follow this guide at xda developers – It’s really quite simple. I mean, here’s a screenshot showing the script on my Lenovo X201 Windows 8 laptop (a fantastic business-class laptop, funnily enough)
And then as it begins to root the device…
2) Install recovery firmware to backup/update firmware – From xda developers – This was a little more complex until I realized that it should be run in the same folder as the rooting script from step 1, and that it isn’t a script, you need to type in the commands one at a time.
3) Install CyanogenMod v0.9 – From xda developers – The only trick to remember here is the .zip file you want needs to be transferred to the internal flash of the TPT – not extracted, and not on an external SD Card!
Wait a while and at the end, you should have a clean Android 4.1 tablet. Log in with your Google credentials, and watch your settings drop in, and redownload your apps. Now you have a faster, smoother tablet, but also one that’s running at least Jellybean 4.1, and hopefully will have a few years of use left in it via the third party community.
Between the hope of Android 4.2, there’s alternative firmware that could be useful, such as Ubuntu’s push into the scene 2015 Update: No further improvements in the third party firmware world. And as the TPT falls into a historical bump in the road, out of support, warranty, and official use, these options will provide real value-add.
I also should note that Lenovo’s move to x86 Windows tablets is not in my opinion a bad move. I used the TPT successor to great success a few months ago in my first post on AirPlay and AirParrot and believe the Windows platform with Windows 8 is much more business friendly than Android can achieve. Their product photos also were quite well done, and were used in this post.