Installing CyanogenMod on a Lenovo IdeaPad A1

CyanogenMod LogoMy recent review of the Lenovo IdeaPad A1 tablet revealed that although it’s an excellent bit of hardware for the money it does suffer from some bugs and it would appear that Lenovo are not going to support it very much in the future – certainly not to the point of upgrading the version of Android on it.

Because of this I made the decision to “[wikilink alt="Rooting_(Android_OS)"]root[/wikilink]” my A1 and install an alternative version of Android on it. [wikilink]CyanogenMod[/wikilink] is widely recognised as one the best alternative versions, and even has companies such as Samsung assisting them. The advantage this will give me is that there are a team of developers behind this who will, hopefully, iron out some of the tablet’s bugs that Lenovo appear reluctant to spend time on.

I came across a thread on the XDA Developers forum where details on the process were being discussed, but this was pitched at a level of user with some knowledge of the process. I had none. I therefore got in touch with Graham Markall, the person who started the forum thread and has put together the required files and instructions on how to do this. He talked me through, via an [wikilink]IRC[/wikilink] chat, the entire process which I have now documented. If you are therefore interested in installing CyanogenMod on a Lenovo A1 then you can follow the instructions below.

To give you an idea of timescales, after already downloading the requisite files and adding them to the SD card, it took me 10-15 minutes to get to the stage where CyanogenMod was installed and working.

If you have any problems then there are some contact details at the bottom.

Installing CyanogenMod 7 isn’t going to fix all those niggling faults with the IdeaPad – you’ll find they occur just the same. The developers do intend to fix all those problems – it’s just taking a while. In additional, CyanogenMod is going to introduce other problems. Here are the post-CyanogenMod issues that I’ve come across…

  1. Probably the most major current issue is that when previewing live images through the front camera the image will appear upside down – when taking a photo, however, it’s the correct way up.
  2. The switch on the side of the IdeaPad that prevents the display from rotating will not work.
  3. Some apps do not like “modded” systems and will not show in the Marketplace. The only one I’ve come across so far is the BBC News app, although the iPlayer appears fine.

Downloads

Here are the downloads you’ll need. Grab them now and install them either on an internal or external SD card. Don’t unzip anything – literally put them on the card as they are.

  • ClockworkMod – once downloaded, rename is to update.zip.
  • Modified Bootloader – this will automatically download the latest zip.
  • CyanogenMod 7 – grab the latest nightly build.
  • Google Apps – CyanogenMod can’t be bundled with Google apps, so they have to downloaded and installed separately. Install the latest for CyanogenMod 7.

Step 1 – Install ClockworkMod

ClockworkMod is needed for making backups of your system and for installing different ROMs. Assuming you downloaded it at the first stage and now have it on SD card, here is what you need to do to install it…

1. Power off the IdeaPad.
2. Hold down volume down and turn the power back on, keeping volume down held until the tablet boots up to an image of an arrow out of a box with an android (this is the stock recovery).
3. Wait whilst ClockworkMod recovery installs. The progress bar should fill up.
4. Once the installation has finished, you should see a green tick in a green triangle and the IdeaPad will power off.
5. You can now power on as normal to get back to Android, or power on with volume down held to get into ClockworkMod recovery.

Step 2 – Backup your system

Before making any major changes to your system, it’s important to make a backup.

There’s a slight complication, which is due to the fact that ClockworkMod needs to backup four partitions to save everything: system, cache, data, and ramdisk but the version we’re using only backs up system, cache, and data.

However, the ramdisk can be restored by installing it using a zip file from ClockworkMod. There are three or four different versions of the ramdisk. The latest 2643, is available to download from the ClockworkMod link listed above, so if you’re on this version of the stock system then it doesn’t matter that you can only backup three partitions. If you want to go back to stock, you can download the zip for that ramdisk, install it from ClockworkMod the same way you install CyanogenMod7, then restore your backup and reboot.

The best thing to do therefore is to absolutely ensure that your IdeaPad is fully up-to-date before commencing (simply go into Settings -> About Tablet-> System updates).

Ok, here’s how to do the backup…

  1. Start up the IdeaPad in recovery mode – as mentioned above, hold down volume down whilst powering the device on. Don’t release the volume control under ClockworkMod loads.
  2. You navigate around ClockworkMod using volume up and down and the power button to select options.
  3. Select the menu option “backup and restore”.
  4. Once you go into that, you can choose “backup” to backup to your external SD card or “backup to internal Sd card”.
  5. It will now back everything up to your chosen destination – it takes about 5-7 minutes.

Step 3 – Installing the modified bootloader

There is only one kernel on the A1, and if the kernel causes problems (unlikely, but it’s better to save yourself the risk) you won’t be able to boot normally or into recovery. Being able to boot into Fastboot mode gives you a way out of this by allowing you to flash a kernel through USB. Basically, it’s an emergency measure, but one worth protecting yourself with.

  1. Whilst in recovery mode, choose the menu option “install zip from SD card”.
  2. Now choose “zip from SD card” or “choose zip from internal SD card” depending on where you put the update.zip file.
  3. Scroll down to the zip file and select it – you’ll be asked if you really want to install it.

To enter Fastboot mode, hold volume up when powering on. The screen turns red when in Fastboot mode. You can get out of it by holding down the power button for 10 seconds, or running Fastboot reboot. Recovery is volume down as usual.

Step 4 – Installing CyanogenMod 7

  1. Whilst in recovery mode, choose the menu option “install zip from SD card”.
  2. Now choose “zip from SD card” or “choose zip from internal SD card” depending on where you put the update.zip file.
  3. Scroll down to the zip file and select it – you’ll be asked if you really want to install it.
  4. When it’s finished installing you need to choose the “wipe data/factory reset” option, because the leftover data from the stock system will cause problems with CyanogenMod otherwise.
  5. Once you’ve done that, you can reboot, and it should boot into CyanogenMod 7.

Step 5 – Installing Google Apps

As previously mentioned, CyanogenMod doesn’t come with Google integration, including the Marketplace and syncing abilities. These will therefore need to be added separately.

Assuming you downloaded the required file earlier and added to the SD card you’ll need (again) to boot into ClockworkMod and install the file as you did CyanogenMod – just don’t do a factory reset afterwards!

This will add the necessary Google integration, although some apps (such as Gmail) you’ll need to download from the Marketplace.

Odds and Sods

  • You might find the launcher that comes with CyanogenMod 7 a little sluggish (although not as bad as the Lenovo one) – other people like to use Launcher Pro, or Nemus Launcher.
  • CyanogenMod doesn’t update itself automatically. If you want to update to a later build you have to download a new one and install it from ClockworkMod. If you install a later build over an earlier one though, you only need to wipe the cache partition. Don’t do a full wipe data/factory reset because its not necessary.
  • Initially apps within CyanogenMod didn’t seem to recognise my internal SD card – for example, the music player. To activate it you need to go into Settings -> CyanogenMod Settings -> Application and then tick “Use internal storage”.
  • I also had problems connecting the IdeaPad to my computer via USB after installing CyanogenMod. This is because the default is to connect in USB debugging mode. Simply go into Settings -> Applications -> Development and untick “USB Debugging”. Reboot and now when you connect a USB cable you’ll get the standard on-screen options to connect.

Problems?

Let me say now – I am not the person to ask for help! I was guided through the above by someone who knew what has was doing and it worked for me first time. Yes, there were some “issues” but I resolved all of these with liberal use of Google – I’d recommend the same.

  • For help with ClockworkMod head over to the ClockworkMod forum at the XDA Developer site.
  • For help with CyanogenMod 7 head over to the CyanogenMod forum at the XDA Developer site.
  • Lastly, you can brush up on IRC chat and find Graham at the Freenode channel #ideapad-a1.

Updates

  • 26/04/2012 – Added download link and instructions for modified boot loader
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