UPDATE: This post is now out of date. The process has been enhanced and made much, much easier. See new blog post here.
Since purchasing my Asus Transformer tablet, now complete with docking station, I’ve had a hankering to install Linux as a dual boot operating system. This was unlikely to be an easy task, as there weren’t really any builds for Nvidia’s arm based Tegra2 CPU. However, Nvidia has released nvflash and a base kernel build for Linux, so it was just a matter of time until someone worked out how to dual boot this with Android. It has been the people on the XDA Developers website that have really taken up the challenge on this.
I am currently writing this post on my Transformer while booted into Ubuntu 11.04. It does work, although there are a few things not yet entirely up and running.
Before going any further, I need to point out that the steps I will outline below will destroy EVERYTHING currently on your Transformer. It will reformat and repartition your storage. You will have all current data wiped, so back everything up. I should also point out that there is some risk of bricking your lovely, shiny tablet.
At the end of all these steps you will hopefully have a dual boot machine with Ubuntu 11.04, a rooted Android Honeycomb 3.2 running the Prime 1.7 ROM and Clockworkmod (CWM) Recovery installed.
Equipment you will need:
- Another computer running Linux
- An SDCard for external/removable storage in the Transformer
- The Transformer USB charging cable.
The XD Developers forum thread dealing with this topic is already over 21 pages long. I did not follow the instructions exactly as they are printed in the first post, so I will be deep linking directly to various posts in an effort to make things clearer.
1. On your Linux machine, download and extract the 900MB+ ubuntu.img rootfs file found towards the bottom of this post.
2. On your Linux machine, download and extract the zip file from this post, containing a flash kit and installation script.
3. From the flash kit just downloaded, you will find a directory called “Bootloaders.” In here are two files – Android.zip and Ubuntu.zip. These two files need to be moved (but not extracted) to the top level directory of the external SDCard you will be putting in your Transformer. If you don’t have a card reader on your Linux machine, it may be easier to download this file a second time on your Transformer and move the files across to the “Removable” SDCard.
4. Copy or move the ubuntu.img from Step 1. into the same directory as the extracted flash kit files from Step 2.
5. Turn off your transformer. Connect the power cable. Connect the USB end of the power cable to your Linux machine.
6. Enter APX mode. To do this, hold down the Volume UP button and the Power button together, for around 10 seconds. The screen will remain black. It will appear that nothing has happened, but don’t worry this is as expected. If something does appear on the screen, you’re doing it wrong.
7. Open a terminal window on your Linux machine and navigate to the folder where the downloaded and extracted nvflash package (from Step 2.) is located. Run the download-ubuntu.sh script. You may need superuser permissions to do this. At this point, there should be lots of stuff happening in your terminal window – partitions being created, .img files being copied across. If you look at the screen of your Transformer, there should be some small white text in the top left corner about being in nvflash mode.
Hopefully everything will copy across correctly, and ostensibly Ubuntu is now installed. If you now power off your Transformer, unplug the USB power cable and power back on, it should boot into Ubuntu. However, there are a few more steps worth doing.
8. Power your tablet off again. Now, hold the Volume down button and the power button at the same time. The machine will start to boot, but there will be some small white text in the upper left corner of the screen. When this appears, let go of the two buttons and press the Volume up button. This will now take you into the CWM recovery mode.
9. Navigate through the menus here to install a zip from SDCard. Choose the Android.Zip file and install. Then reboot the Transformer. You will boot into Android.
This is how you dual boot at the moment. Every time you wish to switch operating systems, you will need to go into CWM recovery, and install the alternate zip file. Slightly painful, but the good news is that all data and settings are saved in the actual operating system. All you are really doing each time is installing a new boot sequence.
There are still a few other things worth doing. One of these is installing some additional firmware so that WiFi actually works in Ubuntu. To do this you will need to enter ADB mode.
10. Follow the tutorial on this page, including downloading the Android SDK, and additional Platform Tools file (read the documentation included in the SDK download).
11. Download and extract the flash kit found in this post.
12. Connect your Transformer to your Linux computer again using the USB power cable. Turn the transformer on, allowing it to boot into Ubuntu. Wait at the login prompt.
13. On your Linux computer, you should be in ADB mode. From the regular command prompt run the firmware injector script from the downloaded flash kit in Step 11. If all goes well, and your are successfully in ADB mode, there should be no errors reported by the script while copying the files across.
14. After now booting into Ubuntu and setting up the general parameters, WiFi will need to be configured using WPA Supplicant. Currently Network Manager doesn’t seem to work, so this is the only known way. Follow the instructions here with regards to how to do this. You may need to change eth0 references to wlan0. You could also try the guide here, but there are lot of places online to find WPA Supplicant help.
With luck and a following wind, everything should be working correctly. The experience is a little slow, as hardware acceleration is not yet working. I am thinking of trying Openbox as an alternative window manager to see if that improves things any. Also worth noting is that the docking station trackpad does not work, nor does sound, Bluetooth or HDMI out. The touchscreen works for mouse clicks and scrolling is achieved by moving the application scroll bars (not from anywhere on the screen, like in Android). I am sure these things will be rectified or improved in the coming months, just keep an eye on the XDA Developers thread about this for up to date details.
I’ve had my Asus Transformer tablet for approximately one week now. I have endeavoured to use it fairly constantly and as my sole means of computing. It has worked to varying degrees of success. After the first couple of days, I discovered that if I actually wanted to achieve anything, I needed a proper keyboard. To that end, I have ordered the keyboard docking station for the Transformer, and I am also writing this post on my three year old netbook.
A word of warning though about the Transformer docking keyboard – buy the package of tablet and keyboard to start with! This only attracts a £50 premium over the tablet alone. Buying the docking keyboard separately has set me back almost £120. I purchased from Amazon and couldn’t find cheaper on eBay, Google’s shopping results nor Tottenham Court Road (where it was not possible to buy the keyboard as a standalone item). I’ll live and learn.
There are both good and bad points about this Honeycomb 3.1 tablet. Let’s start with the good.
The Gmail integration is stellar. It is a much better Gmail experience that I have ever had through a regular web browser. I suppose this is as you would expect from a tablet running Google’s Android operating system.
The tablet is great for having around on the coffee table, on the train, in bed etc. It’s very easy to simply pick it up to check email, read a website or research something of interest.
The “instant on” aspect, with massive hours of standby battery time, is much better than any laptop I’ve ever experienced.
Now for the frustrations….
There is another built in mail client, which can be used to connect to both IMAP and Exchange email servers. Unfortunately this has some limitations that frustrate me when trying to deal with business email. There’s no search functionality, it is only possible to synchronise up to one month of email from the server, it is impossible to create an HTML or Rich Text email signature and I also can’t figure out how to synchronise IMAP calendars (Exchange calendar works fine though).
The standard web browser is buggy and crashes regularly. I haven’t thoroughly tested, but I also think it may have a memory leak. Over time it simply slows down to a grinding halt. Using the back button to return to a Google search result often loads just a blank page and sometimes after entering a website’s URL, I am simply re-directed to Google’s search homepage. This browser has a user agent of “Android Tablet,” however many websites simply see this as “Android” and deliver a mobile version of their offering. I can change the user agent to “Desktop” instead, but that also creates a few rendering problems. Opera Mini and Firefox Mobile don’t seem to have this option, and thus you’re stuck with mobile webpage versions in some cases. I’m now trying the Dolphin HD browser. One would think, that with an excellent browser in Chrome/Chromium Google would have this area sorted out.
Some apps from the Market are OK, but it’s a bit hit and miss. Many of them are built only for Android phones, so don’t render brilliantly on the wider tablet screen. I haven’t bought any apps yet, as I haven’t found anything so compelling to warrant a purchase. I have found some nice free apps though, such as MapQuest’s OpenStreetMaps and FBReader for ebooks (I grabbed a lot of classics from Project Gutenberg).
The on-screen touch keyboard is reasonable, but still has some frustrations. For some reason at least 10% of the time my space bar presses do not register. There are also no forward and back arrows. The only way to jump to another part of the text is through very delicate and precise touches on the screen. This might improve when I have a mouse connected to the docking keyboard’s USB port, but for now so much for keyboard navigation. There’s also no Control key, which makes cutting, copying and pasting laborious.
I can’t find any virtualisation software for Android either, which I wanted to use to run a different flavour of Linux. Maybe I can do do something via dual booting, from a USB key in the docking keyboard. That will be the next project.
In summary, after a week’s solid use, I can’t see this being my sole computing device. I’m just not sure Android’s mature enough. It’s a good enough device, which I am sure I will continue to use regularly, but it is not the one device to rule them all.
Finally I’ve joined the millions and purchased a tablet computer. Of course it was never going to be an iPad, and it didn’t necessarily have to be an Android based machine either. After much research and consideration, I’ve decided to go for an 10-inch Asus eee Pad Transformer. Why this one in particular?
My current situation is that I have a fairly new HP Pavilion dv7 as my daily work computer. While it’s a nice brushed aluminium shelled machine, it is quite big with it’s 17-inch screen and it is LOUD! The fan never shuts up. It’s currently running Linux Mint Debian edition, and I’ve tried everything to try and keep the temperature down, thus negating the need for constant fan blowing. I’ve had no luck so far. I also work in multiple locations, from my home office, to my central London office, to various client’s offices and finally quite often in Graz, Austria. Hauling this 17-inch behemoth around can be quite taxing at times. It means I always have to carry a reasonably big piece of hand luggage when flying to Graz, and even just on the train into central London, my backpack is pretty heavy. Therefore, my dream was to try and find a tablet that could be substituted for for my laptop as my daily work machine.
I don’t do much heavy lifting with my laptop anymore, in terms of transcoding video files and the like, therefore I don’t need a massively powerful i7 processor. I do a lot of web browsing, email writing, document creation, spreadsheet manipulation, presentation creation and still image manipulation. Pretty straightforward office type stuff. However, I do appreciate a large screen and decent keyboard. I already have a 10-inch Asus eeePC netbook, which is about 3 years old now. It does a decent job, but I found it difficult to work all day on it, and the single core Atom processor struggled with HD movie playback.
So my plan was to find a tablet that could be plugged into an external monitor at home, at my London office and in Graz. I realise purchasing said monitors will increase overall costs, but it’s the trade-off I was prepared to make for not having to carry around a massive laptop.
Asus Transformer ticks many boxes. It has a high quality IPS screen, the same as the iPad 2. It comes with Android 3.0 Honeycomb as standard. It has a built in mini-HDMI port, which means I can connect it to a larger screen quite easily should the need arise. It includes a memory card expansion slot, as is the case with most modern tablets. There is also an optional keyboard docking station, which includes its own battery, extending the overall battery life for this tablet to around 16 hours.
On the negative side, Asus has seen fit to include a proprietary charger, not the usual micro-USB found on most modern phones and many tablets.
I found that Currys in the UK were selling the Asus eee Transformer at prices around about the same as those found on eBay. Brilliant, I could have my new toy immediately. Picture the scene as I walk into my local Currys….
Sales Assistant: Can I help you, Sir?
Me: Yes, I’m looking for an Asus Transformer
Sales Assistant: Oh, I don’t think we sell them.
Me: It’s on your website and it says you have them in stock.
Sales Assistant: Let me just check with my colleagues. <time passes> No Sir, unfortunately we don’t sell them.
Me: I see.
At this point I wander around the shop for a while, until I find the general tablet display section. As I stand looking…..
Sales Assistant (same one as previously): Are you interested in a tablet device, Sir?
Me: Yes, I have already asked you about an Asus Transformer, but you couldn’t help me.
Sales Assistant: Oh, it’s a tablet?
Me: <incredulous> Yes.
Sales Assistant: Well, let me just go and check in our stock system. <2 minutes later> Good news, Sir, we have them in stock for just £379.
Me: That’s without the keyboard docking station. Do you have them for £429 with the docking station, as on your website?
Cutting a longer conversation short, no they did not have them with the docking station. I made them check twice. Ultimately I bought the tablet without the docking station, thinking I will pick one up later as they’re only an extra £50. How wrong I was. Once back at home and online, I discovered that as a standalone product, the docking station cannot be found anywhere for less than £100. I think buying the tablet without the docking station was my first mistake, but at least I will have the chance to assess whether an external keyboard is really a necessity.
Hopefully in the next week or 10 days I will be able to post an update regarding how this machine is working out as my primary day-to-day computing device.