Thursday, September 02, 2010

The saga of my aPad

The Android iPad-like device I bought recently was working well, but it was also running a very old version of Android, 1.6, and the ad for it promised 1.7. So I contacted the seller and he directed me to a page with a 1.7 update. I had previously tried to find one myself, but it's quite tricky: there's a lot of devices that look very similar, no clear identification, and no vendor site for support.

The trouble is, the 1.7 update he sent was not exactly for this bit of hardware, so after it finally installed, it was using the wrong buttons, and the touchscreen wasn't working. I contacted the vendor and he gave me another patch, which did the same thing. So I started asking him to make it right, by either working me through fixing it for real, or exchanging it for one that already had 1.7 on it.

But he wasn't offering me much. If I paid to ship it back, he'd replace it, but he wasn't paying the postage. And shipping it to China given the size of the box was going to be a minimum of $34. Later I talked him into the possibility of shipping back just the pad itself which could let me get it down to $14 but he still wasn't covering the cost of his own mistake.

Meanwhile I was looking online and found an incredible variety of firmware updates, including quite a few hacked ones. It was very tedious, downloading them and then loading them one after the other trying to find one that would work. Turns out there's a lot of very similar but not identical devices, and plenty of people have had similar problems. And there are a lot of hacked versions of Android for pads that people have distributed, but even those had to either be matched to your device, or tweaked to suit it -- meaning, edit obscure, undocumented config files in a way that probably is easy enough for the dedicated hobbyist but more than I wanted to spend time doing for this device.

Fortunately I eventually found a "v1.9" version (real Android only went to 1.7 before the v2 line started, but the hacked versions have picked up some other numbers) which loaded and worked fine. It also adds a few things like a "superuser" shell that lets one run programs without the Android sandbox, a more current implementation of Gmail and Gtalk, and a YouTube player that actually works.

That's not to say I'm out of the woods yet. Some of the software seems confused by using WiFi but not 3G. The Android Market, from which you download new apps, hangs on "starting download," and it'll take a lot of tweaking to find the right magic incantation to get around that. That means I don't yet have a working PDF reader, which was the original reason to buy the device. I also can't get the calendar to sync with my Google Calendar, but that's just for geek points; I probably won't ever use it there. I haven't checked if it can play AVI files better than the last version (then again I didn't really test that one much either).

But the device looks great, serves pretty well as a web browser (and would make a lovely HomeSeer touchpad controller; I might get a second one and wall mount it), and will make a lovely PDF reader once I get past that problem. And as for the eBay vendor, to heck with him, for letting me hang like that. Lucky for him I did a better job than he did at supporting his products.

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