Cyanogenmod 10.1 runs surprisingly well on a Nook Color

Cyanogenmod–the open-source distribution of Android for undersupported/abandoned devices–went to version 10.1 this week. Version 10.1 is based on Android 4.2.2, so it matches what’s in stores right now.

My Nook Color was sitting unused, so I figured I had nothing to lose by loading Cyanogenmod 10.1 on it. It was slow and laggy and crashed a lot under 7.2, so it wasn’t like it could be much worse.

And it’s still slow, but not as laggy, and much more stable than it had been. Web pages do hesitate to render under the current Dolphin Browser, but they do eventually render, and it’s actually not too bad. Apps like Google News and BBC News run fine. It’s a little slower than a Sero 7 Pro on full power-saving mode.

Here’s something telling: I actually spent a good hour or two yesterday using the thing. It’s been a while since I did that, even when I didn’t have any other tablet.

The user interface feels like a tablet, rather than an oversized cell phone, so that’s an improvement. It’s smoother, if no faster. I disabled animations by enabling developer options–bring up settings; navigate to “About tablet” (or “About phone”), near the bottom; scroll all the way to the bottom, to “Build number,” and tap seven times–then going in and disabling animation anywhere I could find it. That helped.

Enabling Developer Options also enabled a menu called Performance Options. There, I could enable options to force GPU rendering, force 16-bit color depth, select a power/performance ratio, and even overclock. Under 10.1, I can overclock to 1.1 GHz without crashes. Under 7.2, overclocking to a mere 850 MHz wasn’t reliable.

I’m beginning to suspect I had a bad copy of 7.2, as problematic as it was. But what’s past is past now.

Even at 1.1 GHz, it’s still a single-core tablet with 512MB of RAM, so it’s seriously underpowered. Probably rather like a $79 tablet of today, though the quality of the hardware is probably better, it has a decent 1024×600 screen, and the battery life is probably better. I am impressed with the battery life on it compared to my Sero 7 Pro.

As an everyday tablet, a Nook Color is a bit outmoded. You’ll want to avoid apps that stay resident in memory all the time, like Eye in the Sky weather, or the Youversion Bible app. Get too many of those in memory, and you won’t be able to do much else with it. If the main reason you want a tablet is to run Youversion, it’s fine of course.

Used Nook Colors are cheap these days–around $60–so if you just need a cheap tablet, getting one and loading Cyanogenmod 10.1 is a viable option. Just keep in mind it’s a simple tablet for simple uses, and not something you’ll want to go crazy installing hundreds of apps on.

I’m inclined to load networking tools on mine and use it for troubleshooting wireless networks and to tracking down unauthorized ones.

The only downside I see to Cyanogenmod 10.1 is that I can’t find a way to enable a USB keyboard on a Nook Color running it. From what I’ve read, it’s a kernel issue. Given that it’s an aging device that wasn’t intended to be a tablet in the first place, I’m not exactly surprised.

Beyond that, it’s a no-brainer. It’s more stable, it’s much more secure–some 77% of Andoid malware fails under 4.2.2–and it’s smoother than older versions. I know people have mixed results with it; my recommendation is that if you get an unstable tablet after loading it, double-check the MD5 (or download it again if you don’t know what that means), wipe the device, and reload it. I think your persistence will reward you.

I don’t know if this is the end of the line for Cyanogenmod and the Nook Color or not. If the Cyanogenmod version of Android 5.0 (Key Lime Pie) appears, it promises to be better for low-end hardware, like the Nook Color. The question is whether enough developers think it’s worth the effort. But I am glad they at least brought Android 4.2 to the Nook Color. Now my three-year-old device has a new lease on life.

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