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Hardware Hacking Hardware Build

Turning Your E-Reader Into a Cheap Tablet 193

Posted by samzenpus
from the generic-computing dept.
grahamsaa writes "NPR's Weekend Edition aired a story today on how rooting the Nook Color can turn it into a full fledged and relatively inexpensive Android tablet. The story claims that the process takes about half an hour, and only requires the purchase of a Nook and a microSD card, and points listeners to a YouTube tutorial on how to root the device. Could this signal a change in how mainstream users see devices like this? Could rooting Android devices like the Nook ever become mainstream?" We ran a story about this in December, and I haven't seen a flood of hacked readers anywhere so I doubt that tablet makers have anything to worry about.
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Turning Your E-Reader Into a Cheap Tablet

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  • by arob28 (2025644) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @12:59PM (#35630732)
    For not suing everybody like Sony is.
    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      For not suing everybody like Sony is.

      These are not the 'droids you are seeking. Nothing to see. Move along.

    • SHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!
      What are you thinking?! You're gonna jinx it! :P

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by symbolset (646467) *
      They seem to be getting behind it. Reportedly they're going to have a regular Android App marketplace [cnet.com] on the thing. There are rumors of an official full Android software update. Why fight it? The more people who buy it, the cheaper the economies of scale become for their reader.
      • by hedwards (940851)

        Nook has been going that way for a while. Shortly after I got mine they upgraded the web browser to release status rather than beta. They included a chess program and audio player with the release as well. I've been wondering how long it was going to take them to include at least basic programs like a to do list or calendar program.

        Mind you that's the Nook WiFi without the fancy color screen, the one with a color screen seems even more of a no brainer.

        I suspect what's going on here is that Barnes & Nobl

        • by taustin (171655) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @03:42PM (#35631902) Homepage Journal

          They plan to make money selling books, not book readers. The more readers they sell, the cheaper each one is to manufacture, and the more readres they sell. People who root aren't very likelyt o buy books, but the cheaper the price, the more people who will buy books will buy readers.

          Plus, B&N are a brick & mortar store, and always have been. Unlike Amazon, where having employees dealing one on one with customers is an expense to be minimized, at B&N, it's the whole point.

      • by peragrin (659227)

        well that and in the barnes and noble i was in the other day the lady behind the counter told the customer who was buying one, is that you just had to follow some instructions on a website and you could do so much more.

        Of course this Barnes and noble was on a tech college campus, so it isn't that surprising.

    • Barnes and Noble aren't suing, but predictably Microsoft is. They don't like Nook+Android for some reason. PJ over at Groklaw thinks it's "SCO II" Ref: http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20110321172008657 [groklaw.net]
  • Time (Score:5, Informative)

    by jmitchel!jmitchel.co (254506) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @01:06PM (#35630802)
    I'd put the process at closer to an hour. The big time sink is figuring out WTF is going on and what you want to do about it - there are no less than four major options, with a dozen smaller decisions to make, all wrapped up in a slightly hermetic nomenclature. It still ain't for the weak kneed and non-technical. HOWEVER, the nightly CyanogenMod 7 build is getting really close to maximum awesomeness - video playback doesn't work quite right, bluetooth doesn't work quite right, but both of them work. By late april it should be a clear winner, and that will make the decision much easier.
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      video playback doesn't work quite right, bluetooth doesn't work quite right, but both of them work. By late april it should be a clear winner, and that will make the decision much easier.

      And people on here wonder why the general populous just wants an iPad.

      • by basotl (808388)
        Well he is talking about on a rom. I have found video playback to be fine on default root. Bluetooth is not officially supported so that should be a consideration. It was a major win that it could be unlocked later at all.
      • by oakgrove (845019)
        Wait. You're actually comparing a rooted and hacked e-reader hobbyist project to the ipad? Wow. Just wow.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          Wait. You're actually comparing a rooted and hacked e-reader hobbyist project to the ipad? Wow. Just wow.

          Uh... so now people aren't reading the summary? The parent post had a good reason for comparing it to a mainstream tablet. Here ya go, just the relevant lines (emphasis is mine):

          "Could this signal a change in how mainstream users see devices like this? Could rooting Android devices like the Nook ever become mainstream?"

          • by oakgrove (845019)
            The summary is just a bunch of BS somebody spouted off. The ggp was actually trying to say that the relative shittiness of the rooted nook color compared to the ipad had something to do with how popular ipads are. That's just stupid. And you are even stupider for endorsing it.
        • by narcc (412956)

          Wait. You're actually comparing a rooted and hacked e-reader hobbyist project to the ipad? Wow. Just wow.

          Sorry, I don't understand why you're so 'shocked' by the comparison. Both products are tablets. That one is a hobbyist project is what makes the article interesting.

          Spec wise, it's not far off from the iPad and even matches some iPad 2 specs. 512mb ram, 800 MHz A8 processor (OC to 1.1GHz), muti-touch display, expandable 8GB flash.

          The iPad and iPad2 seem to be popular right now with tablet enthusiasts, so why not make the comparison?

          • by oakgrove (845019)
            Why is it so hard to understand that the "shock" comes from the fact that he's implying the ipad owes any of its success to the relative quality of a nook color. I know it's Sunday and everybody's hungover but, really?
            • by narcc (412956)

              Where did he imply that the iPad owes any of its success to the relative quality of a nook color? I know it's Sunday and everybody's hungover but, really?

              • by oakgrove (845019)

                video playback [on the nook color] doesn't work quite right, bluetooth doesn't work quite right, but both of them work. By late april it should be a clear winner, and that will make the decision much easier.

                And people on here wonder why the general populous just wants an iPad.

                What he said. Emphasis mine.

                • I think you missed his (admittedly trollish) point.

                  He was saying that the drooling masses just want an iPad rather than having to dick around with rooting an NC (since taking that 5-10 minutes out of their day makes them cry), not that rooting NCs makes people want iPad's more.

    • by basotl (808388)
      That's only if you are a geek that sucked into the options. Just doing a basic root is extremely quick now days.
      • That was not my experience - you have to know if you want to auto-nooter, nookie froyo, CM7 or gingerbread, and you have to find genuinely authoritative documentation for performing the work. Once you're rooted and have done if a few times, it's really easy. But my first try (only a few weeks ago) ended up using somebody's not quite right autonooter kit for 1.10, the second or third try instructed me to wipe my /boot fs (requiring a reflash to stock). And it was a few times around before I figured out tha
        • by basotl (808388)
          Well as said there are lots of options but that is beyond the basic root. I tend to point people to this wiki and just say use the autonooter for your version: http://nookdevs.com/NookColor_Rooting [nookdevs.com] Step by step. If a person can't follow that... then they should pay the couple hundred more and get something else.
    • by Zerimar (1124785)
      BS, it takes a half hour, tops. Following this wiki http://nookdevs.com/NookColor_Rooting [nookdevs.com] will walk you through it. The only decision you have to make it deciding which software version of nookCOLOR you have. The only reason it would take longer is if you are messing with replacing the whole system, but a basic root with marketplace support takes very little time at all.
    • Re:Time (Score:4, Informative)

      by hey! (33014) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @06:20PM (#35632860) Homepage Journal

      Well, been there, done that. I'm generally happy with the results. I thought I'd address the issue with playing videos, then make a few remarks about the advisability of rooting your Nook.

      I have not had a problem with playing videos I transcoded from DVD, but it took a little fiddling to get the transcoding details right. Thus far I've had pretty good results with the following (on Linux);

      (1) Rip the DVD program to a file like so:
            mplayer dvd://1 -dumpstream -dumpfile myfile

      This takes the first program (dvd://1) on the DVD, dumps the video and audio (-dumpstream) to a file you specify (myfile). I do this so I can muck around with the transcoding.

      (2) Transcode the file into H264 baseline profile like so:
            ffmpeg -i myfile -threads 0 -vcodec libx264 -acodec aac -strict experimental -ab 128k -vpre hq -vpre baseline -b 600k myVideo.mp4

      Your distro may require "-acodec libaac" instead, and you might want to double the audio bit rate ("-ab 256k") if you really care about the sound. Expect the transcoding to take several hours.

      The results are very good, more than acceptable as far as the video is concerned. The picture has snap and is for the most part motion is smooth. Dark scenes with continuous variations in tone tend to get blotchy, but not as bad as I've had trancoding DVDs to MPEG-4 for my iPod. If there is a lot of busy action in a dark scene you lose some detail. The aspect ratio doesn't match the Nook screen, and for some reason the video does not quite scale to the full width of the screen, although that hardly matters.

      The audio is OK out of the speakers (considering) but sounds distorted through headphones -- at least a good pair. This is probably the fault of the experimental aac codec on Ubuntu 10.10 64-bit. You could try encoding to MP3 with LAME instead; I think that should work and should sound good enough for most mortal ears. Alternatively you could go to 256K AAC audio encoding with "-ac 256" and see if the sound's a bit cleaner. I haven't got around to messing with that, but if I can get the audio just right I'd be delighted with the Nook for playing transcoded DVDs.

      In any case, I figured this out just out of cussedness. If playing video is really important to you, perhaps you should get a real, more expensive tablet. The main reason I rooted my Nook was to get access to my Kindle library. I found that computer books on the Kindle sucked. This is largely a matter of sloppy conversion, but source code and tables are often provided as images rather than text, and even where provided as text source code is often unreadable on the Kindle. Ironically, I found the iPhone app to be better for reading Kindle computer books than the Kindle. The Nook's screen is a little more fatiguing for long reading sessions than the Kindle, but it's much easier to see diagrams, especially color, but not *just* color. Text tables are a lot easier to make out.

      One fault of the Nook reader app is that you can't zoom in on images (although they're more usable than on the Kindle even though you *can* zoom in on that). But if you read your *Kindle* books on the Nook, the Kindle reader for Android allows you to zoom in. So again, Kindle books that rely on illustrations are more usable in the Kindle app running on a rooted Nook than they are either on the Kindle itself or in the Nook reader, which is too bad. I'm trying to support B&N by buying books through the Nook store.

      The only other minor issue with using a rooted Nook as a tablet is that unless the method you choose installs a custom tablet UI, you're going to deal with the fact that the Nook lacks the hardware buttons Android 2.x expects a phone to have (search,menu,home, back). The hack I used installed a small on-screen button that brings up a soft menu version of these. It works, but it is not elegant.

      My summary: I wouldn't buy the Nook color with the intention of rooting it and using it as a tablet. In a tablet I'd bluetooth and some kind of provision for A/V out. However it's a darn good eReader, and if you have it you might as well root it and be able to use it as a tablet and a Kindle reader too.

  • by Nexus7 (2919) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @01:10PM (#35630826)

    Overat Slatedroid.com, they've been turning the Pandigital Novel Reader into a full Android tablet for over a year now. During this past holiday season, discounts brought the price to around $70 - for this 7" color tablet.

    • by basotl (808388)
      I went with the Nook Color. I found the apps I like to have going constantly make use of the ram the NC has. Though I have noted many that the Pandigital is sufficient for them. It really depends on what you plan to do with it.
    • by Lumpy (12016)

      And it sucks. Really it does. Only the latest release fixes the sleep problem. And the tablet is slow as hell, the wireless weak as hell and slow as molasses...

      I have one here all hacked and the hacked market installed... I dont like waiting for everything to load and reading large PDF's on it is a exercise in pain....

      Hacking these is great, but they are low end hardware packages. Android needs 1.2ghz or higher and a lot more ram than these things come with.

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @01:12PM (#35630850)

    Could this signal a change in how mainstream users see devices like this?

    Its more likely to signal an upcoming change in Nook design and/or software.

    Could rooting Android devices like the Nook ever become mainstream?"

    Perhaps after the Linux desktop becomes mainstream.

    • by fermion (181285)
      I don't see how this is bad for B&N. Unless the hack destroys the DRM of the books, anything that will increase sales of the nook will keep B&N one extra step from bankruptcy.

      As far as who will hack it, it may be more than we think. People who have no clue how o install an OS are hacking the iPhone. Of course, a many average users are incapable of following simple instructions, or conceptualizing how a computer works, so they will not be hacking.

      • by pscottdv (676889)

        I don't see how this is bad for B&N. Unless the hack destroys the DRM of the books, anything that will increase sales of the nook will keep B&N one extra step from bankruptcy.

        You can install the Kindle app on a rooted Nook Color.

        • by hedwards (940851)

          That's really not that big of a deal. B&N opted to go with what was intended to be the standard for ebooks, as in epub, they knew that people would be buying from other stores. It's mostly Amazon's short sightedness that this isn't already possible.

          OTOH, rooting Nook and removing the links to their store would hurt B&N, but I doubt that it's going to be common enough for them to worry about.

          • by peragrin (659227)

            even if you replace the full OS, you can always then install the B&N android app on you now android tablet from the android marketplace.

            • If you like the Nook as a reader, unfortunately, that's hardly comparable, if for no greater reason than none of the decent reader apps, Nook reader app included, seems capable of reading the nook's /media partition (they all seem trapped in /sdcard which is annoying as hell).

      • by node 3 (115640)

        I don't see how this is bad for B&N. Unless the hack destroys the DRM of the books, anything that will increase sales of the nook will keep B&N one extra step from bankruptcy.

        If they sell them at a loss, however... If the Nook is a reasonable tablet for $250, why aren't other companies selling them at similar prices?

        As far as who will hack it, it may be more than we think. People who have no clue how o install an OS are hacking the iPhone. Of course, a many average users are incapable of following simple instructions, or conceptualizing how a computer works, so they will not be hacking.

        The only numbers I could find are from 2009. Less than 7% of iPod touches and iPhones were jailbroken then. It's worth noting that this was before multitasking was brought to iOS, and also before WiFi hotspot sharing, both of which were major reasons people gave for jailbreaking. Also, these are earlier adopters than those buying iOS devices today, so of the 100 mill

  • by DavidinAla (639952) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @01:16PM (#35630886)
    You can also find books and websites about how to build your own car, but hardly anybody does that, statistically speaking. The fact that something CAN be done doesn't necessarily mean that most people want to do it. For a small minority, it's vaguely interesting that it's possible, but the majority just want a product that works. The actual percentage of people who actually turn a Nook into a cheap tablet would be astonishingly small, IMO.
    • by hedwards (940851)

      That's essentially illegal in most of the world. There's all sorts of bureaucratic stuff you have to go through if you want to drive on public roads. Not to mention the hassle of getting the thing licensed and probably emission tested as well.

      • That's essentially illegal in most of the world. There's all sorts of bureaucratic stuff you have to go through if you want to drive on public roads. Not to mention the hassle of getting the thing licensed and probably emission tested as well.

        Sadly, in most of the (3rd) world, most manufacturers only pay lip service (or a small bribe) to get the environmental license or whatnot they need to get their product out into the street.

    • You can also find books and websites about how to build your own car, but hardly anybody does that, statistically speaking.

      Well, there's a big price difference between a car and a Nook, so I won't be surprised that fewer people are into car building vs. Nook modding. In the First World, that is.

      In the developing world, all sorts of "car-like" vehicles get "built" out of used car parts imported or sneaked in through a country's ports. A good example would be the "jeepney" [wikipedia.org] of the Philippines or the songthaew [wikipedia.org] of Thailand. There are also variants of three-wheeled vehicles (tricycles) that adapt the motorcycle into the equivalent o

  • I love my Nook Color (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 27, 2011 @01:18PM (#35630906)

    I currently own a nook color that I rooted with Eclair (2.1). For me I wanted something in between a phone and a full laptop for when I am sitting around in waiting rooms. It serves this purpose perfectly. I would not give this tablet to anyone who tech illiterate though, as it is still rough around the corners. Given that the hack is only a few months old, I am extremely impressed with its current abilities, especially with its low price tag, and am eager to see how it continues to progress. Some of the cons are that it is not 3G, does not have a camera, and its sensors may be lacking or the hack making them available seems to be lacking. Though the hack does bring some entirely new functionality to the Nook. It was found that the WiFi chip also includes Bluetooth which is turned off in software. It is now available in some of the ROM's and now provides the ability for Bluetooth keyboards and SIP calling.

    Overall, I could not be happier with a $200 tablet. It really does everything I need it to do and then some. It has decent battery life and retains all of the standard Nook functionality in addition to the features provided by rooting it. I consider it a great value when compared to the Galaxy tab as I find it difficult rationalizing the missing features are worth an additional $400. Moreover, so far it seems that B&N have been amenable to people rooting their Nook. As they should, since I buy books from B&N that I wouldn't have previously, and am encouraging others to buy their hardware and books because of their attitude towards the hacking community and the versatility of their hardware.

    It really seems like one of those rare situations where everyone is winning. Fortunately, B&N doesn't seem to be in a hurry to shoot themselves in the foot with both barrels, a la, Sony, etc.

    • by basotl (808388) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @01:34PM (#35631040)
      Booksellers in Barnes and Noble often seem to point out that it can be rooted to any "geeky" individuals they notice browsing the device.
    • by rayd75 (258138)

      Agreed. Awesome hardware and functionality for the price. My only gripe is that I've been so spoiled by the responsiveness of my Apple products that I can't fully enjoy my Nook Color for its comfortable to hold size and elegant package. At 800MHz w/ 512MB RAM it's plenty snappy when actually executing stuff. It's doing exotic things like scrolling a web page that make it feel like watching a hand-cranked silent film. Seriously, Google, give up on your software rendering fetish already. I know you're trying

  • Rather than a nook, I thinking of buying one of the cheap Android tablets on ebay. VIA 8650 7" Google Android 2.2 etc. Vairous names such as epad-e2. They apparently play flash, youtube etc vidoes. And cost £130. Anyone brought/used/seen one ?
    • I believe these mostly have resistive touch screens rather than capacitative ones. If you're fine with a stylus ...

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by cstec (521534)
        Actually resistive touch screens work fine with a finger, no stylus necessary. Case in point a Palm Treo, which was designed to be dialed with a finger tip. The stylus gives much finer control so apps were written to leverage that, but that wasn't a requirement and any number of Palm apps were 'finger friendly. For a more recent example, the HTC Sense UI is entirely finger oriented and runs perfectly on WinMo devices like a Touch Pro 2.
        • by Nerdfest (867930)
          Some resistive touch screens work nicely with finger pressure but the cheap Chinese tablet screens do not. The one I have requires either the tablet or your finger nail ... it takes a huge amount of finger pressure to make it work. Maybe they used too thick a coating or something, i don't know, but they're really bad. It's too bad too, because other than that and the battery life being a little unpredictable at times it's great.
      • by bmsleight (710084)
        Could live with a stylus .. may be worth a punt.
    • The standard disclaimer here is that you're getting what you pay for, with those: people usually point to some non-standard store that they've included, and the quality of the hardware itself frequently leaves a lot to be desired. Find a review on a tablet site.
  • > We ran a story about this in December, and I haven't seen a flood of hacked readers anywhere so I doubt that tablet makers have anything to worry about. Because, you know, Slashdot is easily as mainstream as NPR. Just sayin'.
  • It is also one of the best tablets. Currently, outside of the xoom, the only one in the wild that runs Honeycomb.

    Most of the development takes place in slatedroid.com and xda-developers.com.

    The sad state of Android tablets, is that community firmwares are light-years ahead of factory defaults.

    • by Americano (920576)

      The sad state of Android tablets, is that community firmwares are light-years ahead of factory defaults.

      Right, because Motorola and Samsung don't give a shit what happens with the software on your device after you pay for it. There's no revenue for them in providing updates to the latest-and-greatest software, so you can expect them (as a rule) to refuse to provide any upgrades except bare-minimum security support.

      When you decouple the software from the hardware maker (like Android), you automatically crea

      • I don't agree with your statement that there is no revenue in providing updates.

        If somebody offered a very high quality phone, with great hardware (better than the iphone), with upgradeable memory and processor, user-replaceable battery, and some sort of slot to add 3G, and in the future replace that card with 4G/5G etc. and offered 10 years of software upgrades, then that company would have a great selling point, and it would be able to outsell even Apple. Create a phone that you can upgrade, allow us to u

        • by Americano (920576)

          then that company would have a great selling point, and it would be able to outsell even Apple

          No, they wouldn't have a great selling point, because the device they were offering to sell would cost orders of magnitude more than it does today, and very few people would be willing to buy it. This is the reason they still haven't built a car that will run for 500,000 miles with virtually no maintenance and get 100 miles to the gallon.

          Also, guaranteeing future software upgrades is INCREDIBLY simple and should c

        • Modularity has costs.

          You want to replace the CPU?
          Ok - you need a ~400 pin socket, a clip to hold the CPU down, an adaptor to hold that CPU, as it's not designed to be socketed.
          This adds weight, unreliability, and volume.

          You want to add a hole for upgradable wireless - it gets even more complex.
          You have to pick ahead of time the volume for this hole - which will mean wasting space, as you need to leave some spare.
          You need an internal lining for this hole. You need a hole in the structure, which weakens it an

  • I had been thinking about getting an iPad for a long time. Eventually, decided to hold out for the iPad 2. But one day I was walking through Barnes and Noble, and took a good look at the Nook Color. After reading up on the rooting instructions, I bought the NC for $250, rooted it, and, after a month, my desire for the iPad is gone. I suppose that there will always be people like me who want an iPad but will actually be just as happy with something else. (And the 50% discount from the iPad helps too.) I sho
    • by Svartalf (2997)

      Past the minor border discrepancies in some things that depend on orientation, and the occasional lag on the accelerometer info, the Honeycomb image works pretty well, all things considered (It's such that I question them holding back the full release of the typically FOSS portions of the distribution for 3.0...seriously...). No, it's not for John Q. Public- but if you're rooting the thing, you're already more technically advanced and can manage with the "pre-release" version on the thing.

  • This is assuming everything is set up. If you hand me a nookcolor out of the box, 5 minutes later I will hand you back an android tablet. One powers down the device, inserts the autonooter'd micro-sd card, plug the device into a power source, and it will automatically boot, go through the process of establishing ADB root access and place superuser (among other things like market, youtube, etc) into /system/app. It will then reboot after about 5 minutes once it's done its magic and voila. Where people get h
  • The Nook Color will always boot from the microSD card first, so you just need to insert a boot ROM image burned onto a card and it'll just work from that. There's nothing else that needs to be done. This is the easiest route and takes no longer than 10 minutes (most of that time probably waiting for the ISO download and imaging it to the SD card.)
  • Thought the headline said "Turning your E-Reader into a Cheap Toilet" at first. LOLed.

    • by vux984 (928602)

      ~doubletake~

      Wow! That's what I saw too. I'm actually surprised to discover it wasn't just me.

  • Rooting Android devices (Nook or otherwise) will never become truly mainstream. The more it's mentioned in the news though, the more this will become mainstream in the iPhone-unlocking sense of the word. The average user knows that it's possible and has a friend, or a friend-of-a-friend that can root it for them, but has neither the inclination or knowledge to root it themselves. The ultimate effect is the same though.

  • Where are instructions for rooting the Kobo or Aluratek ereaders?

  • by node 3 (115640)

    "Could this signal a change in how mainstream users see devices like this? Could rooting Android devices like the Nook ever become mainstream?"

    No, it can't signal *anything* with regards to being mainstream. Geeks will do this, perhaps many thousands, but it's completely impossible for something like this to become mainstream. You guys know how you are always complaining about "idiots" who can't run their computer, and how you often install Firefox on their computers, give it a blue 'e' icon and name it "In

  • I started looking at the nook color, but decided against it. Why bother with a device you have to jump though hoops to make a capable device, when there are decent full fledged android tablets out there for the same price? The Archos 70 is fairly popular, has similar specs, is slightly cheaper, and EVERYTHING WORKS, you don't have to wait for hacks to get peripherals working...

    I give Archos credit for their 250gb hdd model, as even apple doesn't seem to have figured out multimedia is a killer app for the

  • It seems that these vendors of android systems get the point of linux and open software. You may as well buy something closed from Apple instead of a closed linux system.
    There should be more systems following the lead of the Nokia N900 which you do not have to "jailbreak" because you have full access to start with.
  • by Svartalf (2997) on Monday March 28, 2011 @12:38AM (#35635234) Homepage

    Heh... It took all of about 10-15 minutes tops. I've been running Honeycomb on it for a bit now and I must say that while the build's got rough edges, it's good enough to allow me to properly target the games I want to make to the upcoming tablets as well as to phones.

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