Compiling and running your own Android kernel on the Nexus 7 2013

Now at last we're getting to the interesting part: compiling and running our own modified kernel on the Nexus!

We are of course going to pick most of our information from the official kernel building guide, though, unlike the guide, we're going to go all the way through, and not stop before we are actually running our recompiled kernel.

This time, we'll use Linux as our development platform (more convenient). The first thing I need to warn you about then is, if you're running a pure 64 bit distro (such as Slackware x64), you're going to find that you must install a 32-bit compatibility layer to run the 32 bit debug utilities. This is a bit annoying, and I'm not going to guide you through that, so make sure you sort your platform issues, okay?

Installing the toolchain

Anyway, first order of the day is to get the official arm toolchain, which I'm going to install in /usr/local/share/ since I plan to keep using it for some time:

# cd /usr/local/share/
# git clone https://android.googlesource.com/platform/prebuilts/gcc/linux-x86/arm/arm-eabi-4.6
Cloning into 'arm-eabi-4.6'...
remote: Sending approximately 124.64 MiB ...
remote: Counting objects: 33, done
remote: Finding sources: 100% (33/33)
remote: Total 580 (delta 146), reused 580 (delta 146)
Receiving objects: 100% (580/580), 124.64 MiB | 715 KiB/s, done.
Resolving deltas: 100% (146/146), done.

Now, let's add that arm toolchain to our path:

# export PATH=$PATH:/usr/local/share/arm-eabi-4.6/bin
# arm-eabi-gcc --version
arm-eabi-gcc (GCC) 4.6.x-google 20120106 (prerelease)
Copyright (C) 2011 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
This is free software; see the source for copying conditions.  There is NO

Ideally, of course, you'd want to add this export into your .profile or something so that you don't have to set it up every time.

Dude, where's the kernel source?

OK, now we want to fetch the kernel source of course, so let's do just that. The one thing you need to know is that the platform name for the Nexus 7 2013 is msm, thus:
# mkdir /usr/src/android
# cd /usr/src/android/
# git clone https://android.googlesource.com/kernel/msm.git kernel
Cloning into 'kernel'...
remote: Sending approximately 850.89 MiB ...
remote: Counting objects: 50642, done
remote: Finding sources: 100% (5223/5223)
remote: Getting sizes: 100% (699/699)
remote: Compressing objects:  99% (11626/11627)
remote: Total 3195022 (delta 2625647), reused 3194640 (delta 2625583)
Receiving objects: 100% (3195022/3195022), 850.15 MiB | 716 KiB/s, done.
Resolving deltas: 100% (2634067/2634067), done.

As can be seen from the above, expect a download of about 850 MB.
# cd kernel
# ls

Huh, there's nothing in there?

# git show
commit f688a7654b339885e689d0f95f38b9daa3d85c0f
Author: Jean-Baptiste Queru <jbq@google.com>
Date:   Thu Nov 17 12:44:41 2011 -0800

    empty commit
lines 1-5/5 (END)
# git branch -a
* master
  remotes/origin/HEAD -> origin/master

Mmmm, OK, maybe the flo branch then?

# git checkout android-msm-flo-3.4-jb-mr2
Checking out files: 100% (41678/41678), done.
Branch android-msm-flo-3.4-jb-mr2 set up to track remote branch android-msm-flo-3.4-jb-mr2 from origin.
Switched to a new branch 'android-msm-flo-3.4-jb-mr2'
root@stella:/usr/src/android/kernel# git show
commit 9e52a2195889f4f03ddfcaefb19c0b42ec1d9070
Author: Praveen Chavan <pchavan@codeaurora.org>
Date:   Fri Mar 29 17:28:31 2013 -0700

    qseecom: Fix issue with incomplete command exiting prematurely

    A process waiting on a signal can be awaken by any signal. We
    need to only continue processing when the condition of the
    wait event is met.

    Change-Id: Ib2102babbb505876f89b04399729e6ff5a475605
    Signed-off-by: Mona Hossain <mhossain@codeaurora.org>
    Signed-off-by: Praveen Chavan <pchavan codeaurora.org>

Let me spare you the suspense there: As "documented" on their page, Google don't actually use branches or even tags for their development. Instead they force you to use an sha1 reference that's not attached to any helpful entity, in order to figure out the branch you should pick. Moreover, what they advise you to do to get that SHA is go for another large download of pointless binary data (650 MB) containing all the revision of their kernel files. Well, not everybody's running on Google Fibre... yet, and my ISP also enforces quotas, so, since we're smarter than this, we're going to avoid downloading 650 MB in exchange of a few SHA bytes. Instead, we'll head directly to https://android.googlesource.com/device/asus/flo-kernel and look at the most recent "flo: prebuilt kernel", which, at the time of this post, is:

79816e3  flo: prebuilt kernel by Jean-Baptiste Queru - 2 months ago jb-mr2-dev master tools_r22.2 android-4.3_r2.1

If you click on the link, you'll see part of the SHA we are really after here:

365a6e0 gpu: ion: Minimize allocation fallback delay

That 365a6e0 is the ID we're seeking, so let's use that (and also reuse the official kernel name, 'android-4.3_r2.1', for our branch name):

# git checkout -b android-4.3_r2.1 365a6e0
Switched to a new branch 'android-4.3_r2.1'
# ls
AndroidKernel.mk  CREDITS         Kbuild   MAINTAINERS  README          arch/   crypto/   firmware/  include/  ipc/     lib/                mm/   samples/  security/  tools/  virt/
COPYING           Documentation/  Kconfig  Makefile     REPORTING-BUGS  block/  drivers/  fs/        init/     kernel/  make_defconfig.sh*  net/  scripts/  sound/     usr/

That's more like it!

NB: We could be even smarter by just looking at the kernel revision provided by our device (3.4.0-g365a6e0), drop the whole part before the g and recognize that this is the partial SHA1 we are after. Then again, since there's a chance a new kernel was out and you're running an old or custom one...

Compiling the Android kernel

Now we need to set the variables that will tell the OS that we're cross compiling (again, something that you may want to do in your .profile using something like alias cross='export ARCH="arm";export SUBARCH="arm";export CROSS_COMPILE="arm-eabi-"'):

# export ARCH=arm
# export SUBARCH=arm
# export CROSS_COMPILE=arm-eabi-

Finally, we can initialize our default config and get going:

# make flo_defconfig
  HOSTCC  scripts/basic/fixdep
  HOSTCC  scripts/kconfig/conf.o
  SHIPPED scripts/kconfig/zconf.tab.c
  SHIPPED scripts/kconfig/zconf.lex.c
  SHIPPED scripts/kconfig/zconf.hash.c
  HOSTCC  scripts/kconfig/zconf.tab.o
  HOSTLD  scripts/kconfig/conf
warning: (ARCH_MSM_KRAITMP && ARCH_MSM_CORTEX_A5) selects HAVE_HW_BRKPT_RESERVED_RW_ACCESS which has unmet direct dependencies (HAVE_HW_BREAKPOINT)
warning: (ARCH_MSM_KRAITMP && ARCH_MSM_CORTEX_A5) selects HAVE_HW_BRKPT_RESERVED_RW_ACCESS which has unmet direct dependencies (HAVE_HW_BREAKPOINT)
# make menuconfig
  HOSTCC  scripts/kconfig/lxdialog/checklist.o
  HOSTCC  scripts/kconfig/lxdialog/inputbox.o
  HOSTCC  scripts/kconfig/lxdialog/menubox.o
  HOSTCC  scripts/kconfig/lxdialog/textbox.o
  HOSTCC  scripts/kconfig/lxdialog/util.o
  HOSTCC  scripts/kconfig/lxdialog/yesno.o
  HOSTCC  scripts/kconfig/mconf.o
  HOSTLD  scripts/kconfig/mconf
scripts/kconfig/mconf Kconfig
warning: (ARCH_MSM_KRAITMP && ARCH_MSM_CORTEX_A5) selects HAVE_HW_BRKPT_RESERVED_RW_ACCESS which has unmet direct dependencies (HAVE_HW_BREAKPOINT)
warning: (ARCH_MSM_KRAITMP && ARCH_MSM_CORTEX_A5) selects HAVE_HW_BRKPT_RESERVED_RW_ACCESS which has unmet direct dependencies (HAVE_HW_BREAKPOINT)

Now that we're in the kernel config, let's start with something real basic, and change General setup ---> Local version - append to kernel release setting it to something like "hello". Hopefully, we'll be able to boot our recompiled kernel and see that string appear in the system info, to confirm that we are indeed using our own kernel. Off we go with building the whole thing then:

# make -j8
  OBJCOPY arch/arm/boot/zImage
  Kernel: arch/arm/boot/zImage is ready

We have a kernel — now what?

Aaaaand, that's pretty much where the Google guide stops. What do you mean, you also want to run your newly compiled kernel on your device?

If that's the case, then you should download more than 16 GB worth of build files from the infamous aosp (Android Open Source Project) suite —I wish I was kidding, see below— and then figure out how to inject your kernel in there. Good luck!

My usage data (in MB) after downloading the full aosp.
(Careful analysis may be required to notice the small difference in data usage)

The 16 GB of the full aosp (I was already 2 GB in for that day, hence the 18 GB above) sure put me dangerously close of getting a not so friendly call from my ISP for going over the monthly quota (again, not everybody is running on Google Fibre), so I might try to spare you this trouble.

If you're not going to download the aosp to try to figure out this mess, the first thing you should know then is that, as opposed to what is the case on most devices, testing your kernel on Android isn't as simple as pointing your bootloader to it. It must be included into a custom boot image (boot.img) along with a RAM disk and some other stuff.

Crafting an Android boot.img

The format of this Android boot images can be found in the bootimg.h of the mkbootimg tool from the android platform/system/core source (at least up to Android 10). I guess we have to start somewhere, and we'll need to produce our own images, so let's start by fetching and recompiling mkbootimg then.

NB: Since I duplicated and improved on the original tools (see below), you can, and probably should, use https://github.com/pbatard/bootimg-tools.git instead of https://android.googlesource.com/platform/system/core for the git clone URL below.

# git clone https://android.googlesource.com/platform/system/core bootimg-tools
Cloning into 'bootimg-tools'...
remote: Counting objects: 92, done
remote: Finding sources: 100% (92/92)
remote: Total 19302 (delta 11674), reused 19302 (delta 11674)
Receiving objects: 100% (19302/19302), 5.87 MiB | 655 KiB/s, done.
Resolving deltas: 100% (11674/11674), done.
# cd bootimg-tools/libmincrypt/
# gcc -c *.c -I../include
# ar rcs libmincrypt.a *.o
# cd ../mkbootimg
# gcc mkbootimg.c -o mkbootimg -I../include ../libmincrypt/libmincrypt.a
mkbootimg.c: In function 'main':
mkbootimg.c:245:9: warning: assignment discards 'const' qualifier from pointer target type [enabled by default]
# cp mkbootimg /usr/local/bin/
# cd ../cpio
# gcc mkbootfs.c  -o mkbootfs -I../include
# cp mkbootfs /usr/local/bin/

With the above, we'll be able to invoke mkbootimg and optionally mkbootfs to create an image. If you follow this guide closely, you'll see that we're not even actually going to use mkbootfs, but I kept it there just in case.

Now, we don't want to recreate our RAM disk from scratch, or have to guess all the parameters we'll need to use to create one, so let's pick a working one. For this you have two choices:
  • Use a backup utility on your rooted Android device, and save the partition that contains the boot image. For instance, if you installed TWRP when rooting your device, and boot into recovery, then you will be able to save the 16MB Boot partition, which is what we are after.
  • Download the latest factory image (at the time of this writing, it's JSS15R, 359MB big), extract it in full (tar then zip), and then pick the boot.img image from the zip (in JSS15R, that would be boot.img within image-razor-jss15r.zip). You also want to be mindful that bootloader-flo-flo-03.14.img is the bootloader image, and NOT what we are after.
Also, don't let the fact that in one case you get a 16MB file and in the other one that is less than 7MB worry you. The 16MB one is just padded with zeroes, which won't matter when we access its content.
For the remainder of this guide, even as it requires a 359 MB download, I'll go with using boot.img from the factory image.

Next thing we need is a way to unpack that boot.img file. There are a couple of unpack-bootimg.pl/split-bootimg.pl perl scripts dating back from 2008, so we can pick one of those and then use a binary editor take a look at the .img and extract the addresses and parameters we should provide mkbootimg, and try to cross-reference those with... Aaaaagh, I can't stand it any more!!!

That's "Aaaaagh!" with five A's

What the £$%^& is wrong with Android developers?!? Why the heck aren't these unpacker scripts providing you with the full set of parameters you need to use to repack an image, instead of having to look at a binary header, or some mysterious settings file in a 16GB repository to find them? Also, why, in 5 years, hasn't anyone, including Google, improved these tools and scripts? The thing is, even mkbootimg has issues and won't work on Windows (when compiled with MinGW) due to the use of non-Windows friendly open(), read(), write() et cetera.

That does it!

I'm gonna write my own unpack tool in C, fix mkbootimg in the process, and put it all on github.
Sheesh, as if I didn't have better things to do... I hope you're happy!

So off we go to the directory you compiled mkbootimg (NB: I you cloned from https://github.com/pbatard/bootimg-tools.git earlier, you can skip the wget line):

# cd /usr/src/android/bootimg-tools/mkbootimg/
# wget https://raw.github.com/pbatard/bootimg-tools/master/mkbootimg/unmkbootimg.c
# gcc -o unmkbootimg unmkbootimg.c
# cp unmkbootimg /usr/local/bin/

Now at last, you have the minimum of unmkbootimg, mkbootimg and mkbootfs installed in your path, and we can get going with our testing of the kernel.
I'll assume that you have a /usr/src/android/boot where you copied your boot.img, so let's get cracking:

# cd /usr/src/android/boot/
# ls
# unmkbootimg -i boot.img
kernel written to 'kernel' (6640200 bytes)
ramdisk written to 'ramdisk.cpio.gz' (399979 bytes)

To rebuild this boot image, you can use the command:
  mkbootimg --base 0 --pagesize 2048 --kernel_offset 0x80208000 --ramdisk_offset 0x82200000 --second_offset 0x81100000 --tags_offset 0x80200100 --cmdline 'console=ttyHSL0,115200,n8 androidboot.hardware=flo user_debug=31 msm_rtb.filter=0x3F ehci-hcd.park=3' --kernel kernel --ramdisk ramdisk.cpio.gz -o boot.img
# ls
boot.img  kernel  ramdisk.cpio.gz

As an aside that you don't need to run, but since it should be elementary that this is the basic functionality you want from a proper boot image unpack tool, we can confirm that the data provided by the unpack tool will produce a boot.img that is binary identical to the original one:
# mkbootimg --base 0 --pagesize 2048 --kernel_offset 0x80208000 --ramdisk_offset 0x82200000 --second_offset 0x81100000 --tags_offset 0x80200100 --cmdline 'console=ttyHSL0,115200,n8 androidboot.hardware=flo user_debug=31 msm_rtb.filter=0x3F ehci-hcd.park=3' --kernel kernel --ramdisk ramdisk.cpio.gz -o myboot.img
# ls
boot.img  kernel  myboot.img  ramdisk.cpio.gz
# cmp -l boot.img myboot.img

Now, THIS is what you want to be able to do from an Android image unpacking tool. Is it really that much to ask?

Crafting an Android boot.img 2: 'Electric boogaloo'

Moving on. Since we just want to test a kernel, we shouldn't really have to touch the cpio image (ramdisk), but then again, my goal here is to give you as many pointers as I can, so we might as well see how we craft our own ramdisk while we're at it. What we're going to do here, as an academic exercise, is add an it_works file at the root of the filesystem, which we'll look for after we booted, to confirm that we are able to use our modified stuff all the way through:

# mkdir ramdisk
# cd ramdisk
# gunzip -c ../ramdisk.cpio.gz | cpio -iu
# ls
charger*       init*             proc/              sys/
data/          init.flo.rc*      property_contexts  system/
default.prop   init.flo.usb.rc*  res/               ueventd.flo.rc
dev/           init.rc*          sbin/              ueventd.rc
file_contexts  init.trace.rc*    seapp_contexts
fstab.flo      init.usb.rc*      sepolicy
# touch it_works
# ls
charger*       init*             it_works           sepolicy
data/          init.flo.rc*      proc/              sys/
default.prop   init.flo.usb.rc*  property_contexts  system/
dev/           init.rc*          res/               ueventd.flo.rc
file_contexts  init.trace.rc*    sbin/              ueventd.rc
fstab.flo      init.usb.rc*      seapp_contexts
# find . | cpio -o -H newc | gzip > ../myramdisk.cpio.gz
1410 blocks
# cd ..
# ls
boot.img  kernel  myramdisk.cpio.gz  ramdisk/  ramdisk.cpio.gz

We're finally set for the last part, where we copy the kernel we compiled earlier, and invoke mkbootimg with the set of parameters we got from unmkbootimg, and use both our modified kernel and cpio image:

# cp /usr/src/android/kernel/arch/arm/boot/zImage .
# ls
boot.img  kernel  myramdisk.cpio.gz  ramdisk/  ramdisk.cpio.gz  zImage*
# mkbootimg --base 0 --pagesize 2048 --kernel_offset 0x80208000 --ramdisk_offset 0x82200000 --second_offset 0x81100000 --tags_offset 0x80200100 --cmdline 'console=ttyHSL0,115200,n8 androidboot.hardware=flo user_debug=31 msm_rtb.filter=0x3F ehci-hcd.park=3' --kernel zImage --ramdisk myramdisk.cpio.gz -o myboot.img
# ls
boot.img  kernel  myboot.img  myramdisk.cpio.gz  ramdisk/  ramdisk.cpio.gz  zImage*

Finally, a custom boot.img we can test. Let's press on by copying this myboot.img file into the directory we have adb and fastboot installed (see our earlier post about rooting the Nexus 7) and run the following set of commands which, unlike what many other guides seem to advise (what the heck, guys?), is NOT going to flash the kernel/boot.img but simply run it from memory. This means that, in case there's any mishap, you can simply power the Nexus off and you'll be good as new:

# ./adb start-server
* daemon not running. starting it now on port 5037 *
* daemon started successfully *
# ./adb reboot bootloader
# ./fastboot boot myboot.img
downloading 'boot.img'...
OKAY [  0.223s]
OKAY [  0.023s]
finished. total time: 0.246s

The moment of truth!

After a long few seconds of anxiety, where the device doesn't seem to do anything, you should see either one of these two things:
  • The Nexus' multicoloured 'X', telling you that your boot.img file was fine and that the tablet is now booting it, or
  • The Google logo with the open lock, indicating that the device didn't accept your boot image and is restarting with the one it has in flash (or complete freezout, if which case you should press the power button until your device turns off)
If you've seen the multicoloured 'X' straight away, then there's a good chance that, if you go to your tablet settings, you'll see the following reported:

A few things you should recognize above:
  • That hello appended to the 3.4.0 kernel version, that's the "local version" string we chose to add to our kernel when we recompiled
  • root@stella as the user who compiled this kernel (yeah, I tend to compile stuff as root - so sue me!)
  • That 365a6e0 after the g (for 'git') in the version number, that's the SHA1 from the git commit we had to pick to compile our kernel.
All in all, this looks fairly good. And a quick look to the root filesystem (through adb shell or through ssh) will also confirm that our it_works file is there, so we can also add whatever we want on the initial filesystem. Neat!

From there on, you can go ahead and tweak your kernel and initial filesystem exactly as you see fit. And after you have tested that everything works as it should, you can go ahead and flash the boot partition with your shiny custom boot.img, using:

fastboot flash boot boot.img

For the record, if you actually modify the source of your kernel, you should see a -dirty qualifier appended to your kernel version, which is normal, and won't prevent you to run a modified kernel.

Now what are you doing still reading this guide: get hacking your device already!


Nexus 7 (2013) - The good, the bad and the ugly

Since I have been using it for a few weeks, here's my short pictureless yet picturesque review of the Nexus 7 2013.

The good

  • The screen resolution of course. 1920x1200 is the minimum resolution I consider reasonable for a 7" tablet, period. Anything less is crappy DPI. It's 2013, we're not using pixelated DOS any more.
  • Plays any 720p mkv you throw at it without trouble, including Hi10 (at least with the excellent MX Player). Also seems to play a fair share of (non Hi10) 1080p mkv's alright, but more about this below.
  • This auto-brightness feature is great. It's probably been a feature of Android for some time, and most likely didn't originate from Android in the first place, but with the Nexus 7 being my first mobile Android device, I can only go "Of course, you'd want to use the front camera sensor to automatically adjust the screen brightness according to the environment!". 
  • Likewise, the independent new message notification light, is a another "Of course!"-type of feature.
  • Screen is actually readable while standing outside on a bright sunny day. Not that I care that much about using a tablet outside, but it's nice to know you should be able to do so if you need to.
  • Passed a few minor hurdles (unlocking and rooting), the device is very developer-friendly. At least, it's open enough to let run your own customized kernel in a reasonable amount of time, as well as configure the OS exactly as you see fit. Bite me, Apple!
  • Supports > 54 Mbps WiFi (a.k.a. 802.11n). This is likely to be useful if, unlike everybody else out there, you actually plan to keep using your Nexus in 5 years time or more. Yes, there exist consumers who don't go around and change their mobile device every other year!
  • Standard USB port for charging and data. None of this proprietary connector crap.
  • Supports wireless charging. Being able to rely on two options for charging your device could be a life saver in the long run, if the other option breaks down.
  • Can actually store and play mkv's that are larger than 8 GB. If it isn't obvious by now, I am quite interested in HD movie playout.
    I mean, it would be a shame to have a high resolution 7" screen, and not use it as an HD player wouldn't it?
  • Sleek design. This is my first tablet after all, and I do consider it as a direct "upgrade" from my last portable device, which was a PSP-1000 (bought in 2006), so I'll reserve the right to be pleased by the form factor. Oh, and I sure hope that tablet will last as long in terms of use as my old sturdy PSP.
  • Automatically recognizes USB keyboards and/or mice. Though you have to use an OTG adapter, this too could come handy.
  • Quad core CPU. Unless recompilation of a full Linux kernel on your device doesn't sound like a ridiculous prospect, your device is underpowered.
  • Decent battery life. Could probably watch a couple movies over a transatlantic flight, and have some power left. I like that idea. Of course, the real killer would be to have enough power to play a full game of Civ 5, should Civ 5 ever been ported (or portable) to Android. Oh well, a man can dream...
  • Storage can (awkwardly) be extended through the use of a cheap USB OTG adapter. Doesn't compensate for an SD card expansion, but makes the pill somewhat easier to swallow.
  • The Play Store is furnished with more than enough good free apps to find something that will appeal to you when it comes to performing common tasks.
  • From having used some of their hardware, I have at least some confidence that Asus do actually know a thing or two about designing devices that can last.
  • Awesome pick as a first Android device. It does feel polished and mature enough to be considered as something a consumer truly deserves, i.e. a device where a sufficient amount of thought and effort seems to have gone into designing the various core functionalities.

 The bad

  • Uses a micro-USB connector #1. I cannot seriously see this connector last. Just like with mini-USB (and boy have I seen mini-USB connectors fail...), there's nothing sturdy about it, and the more you use the connector, the more you feel like it's gonna break like a twig and render your device close to unusable the day you inadvertently yank a cable or an OTG extension, or insert the plug in an odd position... which is apparently what all USB plugs are really designed for.
    Having seen the allegedly more sturdy USB 3.0 micro connector rendered worthless from a cable mishap, as well as having probably performed more than a hundred plugs/unplugs in the few weeks I got the device, I can only dread the day the connector will break. A meagre consolation will be that, when that happens, you're not going to be stranded with a complete paperweight, as you'll be able to use a wireless charger. But then you can kiss goodbye to USB debugging, device reset and any form or development...
    As an aside, were they actually listening to end-users' woes, the USB committee would have devised a sturdy small factor connector, that could be inserted either way, long before Apple did. Then again, that would take letting representatives of the general public have a say in the committee's agenda, which, as we all know, is pure unadulterated heresy!
  • 32 GB max internal flash max is way too small!! 32GB was already too small in 2010 for crying out loud! In 2013, 128GB should come as standard, with 256GB for high end. I can only imagine how ridiculously limited a tablet with "only" 32GB will be in 5 years time... This is all the more incomprehensible as anybody can purchase 64GB micro SD cards off Amazon for less than $50, ergo this is neither a question of technological limitation nor price.
  • No SD slot for you! Google and its minions can lie as much as they want, but everybody knows there's just one reason not to have an SD card slot on a portable device, and that is to force users to get their multimedia content from the restrictive cloud. :(
  • Uses a micro-USB connector #2: The lack of an SD slot above means you pretty much have to use a micro to regular USB OTG adapter, for anything that involves expanding the ridiculous amount of internal flash, which is both awkward and uncomfortable. That is unless you are using a micro SD card with meenova Mini MicroSD Card Reader (which, while a bit pricey, is well designed and well worth the satisfaction of sending a big fat "screw you and your stupid restrictions" message to Google)
  • I've seen a bunch of artefacts (banding in gradients) when displaying pictures, which I haven't seen when the same picture is shown on a regular monitor. That makes me think that the screen is not actually able to display 16M nuances of colours. I have waited 8 years to upgrade from the lousy screen that Sony decided to ship with original PSP (Oh, the remanence!), and this is this only as far we've been able to make the technology evolve? That is a (small) letdown... 
  • Uses USB 2.0 rather than USB 3.0. I don't care if the read and write speed of your flash can't reach USB 3.0 speeds, the RAM can, and one might want to use the device in the future for applications connecting to an USB device where high bandwidth is a must (software oscilloscope, software radio).
  • The default picture and movie viewers from Android are severely lacking functionality. Thankfully, the free QPic and MX Player can be installed, that do a much better job. Still, having a default picture viewer that you can't set to display pictures in alphabetical order is unacceptable.
  • Can't play Hi10 (a.k.a. 10 bits) 1080p mkv's (unless you consider a 2 FPS rate as acceptable). I don't think even a fully optimized video player will ever be able to so on this device, because the GPU and CPU are unlikely to be that powerful. Sure hope the future will prove me wrong though...
  • Video playout of some 8 bits 1080p mkv can be very jerky too, if MX Player decides that the HW+ decoder cannot apply, and, besides Hi10, I have no idea what decides whether HW+ can be used for decoding or not. Thus, depending on how the video file was produced, 1080p playout can be a bit of a hit and miss...
  • Touch screens suck. Having to wipe finger smudges all the time, and wonder where the OS will have decided the tip of your finger went is annoying. Oh and don't even get me started about trying to play arcade games using touch controls. At least for gaming, it shouldn't be that hard to add two 4+1 positions knobs (think microswitch joystick) in a very shallow depressed speaker-like shape, at the rear of the device, to at least allow some acceptable [game|arrow-keys]-like input.
  • As with any tablet, there's no "good way" to get a firm yet relaxed grip when using it.
  • When you try to raise the volume past a completely arbitrary point when using headphones, you get a MOST ANNOYING POPUP about listening at high volume for a long time being potentially damaging, that you have to accept EVERY FRIGGING TIME. The problem is, if you are using a high quality headphone with relatively large speakers, the volume at which this message appears is way too low! I think I'll have to figure out a way to disable this little sucker, because this chronic nagging is really degrading the whole media player experience.
  • No pouch? My old PSP came with a pouch! A portable device whose screen isn't expected to survive a 1.5m drop should come with a pouch for transport and (minimal) protection. What's more, if it has a touch screen, it should also come with a microfibre cloth, that's at least as big as the width of the device. This may sound like a trifle, but it shows that you might actually value your customers.

The Ugly

  • The Android community.
    Trying to find information that is actually of interest for development is such a massive ordeal! You have to go through page upon page of ill-informed posts, as well as scores of people jumping on the Android bandwagon to try to make a quick adversing buck, before reaching anything of actual substance... And don't get me started on Google's "Welp, that 5 line overview of the development process'll do". I'd like to remind Google that, as opposed to most Open Source projects, they do have paid employees that could take care of providing comprehensive documentation...

I guess that will do. This should be different enough from any other review of the Nexus 7 2013 you've seen. And I know some who have made a small jump from a 2012 Nexus 7 to a 2013 Nexus 7, and have been all ecstatic in their review about it, whereas here I am, having jumped leaps and bounds from an outdated portable device, yet with loads to complain about. Still, by my standards, this is a fairly positive review, and I would recommend the device (even over the new more powerful Amazon Kindle for instance), especially as I can't really fault Asus and Google for some items I have a gripe with, such as the USB committee being led by a bunch of monkeys...