Get some Nougat in

Don’t wait to get An­droid 7.1.2 on your phone — in­stall it on your PC in­stead! Dar­ren Yates shows you how with the new ‘Nougat’ re­lease can­di­date of An­droid-x86.

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your PC

Un­less you’re pre­pared to drop some dol­lars on the lat­est phone — or you’ve just done so re­cently — the only other way to grab hold of the lat­est An­droid re­lease is to get your de­vel­oper’s hat on, some An­droid Stu­dio down­loads and run a Nougat vir­tual ma­chine. But thanks to a new re­lease from An­droid-x86.org, you can now run An­droid 7.1.2/Nougat on your x86 hard­ware. What’s more, it comes with root-ac­cess baked in, plus Google Apps (Gmail, Play Store) to run many of your favourite apps and games.

IN­STALLING ON REAL HARD­WARE

We’ve been play­ing around with this new re­lease for a bit and found two dif­fer­ent meth­ods of op­er­a­tion that work — cre­at­ing an An­droid vir­tual ma­chine (VM), which runs An­droid as an app on top of your Win­dows PC, plus in­stalling An­droid on ac­tual hard­ware. The VM op­tion is less messy (and po­ten­tially cheaper), but in our view it’s not as ful­fill­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence, par­tic­u­larly on gam­ing and video. It’s still a worth­while op­tion for ev­ery­thing else, but to get the best re­sults, we’ve de­cided this month to look at in­stalling it on x86 hard­ware.

SOFT­WARE YOU’LL NEED

In terms of soft­ware, we’ll as­sume you have ac­cess to a Win­dows PC some­where about and can grab UNet­bootin ( unet­bootin.github.io). This free tool takes ‘ live’ dis­tro ISO im­ages and turns them into bootable USB flash drives.

Next, you’ll need the An­droid 7.1.2/ Nougat RC1 ISO im­age, which is avail­able free from An­droid-x86.org or OSDN ( tinyurl.com/y824wzeh). It’s only a first ‘re­lease can­di­date’, so con­sider it bet­ter than ‘ beta’, but not ‘re­tail’ — that means ex­pect to find the odd glitch or fea­ture not work­ing fully. We rec­om­mend the 32-bit ‘an­droid-x86-7.1-rc1.iso’ down­load, un­less you’re sure you’ve got 64-bit hard­ware to throw at it, in which case, grab the ‘an­droid-x86_64-7.1-rc1.iso’ file in­stead.

HARD­WARE RE­QUIRE­MENTS

As for hard­ware, you’ll need a USB flash drive. Re­gard­less of the An­droid ISO im­age you opt for, they’re all less than 1GB in size (the 32-bit ISO im­age is about 680MB), so any USB flash drive that’s 1GB or larger should do the trick — great for those free­bie flash drives float­ing around in your drawer!

Fi­nally, you’ll need some­thing to in­stall it on. Per­son­ally, I don’t rec­om­mend dual-boot­ing this re­lease on your ex­ist­ing PC, so it’s the op­por­tu­nity to res­ur­rect that old lap­top you’re us­ing to hold up your shelves. I have a 2010-era Com­paq Pre­sario CQ42-136TU lap­top for just such oc­ca­sions — it’s a 1.9GHz du­al­core In­tel Celeron T3100 with 2GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive run­ning Win­dows 7. It’s old and seen bet­ter days, but for An­droid, it’s per­fect.

1 RE­PLACE THE HARD DRIVE

Given that warn­ing about du­al­boot­ing, plus the fact I don’t much like oblit­er­at­ing a work­ing hard drive in­stall of Win­dows, I’d sug­gest re­plac­ing the lap­top’s orig­i­nal hard drive with an old small­ish SSD in­stead. There are a cou­ple of rea­sons for do­ing this. First, I reckon An­droid runs bet­ter off an SSD and just seems a bit more re­spon­sive, but sec­ond, if you find An­droid isn’t your cup of tea, you can re­place the SSD with your orig­i­nal lap­top hard drive again and ev­ery­thing is back to the way it was.

We re­placed the orig­i­nal 250GB hard drive in this Com­paq Pre­sario

lap­top with an old 64GB OCZ Ver­tex2 SSD. Would we pur­chase a new SSD to try Nougat out? In a word, no. Be­ing a ‘ re­lease can­di­date’, we found in our ex­pe­ri­ence a suf­fi­cient num­ber of things just not quite right yet — that’s why us­ing your old hard­ware would be a bet­ter way to go. Of course, if you only have a spare hard drive you don’t mind eras­ing, that’s bet­ter than noth­ing. An­droid-x86 is de­signed as a ‘ live’ dis­tro, mean­ing you can cre­ate a ready-to-go USB flash drive or CD and pre­view the OS live on your PC with­out in­stalling any­thing. In that re­gard, it’s sim­i­lar to many Linux dis­tros like Ubuntu. But the same flash drive or CD can also in­stall the OS onto a com­puter and since you can’t get the full ex­pe­ri­ence with­out per­sis­tent stor­age (which you don’t get with a pre­view), we think a proper in­stall is best.

To cre­ate an An­droid USB in­staller, plug your USB flash drive into your Win­dows PC and make sure you copy off any files you want to keep — there won’t be any­thing left of them af­ter we’ve fin­ished this process. Once you’re done, crack open UNet­bootin. To­wards the bot­tom-left of the app win­dow, you’ll see a ra­diobut­ton next to ‘Diskim­age’ — click on it. Next, press the browse (...) but­ton on the right and lo­cate the Nougat ISO im­age file you down­loaded be­fore. Make sure you se­lect the USB flash drive let­ter and, when you’re ready, press the OK but­ton and Nougat will in­stall as a ‘ live’ bootable dis­tro on your flash drive.

3 IN­STALLING ON YOUR OLD LAP­TOP

If you have your old lap­top ready to go, plug your Nougat USB flash drive into a USB port, boot up the lap­top and press whichever key se­quence you need to bring up the boot op­tions. Se­lect to boot from the USB flash drive. Within a few sec­onds, you should get a blue text-based menu screen with a few choices. Scroll down to ‘In­stal­la­tion - In­stall An­droid-x86 to hard­disk’ and press En­ter. Fol­low these six steps for the rest: A few sec­onds of whizzing com­mand logs later, you should see a ‘Choose Par­ti­tion’ screen with a few op­tions. The first should be ‘sda1’ — that’ll be your SSD or hard drive, ‘sdb1’ will be your USB flash drive. En­sure ‘sda1’ is se­lected and press En­ter. Next, you’ll need to choose a filesys­tem to for­mat the drive with — se­lect ‘ext4’ and press En­ter. Note, this will erase ev­ery­thing on that drive and for­mat it with the ext4 filesys­tem. Af­ter that, you need to in­stall the GRUB boot loader, se­lect Yes and press En­ter. Now you’ll be asked whether to make the ‘/sys­tem’ folder read-write. Choose No and press En­ter. An­droid will now write it­self onto the lap­top’s drive and take about 30 sec­onds. If all goes well, you’ll see a ‘con­grat­u­la­tions’ win­dow. Se­lect ‘Re­boot’, press En­ter and re­move the USB flash drive. The one thing you’ll no­tice is just how fast An­droid-x86 in­stal­la­tion is. Af­ter do­ing this a few times, we were

able to get this process done in well un­der two min­utes.

4 SET­TING UP

Your lap­top should now boot up into a black-and-white text menu show­ing ‘An­droid-x86 7.1-rc1’ as the first en­try. If it doesn’t au­to­mat­i­cally se­lect it and launch, do so by press­ing En­ter. Once you see the big ‘an­droid’ logo, you’re on your way — from here, the setup pro­ce­dure is the same as if you just bought your­self a new An­droid phone. You can cre­ate a new Gmail ac­count specif­i­cally for test­ing, rather than in­stall your real Gmail ac­count if you pre­fer.

THREE OUT OF FOUR

“The fact that RC1 comes with the four ma­jor Google Apps — Gmail, YouTube, Chrome and Play Store — means that, de­spite the fairly short apps list, you’ve got all the ba­sics you need to op­er­ate.”

than 360p (480 x 360-pixel) res­o­lu­tion on our CQ42-136TU lap­top, yet this 7.1.2-RC1, when it worked, had no dra­mas at all with 720p (1,280 x 720-pixel) YouTube video at full frame rate. Your mileage may vary.

VIDEO PLAY­BACK

Oth­er­wise, we know this lap­top was ca­pa­ble of play­ing back lo­cal 720p video and it worked well with MX Player — given RC1’s de­cent built-in codec sup­port and the MX Player codec pack, there shouldn’t be too many files you can’t play. We also in­stalled the lat­est ver­sion of Kodi (17.3 Krypton) and while the user in­ter­face ran per­fectly with no glitches, we had an odd frame-or­der jit­ter oc­cur on all video files we tried, files that showed no is­sue when played with MX Player.

PE­RIPH­ERAL HARD­WARE

Out of the box, Wi-Fi was up and run­ning, so too were the lap­top’s built-in we­b­cam and au­dio. Key­board vol­ume con­trol short­cuts for the au­dio also worked. We were able to con­nect up a USB mi­cro­scope (with ap­pro­pri­ate soft­ware) and even USB flash drives au­to­mat­i­cally mounted into the sys­tem. The real sur­prise was that pro­vided you booted up with the op­ti­cal disc in place, you could even read CD-ROM and DVD-ROM discs. You can’t play DVD movies or au­dio CDs, at least not with the in­ter­nal drive, but there are apps now avail­able that claim to of­fer au­dio CD play­back via ex­ter­nal USB drives (we weren’t able to test this).

WATCH OUT FOR...

The most trou­ble­some is­sue we faced oc­curred on three sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions and that was an un­re­cov­er­able boot-loop. It hap­pened once when we used the power but­ton-re­set op­tion. It also hap­pened again af­ter we al­lowed Root Browser file man­ager to gain root-ac­cess to in­stall Linux util­i­ties. It hap­pened a third time when down­load­ing a game from Google Play. We don’t think these ac­tions were the root cause, but we’re also not sure what the prob­lem was, other than maybe some form of filesys­tem mount­ing is­sue.

We did find a so­lu­tion that fixed it with­out los­ing any files, but only tem­po­rar­ily. What we did was fol­low the mini six-step in­stall guide in Step 3 back over the page, but this time, when we got to se­lect­ing a filesys­tem, we chose ‘do not for­mat’ in­stead of ‘ext4’. We in­stalled GRUB as be­fore and fol­lowed the rest of the steps, even to writ­ing the Nougat ISO to the drive. When we re­booted, the drive came up as nor­mal with all of the pre­vi­ously in­stalled apps. How­ever, on the fol­low­ing re­boot, the sys­tem boot-looped again.

An­other thing, you’ll want to get hold of a de­cent screen ro­ta­tion-lock app — it only takes one app switch­ing into portrait mode and turn­ing your screen side­ways to get sick of it. The best app we’ve found for this is Set Ori­en­ta­tion, it’s free on Google Play. Launch it, set it to ‘ land­scape’, prob­lem solved.

To be fair, And­froid-x86 7.1.2-RC1 is called a ‘ re­lease can­di­date’ for a rea­son and de­spite the glitches, we still think it shows lots of po­ten­tial.

GAM­ING

We tested Nougat/7.1.2 with gam­ing clas­sics Beach Buggy Blitz and An­gry Birds — both worked a treat on our lap­top, of­fer­ing fast game­play and de­cent frame rates. On the other hand, Candy Crush Saga wouldn’t start. But we also had suc­cess with more re­cent re­leases in­clud­ing Crit­i­cal Ops, which can be op­er­ated by mouse. Crit­i­cal Ops’ built-in frame rate counter at topright of screen showed frame rates of be­tween 42 and 59fps at na­tive 1,366 x 768p res­o­lu­tion, which isn’t bad for a dual-core Celeron and in­te­grated In­tel GMA4500 graph­ics. In the end, though, An­droid gam­ing on a lap­top mostly re­quires sup­port for gamepads and key­boards, plus the abil­ity to ei­ther run code na­tively on x86 hard­ware or use An­droid’s App Com­pat­i­bil­ity op­tion in Set­tings.

CON­CLU­SIONS

If you’ve got an old lap­top float­ing around and a spare SSD you’re not us­ing, it won’t cost you any­thing to try this new ver­sion of An­droid-x86. As we’ve said, we found this RC1 re­lease well-named, with a few is­sues that still need to be ad­dressed be­fore Nougat-x86 is re­ally ready for prime­time, in­clud­ing that boot­loop is­sue. That said, most things are fix­able and we think this RC1 is the most ad­vanced RC1 we’ve seen from the An­droid-x86 team — it feels fast, re­spon­sive and more things work out-of-the-box than we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced pre­vi­ously.

Bot­tom line is: while your mileage will prob­a­bly vary, from what we’ve seen so far, Nougat-x86 has the po­ten­tial to be an ex­cel­lent way of bring­ing your old x86 hard­ware out of re­tire­ment and turn­ing it into the very lat­est An­droid ex­pe­ri­ence. We ea­gerly await the next re­lease.

When in­stalling MX Player, re­mem­ber the x86 ver­sion of the codec pack.

An­gry Birds runs nicely on our test lap­top with Nougat-x86 RC1.

This Com­paq Pre­sario CQ42-136TU served as a test­bed for our RC1 run.

This RC1 build fea­tures a re­cent ver­sion 4.9.31 of the Linux ker­nel.

An­droid-x86 lacks a file man­ager but there’s no short­age of op­tions.

Nougat-x86 RC1 in­cludes Gmail and Play Store apps.

UNet­bootin turns your flash drive into a bootable Nougat USB in­staller.

Kodi in­stalled and ran on our test lap­top, but had a frame-jit­ter is­sue.

Who says you can’t in­stall An­droid on a PC?

King­soft’s WPS Of­fice Suite cov­ers the ba­sics for zero cost.

Crit­i­cal Ops played well with frame rates in the low-40fps range.

The first boot af­ter in­stal­la­tion should present the stan­dard wel­come screen.

We found the YouTube app ran well, but a bit tem­per­a­men­tal.

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