Ever since I got my Nexus 7, my Nook HD has been kind of languishing. I’d upgraded it to the most recent Jelly Bean Cyanogenmod version a while back, but I was curious: what might Kit Kat be like on it? Could I run it? Given that I had the Nexus, I wasn’t in danger of losing my only Android tablet solution if I screwed it up, so I figured, why not break me off a piece?
I found some not terribly user-friendly instructions, puzzled my way through them, and commenced. It worked for me, so I’m going to tell you what I did so it can work for you, too.
The Nook HD really isn’t a bad little Android tablet at all for the money. At 1440×900, it has one of the highest definition screens in its price range (not as good as the 1920×1200 2013 Nexus 7, but better than the 1280×800 screen that the 2012 Nexus 7 and most other $100ish tablets can manage), a decently fast processor, okay memory, Bluetooth, an SD expansion slot that many tablets (including the Nexus 7) lack, and louder speakers than you’d expect. It doesn’t have cameras or internal GPS, but who really uses those that much on a tablet anyway? You can get the 8 GB version for $129 brand new from B&N or the 8 or 16 GB for considerably less than that on eBay, or when they pop up from time to time on deal sites like Woot. And who knows, it might get even cheaper yet if B&N goes out of business like it’s been threatening to.
If you put a real OS on it, so it’s not tied so heavily to the B&N ecosystem, it could make a great little portable computing machine for you. It would also be an excellent “beater” tablet to give the kiddies instead of blowing three or four times as much on a “real” one or the same amount on a cheap crappy Chinese thing that will just frustrate them when they try to use it.
And I’m going to show you how.
Warning: Doing this could brick your tablet. It’s possible you could screw up badly enough that your tablet won’t work anymore—or at the least, completely erase the operating system on board it and have to reinstall a new one from SD card. Don’t blame me if you break it. I disclaim any responsibility for your decision.
If you’re not sure you’re geeky enough to do it after reading these instructions, you could do what Juli Monroe did and buy a KitKat N2A card instead. She reported a few problems with the way the HD ran afterward, but it could just have been due to the earlier Kit Kat build N2A used. Presumably they’ve switched to a later one by now. I haven’t had that kind of problems with my more recent version, that I’ve noticed.
Warning: Doing this will void your warranty. If you keep a backup of the original OS, it’s possible you could just restore from that before you send it in and nobody would know the difference, but on the other hand if the tablet breaks in such a way that you can’t do that, you’re out of luck. Of course, if you buy one of the ones from eBay that don’t come with a warranty, that probably doesn’t matter to you anyway.
Warning: This will erase all the contents of your tablet. I’m going to go over backing it up first so you can, theoretically, restore the original version if you want. And of course if you purchased any apps or media from the Google Play store you can just redownload them afterward. (You will lose access to any apps you bought from the B&N app store, because they can’t be installed on non-B&N devices) But this is going to wipe the tablet clean and get rid of the old OS for good. (I understand that you can use the N2A card to dual-boot between Nook OS and Cyanogenmod, but I couldn’t care less about keeping Nook OS.)
Warning: Don’t mix up the Nook HD and Nook HD+. They’re two different tablets that use entirely different Android builds. The one called “hummingbird” is for the HD. The one called “ovation” is for the HD+. Apart from that, the installation process is basically the same, but since I only have an HD, not an HD+, I’m not even going to try to tell you how to do the HD+. Here’s one of those less-user-friendly guides that goes into it; you can use their files and my steps if you want to try it.
What You Will Need
The first thing you’ll need is, of course, a Nook HD. (Duh!)
Beyond that, you will also need a 4 GB-or-greater micro SD card. Any of these will probably work. You might want to go with at least an 8 GB, especially if you can get it cheaper than the 4 GB, because it’ll give you extra space for saving backups. Not all SD cards will necessarily work, but I’ve had good success with my SanDisk brand 4 GB card.
If you’ve been using your tablet for a while and have installed a lot of apps and media, you might need one even bigger than that. After all, when you back the tablet up, you’re going to back up anything it currently has in its memory. That could be up to 8 GB for the 8 GB version, or 16 GB if it’s 16. SD cards are cheap, and the Nook HD supports up to 64 GB SDXC cards. So if in doubt, get a bigger one.
And finally, you will need a micro-SD card adapter that you can plug into a USB slot. Or a micro-SD-to-standard-SD adapter that you plug into the SD card slot on your laptop. Either way works, as long as your computer is capable of mounting the SD card as an external disk drive.
Download these files to some directory on your hard drive where you can easily find them. I made a “Cyanogenmod Stuff” directory under my Program Files, but you could put it in Documents, or your Dropbox folder, or wherever.
hummingbird SD Card Image (nookhd-emmc-cwm2.1.img.gz)
Like a Linux boot ISO file that you burn onto a CD-ROM, this is the image of a bootable SD card that will boot your Nook into installation and recovery mode just like a Linux boot disc will boot your computer into Linux. You also need software that can unzip a gzip file if you don’t already have some; 7-Zip is a good one.
Win32DiskImager SD card image burner
This is what you’ll use to burn the boot image onto the SD card. This assumes you’re on Windows, of course. If you’re using a Mac, you can use this one instead. You’ll have to find some other app if you’re using another OS. I gather you can use “dd” if you’re running Linux, but you’ll have to figure out how to do that for yourself.
hummingbird recovery image (cwm-recovery-hummingbird-5.zip)
This is the package that installs the recovery boot system in your Nook HD, so that if something goes wrong you can boot to recovery without needing the boot SD card by holding down the “N” button and the power button when you start up.
hummingbird OS image (cm-11-XXXXXXXXXXX-hummingbird.zip)
This link will take you to the Cyanogenmod download page for all extant versions of Cyanogenmod for hummingbird (Nook HD). The 10.1 Cyanogenmod is 4.2 Jelly Bean; 10.2 is 4.3. You want Kit Kat, Android 4.4, which is Cyanogenmod 11.
As to which file Cyanogenmod 11 file you should choose, if you want the most stable version choose one of the SNAPSHOT downloads, with the highest “M” number available. For example, the latest SNAPSHOT available as this guide is being written is “cm-11-20140504-SNAPSHOT-M6-hummingbird.zip”. It might be up to M8 or M10 or later by the time you read this. These are the “stable” milestone releases of Cyanogenmod 11, though the Cyanogenmod people don’t call them “stable” because they’ve apparently decided that terms like “release candidate” and “stable” are too limiting. Well, whatever.
Alternately, you could go with the latest nightly build. There have been enough stable releases of Cyanogenmod that they’ve gotten most of the glitches out by now, and with only four weeks between milestone releases, there’s not too much they could have broken since the last one. If you go with a nightly, your file will be named something like “cm-11-20140522-NIGHTLY-hummingbird.zip” (with, of course, whatever date it came out in place of that one). If it doesn’t work right, you could always download the latest SNAPSHOT and install that instead. You will probably want to repeat this process every so often, upgrading to newer hummingbird packages as they become available.
Of course, even the “stable” SNAPSHOT builds are only relatively stable, given that the Kit Kat Cyanogenmod port is still under active development. (And as an older device, the Nook HD sometimes gets short shrift on the latest dev builds.) Sooner or later, you’ll probably run into a build that is very crash-prone. If that happens, back off to a prior nightly or SNAPSHOT; you can always upgrade back to a newer one when it’s available.
If you don’t want to live that dangerously, you can check out this guide to installing the most recent version of Jelly Bean, which is in its final stable release and no longer under development. The steps are basically the same, but it uses different OS image and Google Apps package files than the ones I link to here. But again, the latest Kit Kat nightly is working fine for me.
Google Apps package (pa_gapps-XXXXXXXX-signed.zip)
Otherwise known as “gapps” (for “Google Apps”), this package includes Google’s App Store, plus the suite of built-in Google apps that form the core of the Android experience. As with the OS image, you’ll have a choice to make here. There are several different versions of the package, of various different sizes, including different combinations of the apps.
I personally went with the “Mini Modular Package,” which includes the core Google stuff but doesn’t include extra things like the Camera app that you won’t need anyway (because, duh, you haven’t got a camera!). And it’s small enough that the extra cruft doesn’t take up much space. Of course, there’s no reason you couldn’t go with the “Micro Modular Package” instead if you didn’t want even all of those apps. Any app except the Play Store itself can, of course, be installed later from the Play Store if you do decide you want it.
If you’re installing Kit Kat, you want the ones for Android 4.4, at the beginning of the section. If you decided to play it safe and go with Jelly Bean, scroll to the bottom of the first post and click the button to view the 4.3 gapps packages. Don’t get the two mixed up.
Once you’ve got all of those in a directory on your hard drive, we can begin.
Cyanogenmodding Your Nook HD: Step By Step
Part One: Prepare the SD card
- Plug the card into your computer via whichever adapter you choose. It should pop up in Explorer as another hard drive.
- Unzip the nookhd-emmc-cwm2.1.img.gz file. If you’ve got 7-Zip installed, you can just right-click the file, mouse over “7-Zip” in the context menu, and choose “Extract here.” Note: You do not need to unzip any of the other files besides the Win32DiskImager and the img.gz. Leave the other zips just as they are.
- Unzip Win32DiskImager into its own directory. There’s no installer; it just runs from the Win32DiskImager.exe file.
- Go into the Win32DiskImager directory and run the .exe file. It will pop up a security warning asking you if you’re sure you want to allow this program to make modifications to your system; tell it yes.
- Make sure the drive letter of your SD card is selected in the drop-down in the upper right, Click the blue folder icon next to it, navigate to where you have the unzipped .img file, and choose that file. Then click the “Write” button, tell it you’re sure if it asks, and wait a few minutes while it does its work. Warning: This will completely erase any existing contents of the SD card. Copy off anything you want to keep first.
- Wait for the program to finish writing, and once you get the pop-up telling you it’s done, you can exit the program.
- Copy the other three zip files—the cwm-recovery, cm-11, and pa_gapps zips—onto the SD card. The easiest way is to select them all then right-click and choose “Send to” and select the drive letter of your SD card. Or you can drag and drop.
- Use the USB symbol icon to “safely eject” the SD card, or right-click on the drive letter from an explorer window and choose “eject”. Remember not to remove the card until the computer says it’s safe!
Note that if you’re on some other OS than Windows, you should replace steps 3, 4, and 5 with whatever procedure is necessary to run the image-burning software you’re using for your platform. But you probably guessed that already.
Part Two: Booting the Tablet
Here comes the fun part.
- Power down the Nook HD tablet.
- Use your fingernail to pry open the SD card slot cover, at the bottom left of the tablet. Insert the SD card, label side up, and use your fingernail to push it in until it clicks into place. Close the lid.
- Power on the tablet, by holding down the power button at the upper left for a few seconds. You should get a screen that says “cyanoboot universal bootloader,” then a few seconds later the text menu shown at right.
- If it didn’t boot, it’s possible you might need to perform the steps in Part One on another SD card (some of them just don’t work for some reason), or try this alternate method of making a card.
- To navigate this menu, you’ll use the volume buttons on the right to move up and down, the “n” hardware button at middle front to select, and the power button on the left to go back.
- The first thing you should do is go to “backup and restore” and hit the “n” button. From this menu, choose “backup to /external_sd”—it’s about halfway down. Note: Do not choose “backup to /sdcard”. For some counterintuitive reason, this version of Android calls the internal memory “/sdcard” and the external memory “/external_sd”. Since we want to back up to the external SD, that is what we need to choose.
- Wait for the backup to complete. It will probably take a few minutes.
- Next, use the power button at the top left to back out to the main menu and next choose “install zip”. In the “install zip” menu, choose “install zip from /external_sd”.
- Install the zips in this order: 1) cwm-recovery-hummingbird-5.zip, 2) cm-11-XXXXXXX-hummingbird.zip, 3) pa_gapps-XXXXX-signed.zip. After you install each one, simply repeat the process and choose the next one.
- Once it’s finished installing the last of those packages, open the SD card slot lid again and pop out the SD card. Then close the lid again.
- Use the power button to back out to the top menu, choose “reboot system now,” and press the “n” button.
- Assuming all went well, it will boot up, take a few minutes to complete the OS upgrade, and then boot into Kit Kat. Well done, you!
- If it asks you which launcher you want to use, I’d recommend going with Trebuchet, the Cyanogenmod built-in launcher. You can always swap to Google Now by running it from the app screen, or change which one you want to use as the default in the Settings app. Or you can download more new and exciting launchers from the Play Store if neither of those takes your fancy.
Part Three: After the Boot
Before you enjoy your newly Kit Katted out Nook HD, there are a couple of things we want to do first.
- Plug the SD card back into the computer again, and open it in explorer. You’ll find a new folder on the card: “clockworkmod/”. This contains your backup. Go ahead and copy it to your HD, zip it, and stick it somewhere safe. Perhaps in the same directory as all those files I had you download for upgrading. Once that’s done, you can delete it from the SD card. You can repeat the process later on if you want to back it up again. It’s probably a good idea to do it every so often.
- Eject the card and put it in a safe place. If you should ever need to reinstall Cyanogenmod for any reason, it could be useful to have. Likewise, if they release a later version of Kit Kat (a RC or Stable) and you’d like to upgrade, all you will need to do is copy the new cm-11 zip file onto the card, boot from it, and install it just like you did this time. (You won’t need to reinstall the recovery or apps.) (Or you can use the internal upgrade feature in Android to do it, but sometimes you might not have enough space in internal memory to hold the upgrade file.)
- Enjoy Kit Kat on your Nook HD!
Optional Extra: Installing the Nook Reader
If you’ve been using your Nook HD as a “stock” Nook device for a while, you’ve probably bought some e-books from B&N. And since you’ve been a good little boy or girl and haven’t cracked the DRM on them so you could read them with Moon+ Reader, that means you need the Nook Reader app. (Or you could use Aldiko, since it also supports Adobe DRM, but for the sake of this guide I’m going to assume you’d like to have the Nook Reader running on your Nook tablet.) However, if you try to install it from the Play Store you run into a problem.
One odd little wrinkle about putting plain-vanilla Android on the Nook HD is that, while you can readily install most of the apps from the Google Play app store (including the Kindle app), one that you can’t install is the Nook Reader. It’s not actually incompatible, but the Play Store says it is. (My guess is that B&N didn’t want anyone accidentally installing the Nook Reader app on a stock Nook HD and either overwriting or duplicating the version that was built into its operating system. So when Google Play notices the hardware you’re using is a Nook HD, it says “Nuh-uh.”)
So, to install it, we have to get a little creative.
- Go into Settings, and swipe the left menu up until you come to “Security”. Tap “Security” and swipe the right menu up until you find “Unknown sources.” Put a check mark next to “Unknown sources.” It will give you a warning; just tap “OK.”
- Fire up the Chrome web browser on your Nook HD and navigate to this page on the 1mobile app store. Tap on “Install” and install the 1mobile app store.
- Launch the 1mobile app store, and it will download and install the Nook Reader app.
- You’ll want to keep the 1mobile app store around for installing updates to the Nook Reader app, but don’t let it update anything else on your system; it will conflict with the Google Play app store.
- Launch the Nook Reader app and sign into B&N with your userID and password. Boom, you’re done!
I’ve read that some prior versions of the app won’t read books from the external SD card. I’m not sure if that’s still a problem, since I don’t keep any books on external SD cards. Still, you’ve got plenty of room on board to download just those particular e-books you want to read.
The Swiftkey custom keyboard is another “incompatible” app that requires the use of a third-party app store to install. You can also install these apps by downloading their APK file from somewhere, putting it on an SD card, and using a file manager to install the APK file manually, but doing it from a third-party app store is a lot simpler.
You might also want to set up your Nook HD to be able to view Amazon Prime streaming videos.
Also, if you should decide you’d like to be able to boot your Nook back into stock Nook OS from an SD card, it is apparently possible to do so using similar techniques to the process of preparing the card in Step One above. See this guide for more information.
I hope this guide has helped you, and not bricked your Nook. I hope you enjoy your Nook HD Kit Kat experience!
If you have any questions or concerns, ask them in the comments and I’ll try to address them. Please note that I’m not able to provide in-depth technical support for you, or to help you if you did brick your tablet. Sorry about that.
If you do want more advanced technical help, a good spot to check would be the XDA Developers Nook HD forum, which is where I found the not-terribly-user-friendly guides that I originally used.