First Gen Nexus 7 is unusable and slow since recent Android updates
September 19, 2015 8:42 AM   Subscribe

I've got a first-gen Nexus 7 tablet that I once loved dearly. But for some months now, since one Android update or another, it has become unusably slow. Even between basic functions, it now has the kind of lag time that allows a person to go the kitchen, brew a cup of coffee, come back and settle into their chair and still find the thing dragging. Surely, it's not gone for good. How can I make it usable again? Specific instructions or links greatly appreciated.

I have no shortage of ideas: roll Android back to an earlier version, try Cyanogenmod, try Ubuntu Touch, etc. What I am short on is an actionable plan with specific steps I can follow.

Things I've tried: I've tried a factory reset to see if that helps. It does not. I've tried the regular Cyanogenmod installer (my phone runs Cyanogenmod and I love it), but it does not like the first gen Nexus 7. I'm a Linux user on my laptop, running a Ubuntu-based distro, so I'm open to going to Ubuntu Touch. But I'm not sure if that's realistic or where I could find instructions specific to my device.

The very best answer would be some variation of I did ________ and it works great, but if you can find directions online to execute a method that people speak well of, I am game for that, too.
posted by DirtyOldTown to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This isn't a complete answer, but a lead to where there might be one. I would go to the XDA forum on the Nexus 7. There are several development teams that make custom ROMs for the Nexus 7 including an offshoot of Cyanogenmod. There is also a q&a forum that I did not have the time to look through.
posted by AugustWest at 9:02 AM on September 19, 2015

I ran into the same issue.

I enabled Show CPU Usage in the developer options and it consistently had a process named mmcqd near the top, with a traffic jam of other processes behind it. mmcqd is the MultiMediaCard Queue Daemon, i.e., the bottleneck was flash memory IO. At one point my storage was nearly full, so (give how slow flash memory block erasures can be) I first tried making a bunch more free space. That quickly reached a point of diminishing returns. Wiping the cache partition seemed to help, for a time, but then things got worse again.

I noticed that it ran fine in airplane mode, but as soon as it got on the network the loadavg spiked to 7 or more from the disk bottleneck. I discovered that some Google news/feed reader program that had been installed with an OS update was doing an absurd amount of disk IO, despite having never once run it, and eliminating that helped significantly. (I forgot what it was called, sorry.)

There are other settings in Developer Options that can help, such as tightly limiting the number of background processes that are running, but that can also lead to things like being unable to play music in the background. It definitely helps to narrow down problematic processes, though.

As time went on (and a few more OS updates, etc.) I gave up on it. I also needed a tablet that supported BLE for a project, so I bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab A as a cheap replacement, and that has worked well for my purposes.

Still, I haven't given up on the Nexus 7 tablet -- I'd love to use it for a display project like this, if I can eliminate whatever is slowing it down. If I figure anything out, I'll check back here.
posted by silentbicycle at 10:13 AM on September 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Speed up the Nexus 7 with F2FS and SlimKat

There are many steps. It will take hours. But at the end you should have a reasonably speedy and useful tablet again like I have

Happy to help if you get stuck
posted by Hash at 10:29 AM on September 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

I had the same issues. It seemed to happen after the second lollipop update or so.

After pretty much trying everything that you have, I did a full wipe and factory reinstall, except that I did not let the reset install any apps (besides the android stuff they don't give you a choice about). Once rebooted with the basic OS, I added apps back as I needed them. I'm guessing that there are more than a few apps that haven't made it back on, but it's nothing I miss and the Nexus seems to be running acceptably for a couple of months now.
posted by SteveInMaine at 10:46 AM on September 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I had the same problem with the recent builds of Android and (mostly) solved it by installing Cyanogenmod 11 which is based on Android 4.4 and while it's not the speediest thing in the world, it's at least usable.
posted by octothorpe at 10:48 AM on September 19, 2015

I had the same problem with my first generation Nexus 7. I downgraded it to the last OS version that was really usable on it, 4.3. Here's my blog post on it: The Only Purpose of this Post is to Help People Reflash Their Nexus 7 Tablets

(And two weeks afterwards, my son dropped the Nexus 7, cracking the screen.)
posted by ShooBoo at 11:13 AM on September 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd like to give a semi-but-not-terribly informed answer that counters some of the common thinking on this. This behavior happened to my 2012 Nexus 7, but didn't seem to be tied specifically to OS updates.

I think this happens when the storage is used at mostly-full (or maybe less than that) capacity for a long time. The analysis I recall seeing theories on here and there is that this is due to a poor storage controller in the device, which degrades performance over time as more I/O is done.

Thw reason that this is important is that installing various other versions of Android may not fix the issue. IF installing a different version like cyanogenmod involves throughly wiping the storage, it may fix the problem... Until you've used it long enough to encounter it again. Some say that a stock factory reset doesn't do a thorough enough wipe to clean this up. (The theory being that it's an issue with TRIM support on the controller and how data fragments in the memory and so even formatting the file system may not change much.)

This should all be taken with a huge grain of salt, and maybe it's not really correct. But, as someone that looked into this for a while, and had an N7 that performed so slowly, in ways not reasonably explained by typical software load or inefficiencies (feels I/O and not CPU bound), I think there's a good chance that this particular tablet just has a flaw in the firmware which can't really be fixed properly by any update.
posted by mitabrev at 4:16 PM on September 19, 2015

We have a first generation Nexus 7 that we haven't been upgrading and it's still unusably slow. We solved the problem just today by buying a new Samsung Galaxy Tab A from Costco. It's a little bigger than the Nexus and in the less than 10 hours we've had it's been just fine.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:47 PM on September 19, 2015

If your tablet if rooted, you might want to try the free app called Trimmer.

BTW, on my 2012 Nexus 7 I am using the SlimKat ROM (not f2fs) that I installed via the Nexus Root Toolkit. Works fine.
posted by mbarryf at 5:38 AM on September 20, 2015

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