Breathing new life into an old Android: 2010 Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 running Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean” thanks to Cyanogenmod 10 ROM.

Take a deep breath, and get ready to breathe new life into your aging Android tablet or smartphone.

Home replacements aren’t normally my thing. I prefer stock Android. Hence why I really like what Google is doing with its expanded Nexus line of devices – they’re all unlocked, all run pure Android (no skins, or carrier bloat). A Galaxy Nexus on T-Mo’s unlimited data plan is pure bliss, and a contract-free ticket to the good (mobile) life.

But, there’s still a strong case to be made for using home screen replacement apps.

For me, it was all about breathing new life into an old Galaxy Tab 7 tablet (2010) I had lying around. Samsung had, not surprisingly, stopped pushing out software updates for it a long time ago. So the poor little guy was stuck on Android 2.2.1, and looking somewhat neglected with aging performance to match.

I did two things, and now the tablet is re-born, and almost (there’s only so much you can do with an old processor) on par with the superior performance of my larger Galaxy Tab 10.1.

First, I rooted my the Tab 7 and installed Cyanogenmod 10 (CM10). This is a ROM built by a community of developers who take Google’s opens source code and build Android flavors for various devices. I was surprised to discover that CM10 – which is a build based on Jelly Belly (Android 4.1) – was even available for a tablet as old as the Tab 7. Would it possibly run? And would all the goodies that come along with Google’s latest and greatest – such as Google Now search – function properly? Turns out: Yes, and yes.

This is the beauty of Android. With a (mostly) open design, especially in comparison to Apple’s approach, we can benefit from community initiatives to extend the life of our technology investments. Granted not everyone is going to take the effort (and risk) of rooting their device and installing a custom ROM, but it is nice to have the option.

Next, I installed a home replacement app called “Nova Launcher.” There’s a lot of these types of apps available on the Google Play Store.  Some are deep in customization, while others focus on colorful themes that can really personalize the look of your Android device. My advice: download several, and play around to see which app best meets your daily needs. For me, that was Nova. It pretty closely approximates the look of the Nexus 7 look and feel. The only difference, of course, is that my old Tab 7 has capacitive buttons; those are used in lieu of the modern 3-button on-screen buttons Google is now using with Android (which I absolutely dig on the Nexus smartphone, but not so much on large tablets such as the Nexus 10 where reaching down low to the center of the screen is a royal pain).

Nova Launcher is almost perfect as far as home launchers go. There’s enough customization options without ovewhelming with too much choice. Best of all, it performs incredibly well! Even though slightly chunky Tab 7 is powered by a ARM Cortex A8 (1.0 GHz) I found swiping home screens to be pleasantly fast – and though I’m generally not a fan of interface thrills and effects, I do like the 3D cube effect.

Customize like crazy with the Nova Launcher home replacement app for Android smartphones and tablets.

After I did these two things – rooting and installing the Jelly Bean ROM via Cyanogenmod 10, and then installing the Nova Launcher app — my old school Galaxy Tab 7 feels almost like a brand new tablet. Sure, it’s not close in performance to the zingy Nexus 7, but there’s a certain satisfaction in taking advantage of the openness that Android affords owners who are willing to invest some time in installing some new code on their devices.

CM10/Jelly Bean Lock screen on Samsung Galaxy Tab.

You may not want to root your device (though it’s become virtually a safe, mainstream process), but at the very least you can install a home replacement app like Nova Launcher in just minutes and benefit from a refreshed appearance for your older Android smartphone or tablet.

Revitalize your old Android smartphone or tablet:

1. Cyanogenmod 10 Jelly Bean ROM (look for your device here – don’t forget, your device first needs to be rooted)

2. Nova Launcher (download from the Google Play Store)