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On this blog we will track down the latest Amazon Kindle news. We will keep you up to date with whats hot in the bestsellers section, including books, ebooks and blogs... and we will also bring you great Kindle3 tips and tricks along with reviews for the latest KindleDX accessories.

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September 2014
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Amazon Caps Kindle 3G Use at 50MB/Month

The Kindle Keyboard has been the overall recommendation of this site, and myself in particular, since it was first introduced.  It stands out from the current generation for a couple reasons, but mostly due to its unrestricted internet access.  The Kindle Touch 3G has its cellular connectivity restricted.  Apparently that sort of freedom was costing Amazon a bit more than they liked.  Users will now find their internet usage capped to a mere 50mb each month.

For the most part this will prove little problem.  The Kindle’s screen, while amazing for reading, is not well suited for most of the bandwidth-intensive tasks that people generally put their portable devices to.  You’re not going to have the option of watching a movie on your Kindle eReader, which is part of the reason the Kindle Fire was made.  Even music downloads, which make sense knowing that the Kindle has the ability to play MP3s, are largely difficult to manage except through storefronts and social media pages that the Kindle’s Experimental Browser is less than suited for.

The most likely explanation for this change to the service agreement is that too many people have caught on to the possibility of using the Kindle’s 3G access on another mobile device.  This hack was widely publicized when a reliable method developed and seemed likely to end up little more than a bit of trivia in the days that followed.  Yes it is possible to enable wireless tethering of a sort, but it is obviously against the terms of service and the practice is far from anonymous.

Apparently people have been doing it anyway.  Amazon has been cracking down on these Kindle abusers individually, limiting their device’s access to the Kindle Store and Amazon.com, but that takes manpower and there is almost certainly a waiting list as each abuser is warned.  Adding the 50mb per month cap prevents outright abuse in the meantime.

Given what we know about software changes from model to model, this may be the start of something more significant for the Kindle line in general.  By limiting the usefulness of the Kindle Keyboard, Amazon is setting things up to remove the device entirely.  This allows them to save on everything from firmware updates to 3G charges as customers move into the hardware we’re expecting to see in the next few months.  They clearly want to make some of the new features like X-Ray into Kindle brand selling points, but that’s not going to happen while so many users are still happy with their older model.

If you like to have your laptop hooked to a Kindle Keyboard for free 3G access, you’re probably going to be very unhappy in the days and weeks to come.  Amazon hasn’t commented, but this crackdown is likely to get bigger and stick around.  If you’re a normal user who just grabs the occasional eBook or website then you’ll likely never run into this new limitation.  Either way, keep an eye out for the hardware upgrade that’s around the corner.  Amazon is likely to be pushing upgrader incentives to build interest.

Security Flaw Makes Browsing Risky For Kindle Touch Users

The Kindle isn’t ever considered the most secure of devices.  Even here on this site you’ll find many hacks for Kindles from the first generation forward.  Still, this might be the first time I can think of that there has been a hole in the device’s security that poses a genuine problem for both users and Amazon.

heise Security has recently released some proof of concept code that demonstrates the potential for remotely exploiting Kindle Touch devices.  This is a problem occurring in the most recent Kindle Touch 5.1.0 firmware.  The vulnerability allows commands to be injected into the eReader through the WebKit browser.  These commands are then executed at the root level, essentially giving malicious code total control over your Kindle.

Amazon is aware of the problem and working on a patch.  Considering the first indications that there might be a problem to fix came up as early as April, according to the MobileRead forums, they are clearly taking their time about it.  Various reports indicate that there may be some difficulty getting the patch pushed to Kindle Touch users, but until we know more about Amazon’s response that may be speculation.

There are no indications at this time that anybody has managed to create malicious code directed at Kindle Touch users.  While some speculation has revolved around turning Kindles into nodes in massive botnet attacks, that is just potential at this stage.  There are, of course, measures you can take to protect yourself.

The most obvious solution to keeping safe until this is fixed would be to avoid the internet.  Turning off your wireless connection, whether WiFi or 3G, will save you battery life and put your mind at ease.  If you don’t find that appealing, sticking to Amazon’s services and trusted sites will also go a long way toward security.

If that is not enough and something more drastic is desired, there is a way to patch the hole yourself.  For complete instructions, head over to MobileRead and learn about jailbreaking your device.  Ironically, it seems that the most common jailbreaking method right now also uses the exploit in question.  Once you have gained root privileges for your Kindle Touch, however, a tool has been uploaded in this thread that should disable browser-based exploitation from remote sites.

This is probably not a big deal for most users.  It has the potential to turn into something major for Amazon.  A properly made piece of malware could theoretically turn their Kindle Touch line into an internet attack network.  This would be a PR nightmare and cost an unbelievable amount thanks to the free 3G these devices enjoy, but the limitations of the exploit as it is currently understood make it unlikely that any personal information could be stolen or that users could in other ways be easily harmed.

Exercise safe browsing habits and wait for Amazon to issue a firmware update.  New Kindle Touch units are already shipping with 5.1.1 firmware and that will likely be making its way to existing customers soon enough.  Some reports indicate that this update will patch the security hole, though that is not yet confirmed.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Brought To the Kindle Fire

As many people expected, the Google Nexus 7 tablet is a product developed specifically to knock Amazon off of the top of the Android charts.  Hardware-wise, it is certainly more powerful.  Whether this is enough to actually sway users is still in question, however, since the popularity of the Kindle Fire has never been based on its performance alone.  The software is another story.

By releasing the Nexus 7 with the newest version of Android (4.1 Jelly Bean) Google packed in some major advantages that Amazon never even had the option of putting in the Kindle Fire in the first place.  It was a smart decision, given reviews, and things are looking up for Google at the moment.  Kindle Fire owners might still feel a bit left out, however.

That is where XDA comes in.  It is the good people over on the XDA Developers forums who we have to thank for any number of Android hacks, including the ability to gain root access on the Kindle Fire.  Their most recent Kindle-related development is a custom ROM for installing Jelly Bean on the Kindle Fire.

Now, Amazon has not exactly set any records for taking security on their device seriously.  The last time an update went so far as to disable the security hole by which people were rooting their tablets, another option was available immediately.  If I recall correctly, the new rooting method might have been released before the update was ever rolled out thanks to somebody getting their hands on it a couple days early.  As such, it seems unlikely that Amazon will be terribly worried about the impact of customer device customizations on their bottom line.

The existing Android 4.1 ROM for the Kindle Fire is still being worked on.  It is fairly simple to install using the instructions provided over at XDA, but not everything is enabled just yet.  There is a bit of a problem with the wifi connectivity, though that is more an inconvenience than anything and fixes can be found scattered around, and various minor complaints have come up with certain apps in cases where this ROM is installed on top of an existing custom ROM.

Should you decide that you want to try all the newest features from Google, look this option up.  Keep in mind, however, that doing so will void your warranty.  It is also possible that you can render your device unusable if you botch the installation.  These are standard cautions that anybody attempting this process should be aware of.

Amazon has done a great job with developing a fork of Android 2.3 specifically for the Kindle Fire.  Users seem to really like it and the integration with Amazon services is impressively smooth.  Chances are good that the new Kindle Fire 2 will ship with an even more advanced build that offers far more features.  None of that means that the desire to try the unlocked, open version of Android is unusual or problematic.  If you do it right, follow all the instructions, and exercise caution then a completely different experience is available to try.

Kindle Keyboard 3G Tethering May Provide Emergency Options

Kindle Keyboard

Kindle Keyboard

The Kindle eReader has long come with unrestricted 3G access on its more expensive models.  This has been such an expected option that when Amazon stopped offering the feature on the newer Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch models it shocked many of us.  Fortunately, for those who are still interested in the service, there is always still the Kindle Keyboard 3G.  While they aren’t really being pushed as a current product any longer, Amazon still seems to have plenty of the older model with its unrestricted access available on their site.

The biggest problems with taking advantage of this feature for anything besides simply purchasing from Amazon have been tied to the shortcomings of the eReader itself.  The Kindle Keyboard’s 5-Way directional controller is nice enough, but can be incredibly tedious to use.  The web browser is extremely basic at best, and will almost certainly enough fail to load important pages or crash completely from time to time under regular use.  Still, it is a free lifetime 3G connection that accomplishes the goal of keeping you connected to the Kindle Store no matter where you happen to be.  It is hard to complain about that.

What was once just a convenience for people willing to spend some extra money on their initial Kindle purchase might now be a valid thing to keep around for emergencies, however.  You see, somebody has finally worked out a way to make this free 3G coverage available to more generally useful devices via a tethering hack.  While I won’t go into the details here (this is absolutely warranty-voiding and quite possibly illegal enough for action is abused), hacker Andrew D’Angelo has posted the complete method on his easily searchable personal web site.  Using this method, you can now get your PC or laptop onto the internet via the Kindle Keyboard’s cellular connection.

I say that this is an emergency tool specifically because every bit of data sent through this connection runs through Amazon’s proxy servers.  You are tagged with a unique ID number that can easily trace unusual activity back to your personal account.  Since this is, as mentioned above, rather blatantly in violation of the Terms & Conditions for Kindle 3G use, chances are good that both the connection and the associated account will be shut down before too long at the very least.

This could be great to have around for those situations where a storm takes out the local communications, and I can think of some flooding a while back that I would have loved to have it available for, but it is not a tool for daily use.  Still, it might be worth considering the 3G option on any new Kindle purchase now even if you have no interest in it as an aid to your eReader experience.  $40 added to the purchase price for a cell connection with no monthly fee running through a device that only runs out of batteries once every month or two is great by itself, but being able to use that connection so fully when you really need to have that available is invaluable.

Updating Kindle DX or Kindle 2 to Kindle 3.x Firmware

Having discovered an already functional jailbreak for the Kindle Touch recently thanks to independent developer Yifan Lu, I was also pleased to note that there is a way to get your older Kindle devices somewhat more up to date.  It turns out that the hardware improvements in the Kindle 3 as compared to the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX, particularly the processors, were not significant enough to make it impossible to run the newer version.

To get this update installed, you will need a few things.  The most important, and possibly the hardest to get in some cases, is a working Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard) that has been jailbroken.  Assuming you have a spare Kindle 3 laying around, the same site linked in the instructions to follow contains detailed instructions on the jailbreaking process under the “Projects” tab.  You will also need a minimum of 900mb free on your Kindle 2/Kindle DX and 720mb free on your Kindle 3.  Naturally a USB transfer cable will be important as well.

Assuming you have all of these things, check out this page on Yifan Lu’s site.  The included instructions are simple to follow and while it will probably take you anywhere from one to three hours to complete the entire process, there is little room for error if you follow the order of operations correctly.

There are several things that you must be aware of before starting in on this:

  • Should you allow either of your Kindles to lose power while they are in use, it is likely to cause some major problems.  Charge them before you begin.
  • Once completed, you will have to repeat the process for any future firmware updates.  The Kindle 2 or Kindle DX will not be able to automatically access the files released for the Kindle 3.
  • While the hardware difference between these Kindles is not large enough to make the process inadvisable, as it would be if going from the Kindle 4 to the Kindle 3, there is a difference.  You will experience slight lag as the downside of your improved functionality.
  • Active content such as Kindle games will not work as a result of the update.  The developer of this update process doesn’t know exactly why, nor does there seem to be any major fix for this.  Be aware.
  • Sound/Music playback on the newly updated device will be flawed.  Since it will have been jailbroken it is possible to install an alternate music player to fix this, but it is an additional step for people who make much use of the eReader’s audio playback abilities.
  • There have been some unconfirmed reports that extremely large PDF files have issues on devices updated in this fashion.  This is likely the result of slightly inferior hardware and will probably not be an issue compared to the greatly improved PDF handling, but it is worth noting.

We can’t quite say why Amazon chose not to update these older Kindles, although it has been speculated that they were consciously abandoned to drum up business for the Kindle 3.  Also possible is the idea that faster processing simply opens more doors to new features that couldn’t be productively implemented otherwise.  Either way, at least now it is possible for owners of older Kindles to get the most out of their devices.

While the newer Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch are great, eReaders are made to last and there is no reason for a satisfied owner to throw away their perfectly good Kindle 2.  With the Kindle DX it’s an even more obvious choice, since there is yet to be a hardware update to the larger form and it looks increasingly like there never will be.  This update makes it even more desirable for those who need the 9.7″ screen.

Simple Kindle Touch Jailbreak Released Using MP3

The Kindle Touch may not be running Android like its tablet counterpart, but it also doesn’t run the operating system found in previous models of the Kindle eReader line.  The focus is now on HTML5 and Javascript interfaces rather than the previous Java implementations.  This means that pretty much none of the old hacks and mods that have been released for the Kindle line will be of any use to customers this time.  Of course that was bound to be addressed fairly quickly.

Yifan Lu, a freelance developer, has found an exploit in the way the Kindle Touch handles MP3s which will allow people to easily jailbreak their new eReader.  Along with that discovery, he revealed that the majority of the device’s interface is simply HTML pages in disguise.  This alone means that coming up with interesting mods will be significantly easier than was previously the case, unless I miss my guess.  It implies a greater degree of system control through Javascript than is normally possible.  For now there isn’t much for an end-user to work with, but there is every reason to believe that you will find modules for adding EPUB support and any number of other fun extra functions in the months to come.

In order to attempt this Jailbreak (Which neither I nor this site recommend or take any responsibility for as it voids the warranty and may render your Kindle unusable if something goes wrong), head to this site and follow the instructions included in the Zip Archive’s README file.  This involves nothing more than connecting your Kindle to a computer, copying a .mp3 file to your music folder, disconnecting from the computer, and running the music player.  A button pops up labeled “Press to Jailbreak!” and you’re done.

My trial of this process went smoothly and did pretty much nothing.  It is definitely anything but an urgent need or an inherently beneficial act for most people.  All you are doing is enabling root access to your device, which means that among other things installing third party software will be possible. Chances are good that even with this it will not be possible to open up general 3G internet access, use of neglected hardware like the internal mic, or removal of advertising, but other than that there shouldn’t be many limits.

If you are interested in the potential that the process opens up, I would recommend both acquiring your Kindle Touch in the near future and making sure not to allow any software updates on the device until it is certain that the changes will be kept around.  While Amazon has been incredibly open in their lack of interest in securing the Kindle Fire in any significant way, they have a history of being somewhat more closed with their eReaders.  Not the least important reason for this is the heavy investment the company has made in their proprietary format, the evasion of which would likely be the first thing that customers use their new found freedom to achieve.

Kindle Fire Already Being Successfully Hacked To Use Android 4.0.1: Ice Cream Sandwich

As has been noted a few times in the past, Amazon didn’t really put any effort into securing their tablet against modification.  The Kindle Fire was bound to be rooted and they knew that would be the case well before it was even officially announced, I’m sure.  Since it started arriving in the mail, there have been quick results along these lines.  Andrei, here on our site, has posted instructions on how to root your own Kindle Fire for easy access to things like the Android Marketplace.  What many have been waiting for, though, is the announcement that custom ROMs were available to replace the default Kindle Fire OS.

This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with what Amazon has done in their release.  It’s a great one and serves to highlight the capabilities of the tablet quite well.  For those who prefer to avoid being attached permanently to a company like Amazon for whatever reason, however, it is nice to have the option to make use of their affordable yet powerful hardware without the attached software.  That’s where developments from the XDA-Developers forum come in.

One of their users has been able to get a basic installation of Google’s latest Android release, Ice Cream Sandwich, working on the Kindle Fire.  So far, “working” is a relative term since at the time of this writing it still lacked the ability to use the audio, WiFi, accelerometer, or light sensor (yes, the Kindle Fire has a light sensor, they have just got it disabled at the moment since it was overly sensitive at the time of launch).  This is a big step in the right direction, however, and once some of the bugs and deficiencies are ironed out will likely result in making the Kindle Fire a great option for Android fans who might otherwise be put off by Amazon’s proprietary build.

While this will definitely open up the user options in a few ways, specifically by allowing a greater degree of configurability and better integrating the Android Marketplace (as compared to simply rooting and installing it), there are a couple down sides.  Most importantly, you lose access to the Amazon service integration.  While most people considering this option are likely looking for exactly that, the Kindle Fire’s limited storage space can make the Cloud Storage a vital part of daily use and the streaming options for music and movies provide an experience that many find superior to their general app equivalencies.  The freedom to install anything you want will also lead to the opportunity to pick up apps that are not optimized for the Kindle Fire’s specs in any way.  This can lead to poor performance at best and complete waste of a purchase if you aren’t careful.

While I wouldn’t advise anybody to jump up and grab the current working build of ICS for the Kindle Fire, given its incompleteness, you may want to keep an eye on it.  Personally I love the interface that Amazon has come up with, but that doesn’t mean somebody else won’t manage to improve on it.  The best performing option will always be the preferable one in the end, and there is a great community of Android developers out there that can’t wait to get the Kindle Fire working just the way they like it.

The video demonstrating a working ICS build from the dev who got it working:

Rooting Kindle Fire to Enable Full Google Android Market – instructions that actually work

First and foremost, let me give you a fair warning: if you choose to follow these instructions – you are doing so at your own risk with full understanding of the fact that although they have worked for me and some other people there is still a chance that you may end up irreversibly damage your device ending up with $199.00 shiny paper press. I will not be able to help you even if I had the time to figure out what went wrong, which I will not. If you are cool with this, then continue, otherwise enjoy your Kindle Fire as it is right now, which is already quite good.

You will need to root your Kindle Fire first. “Rooting” means enabling the Android OS to give application full administrative (root) access to the system. Permissions are given to specific application only. While it may not seem like a huge security risk, you should consider that by giving another app root access you’ve increased “attack surface” as far as security threats are concerned. If that app has a security hole or just by virtue of poor design can be manipulated by another piece of code on the system into doing something, that other piece of code can gain root access to the system without your knowledge. It’s also worth mentioning that you can manually screw up your system by mishandling an app that has root access.

Another side-effect of rooting Kindle Fire specifically is Amazon Instant video streaming and downloads not working. This can be fixed by unrooting your device later. Even after unrooting you still keep access to Google Marketplace and can install apps from there.

Rooting Kindle Fire

  1. If you don’t have it already, download and install Android SDK from here: http://developer.android.com/sdk/index.html (choose the recommended download)
  2. Open %userprofile%\.android\adb_usb.ini file with notepad and add the following line at the end
    0x1949

    In case you are wondering – it is the hardware ID code of Kindle Fire

  3. Find google-usb_driver folder in the folder where you installed Android SDK. Within this folder, find android_winusb.ini file. Edit this file with notepad. In case you installed Android SDK under “Program Files” or “Program Files (x86)” directory you will need to run notepad as administrator
  4. Add following lines to the file twice. First after [Google.NETx86] and then after [Google.NTamd64]
    ;Kindle Fire

    %SingleAdbInterface% = USB_Install, USB\VID_1949&PID_0006
    %CompositeAdbInterface% = USB_Install, USB\VID_1949&PID_0006&MI_01
  5. Turn on your Kindle and enable installation of Applications from unknown sources
  6. Connect your Kindle to your PC.
  7. Open Windows device manager. Find “Kindle” device in the device tree. Right-click and select “Update driver”. Manually point Windows to the location of android_winusb.ini file you edited in step 4
  8. Download SuperOneClick from here: http://shortfuse.org/
  9. Run it (it will ask for administrative access to the computer) and click on the “root” button. Within a minute your Kindle Fire will be rooted. When asked if you want to install Busybox, you can say “No”
  10. If you “Force stop” Amazon Video process or just restart your Kindle fire you will see that Amazon Instant Video doesn’t work anymore. This means that you are on the right track.

Installing Google Android Market on Kindle Fire

  1. Download gapps.rar from here: http://www.multiupload.com/DGMBZZNOXM. In case the link is broken, check this thread for updated link http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1349902 and let me know. You will need WinRar or 7Zip to unpack this file. To install Google Market you only need 2 files from that package: com.market.apk and GoogleServicesFramework.apk. Copy these files to your Kindle Fire
  2. Download Root Explorer from here in your Kindle Fire browser : http://www.apktop.com/wp-content/plugins/download-monitor/download.php?id=582. Open the download apk file and install the app
  3. Run Root Explorer, give it root access and find apk files from step 1 on your device. They should be /sdcard folder.
  4. Run and install GoogleServicesFramework.apk
     
  5. Tap and hold on com.market.apk and select “Move” from the menu. Navigate to /system/app and press “Mount R/W” on the top. If it doesn’t work (button doesn’t change to “Mount R/O”, you need to Force close and restart “Root Explorer”. Select “Paste”
  6. Find copied com.market.apk file and long tap it. Select “permissions” and enable “read” and “write” for “owner” and just “read” for “group” and “others”. Everything else should be disabled.
  7. Tap on com.market.apk to install it and then open. In case the app will not open, reboot Kindle Fire, run Root Explorer (it should be at the top of your carousel) and run com.makert.apk from /system/app again. There is no need to “Mount R/W” this time around.
  8. When asked, create or register your existing Google account with the Marketplace app.
  9. Once Market app opens it may hang the first time around. If it does open it again by redoing step 7. At this point you will not be asked to login again. The problem is that Market will not show up in the list of installed apps. You will need a way to launch it when you want to install apps. We’ll take care of this in the next step
  10. Install SystemPanel or a similar app from the Market. It will help you to open Marketplace later and it is a good and useful app in itself.
  11. SystemPanel will show up in the app list of the device so you can always run it. In the installer menu will be a shortcut that will open Google App Market
  12. That is it – you can now enjoy much broader selection of apps from Google App Store.
Unrooting Kindle Fire
At this point you can get Amazon Instant Video Streaming back by either:
  • Unrooting your device via same SuperOneClick tool you used to root it
  • Install OTA RootKeeper so that you can turn root on and off right from your Kindle Fire without having to use your computer

After device is unrooted you need to “Force stop” Amazon Video app and restart it for video to work again.

Enjoy!

Kindle 4 Disassembly – Part I

So my Keyboardless Kindle 4 (we can call it that since it is the first Kindle device to hit the market that features software 4.0) arrived late in the evening. Surely enough my curiosity got the better of me and armed with a screwdriver and tweezers I set out to take it apart and see what is inside.

Normally one would open a Kindle by prying the back cover off with something sharp and pointy (screwdriver or knife). Kindle 4 resisted my attempts to open it up and when I finally did I understood why – top and bottom latches are much stronger than the rest so you need to bend the center of the cover up to let them slide out. On top of that it turned out that back cover is glued to the internal battery cover with adhersive gel. You need to apply some force to pop it open. If you decide to repeat my steps – be warned that your warranty will definitely be voided. My Kindle 4 device bears clear signs of being opened. There is no way to do it gracefully. Clearly the K4 is not meant to be user-serviceable or serviceable period.

Popping the back cover off reveals battery and motherboard. Most of the interesting stuff is covered with metal and I’ll leave it at that for the time being. I don’t want to ruin the device until I play around with the software. But fear not – soon enough the mission will be complete and I’ll post pictures of bare motherboard even if I end up bricking the device.

kindle4-rfid-tag

Kindle-4-rfid-tag

On the back of the cover there is RFID tag manufactured by UPM. It reads “UPM + 253_1″. Perhaps it is used to automate the personalization process (Kindle comes to your doorstep already configured with your Amazon account. It turns out that Amazon started putting RFID tags inside Kindle 3 and I missed it during my last disassembly.

Kindle4-disassembly

kindle-4-disassembly

Internally Amazon uses T-6 screws rather than Philips like in Kindle 3.

Taking the cover off the LiPo (Lithium Polymer) battery reveals its specs:

  • Model No: MC-265360
  • Rating (Voltage): 3.7V
  • Battery capacity: 890mAh (3.29Wh) – this is almost half that of Kindle 3. And not surprisingly Kindle 4 claims half the battery life of Kindle 3 – one month. Which is still plenty
  • Made in China by NcNair
  • Part Number: 515-1058-01
Kindle4 battery

Kindle 4 battery

WiFi chipset is Atheros AR6103T-BM2D 26AR0620.142D PAF284.1B 1126 made in Taiwan. This is very interesting because doing a Google search for AR6103T returns zero results. Nothing. The chip is not mentioned on the net at all. It is clearly a part of AR6103 chip family but seems to be a newer modification. AR6103 chips feature:

  • 2.4GHz 802.11b, 802.11g and 1-stream 802.11n. This means that it can only put though up to 72.2 Mbps in the 802.11n mode.
  • WEP, WPA, WPA2 (TKIP and AES) and WAPI encryption
  • 802.11e, WMM and WMM-PS QoS
  • 8.3mm x 9.2mm LGA package
Kindle4 Atheros WiFi Chip

Kindle 4 Atheros WiFi Chip

Small chip between battery and buttons is Winbond W25Q40BVIG is 512 kilobyte Quad SPI flash with clock speed of 104MHz, 3V power rating and erase block sizes of 4K, 32K and 64K. It has been in manufacture since Q3 2009. It sits right on wires that go to eInk screen. Screen model is ED060CF(LF)T1 REN60B7075(C62)

Kindle 4-Winbond-flash-W25Q40BVI

Kindle 4-Winbond-flash-W25Q40BVI

There is quite a bit of free space around the battery that could have been used for one or some of the following:

  • Larger battery
  • Speakers or at least audio-codec and mini-jack headphone connector
  • 3G modem
  • Memory card (SD or MMC) reader

Perhaps Amazon will add some of these things in the future. Or perhaps they will leave this space empty forever to keep the weight and cost down.

If there is a serial console like in previous Kindle generations, it is not obvious or easily accessible.

To be continued… Continued here: Kindle 4 disassembly – part II

Kindle Hack Brings 3.1 Firmware to Kindle 2 and Kindle DX

While the general functionality of the Kindle hasn’t changed much from version to version, at least as far as the act of reading goes, as time goes on the newer firmware for the latest generation of Kindles has introduced a few things that owners of the earlier models might be justifiably unhappy about not having access to.  Even if you do read enough eBooks for the Kindle to pay for itself in a year or two, nobody really likes the idea of being forced to buy a whole new one from time to time just to be able to use the newest options.  Working with this concept, an inventive individual by the name of Yifan Lu has managed to come up with a way for owners of the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX to update their devices to the latest version of Amazon’s firmware.

It isn’t a quick process necessarily, but it seems to be a well outlined process.  You need a jailbroken Kindle 3 handy(instructions on how to do that are provided as well) in addition to the device you are upgrading in order to extract the working 3.1 setup, but other than that there’s nothing special required in terms of equipment.  Even that is simply to avoid possible penalties from Amazon for distributing the copyrighted code behind the Kindle, but you can’t blame somebody for wanting to avoid that.

There are a number of benefits to updating to Kindle 3.1:

  • Real Page Numbers
  • Improved Web Browser
  • Improved PDF Support
  • and More!

The disadvantage, of course, is that doing this will be complicated for your average user and might carry some small amount of risk to it.  Also, at present there are two major bugs that arise from this update.  The audio player becomes effectively unusable thanks to degraded sound quality, and Kindle Active Content will not work.  Both of these may be fixed at some time in the future, but I haven’t heard with any certainty that they are being actively worked on.  Surprisingly, the upgrade is said to involve no significant decline in performance.

Since the option to run the newer features on older Kindle models is clearly there, it seems a bit manipulative of Amazon to deny them to early customers.  I’m aware that they need to find ways to make money and that it serves to push the newer products that much more effectively, but this isn’t the way to do it in my opinion.  Thanks to this hack, however, if you happen to need a second or third household eReader, you have the option of a fully functional refurbished Kindle 2 with only a little bit of work.  There have been some great deals on them lately if you keep your eyes open.  It’s a good way to get the most for your money even when you dislike the idea of the ad-supported Kindle with Special Offers.  The Kindle 2 isn’t quite as nice to use as the Kindle 3, in my opinion, but that doesn’t make it bad by any means.

If you are interested in this hack, check it out at: http://yifan.lu/tag/kindle/

We take no credit for the work involved in making this great new tool.

New Kindle 3 Review (hands-on)

I’ve just received my new graphite Kindle 3 Reader along with Kindle Lighted Leather Cover. Both items were overnighted by Fedex for a nominal $3.99 a piece thanks to Amazon Prime. So now I can finally get started on this hands-on review of Amazon’s latest gadget.

Kindle 3 at a glance:

Amazon Kindle 3

Amazon Kindle 3

Here are the highlights of Amazon’s new Kindle 3 eBook reader:

  • Small and light В - 7.5″ x 4.8″ x 0.335″, 8.7oz. In fact it’s one of the smallest eReaders out there and the best one by features by size and weight ratio. Easily fits in a small purse or a coat pocket.
  • Sharp and fast 6″ 600×800 eInk screen. The contrast ratio is measurably better (see Kindle screen contrast measurement) that in other eReaders. eInk screen is free of glare and can be read in direct sunlight. There are several options including Leather Cover with LED light and Clip-OnВ Mighty Bright XtraFlex2.
  • 3G + WiFi connectivity. Kindle 3 can download books and access Wikipedia via free 3G connectivity in more than 100 different countries. WiFi (when it’s available) allows faster download speeds and connectivity where GSM data is not available. In some countries including US you can also access any website on the Internet via free 3G coverage.
  • No computer required. You can buy and download books from the device itself.
  • Long battery life. Up to 1 month with wireless off. Up to 3 weeks with WiFi connectivity and up to 10 days with 3G connectivity. You can read as much as you like without having to worry about recharging.
  • Text-To-Speech and fully accessible menus via Voice Guide let you listen to the book as it is read and make Kindle 3 a fully accessible device.
  • 670,000+ modern books with majority priced under $9.99. These include 107 of 111 New York Times Bestsellers. 1,800,000+ older out-of-copyright books available for free. These include books by Mark Twain, Jane Austen, H. G. Wells and other famous and popular authors.
  • First several chapters in any book are available as free sample.
  • Books purchased in Amazon Kindle store can also be read on a variety of different devices and platforms including: PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry.
  • All books purchased from Amazon Kindle store can be shared among all devices connected to the same Amazon account and read simultaneously.
  • Built-in dictionary for instantly looking up word definitions. Alternate dictionaries can also be installed. For example English-Russian dictionary to provide instant translations.
  • Native support for PDF, MOBI, PRC, TXT, JPEG, PNG, GIF and BMP files. DOC(X) is supported via online conversion.
  • Native support for Cyrillic (Russian), Traditional and simplified Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters.
  • Kindle 3 supports Audible (an Amazon subsidiary) audio books and allows bookmarking and chapter navigation. Although it lacks a fully functional audio-player, Kindle can play DRM-free MP3 files as a background music for a book.
  • Social features. You can annotate your books, newspapers and magazines and share your annotations and highlights via Twitter and Facebook.
  • Kindle 3 features upgraded WebKit-based browser that lets you view almost any website on eInk screen.
  • 2 great word games (Shuffled Row and Every Word) with more applications on the way.
  • 4 gigabytes of built in memory that can store up to 3,500 books.

Please read on for in depth review of these features and how they compare to Kindle 2 and other eReaders.

Kindle 3 Unboxed:

As usually both cover and Kindle came in Amazon’s signature “frustration free packaging”. You can easily get to your merchandise just with your bare hands without having to use knives or scissors. It is a minor but nonetheless pleasant element.

Latest Generation Kindle 3 and Lighted Leather Cover Unboxed

Latest Generation Kindle 3 and Lighted Leather Cover Unboxed

Kindle 3 Ergonomics:

Kindle 3 Weight

Kindle 3 Weight

As you can see on our eReader size comparison page, Kindle 3 is one of the smallest eReaders out there. It is also one of the lightest. Although Amazon states 8.7 ounces of weight, actual measured weight is 8.2 ounces. Weighting 8.2 ounces В you can hardly feel it in your hand. Adding another 8 ounces of Leather cover with light to that really feels like a crime. Personally I’m going to shelf the cover at home and only put it on the Kindle while travelling. Amazon really did a great job on the weight and compactness. While Kindle 2 was just the right size to fit into my coat pocket, Kindle 3 fits in it easily with some room to spare.

Power and volume buttons, along with headphone audio jack all moved to the lower edge of the device, leaving all other edges nicely clean. Charging light is now integrated into the power button. Overall this setup is very similar to the original first generation Kindle.

As far a new control layout goes, Lab126 somewhat dropped the ball here in my opinion. Kindle 2 was the ultimate one-handed reader. Jeff Bezos even made jokes about it when interviewed by the media. In Kindle 3, Amazon designers did away with the 5-way controller, replacing it with a 5 button setup that is located much lower. Paging buttons stayed on the same place but became much smaller.

Kindle 3 Symbols Menu

Kindle 3 Symbols Menu

I’m a right-handed person. With Kindle 2 I could hold the device in my right hand and manipulate “Next page”, “Menu”, “Home” and even “Back” button along with the 5-way stick with my thumb. Unless I needed to type an annotation or search for text I never had to engage my left hand. With Kindle 3 paging buttons are still easy to use – you just need to hold the device the same way you did Kindle 2 and slightly rock your thumb to flip pages. Surprisingly I’ve found it easier to to hold Kindle 3 and flip pages with my left hand. 5 navigational buttons along with “Menu”, “Home” and В “Back” are much harder to reach and manipulate with thumb. It’s not impossible but personally I prefer to hold the device in the left hand and use right hand when I need to look up a word or manipulate a menu.

Given the fact that 97% of time it’s the “Next page” button that you are pressing I would consider it a minor defect, but defect nonetheless.

Unfortunately I don’t have any southpaw friends to provide feedback on Kindle ergonomics for left-handed people so I would be more than interested in comments from my readers in this regard and I’ll surely include them in this and subsequent Kindle 3 reviews.

Alphanumeric keyboard lost the numeric row (same as Kindle DX) so now you have to combine the Alt button with upper “QWERTYUIOP” row to type numbers. Slash (/) button was also eliminated so now you need to press Sym-Right-Right-Right-Ok to produce this symbol. Character table invoked by the “Sym” button got a whole new row filled with digits giving you yet another way to type numbers. On Kindle 3 buttons seem to bulge from the device body slightly more than from Kindle 2, making them easier to press. It is a minor plus but a plus nonetheless.

According to this review, larger charging light is easier for partially color-blind people to read than smaller lights in earlier generation Kindles and other eReaders.

Kindle 3 Screen:

Kindle 3 features eInk Pearl screen. eInk screens don’t have any light source and only require small amount of power to change the picture. Static pictures can stay on the screen forever without draining the battery at all. Since eInk screens are reflective, they can be read from easily under direct sunlight just like regular paper book.

Amazon claims that Kindle 3 has “50% better contrast ratio that any other eReader” and it seems that this claim does have some merit. Although I don’t know which methodology Amazon used in their tests and I’m a amateur photographer rather than a professional colormetrist, I did some measurements of my own and it does look like Kindle 3 beats other eReader in terms of contrast.

Kindle 3 Screen Contrast Test

Kindle 3 Screen Contrast Test

I took a sheet of office paper and cut a rectangular hole in it to do measurements. Then I created a picture that was half fully black and half fully white. I displayed the picture on several eReaders that I had and photographed both white and black sections of the image covered by paper in such a way that only hole and paper would be in the frame. To make sure that all pictures are created equal I disabled all automatics and post-processing in my DSLR and used flash in manual mode to get consistent lighting. For better accuracy I used 16 bit/color channel resolution. I then blurred pictures to eliminate noise and measured intensities of reference paper, black and white sections of eReader screen in Photoshop. Since light intensity of the same piece of paper differed by less than 1% on all pictures I assume that my measurements were accurate enough. I then calculated white and black intensities relative to reference paper intensity and relative white to black intensity of each reader that represents contrast.

eReader/Measure Black/Reference White/Reference Contrast (White/Black)
Kindle 3 6.44% 69.11% 10.72 : 1
Kindle 2 12.22% 74.00% 6.05 : 1
Nook 14.22% 73.33% 5.15 : 1
Sony PRS-600 29.11% 64.66% 2.22 : 1

As you can see Kindle 3 is a clear leader in the contrast front with white to black ratio of almost 11. While all eReaders produce comparable white intensities, it is black intensity that really differentiates them and defines contrast ratio. Kindle 3 clearly produces darkest blacks of all devices, followed by Kindle 2 and Nook. It’s white is not as bright as the one one produced by older generation of eInk screen found in Kindle 2 and Nook but overall it clearly wins.

I was quite a bit surprised by Nook performance since I actually expected it to outperform Kindle 2 in contrast department. When I picked it up in the store couple of months ago the first thing that struck me was sharpness and contrast of text. It still looks sharp to me so I guess that it has to with fonts and the way they are rendered on the screen.

Sony PRS-600 touch edition is a clear outsider here – no surprise. Adding touchscreen layer on top of eInk really ruins the image clarity. Now I have actual numbers to back it up.

The new Kindle 3 screen has the same resolution of 600×800 with the same 6″ diagonal, giving it the same 167ppi spatial resolution. This resolution is adequate for comfortable reading at any reasonable font size.

Amazon claims 20% faster page turns. While I wasn’t able to test and accurately measure this metric subjectively it does seem to be true when I compare Kindle 3 and Kindle 2 side-by-side.

Kindle 3 Battery:

Kindle 3 Battery

Kindle 3 Battery

Although officially Kindle 3 battery is not user-replaceable, it’s very easy to pop the cover off (you just need a thin screwdriver or a knife). Kindle 3 comes with LICO S11GTSF01A 3.7V 1750 mAh Lithium Polymer battery. This is an upgrade compared to 1530 mAh battery by the same manufacturer found in Kindle 2.

According to Amazon it allows up to 1 month battery life with wireless off and up to 3 weeks with wireless on for В WiFi-only Kindle 3 and up to 10 days for WiFi + 3G Kindle.

Buy doing some simple math we can calculate average current drains of about 2.4 mA with wireless completely off, 3.5 mA when running on WiFi and 7.3 mA when running on 3G + WiFi.

Many people are wondering about what would cover with built-in LED light do to the battery life. Luckily I had a digital multimeter and a piece of wire handy so I was able to measure the drain current of the cover as well. It turned out to be 76.6 milliamperes. This by an order a magnitude larger than what Kindle 3 consumes even with wireless on. So with LED light on battery life is going to be between 20.85 and 22.15 hours of constant reading. This is about twice as long as 10 hour battery life of Apple iPad.

Even though the battery is not officially replaceable, it should not be a big problem. Since Kindle can go on weeks without a recharge, this means fewer recharge cycles per year and therefore more years of total battery life.

Another thing worth pointing out is the fact that Kindle 3 would use WiFi network whenever it is available and disable 3G. Depending on how power management is implemented in hardware in software it might be possible to get same 3 weeks battery life on 3G+WiFi Kindle if the device is within WiFi range most of the time.

Kindle 3 Font Options:

Kindle 3 Font Test

Kindle 3 Font Test

With the latest firmware Kindle 3 supports 8 font sizes, 3 typefaces, 3 line spacing settings and 3 line widths. Overall this gives you 168 different ways to display any text. I ran some tests to give get an idea how these settings differ by displaying “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” sentence over and over on the same page.

On default settings (Font size #3, regular typeface, large line spacing, default words per line) Kindle screenВ accommodates 221 words. Following table illustrates the effect of different font settings on the number of words per page:

Setting Number of words
Font size #1 160%
Font size #2 117%
Font size #3 100%
Font size #4 65%
Font size #5 47%
Font size #6 35%
Font size #7 14%
Font size #8 8%
Regular typeface 100%
Condensed typeface 119%
Sans Serif typeface 124%
Small line spacing 122%
Medium line spacing 110%
Large line spacing 100%
Fewest words per line 68%
Fewer words per line 83%
Default words per line 100%
Most words per page 240%
Least words per page 2.7%

While in my opinion “words per line” setting that was originally introduced on Kindle DX doesn’t make much sense on a small 6″ screen, other settings give users lost of ways to customize their reading experience.

When reading PDF files none of these options are available since fonts are embedded into the files themselves. However there is “contrast setting” with 5 possible values: “lightest”, “lighter”, “default”, “darker”, “darkest”. What it really does is control the weight (boldness) of the font. Is very useful for making small fonts readable without having to zoom into PDF or change screen orientation.

Kindle 3 PDF Support:

Kindle 3 PDF Viewer

Kindle 3 PDF Viewer

Initially PDF native support was introduced in Kindle DX. Back then Kindle software lacked support for zoom and pan so large 9.7″ screen was the only way to deal with documents that are intended for letter size paper (due to the way PDF format works it may be impossible to reflow text in PDF files, although Sony PRS-600 seems to be quite good about it). Since then PDF support was backported to Kindle 2 and after that received several upgrades.

In Kindle 3 you can:

  • Zoom and scroll/pan PDF files. One good alternative to zooming is changing screen orientation to landscape and using paging buttons to scroll the page up and down.
  • Do dictionary lookups just like with regular books.
  • Highlight and annotate PDF files. Although annotations can be shared via Twitter and Facebook users will only see your annotation text but not the portion of the document you’ve annotated. Perhaps Amazon will fix this issue in the future.
  • Search within PDF file.
  • Change font weight.

You still can’t use any external or internal document hyperlinks or use built-in table of contents. This can be somewhat alleviated by searching for chapter names or using “Goto page number” menu function. Hopefully hyperlinks are also on Amazon’s TODO list.

Overall I can say that compared to “fair” PDF support in Kindle 2, Kindle 3 has “good” PDF support that can become “excellent” some day.

Kindle 3 Wireless Options:

Historically Kindle has shipped with free 3G wireless connectivity. Initially it was available though Sprint CDMA network only in the US. In 2009 when International Kindle 2 was released, Amazon switched to AT&T GSM network with roaming agreements in more than 100 countries.

Kindle 3 comes in two flavors: WiFi Only and 3G + WiFi. WiFi only option is $50 cheaper, slightly lighter and gets one more week of battery life. WiFi + 3G Kindle users the same AT&T 3G GSM network with international roaming as international Kindle but will use protected and unprotected WiFi networks whenever they are available. AT&T bills Amazon around $0.15 per megabyte of downloaded data so it’s a reasonable step for Amazon to forgo this cost while providing users with higher download speeds.

I’ve tested Kindle 3 with AT&T 3G connection and in WiFi mode with my home wireless network and with Sprint EVO 4G in mobile hotspot mode. Every time it worked perfectly. Both 802.11B and 802.11G networks are supported.

People who have mobile hotspot capable smartphones (ex: Android-based phones) may opt for the cheaper $139 Kindle WiFi and still enjoy global wireless connectivity via their phone. Personally I opted for $50 upfront 3G fee for the added convenience always-on connectivity and not having to worry about phone battery charge (mobile hotspot drains phone battery really fast).

Amazon claims 1 week longer battery life for WiFi only Kindle with wireless on compared to 3G + WiFi version. However Kindle 3 would always prefer WiFi connection to 3G so if it is smart enough to completely power off 3G modem when it is not used 1 month uptime for Kindle 3G may also be possible if the device spends most of the time within WiFi range.

It’s also worth noting that there are no separate controls for WiFi and 3G. There is a single menu option “Turn Wireless On/Off” that controls both radios.

Kindle 3 Social Features:

Kindle 3 has the same set of social features as recently released Kindle DX Graphite. You can share highlights and annotations from the books that you read with your friends via Twitter and Facebook. This features also works in newspapers and magazines but not in blogs (it’s a pity since despite doing most of my work on computer I prefer to read blogs like TechCrunch on Kindle if possible)

On top of that Kindle has a kind of social network of its own. You can opt-in to share your book highlights with Amazon. This way passages highlighted by multiple people become highlighted in the book as you read it and made available online. For example you can check out the most highlighted passages from “Eat, Pray, Lovehere.

Kindle 3 Web Browser:

Kindle 3 Browser Article Mode

Kindle 3 Browser Article Mode

Kindle 3 comes with new WebKit-based web browser that does a much better job at rendering websites than previous browser in Kindle 2. New browser is much faster, more standard compliant and generally better at displaying complex web pages.

When I previously compared Kindle 2 with Nook, Nook was a hands down winner in web-browser department. Websites loaded much faster and nicer than with Kindle 2. In fact some websites Kindle 2 failed to load at all.

Kindle 3 addressed this problem nicely. Previously I would only use Kindle 2 browser as a last resort (if my smartphone wasn’t available) for anything other than Wikipedia. With Kindle 3 I would have to admit that web-browsing is quite usable and fast. In fact with some websites larger screen gives Kindle an advantage over smartphones. I did several side-by-side tests with Nook and found that loading speed was almost exactly the same. It didn’t have any problems even with active javascript content like eReader size comparator.

Another killer feature is “Article Mode”. It is specifically tailored for blogs. When it is turned on Kindle strips away headers, sidebars etc and displays only article content from the page (including images). Since this mode takes away all fancy formating, paging back in forth is extremely fast.

Overall with proper browser, free unlimited 3G Internet and WiFi option Kindle is a clear leader among eReaders when it comes to web-browsing.

Other Kindle 3 Features:

Kindle 3 added native support for several ranges of Unicode characters, including Cyrillic (Russian), Traditional and simplified Chinese, Japanese and Korean. You no longer need to install hacks or convert your books to PDF to read them on Kindle. All you need to do is save text file in UTF8 encoding and copy it into Kindle documents folder. Hopefully Amazon will enable these characters in self-published books soon so international dictionaries including English-Russian dictionary can be properly published.

Kindle 3 Unicode Support (Russian, Chinese, Japanese)

Kindle 3 Unicode Support (Russian, Chinese, Japanese)

Kindle 3 has 4GB of built-in flash memory with 3.3 gigabytes available for your books, documents, photos and MP3 files. This is an upgrade compared to 2GB in Kindle 2.

Audible audiobooks are supported just as they were in Kindle 2.

Kindle 3 retains all of Kindle 2 Easter eggs, including picture viewer, calculator, minesweeper and gomoku.

There are two word game apps available for Kindle: Shuffled Row and Every Word. More applications are on the way.

Kindle 3 doesn’t have an accelerometer like Kindle DX so page orientation needs to be changed manually.

Kindle 3 Lights and Covers

Kindle 3 is a very lightweight device. Even so accidental drops might break it and the screen is not resistant to scratches. So protective covers are recommended. Although one is not included with the device itself, Amazon offers two models in seven colors each:

Kindle Lighted Leather Cover has a built in LED light. Cover hinges are conductive so the light draws power from Kindle battery. Estimated battery life with the light on is around 21 hours. The cover generally gets good reviews on Amazon. Unfortunately it is quite heavy. At 8oz weight it doubles the weight of the device. Nice thing about this cover is that the light shuts off when Kindle goes to sleep so it will not drain the battery if you leave it on the table and forget to turn off the light.

If you just need the light and not the cover Mighty Bright XtraFlex2 might be the way to go for you. It weights under 3 ounces, runs off 3 AAA batteries and clips-on to almost anything (including Kindle). Although I don’t know exact battery life of this light I can say that I’ve had it for more than a year and it still runs on original Duracell batteries that came with it.

If you want cover but not the light, there is basic leather cover. It is roughly 1.5 ounces lighter, costs $25 less than the one with the light and does a great job protecting your Kindle from scratches and falls.

Kindle 3 Leather Covers

Kindle 3 Leather Covers

Be aware that Kindle 3 has a different cover hinge configuration from Kindle 2 so covers designed for Kindle will not work.

Kindle 3 Disassembled:

Seeing how easy it is to remove Kindle 3 cover since there are no parts attached to it either outside or inside at all I couldn’t resist the temptation to take it off and snap the following picture (click to see full resolution version).

Kindle 3 Disassembled Kindle 3 Disassembled

Here’s a scoop of what I was able to see:

  • Battery is 3.7V 1750 mAh 6,47Wh Li-Po В LICO S11GTSF01A branded for Amazon Kindle. Kindle 2 contained 1530 mAh battery so this is a slight upgrade.
  • 3G modem is AnyDATA DTP-600W, FCC ID: P4M-DTP-600W, IC : 4594A-DTP600W.
  • WiFi card is Atheros AR6102G.
  • It uses Wolfson Microelectronics WM8960G stereo codec and 1W speaker and headphone driver chip.

At the moment I didn’t want to dig deeper since I didn’t want to risk accidentally ruining the device before this review is done. I promise to take a better look at what’s inside in the future.

Conclusion:

At $189 price point Kindle 3 is the best value for money eReader on the market. It is a third generation device and Amazon has addressed few issues and shortcomings that previous generations had. At the moment it has the best eInk screen among all eReaders that I’m aware of. It is a a well-polished device that is optimized for reading books and at that it excels. In addition to reading books Kindle 3 provides good experience for browsing the web (especially when one considers the fact that global Internet access is gratis from Amazon), listening to audio-books, and playing simple games.

At $139 Kindle WiFi with the same sharp and high-contrast screen and other features is a steal given wide availability of free WiFi internet worldwide.

While it has some potential for improvement (like any other device), issues like PDF table of contents support can be addressed by a software update in the future.

However don’t just take my word for it – check out what people are saying in their reviews.

Unicode Fonts Hack updated for Kindle Software 2.5.2 and 2.5.3

Kindle 2 International with Unicode Fonts

Kindle 2 International with Unicode Fonts

As the image above implies I’ve updated the hack to work with the most recent versions of Kindle software: 2.5.2 and 2.5.3. The instructions and updated links can be found here: Kindle Unicode Font Hack.

I tested the hack with Kindle 2 US, Kindle 2 International and Kindle DX. Unfortunately I don’t have Kindle DX International to test it on but I see no reason why it would be any different there.

Enjoy!

Unicode Font Hack and Kindle Software Update 2.5.2

Many of you have been asking and I wasn’t able to give you an answer. Well… now that 2.5.2 is available for everyone to download from Amazon.com website, it’s official. Amazon has fixed the tarbomb vulnerability in the update installer. So jailberaking and hacking the Kindle is not possible now unless you are willing to mess with hardware or have something like telnet or “unbrick”  hack (that doesn’t interfere with official updates) installed. If you do, then you should know your way around Kindle well enough to be able to replace fonts yourself. If you don’t then you’ll have to stick with reading Unicode on Kindle via PDF or figure out how to hack it for yourself.

As simple as UFH installation was, some people still bricked their devices with the old hack for one reason or another. So until a new method of jailbreaking the Kindle is found that is as simple as the old ones, I’m going to postpone UFH development.

Sorry, I wish I had better news for you.

Uninstalling old version of UFH

There seems to be a small problem with the latest UHF update. The newest uninstaller doesn’t remove old versions of the hack. Since all my Kindle devices have software 2.3 now I can’t debug the issue. I’ve made old version of uninstaller available that should do the job:

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Unicode Fonts Hack for Kindle 2.3

This updated version of Kindle Unicode Fonts Hack works on all versions of Kindle software including the most recent 2.3 and installs on Kindle 2 US, Kindle 2 International and Kindle DX.

I’ve added more font combinations:

  • GNU FreeFont – this hack uses GNU Free Fonts that come with Linux and are free to redistribute. All font styles are preserved (serif, sans-serif, mono-spaced, bold and italic) but these fonts only support Latin, Cyrillic characters and some others (click here for full coverage data). So if you are only interested in Russian books – this is the way to go. Otherwise this patch will do you little good. Here are download links:

kindle-ufhack-v03-gnu-free-font-serif

kindle-ufhack-v03-gnu-free-font-sans

  • Droid Fallback Fonts (recommened for Asian glyphs) - this hack uses open-source Droid fallback font that is part of Google Android platform. Unfortunately styles and typefaces are missing completely. You’ll only get regular Sans Serif. The upside is the broadest character support. It supports Cyrillic, Chinese, Japanese and a bunch of other languages. This font also looks very good on the Kindle screen (in my opinion way better than native Kindle fonts). This is the patch I currently have installed on my Kindle 2. Here are download links:

kindle-ufhack-v01-droid

kindle-ufhack-v03-droid-serif

kindle-ufhack-v03-droid-sans

Visit the Kindle Unicode Fonts Hack page for detailed instructions.

Unicode Font Hack v0.2, now for Kindle International too!

kindle-international-unicode-font-hackI’ve create Unicode Font Hack that also works on Kindle 2 International. I’ve also reorganized the files to minimize download times. Each device/font combination can now be downloaded as separate file. That file would contain only update binaries. Source code for all binaries can be downloaded separately. I’ve updated the hack page accordingly. You can find instructions as well as more detailed information there.

I’ve made the following changes to the hack:

  • Removed browser only hack since it didn’t add much value – if you still want it you’ll need to build it from the sources yourself.
  • Changed the uninstaller so that it removes extra font files completely as some of you have requested this feature.
  • Since droid hack uses the same font, rather than making multiple copies I’m using symlinks now so the hack uses less disk space on Kindle.

Here are installation instructions:

  1. Download one of the following files:
    1. Droid fonts: this is an open-source font that comes from Android Google OS. This font looks quite nice and supports Asian characters. However it only comes in sans serif style:
    2. Liberation fonts. These fonts come from RedHat linux and are open-source. Personally I don’t find them as nice as droid. It doesn’t support Asian characters. However it does support all 3 font styles – serif, sans serif and mono-spaced.
  2. If you have international version of Kindle 2 you need to jailbreak it first:
    1. Connect your Kindle to PC via the USB cable.
    2. Download this file: update_freekindle-k2i.bin
    3. Copy it to the root directory of your Kindle.
    4. Press Home. Press Menu. Select Settings. Press Menu. Select Update Your Kindle. Select OK.
    5. The update WILL fail. This is expected. However from now on you will be able to install custom Kindle updates.
  3. Connect your Kindle to PC via the USB cable.
  4. Copy update package that corresponds to your device to to the root directory of your Kindle.
  5. Press Home. Press Menu. Select Settings. Press Menu. Select Update Your Kindle. Select OK.
  6. The update will install, Kindle will restart and when it does – new fonts are going to be in effect. Please not that for International Kindle it will take some time before the installation progress bar moves as font files are large and it takes a long time for Kindle to verify the update signature.

To uninstall:

  1. Connect your Kindle to PC via the USB cable.
  2. Download  and copy uninstall package that corresponds to your device to to the root directory of your Kindle.
  3. Press Home. Press Menu. Select Settings. Press Menu. Select Update Your Kindle. Select OK.
  4. The update will install, Kindle will restart and when it does – old fonts will be used and there will be no trace of the hack in the Kindle file system. So official updates will install once again.

If you would like to customize the fonts – you can do so by downloading the hack sources and modifying them. I have to warn you that this is risky business though. It may be a good idea to install the antibrick hack before you proceed.

Kindle anti-brick hack

When I was first working on Unicode Font Hack for Kindle 2 I bricked mine by messing up the fonts configuration. This prevented Java GUI from starting up so I had to way to install an update that would reverse the change.

While this hack will not fix your already bricked Kindle it will give you a chance to unbrick yours in the future. All it does is it installs a startup script that would scan check system directory for exec.sh and execute commands that are in there. File is then renamed to exec.sh.done to avoid infinite executions. This will give you a chance to run some commands even if Java GUI doesn’t start for one reason or another. It will also give you ability to run commands on your Kindle without having to roll updates for every command, use serial console or USB networking hack.

Since this gives you the ability to run any commands on your Kindle this surely gives you the ability to irreversibly brick it as well. So if you don’t know your way around Linux I don’t recommend you install it at all.

That being said, the hack can be downloaded here: kindle_antibrick.zip

All you need to do is copy appropriate  (update_antibrick-k2.bin for Kindle 2, update_antibrick-kdx for Kindle DX and update_antibrick-k2i for Kindle International) file into root directory of Kindle USB drive just like any other hack. It will also copy small sample exec.sh into system directory. Upon successful installation this script will create a file antibrick-success.txt in the root folder.

If you are doing this on Kindle 2 international you need to jailbreak your Kindle first.

Since it doesn’t change any existing files it is not intrusive in regard to official Amazon updates and will not prevent them from being installed.

update_antibrick_remove-*.bin files remove the hack. Once again you should use the file that corresponds to your device version.

I’ve decided to publish this before I publish the updated Unicode Fonts hack so that people who would want to modify the hack may install this first.

Jailbreaking the International Kindle

I was quite close to publishing similar findings myself but Jean-Yves Avenard beat me to it. It is now possible to create custom updates for International Kindle that runs firmware 2.2.* Fortunately there is no need for hardware changes

A little background information first. A while back Igor Skochinsky found serial console connector on Kindle 1 and reverse engineered scripts that Kindle uses to update it’s firmware. Since Amazon is paying for it’s wireless traffic they don’t push full firmware dumps as updates but rather compressed linux patches that only change the things that need to be changed and are relatively small. In Kindle 2 same scripts were used. The only thing that changed was device ID. This was to safeguard against installing update for wrong Kindle device rather than to prevent custom update installation altogether. Kindle DX was a similar story.

However it all changed when Kindle 2 International came out. There was a device ID change as well but updates still failed to install. Using debug commands that still worked (you need to type then in the home screen search box – they are quite harmless will not break your Kindle):

  • ;debugOn
  • ;dumpMessages

Amonng other housekeeping messages it returned the folloing lines:

091021:102422 EXT3 FS on mmcblk0p1, internal journal
091021:102422 system: I _otaupexec:def:processing update /mnt/us/update_tool.bin
091021:102422 system: I _otaupexec:def:version is “FC02″
091021:102422 system: I _otaupexec:def:update image checksum OK
091021:102422 system: E _otaupexec:def:signature does not exist for “tool.sh”
091021:102422 system: E _otaupexec:def:signature verification failed

So it looked like Amazon was signing update packages now. Worst case scenario would have been usage of asymmetric encryption keys like RSA that would be impossible to break until we have working full-scale quantum computers. Best case would be Amazon using something simple – like tar file scrambling that they are using to “encrypt” the whole update file.

I was trying to break into the Kindle via serial console that can be exposed by sliding the top plastic cover off the device but fried my Kindle in the process.

While I was waiting for the new device to arrive, mobileread.com member clarknova suggested using a tarbomb to break into the new Kindle. He assumed that new Kindle would still use the old code to extract files from the update before verifying the signatures. It proved to be true. A tarbomb exploits the fact that linux tar would extract anything that is given to it and might put it somewhere where package receiver didn’t intent it to go. For example older versions would honor relative paths, so if tarball contained file ../../etc/rc5.d/S00kill-code and most likely user would try to unpack the file in /home/username, the malicious file would go into /etc/rc5.d/ and get executed on the startup. While version of tar that is installed on Kindle discards parent directory references, it allows to unpack a symlink that points anywhere in the filesystem. This allowed to craft an update that would still fail to install but in the process would deposit a startup script that would unlock further access to Kindle internals.

Unfortunately Amazon did use the asymmetric encryption to sign the packages. Fortunately there is a very nice way around. Kindle doesn’t use just one key to verify the signature – it enumerates all key files in /etc/uks directory and if any of the keys yields a positive signature validation – the file passes the test. So Jean-Yves Avenard created a tarbomb that would add extra public key to that directory. He also modified Igor’s script to use corresponding private key to sign all the files in the package.

Nice thing about this mod is that it doesn’t change any files in Kindle filesystem, it just adds. So it will not cause checksum conflicts when installing official Amazon updates in the future. However if you use this jailbreak mod to install other updates like Unicode Font Hack, screensaver, savory, etc that DO change files then standard rules apply – official updates will fail and you’ll need to revert the hacks, install official update manually and then reinstall the hacks. Although I doubt that we’ll see many official Amazon updates anytime soon. I’ll make a separate post on this topic at some other time.

I’m pretty sure that in the next version of the device (International Kindle DX perhaps or whatever comes next), Amazon will fix this vulnerability and serial console might be required to install things on Kindle or perhaps some other security exploit. But for now here are specifics:

You can download the “jailbreak” update here. I’ve tested it on my Kindle and it works perfectly. It also contains the updated script to create your own packages. However I would strongly advise you to do it only if you really-really need to, really-really know that you are doing and are willing to brick your device. Several people were known to irreversible brick their Kindle eBook readers by experimenting with them. I bricked two so far trying to create unicode font hack – one US Kindle 2 a while back another Kindle 2 International recently.

So if you are not sure about what are you doing – stick to pre-canned hacks from verified sources that have been tested to work and have uninstallers available. These are relatively safe though again there is always a chance of something going wrong and hacking the Kindle absolutely does void the warranty.

I’ve tested the pre-canned screensaver hack that can be downloaded here and it does work perfectly.

To avoid having to jailbreak Kindle multiple times and creating potentially conflicting hacks I recommend to all Kindle modders out there to use Jean-Yves Avenard’s packager and private/public key pair for creating Internaional Kindle hacks. I’m going to use it for Unicode Font Hack myself.

Right after publishing this post I’m going to reorganize the Unicode Font Hack a bit and release a new version for all Kindle versions including the international one. Stay tuned!

Hacking the International Kindle – First Attempt

RS-232 to TTL converter for Kindle

RS-232 to TTL converter for Kindle

If you were wondering why there were no posts lately – I’ve been busy trying to come up with a way to install Unicode Font Hack on Kindle 2 International. Rather than ordering ready-made USB-RS232-TTL converter I’ve decided to have some fun with little hardware project and create one myself.

Unfortunately I’ve short-circuited something within Kindle when connecting wires to the serial console and pretty much bricked the unit. This is yet another reminder to people that you shouldn’t try to hack something like Kindle unless you are willing to brick it.

Right now I’m waiting for the next specimen to arrive as I’m determined to make Unicode Font Hack to work and make International Kindle truly international.

I bricked one Kindle a while back when I was creating the original Unicode Font Hack and succeeded on the second attempt. I hope that with international Kindle this will also be the case…

Opening the Kindle to Third Party Developers

The Kindle is great for what it does, but it is by design somewhat limited to Amazon’s vision.  I’ve written on this blog before about allowing third party developers on the Kindle.  It looks like with the upcoming holiday season, talk over whether Amazon should release an SDK has started again.

New York Times makes the argument that since Amazon won’t likely release any new hardware (Both the Kindle 2 and DX are new enough that they’ve never been holiday gifts), it may be beneficial for them to find some new way to innovate before the holidays.  Creating an SDK where anyone could make and sell applications would not only increase the Kindle’s possibilities, but also give it a sort of iPhone recognition for innovation.

Of course, Amazon hasn’t already done this for a reason.  Perhaps over the worries of the publishers, or fears of piracy that could result from opening up the ecosystem, Amazon has not allowed third parties into the Kindle.  But here is where the iPhone example really applies.  iPhone apps undergo a nearly draconian review process, yet the iPhone and its apps continue to be a commercial success.  Amazon could easily decide to create a Kindle app marketplace where they vetoed any programs that, say, abused the wireless or allowed ePub on the device.  Some people would definitely gripe about the restrictions, but the sdk would still be an overall success.  Like the NYTimes article suggests, apps could be created for medical or other specialized niches.  The apps would be in high enough demand and would still be okay with Amazon.

One easy entry into Kindle apps could be board games like chess, go, checkers, monopoly, etc. These can be computationally light, especially if you are playing against the Internet server or another human, cause minimal wireless traffic and look well on Kindle’s eInk display. Right now there are two games on Kindle DX – minesweeper and Gomoku. More can be easily added – either free or for a charge. The ecosystem need not be as open as iPhone from the start and can still bring Kindle success. Lets not forget that even for iPhone it took a year for App store to materialize.

Will this really happen? In my opinion it’s a coin toss. Amazon has to come up with something to generate some Kindle buzz this holiday season when competition is stepping on it’s heels. And I’m pretty sure they will. But it might not be an app store.

Also, just wanted to say thanks to the New York Times for linking to Blog Kindle.  Hello any new readers!

Kindle 2 Hacked to Run Ubuntu

ubuntu-logo1Jesse Vincent who is responsible for a number of Kindle hacks in the past (such as Savory and tethering Kindle 2) managed to get Ubuntu Linux running on the Kindle 2.  Since one branch of the popular distro is ported to run on the ARM architecture that Kindle is based on, it seems like it was should have been possible to run a generic Linux version on the device. Jesse proved it to be true. He has actually been at it for quite a while, having run xdaliclock on the Kindle months ago. It seems that recently he was able make most of the Kindle hardware (like 5-way controller) work.

Hypothetically, there is no limit to what other software could be installed.  It’s even plausible that at some point in the future something like this could become more widespread.  If someone likes the Kindle but not Amazon’s platform, they could install some community supported Kindle OS that was more to their liking.  People already jailbreak iPhones; this could be the Kindle equivalent.

Using text files from lib.ru etc made easier and more

I’ve published the script that I’ve been using personally for quite some time to make plain text files that were preformatted to specific page width nicely reflowable on Kindle and other eBook readers (I’ve tested it with Sony PRS-505). It can also strip any HTML tags and convert between character encodings.

This should make downloading books from websites like lib.ru and gutenberg.org easier for some for some people. More information about how to use the tool as well as download link can be found here.

I’ve also created a summary page for all Kindle hacks and tools that I currently know of. Feel free to let me know if some information needs to be added to updated.

Poll about Kindle Downloader application

I’ve been traveling in the UK for over a month now. One major pain point I encountered with Kindle is downloading periodicals and books to the device without WhisperNet connctivity. It’s one thing when you are in the US, you click on a book and within a minute or two it appears on your Kindle. However if you have to get the file on the device manually, number of clicks increases. As for periodicals, you actually have to manually download it to the device every day. It’s almost as if you had to go to the store for your newspapers rather than have it delivered by subscription.

Being lazy as I am, I put together some scripts that automatically login to amazon.com, check for new content and download it to folder on my PC. Once I connect my Kindle it is automatically synced with the device.

I realized that this software might be useful even for people who don’t travel abroad:

  • Maybe you don’t have Sprint WhisperNet connectivity in your area
  • Or you would like to automatically back up all the digital content you purchase from Amazon
  • Or you want to improve battery life by turning the 3G radio off in Kindle and dock it instead.

I can’t release these scripts to the public right now for a couple of reasons:

  1. They are very crude and are not meant to be used by anyone but me right now. They even have my amazon.com login information hard-coded into them.
  2. They might be considered to be a violation of amazon.com EULA since they can be considered to be a “robot accessing the website”

All this can be fixed. However before investing some effort in making this software usable and getting the OK from Amazon I would like to know if anyone would be interested in this stuff and actually use it. If I see enough interest in the project I’ll release it to the public freely and open-source it if there will be no objections from Amazon.

Please respond in the poll below or in the comments.

Would you be interested in Kindle Downloader application?
View Results

Download PDFs to Kindle DX Directly

Kindle DX cant download PDF

Kindle DX cant download PDF (by nirmalpatel.com)

Although Amazon added native support for PDF to Kindle DX they didn’t add the ability to download these directly from the Internet. I believe that this feature was left out deliberately rather than by chance because Amazon pays Sprint $0.12 for each megabyte downloaded. In the case of PDFs cost of downloading PDFs to users for free can easily top profits from book and device sales because as we know Amazon’s profit is not that big as they are trying to grab as much market as possible.

Recently Nirmal Patel created a hack for Kindle DX (based on the source code of UFHack) that enables direct PDF downloads. Since at the moment I’m outside US and don’t have WhisperNet coverage I can’t truly test it however I looked at the hack – it’s very simple and should work.

It installs and uninstalls just as any other Kindle hack:

  1. Download update_install_download_pdfs_from_browser.bin to install the hack or update_uninstall_download_pdfs_from_browser.bin to uninstall it.
  2. Connect your Kindle to PC using USB cable and copy the file to root folder.
  3. Press “Menu”, select “Settings”, press “Menu”, select “Update Your Kindle” and then select “Ok”.
  4. You Kindle will reboot and changes will be applied.

PDF download hack is compatible with other hacks such as unicode fonts hack and screensaver hack.

While I congratulate Nirmal Patel on this hack I do urge you to enjoy it responsibly and don’t abuse Kindle’s 3G connection because should this become a significant financial liability for Amazon they can easily start signing update packages with strong cryptographic keys and this would prevent any other hacks from working altogether.

Also keep in mind that when you download stuff using your Kindle, Amazon knows:

  1. What exactly and when you download since it all goes through their proxy server.
  2. Where you live since your address is in your account information.
  3. Where you are right now since Kindles can triangulate their position based on cell towers with accuracy of several hundred feet.
  4. Your credit card number since you have it on file so you can buy Kindle books.

Kindle DX Screensaver Hack

Folks at mobileread.com have updated their screen saver hack to work with Kindle DX. It allows you to replace default screen saver images (mostly of famous writers) that appear when Kindle goes into sleep mode with any set of images of your own choosing.

You can download binaries and source code here. Installation is very similar to other Kindle “feature enhancing” hacks:

Instructions for use:

1) Plug your Kindle DX into your computer.

2) Copy “update_DX_screensaverhack-install.bin” to the root of your Kindle DX.

3) Optional Steps:

3a) Change directories to the “system” folder.

3b) Create a new folder called “screen_saver”

3c) Place any 824×1200 PNG image files into the system\screen_saver folder that you just created.

6) Unplug your Kindle DX.

7) Press the “Menu” button on your Kindle DX and select “Settings.”

8) At the Settings page press “Menu” again and select “Update Your Kindle.”

9) When the “update” is done your Kindle DX will reboot and you are done.

If you choose not to do step 3, the system will create the system\screen_saver folder for you and place the default screen savers in it. You can then remove or replace these, or mix them with your own — it’s up to you.

To go back to the default Kindle DX screen savers:

1) Plug your Kindle DX into your computer.

2) Copy “update_DX_screensaverhack-uninstall.bin” to the root of your Kindle DX.

3) Unplug your Kindle DX.

4) Press the “Menu” button on your Kindle DX and select “Settings.”

5) At the Settings page press “Menu” again and select “Update Your Kindle.”

6) When the “update” is done your Kindle DX will reboot and you are done.

More Information:

You can change images at any time, but you must reset your kindle for them to appear (press and hold the slider for 15 seconds). If there are no images then a blank screen will be shown when you go into sleep mode.

As with the K2, JPG/PNG/GIF files all work . You can use JPG, PNG, GIF, any size, although obviously 824×1200 works best. Smaller images are anchored in the upper left corner.

If you would like to restore the original screen savers without removing the hack, simply delete the screen_saver folder and reset your kindle, and the folder will be recreated with the original images in it.

Any official kindle DX updates that patch the file will fail (gracefully) if this is installed (ie. 2.1 to 2.1.1). Use the remove procedure, to restore the default screen savers, then apply the official update, and all will be well.

This hack is compatible with Unicode Font Hack and you can install and uninstall both independently of each other.