The Kindle Fire is a powerful device for the price and as a result many people are eager to get the greatest possible return on their investment. It can definitely do more than what the default UI brings to the user’s attention, given the de-emphasis on apps in favor of media consumption. This has led to an ongoing complaint that the Kindle Fire’s custom launcher is a bar to purchasing because of its break from the general Android experience.
People generally understand, from a financial perspective at least, why Amazon felt the need to cut their tablet off from the Google Marketplace (now Google Play) in favor of the Amazon Appstore for Android. The building a visually distinct user experience tends to be more troubling.
Having had more experience with Android smartphones than tablets, I have generally been inclined to favor the Kindle Fire UI on a personal level. It handles everything I feel the tablet is good for and doesn’t bother me with anything else unless I put it on the Favorites bar. When I got an email from a reader here recently about an app called Go Launcher EX that would change everything around to a more general Android tablet experience without all the trouble of rooting, though, I felt I had to give it a try.
The program is available in the Amazon Appstore, but it is listed as incompatible with the Kindle Fire. This is not entirely the case. If you download the .apk from the developer’s website (making sure to enable side-loading in your Kindle’s settings), it will install with no trouble. The app is freely available.
What you get for the effort is a great deal of customization. Multiple pages of customizable screen space are opened up by default. Widgets are included that will keep you up to date on everything from the weather to your device’s battery life and more are available with little trouble through a built-in store. Technically the backgrounds for the desktop screens are configurable, though that isn’t entirely functional alongside the Kindle Fire’s password screen for some reason. In general, while far more complicated than the default launcher, Go Launcher EX did bring a great deal of the tablet versatility that might be what people want.
Unfortunately, while using the new launcher I found the Kindle to be noticeably slower to react. Even when making use of the included utilities to completely free up active memory in every safe way possible, the experience included stuttering from time to time that reminded me of the Kindle Fire’s state before the first major firmware patch.
On top of this, the shift in emphasis to favor apps over Amazon’s integrated services seems to open up new possibilities at the expense of clarity and intuitive design. For a good half hour I was near to believing it might be impossible to gain access to cloud-stored apps and documents, for example. Overall I can’t really recommend for or against changing your launcher. I think the Kindle Fire shipped with a UI that is fast, intuitive, and plays to the hardware’s strengths. That doesn’t mean it is perfect or that you won’t find things you wish it would do better.
I will probably want to try something like Go Launcher again on a larger tablet, but for now I’m still finding the best uses of such a small device are exactly where they have always been. Apps can help with the consumption focus, but I’ll never need to have half a dozen screens full of them on the Kindle Fire like I do on my phone.
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:
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):
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!
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…
iReaderReview reports interesting piece of news. Someone has started a project to hack the Kindle for use with European wireless networks. It looks like they’ve already managed to switch the modem and add a SIM card, but haven’t yet figured out the software end of the mod.
If you want to make your Kindle’s hardware compatible with European networks, the process seems fairly straightforward. Just take the device apart, add the above mentioned pieces to the puzzle, and zip it back up. But be warned: you won’t actually be able to use wireless until someone releases the requisite software hack.
A fun fact from the project: the hardware is designed in a way that adding your own SIM card is ridiculously easy. Some would even argue that the Kindle was actually meant to be modded for Europe. I find it unlikely that Amazon had hackers in mind, but they probably did design the device with Europe somewhat in mind. Once the Kindle does hit Europe, the hardware will be more or less ready to go without any real changes in the manufacturing process.
Patches were tested by several volunteers and all results were positive. The patch works and doesn’t cause any problems. You can now read books on your Amazon Kindle 2 in Russian, Chinese, Japanese and probably number of other languages.
Currently I’m releasing hack with two different fonts: Liberation that comes from RedHat Linux and Droid that comes from Google Android project. Both fonts are open-source and they are the best ones I could find that suit the needs of this hack. Finding good fonts was much harder than creating the hack itself.
Instructions and download links can be found here. Please-please-please-please-please do be very-very-very-very-very careful if you decide to experiment with adding your own fonts to the hack. If you find good free or reasonably priced fonts that work – please let me know – I’ll test them and make more versions of the hack available here and give you proper credit. Please spread the word about this hack as it will increase chances of someone finding better fonts that can be used with it.
Here are some screenshots of what Kindle 2 with hacked fonts looks like:
I would like to thank John, Ted and some other folks for helping me test this patch. Another big thank you goes to Igor who created the python script that creates Kindle 2 update packages.
I’ll now shift my attention to figuring out creating custom recovery mode updates. Once this is done – I’ll have much more freedom in messing with fonts and other settings without fear of bricking my Kindle 2.
For people who wanted to replace author pictures in Kindle 2 Screensaver with any pictures of their own there is now a solution. clarknova from MobileRead Forums created a custom update that allows you to replace Amazon-supplied pictures that are shown when Kindle 2 goes to sleep with any pictures of your own.
Before you continue with instructions below, please understand that you are doing it at your own risk and this can potentially void your warranty. On the bright side, the update seems small, straightforward and reversable and several people (myself included – see pictures below) have successfully applied it to their devices.
Important thing to remember is that this update changes some configuration files. Official Amazon updates verify file checksums before installing. So while you have this hack installed updates that would try to change the same file will fail. Solution is to reverse this hack (instructions below), apply Amazon update and then reapply the hack.
Before proceeding you may want to take a look at “Updating Kindle Software Post” and make sure that you have the most recent software on your Kindle.
To enable custom screensavers:
Download kindle_screensaver_hack-0.3.zip. This seems to the latest version now and I’ll try to keep this post updated with more versions as they become available.
Connect your Kindle to your PC via USB. Go to the Kindle drive (usually K:\)
Go to the \system folder and create screen_saver subfolder in it.
Copy all of the images you want your screensaver to randomly cycle tough. Both PNG and JPEG formats are OK. While Kindle will resize images it’s best to resize them to 600×800 beforehand. Definitely don’t try putting 10 megapixel photos from your camera there as screensaver would then take long time to load and image will not display right. Good freeware tool to edit images is Paint.NET
Copy Update_kindle2_user_screen_savers.bin that you’ve unpacked in step 2 to the root directory of your Kindle 2.
Unplug the USB cable.
Press “Menu”, select “Settings”, press “Menu”, select “Update Your Kindle”.
It normally should take under a minute to update and reboot your Kindle. And you’re done!
If you did everything right you should see the following in at the bottom of your settings screen.
To revert to standard screensavers:
Connect your Kindle to your PC via USB. Go to the Kindle drive (usually K:\)
Copy Update_kindle2_restore_default_screen_savers.bin to the root directory of your Kindle 2.
Unplug the USB cable.
Press “Menu”, select “Settings”, press “Menu”, select “Update Your Kindle”.
It normally should take under a minute to update and reboot your Kindle. And you’re done!
If you want to disable custom screensavers for good rather than temporarily disable the hack to install Amazon Update, you may want to delete the \system\screen_saver directory you’ve created before. Be extra careful not to delete anything else in the \system directory!
Wikimedia.org may be a good place to stock up on nice copyright-free images.
If you try this hack, please take a minute to post your experience in the comments as I”m sure most people who read this post will be interested in them.
While researching Kindle USB chargers I found these instructions by Alan from SnarkyBytes.com on building your own USB charger cable for Kindle 1. To make one yourself you’ll need:
Some basic tools and skills to use them (don’t try this if you don’t know what are you doing;
“A” tip and pigtail for it (available from RadioShack)
USB cable that will be converted into charger (any USB cable that you can spare will do)
Optionally, a shrink-tube if you want it to look neat.
In the end you’ll have a cable that can be used to charge your Kindle1 from any PC or Mac with USB port or any other universal USB power adapters available on the market. Please use these instructions at your own risk.
It looks like Jesse Vincent has found a way to re-flash Kindle 2 with custom hand-made firmwares. At the moment he’s not uncovering any details of the process. Hopefully, he or somebody else would soon come up with firmware that would support full range of Unicode international characters to enable proper display of Asian, Cyrillic and other characters on web-pages and in downloaded eBooks and documents.
It took Microsoft Zune more than a year to put a Unicode font in the firmware (even considering that Zune is a Windows Mobile-based device, and Windows Mobile had proper Unicode support for ages). This is why I don’t believe we would see Unicode support in official firmware updates from Amazon and Kindle community would be better off helping themselves.
Folks from iFixIt.com have disassembled Kindle 2 and here is brief scoop of what they’ve found:
Battery used is 3.7V 1530mAh Li-Pol battery model number S11S01A. It weights 1.1 oz which is 10% of total weight of the device. It has slightly less capacity than iPhone 3G battery which is 1400mAh. Freescale MC13783VK5 is used as a battery power management chip.
There is no protective cover on the display. So if you scratch it or break it repairs would be quite expensive.
Main processor used is MCIMX31LVKN5C M91E CTAH0850V. It is ARM-11 CPU that runs at 533 Mhz and is manufactured by 90nm process. This is an upgrade from Kindle 1 which used 400 Mhz Marvell PXA255 CPU marked with LUPXA255A0 G7171929.2 0744 KR C400.
RAM is represented by 128MB DDR Samsung K4X1G323PC chip. This is an upgrade compared to 64MB RAM found in Kindle 1.
Flash memory is 2GB moviNAND. Major upgrade from 256MB built in Kindle 1, but as we know it comes at a cost of not having external SD slot.
There is unused space on the PCB for SIM card. This hints to possibility of international versions of Kindle.
It is perfectly possible to access your Gmail account using Amazon Kindle browser. All you need to do is visit the mobile version at http://m.gmail.com rather than full version. Loading full version will cause some kind of error after you enter your login and password. I don’t think it would render well anyway.
So here you go: you can now send and receive emails using your Amazon Kindle anywhere there is WhisperNet (read Sprint) coverage absolutely free of charge courtesy of Amazon :)
I can’t believe that I never did a post about Kindle easter eggs. Here is the most complete one. I’ve checked them all one by one and here are the ones that still work in Kindle 2:
Minesweeper can be started by pressing Alt-Shift-M in the home screen.
Picture viewer is hidden within Kindle 2. To activate it connect Kindle via USB cable to your PC and create “pictures” folder in Kindle USB disk. Create subfolders there and copy pictures. Subfolders will become “book” names and pictures will be pages. JPG, PNG and GIF files are known to be supported. Once you’ve copied the files, disconnect the USB cable and press Alt-Z in the home screen – you should see your picture folders among books now.
You can take screenshots of almost any screen in Kindle by pressing ALt-Shift-G. Screenshots are stored as GIF files in the /documents folder
Symbol shortcuts. When entering text folling shortcuts work:
Alt-6 – ? (question mark)
Alt-7 – , (comma)
Alt-8 – : (colon)
Alt-9 – ” (double quotes)
Alt-0 – ‘ (apostrophe)
Search commands. Typing @help in the search string will display other supported search commands like @dict, @url etc.
Hidden settings.While in settings type one of the following:
411 – shows diagnostic data
611 – shows current radio diagnostics data and keeps refreshing it
Sadly, all location based Google maps services in the browser seem to be disabled.
Recently I stumbled upon a blog which describes how to hack Kindle in great details. Even though I’m not a big hacker myself it is quite interesting to see what is going on in my Kindle internals and what steps I would need to take in order to modify it.
These days if company’s want a device to be a success it has to support as many different standards as possible, be as useful to the user as possible, be as cheap as possible and be as open as possible. There are always exception to the rule, take iPhone for example, but on the whole its an accurate statement.
One way of opening a device up is by offering a software development kit (SDK), I was reading k.indled today and the question came, If Kindle had an SDK, What would you do with it?
One thing I would do is add support for the .epub format, I’m not sure if it would be possible because I am no programmer, but I feel that Kindle must support .epub one day, its the industry standard and I think this will get a lot more publishers on board, especially the ones who have a lot of technical content which isn’t easy to render on the Kindle.
I think Amazon will have to eventually open up the Kindle and they should do it sooner rather than later, having an ‘app store’ similar to the iPhone app store I think would go a long way in helping the Kindle attain mainstream acceptance, and it could open up a while host of other uses for the Kindle.
Have you ever wished that you could use a stylus to write notes on a page or use your fingers to turn the virtual page on your Kindle? well your wish might be about to come true, the company which supplies Amazon with its Kindle EInk displays, PVI (Prime View International), has partnered with a company called F-Origin (of which it owns a 20 percent stake) to incorporate zTouch, a proprietary touch screen technology, into EInk display panels.
From the F-Origin press release:
The functionality and flexibility in design provided by zTouch is the perfect solution for ebooks and other products that utilize PVI’s ePaper displays. zTouch enables users to control book navigation and numerous management functions, such as turning pages, making selections or simply making edits or comments via touch and through gestures and hand writing recognition. The ease of use and high-functionality of zTouch are an ideal match for eBooks by PVI.
From the separate PVI press release:
When a user touches the display, proprietary software calculates the location and intensity of the touch with input from the sensors. There is no additional layer of materials on top of the display as there is in traditional touch technologies; as such, there is no impact to the reflective qualities of the display. This technology requires no ITO (the most fragile component in traditional touch panels), hence exhibits superior robustness. Unlike capacitive touch panels which requires the touch medium be conductive (such as a finger), this force sensing technology works with either stylus or fingers
You can read the full accompanying press release from PVI’s perspective on their website and you can read up on the zTouch 3.0 Technology [PDF warning] with this product information guide provided by F-Origin.
What does this mean? will the next Kindle offer a touch screen interface as standard? The Kindle isn’t mentioned by name by either PVI or F-Origin in the press releases, but its hard to see this technology not making it onto any future incarnation of the Kindle. These certainly are interesting developments and would strongly suggest that Amazon is working on a Kindle v2.
Frank sent me an email about his experiences with the Kindle and how had modified it to create a better reading experience. Here is what Frank thinks about his Kindle:
The Kindle met 95% of my expectations for a perfect reading device. I spend 3 – 5 days each week either on a plane or waiting on a flight. The Kindle has reduced my carry on weight by at least 5lbs of reading material. I am very satisfied with the display and easy access to obtaining reading material but the holder and all aftermarket cases left a lot to be desired. Not only were they uncomfortable to hold but made it impossible avoid that giant next page key and the device easily falls out, especially when reading in bed.
Not satisfied with 95%, I made my own personal cover with a metal clip and a flexible binding that allows the cover to be folded back flat allowing the Kindle to be held on either side.
If you have an image that you would like to submit for Kindle Photo of the Day, then please get in touch! you can send the image via email to - please make sure you include your name and a link to your site.
As it turns out, not only can you read books on your Kindle, you can now eat it!
LilPeaPod from Team Sugar spent her Sunday afternoon cooking up this geeky cake delight and what a result. At first glance it actually looks like a Kindle device, we think it’s a shame it has to be eaten!
Looks delicious! We love the “Kindle Kake”! Check out the cake gallery.
Believe it or not the above picture is not that of a fine old book, but rather a modified case cover for the Kindle! This beautiful piece was made by a user on the mobileread Kindle forum, it features a hand made leather book case, marbleized paper for the end papers, gold leaf to give the impression of gilded pages and a felt-lined holder which keeps the Kindle securely in place. You still don’t believe me do you? in that case I suggest you scroll down the page and have a look at other the images.
Whilst it does look pretty, a few readers on the forums have pointed out that there seem to be some usability issues. For instance on this particular case-mod the cover does not fold back upon itself which may cause readers to use both hands whilst reading content, however the creator of the case mod assured them that it is not a big issue. I guess the only way of telling if it affects usability is by actually using it.
This case-mod simply blows the standard case you get with the Kindle out of the water, or for that matter any other case out there. I think a commercial venture which would offer this to Kindle owners would be an excellent idea, apparently this case-mod it has already fooled some people into thinking that it is a real book!
Now here are some more picture for you to drool over: