About

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.

Recent Comments

September 2014
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
2930  

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.

The Kindle and Tracking: Why Owners Aren’t Outraged

It is practically a given to many people that some amount of what you do on the internet is being tracked.  There is occasional outrage over this, such as when even their less tech savvy subscribers began to catch on to the fact that they were Facebook’s salable resource more than its target audience, but that is just going to be the case when you’re talking about “free” services.  Consumers are usually even less forgiving when they pay full price for something and get their activity tracked anyway.  Why is the Kindle so amazingly popular despite being fairly open in demonstrating that at least some tracking is obviously going on, then?

We can’t say that it is the result of Kindle owners being complacent.  Glance at the reviews of the Free App of the Day in Amazon’s Appstore for Android and you’re likely to see Kindle Fire owners outright attacking app developers for including anything that tracks or otherwise exploits users in what is supposedly the fully paid version of their application.  This is not a shy or understated bunch of people we are talking about, when the situation calls for more forceful reactions.

Where these app developers are chastised for sneaking in tracking, however, Amazon is openly displaying the fruits of their analysis.  This is one part of why they are able to get away with it.  They never deny that user data is being tracked and analyzed.  It is something that people know when they buy into the line.  Amazon is going to keep a list of what you buy, sometimes even what you consider buying, and they will draw conclusions from that.

There is more to it than that, though.  Amazon might be collecting this data for any number of purposes that work for the benefit of the company, but they are offering a clear service to their customers by offering the tailored suggestions that come standard in any Amazon account’s home page.  The popular theory that I have heard voiced is that this alone accounts for the general complacency with which Kindle users in particular take this situation.  At least there is a visible tradeoff here.

I would say that the real explanation is slightly different, although that is a part of it.  Amazon has done a lot to make itself a very customer-friendly company.  More often than anything else, their customer service receives glowing praise.  They not only brought us eBooks in a major way for the first time but actively got into disagreements with suppliers to try to bring them to us at reasonable prices.  Amazon really seems to be one of the few companies left that puts customer satisfaction first.  That makes it easy to trust that they will use any information they collect in a responsible manner.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there is an unconditional trust here.  We all remember the congressional inquiry into the Silk Browser’s privacy features around the time of the Kindle Fire launch.  If there are concerns, they should and do get brought up.  I just find it fascinating that the sort of behavior that causes outrage in other areas gets more or less ignored here.  Maybe Kindle owners are really satisfied enough to feel that Amazon deserves some trust?

Will Amazon Unwittingly Destroy the Kindle?

Kindle Touch

Kindle Touch

It’s been clear since early this year that as the Kindle Fire was taking off so impressively, Amazon was experiencing some amount of decreased Kindle eReader interest among its customers.   It is probably fair to say that most people expected this.  The Kindle accomplishes its narrow purpose well, but many people will always prefer a device that does many things adequately over one that does one thing extremely well.  As the trend continues, and as the Kindle Fire becomes the first in its own line of tablet products, do we have to worry about this being a popular enough substitution to lead to the end of the Kindle eReader?

A year or two ago I would have, and am known to have, argued against the idea.  The strengths of the Kindle are things that you just can’t match in a tablet.  The Kindle Fire’s inferior screen, shorter battery life, and greater weight all make it a distant second-best for reading activities by comparison.  Clearly not everybody is agreeing with those points, as sales estimates for the popular eReader have been declining coming into this year.

I believe it is possible to argue against this being just a matter of one device being somehow better than the other, though.  The real problem is the way that Amazon has segmented their customer base.

If we assume that the Kindle Fire is more appealing to people who only read occasionally, and who would like to get more regular use out of their purchase, that leaves E Ink Kindle buyers as the more dedicated reader base.  Let’s face it, Amazon’s actions lately have not been entirely pleasant for many fans of literature despite bringing prices down.

People get very attached to their favorite authors, and to the idea of authorship in general.  For many, the “One of these days I’m going to sit down and write a book” mantra is less a matter of actual intent and more a sign of respect for the craft.  The cult popularity springing up around any number of self-published Kindle authors is just another sign of this.  By pitting themselves against groups like the IPG, and thereby inspiring even more public condemnation from big name author and those speaking more or less officially on their behalf, Amazon is damaging their pro-reader stance.

I don’t believe that the eReader as we know it is on the way out.  The E Ink Kindle remains one of the best options for reading that money can buy and the combination of great selection with commitment to customer satisfaction works heavily in Amazon’s favor.  This sort of questionable behavior does much to dampen enthusiasm for the product among potential buyers, though.

So is Amazon biting into Kindle sales?  Definitely.  There’s at least as much interference coming from their heavy-handed negotiation tactics as their tablet alternative, though.  The Kindle Fire is an amazing little device and most people seem glad to have it once they take it home, but for reading nothing can beat E Ink so far.  Sadly, Amazon has been doing some work making sure people have doubts about tying themselves to the otherwise amazing Kindle ecosystem in the long term, and so there are issues.

Kindle Fire Having WiFi Problems

There’s been some trouble since the launch of the Kindle Fire.  While responses have been overwhelmingly positive on most fronts, there is a substantial crowd that has been unable to get themselves online with their new tablet at all.  As any amount of hands-on experience will quickly demonstrate, a Kindle Fire without internet access loses a lot of its potential usefulness.  No video streaming, no app store, no store whatsoever for that matter…it isn’t isn’t as much fun!

So what’s the problem, and how do you fix it?  Well, that’s a bit complicated as it turns out.  There are a number of possible issues, so we’ll start with the simplest fixes.  I’ll assume that you’ve already tried rebooting your device, just in case.

Update Your Kindle Fire’s Firmware

While it doesn’t help everybody who tries, the 6.2 update for the Kindle Fire seems to have resolved a lot of connectivity problems.  This is especially true of instances where connections are intermittent and hard/impossible to maintain.

The simplest way to update is to just get online through another network.  If that is not an option, just head over to the Kindle Fire Support page and follow the instructions under “Kindle Resources > Software Update”.

Reset and Update Router Firmware

Pretty much any wireless router you are likely to have will have the option to reset the on-board firmware to factory settings.  If at all possible, follow the instructions included in your manual.  The hardware is too varied to make it worth trying to walk you through it here.

Once that is accomplished, some users have experienced no further troubles.  In general it is recommended that you update to the most recent firmware to have been released by your manufacturer.  This seems to fix even more Kindle Fire issues.

Alternatively, some have had luck installing alternate firmware such as DD-WRT to their router.  If you have a supported device, this would definitely be my own personal choice.  It is simple enough to do by following directions and tends to offer greater control than what most manufacturers provide.  Use only at your own risk, of course.

Change Your Network Settings

In some rare instances, it can simply be a matter of problems with basic details not working with the tablet.  Extremely long SSIDs, for example, have been known to prevent connection entirely.  Setting a Static IP for the Kindle Fire sometimes helps as well.  As a last resort, forcing Wireless N broadcasting and manually setting the Channel sometimes seems to do some good.

Call Amazon

If none of this works for you, or it simply isn’t an option, the best option is probably to get in touch with Amazon.  They have been compiling details on ongoing problems and will hopefully begin having more luck the more information they have available.  Some routers have proven to be completely incompatible so far, for example.

Remember that as a last resort (and I believe that the vast majority of problems can be solved by taking these troubleshooting steps) Amazon very rarely balks at accepting returns from dissatisfied customers.  There’s no real motivation to keep around something that can’t perform the basic tasks you purchased it for.  Wait on further firmware updates and try again later.

Are Airport Scanners Making Kindle Carrying Risky?

This time of year travel is anything but rare and chances are good that at some point a delay will have you sitting in an airport with nothing to do.  The obvious solution is to bring your Kindle along for the ride.  Reading is always a pleasant way to kill time, of course.  The problem comes in deciding whether or not this is safe to do.

There have been numerous reports of airport security causing Kindle screen failure in the past and it continues to be an issue.  Amazon denies that the usual sort of security scanners employed in airports have any chance of harming their eReaders.  Even leaving aside my own personal anecdotes involving extensive holiday travel having failed to do anything to a Kindle, they’re obviously correct.  The radiation being used in these scanners is simply far too weak to manage to do any real harm to E INK displays, even over the course of repeated scane.

Where it gets tricky is in the associated mechanisms.  Naturally, to speed up the processing, belts are employed to feed baggage through scanners.  We’ve all seen or used them from time to time.  These long rubber belts, constantly in motion, have the potential to build up a significant charge.  Some estimates have indicated it could easily reach or exceed 100 volts.  In instances where this discharges through a Kindle, of course it is going to freeze the E INK permanently in place.  Of course, that sort of thing isn’t particularly good for just about any piece of electronics.

While it seems unlikely that this phenomenon alone is sufficient to account for all of the reports of travel damage, keep in mind that it is travel damage.  Tight bags, rough handling, and not infrequent jostling in crowds and tightly packed planes inevitably takes its toll.  Given that the Kindle line makes use of display technology that is notoriously brittle, it is to be expected to some extent.

In order to ensure safety for your favorite Kindle, especially the eReader models since the Kindle Fire has proven extremely resilient, there are a few things you can do.  The simplest is packing carefully.  Make sure that your Kindle is in a good protective case or at least not in a position to be supporting any weight or accepting any major pressure.  This won’t be particularly helpful if you are one of the rare cases of airport scanner damage, but for general hits it makes all the difference.

If you are particularly concerned about the scanner, keep in mind that the damage likely to be the result of static discharge.  They make cheap protective products for help with that.  Many people employ antistatic bags to protect data storage devices in transit and they should work just as well for the Kindle.

The overwhelming majority of the time, you have nothing to be worried about.  What people remember are the rare exceptions and that tends to make for some rumors being blown out of proportion.  Fortunately, even if you should end up with problems all reports indicate that Amazon has an unofficial policy of replacing airport-damaged eReaders.  Enjoy your travel, bring your Kindle, and good luck with your travel this holiday season.

Kindle Apps: The Future, or A Flop?

One of the first fun hidden Kindle features that a lot of people were surprised to discover was the hidden Minesweeper game. It is still there, by the way, when you hit Alt-Shift-M on your home screen.  The big deal was that it provided people with an example of something the device could do besides reading.  The Kindle made a lot of people nervous because of how narrowly focused it was.  Nobody likes a single-purpose gadget, in theory.  By having something more right there for people to see, it kept the options open.  These days, with the Kindle on top and nobody left questioning the usefulness of an eReader for many people, it isn’t so much of a priority.

Now, I’ve found several Kindle apps helpful on a fairly regular basis.  The Notepad app from 7 Dragons is useful in all sorts of situations and tends to make the keyboard on my Kindle more useful than the annotation features.  Calendar Pro is another that just made sense for a device that I carry around with me all the time anyway. That doesn’t mean that there are all that many potential uses for that kind of software.  The processing power of the Kindle, along with the drawbacks of the E Ink Pearl screen when used for non-reading purposes, severely limits the possibilities.  We still have games, of course.  There are fun word games, board games, and that whole selection.  A whole “less is more” approach to design has forced some interesting and often entertaining innovation.  It’s still a sharply limited area with little in the way of potential for the future.

I’ve seen some complaints that a real Kindle Apps Store has failed to develop.  In fact, Amazon has failed to even bring forth some of the basic features that people were hoping for, like customizable screen savers.  This demonstrates a certain lack of commitment to the field, one would think.  The problem is that there is just not a lot of room to grow outside of what has been done.  Refinement, sure, but that’s it.  The upcoming Kindle Tablet, with its accompanying focus on the Android platform, would seem to illustrate Amazon’s understanding of that.  They couldn’t build on what they had anymore, so they moved on.

If I had to make a guess, I would say that there will be no new major, officially supported, non-reading capability added to the Kindle eReader line. There is simply more room to grow app capability in the tablet market, and Amazon has to be hoping to convert Kindle owners into Kindle Tablet owners as they get ready for the release. Lessons were probably learned about how to deal with app sales, though perhaps not to the same extent that they have been from the Android App Store, and it will translate into superior quality when the new, more powerful devices come along.  The app for the Kindle wasn’t a bad idea, but I think it has mostly run its course now.  We’ll see a bit more tweaking, some vying for dominance in the few truly useful application niches, and many more diverting games, but real innovation might need to focus more on the future Kindle Tablet offerings.

Kindle Spam Highlights the Worst Side of Easy Self-Publishing

The Kindle has done a lot to bring publishing from fantasy to reality for new authors everywhere.  In an industry previously dominated by publishing houses that have a track record of refusing to take risks on new things, it provides an easy way for somebody to get their work out there and let it stand on its own merits.  This is not without its issues, however.  Under the old system we had some regulation, even if it was ridiculously over-restrictive.  Now, we can only hope that the best rises to the top.

The downside of the Kindle and its self-publishing options has generally been seen to be a lack of editorial input.  Bad books get published, poorly edited books get published, basically anything that people churn out can hit the digital shelves the day the author hits the Submit button.  Unfortunately, that’s not really all we have to worry about.  There were always going to be a few less than original titles that were meant purely to get the most cash for the least effort and to hell with the customer, but now a method has been devised for anybody who wants to put in the effort to put out 10-20 new books a day without even bothering to write.

The form that this takes can be anything from republished PLR content (content that the “author” buys the rights to republish under their own name) to the deliberately malicious.  The former are interesting in that they at least have the potential to be real, quality works, even if they aren’t exactly originals.  A system calling itself “Autopilot Kindle Cash” claims to be able to teach people to publish as many as 20 of these recycled eBooks per day at minimal expense.  For the most part, it is a load of worthless writing that offers little enjoyment, advice, or information, but that doesn’t mean that the occasional gem might not appear.  I can’t say that I support the idea, but it is the lesser of two evils.

On the more unpleasant side, we have scam links.  Some of these will come at the end of PLR content.  Others will just be thrown in wherever is convenient.  I’ve personally come across several that took me to scam sites promising easy money, but there is no reason to believe that there aren’t quite a few that link even more unpleasant content.

It would be unreasonable to expect Amazon to have every eBook checked out before publication.  Given the size of the platform, it just wouldn’t make sense.  To be fair, they even respond promptly to complaints by bringing down the offending eBook or author and offering refunds.  It seems a little strange to have to deal with this sort of issue while shopping for books, though.

For now, readers might want to watch for vaguely worded product descriptions, books with few or no reviews on them, and authors who seem to put out a lot of books all at once.  Most importantly, as with anything that can send you around on the internet, be careful what links you click on.  It’s a shame that the Kindle isn’t entirely safe from this sort of abuse, and I hope to see something fix it in the near future, but it’s simple enough to stay safe if you’re cautious.

Stallman vs Amazon Kindle: Are eBooks Bad?

The idea that print books and the Kindle were in opposition has been around pretty much as long as there’s been a Kindle.  In fact, if you go back far enough, you can find people talking about the impending end of the written word pretty much since there was the option to view words on a screen.  The Kindle just made it easy and enjoyable enough for people in general to take the “threat” seriously.  The transition hasn’t been perfect, nor has it always been smooth.  There are always problems with innovations.  For the most part, however, it is clear to everybody that eBooks are thriving.

That is, at least, the impression I was under.  A recent article by Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Movement, the GNU Project, and general digital freedoms activist, seems to insist not only that this turning point has yet to come, but that we should resist it on principal.  His recent article, titled “The Danger of E-books” highlight the shortcomings of digital reading media by comparing point for point across a list of freedoms that can be associated with print books.  Emphasis is placed on the value of anonymous purchasing, lack of required proprietary technology or software, resale capabilities, and the differences between ownership and licensing.  He makes what could be considered some good points, but that depends on your point of view and priorities.

From what I know of Stallman, anonymity is a major issue for the guy.  I can understand the urge for that kind of complete privacy, but at the same time it is increasingly proving more of a daily hassle than it is worth.  I’m not claiming that as a good thing, just a fact of life.  His argument that a book can be purchased anonymously, where a Kindle or Kindle eBook cannot, really only applies if you are the sort of person who makes no purchases online in the first place, who doesn’t use a credit card, and who avoids all non-cash transactions.  This isn’t an eBook problem, it’s a modern commerce problem.

A similar problem applies to his objections to restricted reselling.  Pulling an example from another industry, look at the problems that reselling have caused video game production companies.  Not only are many consumers more likely to purchase used copies than new ones, but these used copies are a continual drain on their original creators who must maintain any server-side components in spite of the fact that purchasers after the first bring no money to the originating company.  A similar problem would arise for a company like Amazon if they were to offer resale Kindle books.  Customers come to the platform expecting to have their books available to them on all their devices when they want them.  Should Amazon be providing this service to people who work around the system and grab a “used” license that provides no profit to either author or distributor?  I suppose a rights-transfer fee might be possible, but that would have its own objectors, especially on already inexpensive eBooks.

Maybe it is a bit cynical but I think that if you leave people free to do what they please, there’s a good chance that they will.  Is the current DRM scheme ridiculously restrictive?  Yes.  No Question.  Is the answer to completely do away with DRM and move to a scheme such as the one Stallman suggests, where the only money authors can expect is from pleased readers wanting to anonymously donate to them?  I sincerely hope not.  It’s a pleasant vision that assumes the best of everybody, but in reality it would almost certainly mean the downfall of the Kindle platform and a move away from digital publishing by pretty much everybody wanting to make a career of writing.

Helpful Software Update Tip

My Kindle was experiencing major battery drain, causing me to recharge every 2-3 days.  Since my Kindle is almost a year and a half old I thought it might be time for a replacement.  So I asked around, and didn’t find much in the way of help.  So, I finally called Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) thinking that I’d probably have to replace either my Kindle or battery.

But, it just turned out that I needed to update my software.

Where to Download Software Updates

So, for Kindle 2 users like me, the latest software update is 2.5.8.

Latest generation Kindle users need software update 3.1.

The above pages will provide ways to update the software automatically, or via USB.

To check to see what software update you have on your Kindle,  go to Home, then click the Menu button.  Go to Settings.  Once you are in your settings, you’ll see what current software update you have.  Click the Menu button again, and if you need to update your software, the selection is available, if not, it is greyed out.

Amazon Customer Service

I’m so used to major companies having either automated or poor customer service that I was pleasantly surprised to see that Amazon’s was excellent.  They offer phone call, email or chat options, and give a step by step guide on how to fix the problem.  The software update issue was resolved quickly, and now my battery is good as new.

So, next time you have any issues with battery drain, don’t panic!  It most likely is a simple fix like this one was.

Kindle 3 Review Follow Up

Kindle 3 Weight

Kindle 3 Weight

I’ve had some time to play around with my new Kindle 3 and to read what other users are saying so now I’m ready to publish this follow up with some of the information I’ve recently gathered of forgot to publish before.

In case you haven’t read reviews I’ve published before, here they are:

  • Original Kindle 3 review (July, 29th)В - largely based on official Amazon press release, other online sources and personal speculations.
  • Kindle 3 review round-up from online media (August, 6th) – summary of opinions from sources like CNET, PCWorld etc.
  • Kindle 3 review (August, 28th) – my personal hand-on review of the device with battery life estimations, screen contrast comparison, partial disassembly and other useful bits of information.

One thing I would like to mention specifically is the weight. I weighted the device on a digital scale it showed 8.2 oz. At first I though that my scale was off but then reports and pictures started surfacing on forums indicating that Kindle 3G + WiFi weights as low as 8.1 oz and Kindle WiFi as low as 7.8 oz. Official Amazon specs indicate 8.7 oz for 3G + WiFi and 8.2 oz for WiFi only version.

Kindle 3 software

Kindle 3 runs software version 3.0 (515460094) and has serial number starting with B006 marking it as new hardware series. No surprise there. In the past Amazon has stopped updating 1.* firmware for first generation Kindles once Kindle 2 came out. Hopefully this is not going to be the case with Kindle software 2.* despite the fact that apparently Kindle 3 will clearly outsell Kindle 2 soon enough (more on that later).

Kindle 3 is much more similar to second generation Kindle than Kindle 2 was to original Kindle 1. Kindle 2 user base now is much larger than Kindle 1 user base was when Kindle 2 came out. It would be easier for Amazon to maintain one code branch than two (since it seems that 1.* software development is essentially non-existent). Unicode characters have been added to 3.0 software. Eventually books in Kindle store will start using these characters. It would be very bad PR for Amazon when people with older Kindles will start buying these books only to see empty boxes instead of characters. This is why I guesstimate that eventually 3.* software will make it to Kindle 2 and older Kindle DX devices. Perhaps it would be software 3.1 or 3.0.1

There are several new features in Kindle software 3.0 that I forgot to mention in the original review:

  • Device password. You can set a password that will be required to use the device every time it’s turned on. Without the password it’s impossible to access Kindle UI or Kindle USB drive. It’s pretty useful if you keep sensitive work related documents on your Kindle. In case you forget your password, it is possible to completely reset the device deleting all stored information in the process.
  • Collections. Although these are not exactly new and have been around before Kindle 3, I’ve never taken the time to write about them and would like to point this feature out. Historically all Kindle books were piled in one flat list that was sorted by last-read date, title or author. Best way to navigate it was searching. Several months ago Amazon has introduced collections as a way to organize your library. A collection is similar to a tag as one book can belong to several collections (Sci-Fi, H. G. Wells, “Favorite Books”, etc)
  • Manually setting device time. Previously Kindle relied on time information from 3G wireless network. Now you can manually set Kindle clock if you have WiFi-only version, don’t have wireless coverage or live on a different time than your GSM provider.

Kindle 3 Unicode support

Kindle 3 finally got a font with broader range of Unicode characters. These include Cyrillic, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Korean and Japanese. I’ve done some quick tests and to me it looks like characters are there. However I didn’t do a full scale test of all possible characters from these planes. Some people on forums and in comments complained about poor support of Chinese and Korean but so far there has been little specifics.

There were some claims that non-Latin characters display the same in all typefaces. I’ve verified it and it does seem to be true for Asian characters and definitely not true for Cyrillic. Here are some screenshots showing different typefaces in Russian text.

Kindle 3 Russian Typefaces

Kindle 3 Russian Typefaces

By the way, good way to download and format Unicode text files so that paragraph breaks would display properly and lines will not needlessly wrap is eBook Text Formatter tool that I’ve created a while ago. It still works great.

Kindle 3 WebKit-based browser

New web-browser in Kindle 3 is great. It can event load and run desktop AJAX version of Gmail (however using mobile version at https://m.gmail.com/ is still recommended as it’s much faster). Some users reported problems with browser or apps. Kindle software would occasionally crash. It is generally believed that it’s caused by background indexing process running alongside browser. Whenever new book, text file or document is downloaded to Kindle, it is indexed to provide almost instantaneous search results. This process is resource intensive and may conflict with web-browser or word game applications that are available for Kindle.

Therefore it is recommended to refrain from browsing while Kindle indexes new books. Usually this process is completed within minutes of downloading a book or a document. If you download hundreds of books at once it may take hours and seriously drain your battery. 75% overnight battery drain has been reported after downloading 100+ books.

In case your Kindle browser stops working completely (“launch browser” button does nothing or causes a crash), restarting your Kindle will fix this problem. To restart your Kindle press “Home”, “Menu”, select “Settings”, press “Menu” and select “Restart”. In case this doesn’t work, holding the power button for 30 seconds and then releasing it does the trick. Please note that Kindle will not restart while you are holding the button. You need to press the button, slowly count to 30 and then release it. Within several seconds your Kindle will reboot.

Kindle 3 User Reviews

For some reason there were no user reviews for Kindle 3 on Amazon website until Saturday afternoon. Perhaps they were held in the pipeline for some reason. Now that reviews are finally in, you can check them out here.

For Kindle 3G + WiFi and Kindle WiFi there are 139 total reviews at the moment. Of these 104 gave Kindle 5/5 stars, 24 gave it 4 stars, 3 gave it 3 stars and 8 people were completely unhappy with their purchase and gave Kindle 3 one star. Since there so few one-star reviews, I took a look at them individually and here’s the scoop:

I would like to start completely quoting review by Roger: “The ipad has so much more functionality, why anyone would want to limit themselves to a Kindle is beyond me.” It doesn’t look to me like Roger ever had or will have a Kindle. Nonetheless he’s entitled to his own opinion and we’ll leave it at that :)

3 people seemed to have received defective devices. I can understand how this can lead to a bad review, however every device has a potential of being defective. When I started building servers of the first batch of 8 HDDs from a major manufacturer 3 failed within 24 hours of stress testing. Bad luck, I guess because since I replaced these 3 and installed dozens more like them I’m yet to see a single hard drive fail. So given the overall volume of Kindles shipped, 3 reviews about defective devices is pretty good.

One reviewer was extremely unhappy with quality of Korean font glyphs. Kindle 3 Unicode support is something that I want to investigate further. I’ll definitely report on it once I have the full story.

There is one bad Kindle 3 review dealing with new smaller buttons. Personally I liked Kindle 2 buttons more as well. New controller layout takes getting used to and judging by scarcity of negative reviews, benefits like WiFi and better screen greatly outweigh discomfort from smaller buttons. By the way there is a good old trick for reading from Kindle without having to use buttons at all: start text-to-speech, adjust the speech speed to your reading speed and then mute the volume. Pages will flip automatically.

User with “Book Worm” alias gave new Kindle 3 one star because he purchased Kindle 2 right before Kindle 3 was announced so the user ended up paying $259 for and older device rather than getting new one for $189. I can completely understand this frustration. Unfortunately Amazon doesn’t have a specific schedule of “surprise” product launches like Apple when everyone expects new iPhone to be announced in Spring and release in the Summer. Such things happened in the past when international Kindle or graphite Kindle DX was released. While it’s unlikely that anything can be done in this particular case, I would like to note that historically Amazon Customer support was quite flexible on 30-day return period. According to comments from several users you can get a refund (if the price dropped) or return your Kindle for a newer one up to one week after 30 days have passed from your purchase. But please don’t tell Amazon that I told you this :)

Final bad Kindle 3 review has something to do with the way user set up his/her account rather than with the device itself so I’ll not comment on it.

For these 8 negative reviews there are 128 positive reviews from people who are mostly extremely happy with their Kindle experience. Some highlights include:

  • Small size and weight are mentioned in almost every positive review (and even some negative onces)
  • Improved screen contrast and fonts is the second biggest thing mentioned in positive reviews.
  • People love new low $189 price point of Kindle 3G + WiFi and $139 of Kindle WiFi.

In the future I’ll do a more detailed analysis of positive reviews and publish the stats here.

Kindle 3 Sales Numbers

On August 25th in the press release announcing early shipments of Kindle 3, Amazon also revealed that Kindle 3 is the best-selling product by four-week sales:

(NASDAQ: AMZN)в_”Amazon.com today announced that more new generation Kindles were ordered in the first four weeks of availability than in the same timeframe following any other Kindle launch, making the new Kindles the fastest-selling ever. In addition, in the four weeks since the introduction of the new Kindle and Kindle 3G, customers ordered more Kindles on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk combined than any other product, continuing Kindleв_Ts over two-year run as the bestselling product across all the products sold on Amazon.com.

In the summer and amid slowing economy Kindle 3 was able to beat international Kindle 2 launch that was tied to the holiday shopping season last year. This is quite impressive but not surprising when one considers improved specs and features, price that got slashed in half and amount of customer awareness generated by previous launches.

Kindle DX crashed when copying new dictionary file

I’ve come across yet another way to crash Kindle DX: connect it via USB cable to your PC and try copying over a dictionary file. After copying around 2MB of data Kindle drive disconnects from the computer, Kindle goes into home screen and then freezes. I discovered this when trying to copy over Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary without using WhisperNet (since I’m currently outside the coverage zone).

The bug was pretty consistent regardless of which folder I tried to copy the file to. However after I’ve successfully copied the file over (I’ll explain how in a second) I couldn’t get my Kindle DX to crash with this file again. Copying the same file to Kindle 2 also worked out fine.

I’ve noticed that once some portion of file was copied you can append to it and it will not cause crashes. So I used robocopy.exe to resume the copy operation. To do it you need to put the file you want to copy in a separate folder and then run robocopy.exe /z . k:\documents after resetting your Kindle DX, assuming K: is your Kindle drive letter. If you are running Windows Vista it already comes with robocopy installed, for other versions you can download it here.

After the process was complete it seems that my Kindle works fine and there is no lasting damage. However if you would like to try reproducing this bug please to it at your own risk as your mileage may vary. Let me know if you experience something similar.

Later I did some additional testing and found out that other dictionaries would crash Kindle DX in the same way as well and for some dictionary files the robocopy workaround doesn’t seem to work. I’ve notified Amazon so hopefully it will get fixed sometime soon. With any luck this had already happened in Kindle 2.1.1 update that some people are getting already and that’s listed in the Kindle source code section along with Kindle 2.0.4 update.

Dealing With a Stolen Kindle

Ars Technica has an article about how Amazon deals with stolen Kindles.  Apparently, if you contact Amazon about a Kindle that has been stolen, they will de-register your account from the device.  What they can’t do, however, is locate it or send a signal to kill or wipe the device.

It’s not entirely clear why Amazon can’t do this.  After all, the Kindle is connected to a cellular network and Amazon is able to take control, at least somewhat, of the device if they want to.  Amazon did say that Sprint may have some options available, and that they will “respond to appropriate requests for information from law enforcement officials.”

The article argues that it wouldn’t be very difficult for Amazon to add some sort of options for those who have had their Kindles stolen.  Many other devices can be remotely wiped clean if the owner wishes, why couldn’t Amazon do the same?  As eReaders become more widespread, more Kindles will have sensitive documents stored on them.  If the Kindle was open for installing third party software, someone could easily provide this functionality.  Now, it seems to be up to hackers to add this functionality.

Kindle May Have Newspaper Trouble in Australia

Fairfax Media, one of Australia’s large media companies, has rejected the Kindle and decided to look elsewhere for e-delivery.  Even worse for Amazon, this announcement comes on the heels of another Australian Media company’s public dissatisfaction with the Kindle.  Rupert Murdoch has voiced his concern over Amazon’s business model, and it seems that News Corporation will simply skip the Kindle with its Australian holdings.

As the eReader market grows in Australia, it looks like electronic newspaper subscriptions will follow a more traditional model where subscribes subscribe from the newspaper itself.  But since newspapers are only a fraction of the Kindle’s revenue, I can’t imagine that this news alone will stop the Kindle from breaking into the Australian market.  First and foremost, the Kindle platform is an entertainment medium designed to work off of Amazon’s existing status as a leading book retailer.  Being able to read newspapers and periodicals is a nice feature, but books remains the Kindle’s strong suit.

Even if some of the major papers bail on the Kindle, the device will have popularity with those who like to read.  If other online publishers take off in a way that could hurt the Kindle, Amazon needs to merely allow their device to read other formats.  They might not take a cut of the sales, but their are plenty of other revenue streams for Amazon.

Strange Kindle battery behaviour

Since I’m currently travelling in the UK for more than a month already, I have Wireless turned off on both Kindle 2 and Kindle DX that I have. After a month of moderate reading while Kindle was getting an occasional small charge only when I connected it to the computer to sync new content battery indicators on both K2 and DX were showing roughly 75% battery capacity.

My original intent was to wait some more and then make a post about how great Kindle battery life is if you turn off the wireless. However before I could do that, interesting thing happened. When my wife turned on her K2 the charge indicator jumped from 75% to “critical low” (battery icon with exclamation mark). Kindle had to be charged. In a couple of days exactly the same thing happened to my Kindle DX.

This happened about one month after devices were fully changed. What is interesting that although my wife read roughly 3 times as many pages as I did, batteries in our devices ran out at about the same time. So it looks like it was more related to idle time rather than usage.

Amazon’s official stance is that with wireless turned off Kindle should go around 2 weeks without a charge depending on the usage. Ours lasted twice as long. However what’s more interesting is the way charge suddenly dropped to zero. Something you should keep in mind if you intend to take your Kindle somewhere without electricity for long time.

I’m interested if anyone has observed similar strange behaviour?

Amazon Book Deletion Leads to Lawsuit

The controversy surrounding Amazon’s deletion of George Orwell Books has now led to a lawsuit against the company.  The suit was instigated by a Michigan High School student who was reading 1984 for an AP English class.  The basis of the suit is that Amazon didn’t just remove the book from his Kindle, but it also ruined his homework assignment and ability to perform in class.  Since he only used the Kindle for reading the book, all of his notes were in the form of annotations added to the eBook.

Interestingly, the annotations themselves did not seem to get deleted.  They are, however, completely useless without the passages they are referring to.  His notes say things like “this paragraph” or “this section.”  Since they are linked to indexing that refers to a now non-existent data file, the lawsuit claims they are completely unsalvageable.  I think this is an interesting angle for the suit to take. In a way, Amazon is technically leasing books and retains the rights to do things like remote deletion.  User created annotations, however, can’t be said to be owned by Amazon in any way.  Perhaps that’s why they weren’t removed along with the books.

So far, a man from California has also jumped on board as a plaintiff and the suit is moving towards class-action status.  That’s rough news for Amazon, who has already been faced with another class-action lawsuit this summer.  Amazon has already made promises to avoid book deletion practices in the future, but they have been met with some skepticism.

Free Software Foundation is Launching a Kindle Petition

fsflogoIn the wake of the controversy surrounding Amazon’s deletion of George Orwell books the Free Software Foundation is readying a petition against remote deletion and DRM.  This news is somewhat significant, as the Free Software Foundation is an organization that has some weight in the world of software activism.  Most famous for the GNU Project(and the related GPL license), the foundation can be thought of as the de facto head of the open source and free software movements.

The Free Software Foundation has acknowledged Bezos’ apology, but feel that it isn’t enough.  The petition will ask that Amazon completely relinquish the ability to make changes to users’ Kindle libraries.  One interesting point up is how the technology could provide a tool for censorship, especially as the Kindle enters new markets.  This argument is likely inspired by other companies.  For example, Google has taken criticism in the past for how it has assisted China’s government in censoring the internet.

For good measure, the petition will also ask Amazon to reevaluate the use of DRM.  I have to say that this seems unlikely.  Amazon’s view towards DRM is completely irrelevant: if the Kindle didn’t have DRM, the major publishers would stop supporting it.  While DRM has its downsides, Amazon doesn’t really have a choice in the matter.

Still, the petition has gotten some notice.  Once signatures have been assembled and the Free Software Foundation presents the petition, it will be interesting to see how Amazon responds.  So far, Amazon has been pretty good about responding to their customers, so it is possible that they will try to listen to the petition (except of course the DRM).  Then again, Microsoft has ignored the Free Software Foundation for decades and it hasn’t really been that difficult for them.

Update On Amazon Book Deletion

There are two major updates to the story about Amazon deleting George Orwell books from customers’ Kindles.

First off, the reasons for the deletion have become more clear.  The books were added to the Kindle store by MobileReference, a company which focuses on the publication of works already existing in the public domain.  While Orwell’s works are public domain in most countries that MobileReference sells in, they still fall under copyright in the US.  Which just so happens to be the only country where Amazon sells the Kindle.

A complaint was made to Amazon by the copyright owners.  Amazon caved to the publisher’s pressure and, since their sales of the books were never legal to begin with, retroactively un-purchased every copy.  There actually seems to be some debate as to whether this violates the Kindle’s license agreement.  For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation believes the agreement doesn’t leave room for Amazon to take away already purchased books.  Such speculation is most likely pointless, however, since the illegality of the Orwell books distributed probably skirts around the terms of use and Amazon wouldn’t have done the deletions if their lawyers hadn’t cleared it in the first place.

The second piece of news is that Amazon is claiming this will not happen again.  The company issued a statement, sent as an Email to various tech publications.

We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances.

It’s good to see that Amazon is reacting to the negative reaction they have received.

Amazon Deletes George Orwell Books in Orwellian Move

Big Brother

Big Brother

Earlier on this blog, George Orwell was featured for Good Kindle Books at a Glance. If you downloaded the Kindle edition of either 1984 or Animal Farm, I hope you have gotten the chance to read and finish it because Amazon has remotely deleted the books from your Kindle.

Based on what has happened with Orwell’s books, Amazon’s policies seems to be this:  if a publisher changes their mind about offering an electronic version, all downloaded copies of the book have to be retroactively deleted, without any warning to or permission from the owner.  You have to wonder if Amazon saw the irony in doing this with 1984.

Having worked in eBook/book digitization industry myself I can say that book copyrights are complex and messy and publishers try to hold on to their rights with any means possible. Fines for violating copyrights are substantial. Therefore such unfortunate incidents are unavoidable.

To be fair I’ll note that of course Amazon has refunded the price of the books that were remotely deleted.

Amazon to Replace Broken Kindles After Lawsuit

Amazon Kindle DX Leather Cover

Amazon Kindle DX Leather Cover

The Kindle is an expensive gadget, so many owners take precautions to protect it.  One popular Kindle accessory is Amazon’s own leather cover, which adds a layer of insulation to prevent everyday mishaps.  The only problem is that the hinges on the cover have apparently cracked the cases on a number of Kindle 2′s and Kindle DX‘s, with the damage sometimes even resulting in a frozen display.

After a $5 million lawsuit filed against the company, Amazon agreed to replace Kindles that have been damaged by the cover.  This is a reversal of Amazon’s previous practice of charging $200 for the replacement.  Even though Amazon’s now trying to address the issue, the lawsuit has yet to be withdrawn.  The company, however, refuses to comment on the suit itself since it’s against their policy to discuss ongoing litigation.

So far I don’t see any traces of damage on either of my Kindles but this piece of news has got me strongly considering investing in another kind of Kindle cover. On the other hand should 3rd party cover crack my Kindle, Amazon would be reluctant to exchange it for free. I’m curious, has anyone run into these problems with the Amazon case?

Kindle DX crashed in PDF viewer

Looks like I’ve found a bug in Kindle DX PDF viewer: any time I open the second page of this PDF file Kindle DX would go into quick reboot. When it comes out of the reboot all of the items are gone from the home screen. To get them back I needed to create some dummy text file to force folder rescan.

It would be nice if someone could try to reproduce this crash and confirm that this problem is not specific to my Kindle. A word of warning though – although there seemed to be no lasting damage to my device and all my files were intact as well this kind of crashes (I would guess a buffer overflow or NULL pointer dereference) have potential for damaging the data. So if you feel like reproducing this bug do it at your own risk.

I’ll also follow up on this issue with Amazon and keep you posted on the progress.

Arizona State University Being Sued For Discrimination Over Use of Kindle DX

Arizona State University is one of six schools of higher education that are planning to deploy the Kindle DX this fall.  They are, however, coming under fire from both the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind over its use.

The two organizations have jointly filed suit against ASU in an attempt to stop the Kindle’s planned usage.  While the Kindle does include a text-to-speech feature, all menus and navigation, including the ability to activate text-to-speech, are completely inaccessible to blind students.  According to the lawsuit, if any University uses the Kindle as their primary means of textbook distribution, it is in clear violation of federal accessibility standards.  A press release detailing the plaintiff’s position can be found here.

Public Universities, being governmental institutions, are required by federal law to meet strict guidelines regarding accessibility.  Since the Kindle clearly does not meet these guidelines, there only seems to be two possible ways this could turn out: Either ASU (and the five other schools) cancel their plans to use the Kindle, or Amazon releases  an update which adds accessibility features to the Kindle Store and menus.  It would be a relatively simple software change for Amazon to make, so hopefully that is the route that things take.  Then, the only problem would be the legal issues surrounding text-to-speech itself.

Scratched My Kindle 2

Couple of days ago I was rushing to an appointment and withing much thinking stuffed my Kindle 2 in jacket pocket. But I failed to consider the fact that my keys were also in this pocket. Next time I looked at my Kindle it looked like this :(

scrached-kindle-2

Scratched Amazon Kindle 2

Scratches are quite ugly. On the bright side – it still works. Although I had leather cover I hardly ever used it because it made the device just a notch thicker so it wouldn’t fit in my favorite pocket anymore. I guess I should reconsider my policy now…

Kindle Infinite Reboot When Updating

I’ve received several messages from people who try to install an update or a hack (for example Unicode Font Hack) and Kindle enters infinite install update-fail-reboot cycle. Some believe that the device is bricked. I also saw people posting on forums about similar problems. Good news is that if it happened to your device chances are it’s not bricked. All you need to do is put your device into Recovery Mode by holding “Home” button when the device boots up. Once in recovery mode, connect it to your PC via USB cable and remove the update_*.bin file that fails to install from the Kindle drive, unplug the USB cable and then press “R” to reboot the Kindle. It should boot normally. Once it boots you can make another attempt and installing the same update. Most likely you will not have the same problem.

It’s unclear what causes this problem. I saw it happening with hacks as well with official Amazon updates. Deleting and copying the same update will fix it. I can guess that there is some bug in Kindle USB disk related software and sometimes update file is not stored correctly which causes update unpacker to fail. Good way to test this theory would be to make a copy of the faulty update file from the Kindle drive when in recovery mode and compare it to the original. I’ll test it if I get a chance.

Airplane Bricked My Kindle 2

Recently I had to take a couple of long trips on airplanes. And supposedly Amazon Kindle is just perfect for such occasions. I stuffed mine with tons of books and even more samples so that I could browse though them on the first leg of my trip and then buy the books that I’ve liked while I waited for a connection flight. WhisperNet rocks!

However this wasn’t meant to be. As the airplane started to gain altitude and I paged though “The Waste Lands [The Dark Tower III]” I noticed that some lines didn’t update as I turned the pages. At first I thought that it was some weird software glitch and rebooted my K2. However the stubborn lines persisted. As I kept paging though the book more and more lines got stuck. Until soon enough it wasn’t possible to read anymore and my Kindle 2 looked like this:

kindle-broken

My speculation is that eInk display has a lot of wires connected to it from the “motherboard”. It’s usually done by gluing a sticky plastic band with metallic wires on it to the display that has metallic contacts. Most likely during the production of my particular unit an air bubble was caught under the plastic band. However it wasn’t big enough to cause trouble during quality assurance. However when airplane gained altitude and cabin air pressure dropped a bit, the bubble expanded and gradually ripping more and more of  the contacts apart. Oh, well. No big loss because I ended up having a very interesting chat with a guy in the next seat. As I arrived I had several hours until my next flight so I phoned Amazon support and let them know what had happened. I initiated an RMA so that at least there would be a working Kindle 2 waiting for me at home when I arrived.Once again: Kindle warranty rocks!

What really struck me as odd is that Amazon confirmed my suspicion that the only way you can buy Kindle is from Amazon.com website. I realize that Amazon is an online business but wouldn’t they make a killing in sales if they had kiosks selling Kindles in the airports? Imagine an automated kiosk that allows you to get a Kindle device just by swiping a credit card and create an Amazon.com account in case you don’t have one yet. And then you can immediately start buying your reads right from the device. What also struck me as odd is that there were Sony eBook readers readily available for sale in several airport stores. I guess that they may be useful if you have a notebook computer with WiFi ready to fill it with books. I didn’t though so they were as useful to me as my bricked K2…

Oh, and BTW – no problems with TSA whatsoever.

Kindle 2 Recovery Mode

There is this undocumented feature of recover mode in Kindle 2. I’m posting about it but please don’t mess with it unless you know what are you doing because it can potentially brick your Kindle. K1 had an option of 100% wiping and reflashing the device to the origianl state. This option doesn’t seem to be present in K2 tough.

To enter Recovery Mode you need to hold the “Home” key while the device is rebooting when the screen flashes from black to white for a couple of seconds. If you see “Amazon Kindle” and boot progress bar – it’s too late and you need to reboot again.

When in recovery mode, you can hook up your Kindle to computer via USB and mess with the files just like in the normal mode. You can also press “1″ and this will initiate installation of update from the root directory of Kindle drive. However normal updates (2.0.1 and 2.0.2 as well as screensaver hack) don’t install this way – Kindle just ignores them. With a little tweaking I was able to get Kindle to see the update but it would still fail to install.

Pressing “R” key will reboot your Kindle 2 back into normal mode.

What is interesting is that when I called the number on the screen the tech didn’t know what “Recovery Mode” I was talking about.

This is not a whole lot of useful information yet even that I had to piece together from different places on the Internet when trying to repair my Kindle 2 myself. I eventually gave up and called the warranty.

If I figure out the “recovery mode update” trick I’ll surely post about it.

kindle 2 recovery mode