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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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December 2014
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Funamo! Parental Controls for Kindle Fire May Cover For Lack of Built-in Options

The lack of intricate parental control options has been a popular complaint about the Kindle Fire since about the time it was released.  Amazon has made some moves to address the most pressing issues.  We haven’t heard any horror stories about people going into debt over Smurfberry purchases, for example.  Still, until Amazon comes up with more options that allow parents to manage how these devices are used, there is going to be a steady stream of complaints.  Funamo has stepped up to handle that need in the meantime, for a small fee.

At $20, this is not a cheap application.  Not only that, Funamo is not yet available in the Amazon Appstore for Android.  This means that it needs to be purchased through the developer’s website.  The hassle and expense may be worth it considering what can be accomplished by having it around.

The default settings are fairly straightforward.  You install Funamo and log in, after which the device settings will be completely locked out.  It comes with its own web browser, which has all the usual things one would expect parents to want to keep blocked already cut off, and encourages users to put the Silk browser onto the “Protected Apps” list.  Besides that, everything else is up to the user.

This isn’t just a matter of locking out certain content, either.  Yes, it is likely that many parents would approve of the ability to block porn viewing from their child’s tablet.  Using Funamo, it is also possible to say that the same child’s favorite games will only be available between 9am and 11am on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Parents can set limits on everything from media viewing time to reading.  Many will even be quite encouraged to note that it is possible to block the Kindle Fire’s access to the Appstore entirely when desired.

Any of these settings can, of course, be overridden with a password.  You never know when exceptions to the normal rules might be in order.  They can also be changed on short notice as well, and not only from the Kindle Fire itself.  Nightly syncing allows parents to maintain control through any internet-connected browser.

Through this web interface, it is possible to add, change, or remove access restrictions.  It is also possible to view a detailed history of everything that has been done on the tablet recently.  If a child does something unexpected that the parent never thought would come up, it is a simple matter to adapt the rules to cover the new situation.  While the Kindle Fire does not support Push updates, Funamo is set to sync up nightly by default.

At a glance, this seems to be slightly overprotective.  Users are encouraged to take control of literally every aspect of their kid’s tablet experience.  That sort of control is precisely what many parents are looking for, however, and if this allows the child to enjoy ownership of their own Kindle Fire where it would otherwise not be allowed, it is probably worth the hassle for everybody involved.

How I Dropped the Kindle Fire Launcher Without Rooting and Why I Went Back

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.

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.

Kindle for Android, Reading Apps & Good E-Reader

Earlier this month the Kindle for Android app got a bit of an update.  While nothing huge, it did finally bring the Real Page Numbers to Android users.  In addition to this, they managed to pare down the size of the download required to use the Kindle platform from 10+mb to a more manageable 8mb.  This might seem rather minor, but considering the lack of space on many Android devices as well as the fact that some users have reported sizes of up to 25mb (can’t reproduce that, but the claim has circulated), this is a definite improvement.

Much as I like the Kindle app however, and I do, there are some things that I would like to be able to do that it does not provide.  Real Page Numbers are nice, but situational at best given that they still only exist in a fraction of the available Kindle Editions.  Now, I have posted here before about the ability to download and install the Nook app through non-Amazon sources and this works quite well.  Sadly I believe that the specific method I mentioned several months ago has been blocked off, though.  This difficulty became a non-issue thanks to Good E-Reader being kind enough to open up their own free app store.

While you can find a fair selection of general purpose apps present that they felt were worth keeping around for people, the folks over at Good E-Reader are concentrating mostly on reading.  This covers books, magazines, comics, and all such things along those lines.  There are only free apps, but this allows the site to operate without adding in any of the inconvenient restrictions that currently plague locked-in Android device owners wishing to pick up something useful. It is definitely worth checking out.

In terms of reading on your Kindle Fire, for example, some people find it more convenient to have access to the Nook app’s extra level of brightness control than to be able to simply invert the contrast of the page.  Others will appreciate the level of social media integration offered by the Kobo app.  In either case, at least you will be able to open EPUB formatted eBooks, which the Kindle Fire lacks any form of native support for at the moment.  You won’t have luck with everything (Google Books, for example is still not working in my experience) but for the most part they’re doing a good job of making the latest popular selections available without all the hassle.

Overall Amazon has done a good job of giving customers what they want, both in terms of the software they provide and the hardware they sell.  I can understand the urge to retain control over what gets installed on Kindle Fire devices, especially since if anything goes wrong it is likely to be Amazon’s Customer Service that gets the call.  They have left the door pretty wide open to install most things, though, provided you know how to find them.  In some cases, it’s more than worth the effort it takes to get the most out of your experience.  Kindle Fire software updates do not remove any apps when they occur, so it shouldn’t be an ongoing hassle.

Kindle Fire Video Conversion

While it can be a bit of a pain that the Kindle Fire, despite being highly video-centric, offers users little in the way of video format compatibility, for the most part it probably won’t come up for just anybody.  The storage space on board the tablet is small enough that streaming video is obviously going to be the most successful regular viewing method anyway.  There are always those occasions when it is important to be able to load something for later though, when you expect to be without WiFi access or are simply unable to find a reasonable way to stream a title.

Admittedly there are also less conventional, free avenues for movie acquisition, but we won’t go into that here.  For these times when you have a movie that you need to load onto your Kindle Fire, it’s important to be aware of the best way to go about it.  Let’s assume that, through whatever avenue might have worked for you (third party purchase, DVD rip via freely available software like DVDFab, etc.) you have acquired some DRM-free video.

Since it’s what I’m familiar with and because it is freely available, I’m going to use a video conversion tool called Handbrake for Windows.  In the end what matters most is choosing the right settings, so most any video conversion software will do.

  • Install and Run Handbrake (Free software available for most computers at handbrake.fr)
  • Find your Source Video
    • Large button labeled “Source” will drop down and offer you the choice of either one file or a whole folder.  The whole folder option is important is converting raw DVD data.
    • Assuming you want the whole video, nothing more should be required.  If you are trying to convert just a section, you can cut that out either by chapter, frame, or time period in the obvious menus provided.
  • Choose your Destination
    • Since you will be putting this onto the Kindle Fire, it is often best to have it output somewhere obvious like the desktop unless you are planning to retain converted video for storage.
    • Do not output directly to the Kindle Fire at this stage.
  • Under Presets, on the right side of the screen, choose “iPad” (Kindle Fire will use the same format) and check the settings that appear to make sure they match this:
    • Container: MP4
    • Uncheck “Large File Size”, “Web optimized”, and iPod 5G Support”
    • Width: 720
    • Cropping: Automatic
    • Anamorphic: Loose
    • Modulus: 16

Note for those not using Handbrake: Video Codec is H.264, Audio Codec is AAC

Not claiming these are the only working settings, merely what I recommend based on personal use.

  • Click on the Start button at the top of the window
    • Conversion will take between 15 and 45 minutes, on average, for a full length movie.
  • Connect your Kindle Fire via USB
  • Copy New Video File to Kindle Fire
    • Folder: Video
    • Can take 3-5mins for most USB transfers.
  • Open Gallery App on your Kindle Fire
    • User video will not show up under the Video tab at this time, but the Gallery comes pre-installed on your device.

Hope that helps a bit.  The process is a bit tedious, but considering how little can be held on the Kindle Fire at a given time it should not be too much of a chore to pack it fill of whatever you want when this proves necessary.  For a larger variety of options you can always root your Kindle, but understand that doing so will require a slightly greater initial time investment and could prove annoying as the step will have to be repeated with each Amazon software patch.

Kindle Fire Tips & Tricks

I’ve recently gotten a series of emails, and seen a small number of comments around the site here, from people confused or misinformed about what is and is not possible for the Kindle Fire at this point.  Mostly, as I mentioned previously, the result of misinformation still floating around the net from the state of things when it first launched.  Regardless of the reason, however, it seems worth going into some tips for getting the most out of your new Kindle Fire‘s potential.

 Remove Apps From The Kindle Fire

It has always been possible to just delete the local data that an app installs on your Kindle.  Just press and hold on the app’s icon and choose “Remove From Device”.  What if you want it gone entirely though, even from the Cloud tab of your App selection?

  • Go to Amazon.com
  • Go to Kindle > Manage Your Kindle
  • Sign in now if prompted
  • Select Manage Your Apps from the menu bar on the left
  • Find the App or Apps that you want gone in this list
    • Select “Delete This App” from the drop down menu next to each one
    • When prompted, choose “Delete”

Now, don’t be too upset when it does not disappear from the device’s menus immediately.  I found that it usually takes an overnight wait to get results right now.  Not sure why Syncing and such don’t do it immediately, but they don’t.  Regardless, now that Kindle Fire app is gone.

Return Library Book

I’ll start this out by mentioning that this advice may not complete the whole process.  Consult with your librarian in case it doesn’t, as some libraries have their own individual proceedures.

  • Go to Amazon.com
  • Go to Kindle > Manage your Kindle
  • Sign in now if Prompted
  • In your Kindle Library, find the book you want to return
    • From the drop down menu next to it, choose “Return This Book”
    • Do NOT choose “Delete”, as that will not return the book to the library system early

For the most part that is all that’s required.  Since all of the OverDrive software seems to be routed through the Amazon.com page when dealing with Kindle Book borrowing, it makes sense that this is the way you have to return.

Access All Magazine Issues

While the Kindle Fire might appear to only allow you to read the most recent edition of a magazine, but fear not!  All of your subscription should still be hanging around.  Simply navigate to the most recent issue, press and hold.  An option will appear to view back issues.

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Obviously these are far from all of the useful things that one needs to be aware of when using a Kindle Fire, but there’s only so much room to work with here.  Let me know either here or in my email what you are interested in finding out and I will do the research and follow up!  No point in waiting and wondering how things work.

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.

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.

Getting To Know The Kindle Fire’s Parental Controls

I was browsing through some random reviews, recommendations, and complaints about the Kindle Fire a bit earlier, trying to get a feel for the reactions as people get used to them, when I came across the truly unbelievable claim that the Kindle Fire‘s major flaw as a family device was its lack of parental controls.  Now, there are a few reasons to get something besides the Kindle Fire for use with kids, such as some games not yet being available through the Amazon App Store or wanting to avoid the guilt of competing with your own children over the use of a favorite toy, but Parental Controls just don’t make the list.  In an effort to help people better understand their device, let’s go over how this works.

How to Turn On Parental Controls

  • Open the App tab on your Kindle Fire
  • Load the integrated Appstore
  • From the menu bar on the bottom of the screen, select “Settings”
  • Edit settings under both “Parental Controls” and “In-App Purchasing” as desired

What Parental Controls Do

By enabling Parental Controls on your Kindle Fire, you can prevent unauthorized purchasing.  This works in two ways.  Simply switching the setting to “On” will require entry of your Amazon account password before any purchase of anything in an App.  There is a second setting in the same menu tree that blocks in-app purchases entirely.  You also get the option to set a four digit PIN that can be used in lieu of your password, which can be convenient and is always going to be faster than entering a really secure password.

What Parental Controls Can’t Do

The most important things that the basic settings will fail to do are prevent purchasing and prevent app access.  The former is simple enough.  You can disable Mobile 1-Click Purchasing from the “Your Apps & Devices” settings on Amazon.com.

  • Under the main drop-down menu, select Appstore for Android>Your Apps and Devices
  • From there, select 1-Click Settings
  • Your primary payment method will be displayed.  Click “Edit” to the right of it
  • You will then see a button saying “Turn off 1-Click” under the heading “Mobile 1-Click: Kindle Fire”

Simple enough, you just can’t do it easily from directly inside the Kindle Fire‘s menu system.

As far as the app access goes, to the best of my knowledge there is no work-around.  If you have an app that doesn’t require a password, anybody can use it.

Why Bother With Parental Controls?

There was a great deal of controversy over some of the iPad’s apps earlier this year when their micro-transaction model, coupled with an emphasis on entertaining small children, resulted in ridiculously large charges being run up without parental consent.  There are always going to be games on the Appstore, of course, and it would be silly for us to expect them to avoid something as profitable and tempting as micro-transactions, so it’s probably best to be prepared.  Amazon admittedly seems to be doing great at keeping on top of all of their potential customer service disasters so far, but something is going to slip through eventually.  Don’t be the one to find out too late that you owe $10,000 over digital Smurf accessories after leaving a child alone with your Kindle Fire.

Get Nook App For Your Kindle Fire

Image: Business InsiderWhen it comes to deciding which eReader to buy, the biggest consideration is usually going to be whether you want to use a Nook or a Kindle forever.  Because sadly, it is difficult at best to change between the two platforms without losing access to every eBook you own.  While it is nice to dream of a day with no restrictive DRM, where you can move what you buy to whatever device you want, we have yet to reach that point.  Fortunately there are now some options that don’t require learning to tear out the DRM from every one of your eBooks, assuming you don’t mind reading on an LCD.

Naturally, whether you buy a Kindle Fire or a Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet (or Nook Color), there is always the option to root your device to install the competitor’s reading app.  That process can be a pain for a few reasons, more so with the Nook in my experience since Amazon didn’t really try to prevent their customers from doing whatever they want with the Fire.  Despite the complications, this is a great option for the Nook Tablet.  It adds a load of functionality and removes some of the rather silly restrictions on usage that B&N felt the need to include. With the Kindle Fire, however, taking advantage of rooting causes you to lose access to the wonderfully streamlines interface that Amazon came up with in favor of a default Android OS.  Maybe that works for some people, but personally I prefer what the device shipped with for once.

If you’re of the same opinion, hope is not lost.  While you cannot access the Android Marketplace through your Kindle Fire, you are still able to download third party apps.  Amusingly this includes the Nook App if you know where to look.

As a fan of the original Nook, I jumped at the chance to get easy access to my old purchases again.  You can find the app at m.getjar.com, using the Kindle Fire‘s browser.  While some have indicated that you need to download the GetJar app to proceed from here, I had no trouble without it.  Just search for “Nook”, download the app, and install from the downloads menu (Pull up the list by tapping on the number next to your tablet’s name on the status bar).  It will show up under the Apps tab.

The only complication in using the Nook App this way is that it is unable to download all of my books.  Since some of them work fine and new purchases come through smoothly, I’m guessing these particular titles are the freebies I picked out early on that have been moved or replaced with better free copies, but it’s been long enough now that I honestly can’t recall.  It’s got a couple features that might be preferable to the Kindle’s normal reading app for some people.  Small things like a dimmer brightness setting, or a different animated page turn.  For the most part they are practically identical.

To me, this increases the usefulness of the Kindle Fire significantly.  If nothing else, it is great to finally have all of my eBooks available on the same device at the same time.  While I would love to be able to do the same on an E INK reader, this works as the next best thing for now.  There’s no real downside and it takes just moments to get this installed.  Give it a try.

Kindle 4 Tips

I’ll periodically update this post with helpful tips on using your Kindle 4.

Kindle 4 on-screen software keyboard

  • You can use “prev page”/”next page” buttons to cycle between 5 character tabs on the keyboard (symbols, lowercase, uppercase, etc) . This way you don’t need to go all the way up each time you want to switch upper or lower case. Courtesy of “jswinden” from mobileread.com.
  • To take a screenshot, press “menu” and “keyboard” buttons at the same time.
  • Pressing “back” and “keyboard” buttons at the same time will do a full screen refresh, eliminating ghosting artifacts
  • If you purchased Kindle 4 with Special Offers, you can opt-out of these by visiting Manage Your Kindle Page on Amazon and agreeing to pay $30 difference between prices WSO and non-WSO Kindles.

Kindle Todo List App

I’m happy to announce that our second Kindle application: Kindle Task List Professional is now live on Amazon marketplace!

You can use this app to keep track of long term tasks by assigning priorities and due dates. The app also dubs as a notepad. You can edit task descriptions and import/export them to and from your computer.

App FAQ is available here. You feedback is very much appreciated either here on via email.

What To Consider About A Kindle For College

It’s that time of year again and students new and old are heading back to college for the fall.  Now, more than ever, having an eReader just makes sense for anybody serious about their education.  That said, with so many options on the market it can be hard to choose.  Kindle or Nook?  eReader or Tablet?  Skip it all and just get a laptop, since there are eReading apps anyway?  When trying to decide, there are a few factors that are really important.

First, determine what your eBook needs will be.  Students new to college can expect significant introductory coursework.  This often means older, more widely read works of literature and basic textbooks.  Generally this means extended reading of the literature and textbooks only pulled out to work through assignments.  For that combination, I recommend an eReader like the Kindle or Nook combined with a PC app for textbook reading (They’re only going to be opened for a few minutes at a time anyway).  As always, check the list of required texts to make sure this is feasible before buying.  This combination has the added advantage of paying for itself in savings very quickly since a Kindle will only cost you $114 and many commonly used books can be found for free.

In terms of more advanced students, the individual needs will determine whether use of an eReader is feasible.  Many technical texts require both extended study and full color diagrams to make sense.  The current monochrome limitations of the Kindle would make it less than useful for this.  If the program in question requires extensive illustrated textbook reference, you probably don’t need one.  If you will be spending much time using academic text references like JSTOR, or focusing on purely text-based studies, the Kindle makes perfect sense.

Assuming you have an idea what kind of product you need, the next step is choosing the particular model.  Availability is not really a concern with the Amazon Kindle always including free shipping and the Barnes & Noble Nook available in all of their local stores and many of the college book stores they service.  For the most part, this is a matter of personal preference.  Both devices accomplish everything you would expect from a reading device and neither has a clear advantage over the other.  For a hands-on comparison, many Best Buy stores will have both devices side by side.

I do not recommend using nothing but a laptop PC if the goal is to focus on eBooks.  Extended reading on LCD screens can be uncomfortable at best, and the potential for distraction is far higher than on an eReader.

Similarly, there are no circumstances under which I would consider an iPad a valid substitute for either a laptop or an eReader.  In terms of reading, they fall short due to the short battery life and a back-lit display that can be hard on the eyes during long study sessions.  In classes, the potential for distraction is far higher than on something like a Kindle, which has led to many instructors being uncomfortable even having the devices present in the classroom.  They also certainly do not manage to work as well as a laptop for composition or presentation preparation.  Students will be forced to perform necessary tasks elsewhere.

Whatever the needs, make sure to keep in mind both the Kindle eText rental service and public domain titles available through the Kindle Store (or just Project Gutenberg) for free.  Making use of eBooks will save you money, if you are careful, even accounting for the costs of the reading device.

How to change Kindle dictionary

Amazon Kindle comes with built-in Oxford English dictionary that can be used to look up word definitions. You can buy or download additional dictionaries and change them as you see fit. There are many different dictionaries available for Kindle, including English-Russian Kindle Dictionary,В English-Spanish Kindle Dictionary andВ English-German Dictionary that can be used for instant translation.

Since it seems that some users were unaware of the fact that you can change the default dictionary Kindle uses for looking up words I decided to put together this small tutorial explaining how to swap your Kindle dictionaries back and forth.

How to change Kindle Dictionary

How to change Kindle Dictionary

  1. Unless you are already there, press “Home” button to get to your home screen
  2. Press “Menu” button and select “Settings”
  3. In the settings screen press “Menu” button again and select “Change Primary Dictionary”. If at this point this menu item is non-selectable (light gray color like “Update Your Kindle” menu item on the screenshot above) it means that you have one dictionary (or none) downloaded to your Kindle. Once you download more dictionaries, you will be able to select this option.
  4. Select the dictionary you want to be used for instant word look-up from the list.
  5. Press “Home” to get back to the home screen from the Settings screen.
  6. Open any English book and try it out. Moving the cursor to any English word should cause definition or translation to appear either at top or bottom of the page.

Enjoy!

eLibrary Management on Kindle and other devices

As the owner of several eReader devices and a large library of DRM-free, yet often oddly formatted, eBooks, it can be difficult to make sure that I have access to what I want to read on the device I want to read it on on a given day.  Yeah, I know, this isn’t exactly going to be a common problem, but the software that solves it for me is going to be useful to just about anybody working with a large number of eBooks.  Especially if many of them are from free book sources like Google Books, where you’re likely to get some really shoddy labeling and tagging.

Many of you may already have heard of Calibre, actually.  If so, this may be a bit basic.  For those who haven’t, it is a third party piece of software that allows you to manage all of your eBooks and the associated information, including file conversion and meta-data editing.  It’s worked flawlessly for me for years now and can even handle converting things for the Kindle from Sony’s somewhat outdated BBEB formats.  Just add your book file to the library, set the title and author properly, assuming they aren’t already, and download all the rest of the information right down to the cover art automatically.  Really, couldn’t get much simpler.  As far as the occasional DRM encumbered eBook, which we all have to settle for sometimes when there aren’t any options available, the Calibre library can include the files, it simply can’t alter them.  Not that big a deal, usually, since if somebody went to the trouble of protecting their files I’ve usually found them to be fairly well labeled and tagged as well.

This is just one user’s review, of course.  I’m not even getting into all the many features like building/editing eBook in-text formatting, plug-ins, etc. that many people like about it.  The fact that it functions on a day to day basis with no problems across multiple devices and never causes me issues, however, makes this software invaluable to me more than any extra feature I can think to add.

FB2 to PDF Conversion

I was recently looking around for an easy way to open FB2 eBooks on one of my Kindle. I’ve tried some FB2 to Mobipocket converter in the past and it failed miserably so I gave up on the idea for a while. Recently I gave it another try. This time around I’ve tried to convert FB2 files to PDF. I’ve stumbled upon a marvelous web-service – http://fb2pdf.com/ – it does what it’s name implies. You upload FB2 file and download PDF. The service can even save you a roundtrip and download FB2 files directly from websites like http://lib.rus.ec/. When converting you can specify target device: Kindle 2, DX, Sony, etc so the resulting PDF is optimized for a particular screen size. I couldn’t me happier!

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.

Instapaper + Kindle Problems Find A (Free) Solution

Kindle plus instapaper usb sync solution with mobi filesInstapaper lets you bookmark online content through a handy little bookmarklet that sits in your browser. Then you can log on to their website later or use their iPhone App to read the full articles in one place.

Their connection with the Kindle is simple — they have a service by which your recent articles are emailed to your Kindle or Kindle DX. You get charged $0.15 by Amazon for each email but in the end it is worth it to be able to read it on your favorite e-text reading device.

But there is a problem with this service, the emails do not reach the Kindle users every time they are sent. This is in all likelihood a technical problem between the Instapaper’s service and Amazon but it is taking its time getting fixed. So the Instapaper developer thought up an alternative solution.

Instapaper now allows you to download your 10 most recent articles to a .mobi file that can be transferred to your Kindle. You cannot go more than 10 articles per file for now but you can probably save multiple such files. Syncing is via USB, so it is not completely hassle free but it has three distinct advantages for now.

One is that you get to use this service for free. You will not be paying for the emails that Amazon relays from Instapaper to your Kindle. The second advantage is that you are guaranteed that the sync feature will work all the time. The third is that it works for International users as well. The email feature was only for US users. It is still in beta, so you might run into problems but those who use the Kindle with Instapaper know that it is a fantastic service to have. It adds to our already great Kindle experience.

Wikipedia works on International Kindles in the UK

Kindle UK Wikipedia

Kindle UK Wikipedia

One of the blog subscribers, Ilya who has recently purchased an Kindle 2 International in the UK has confirmed that despite the Amazon statement that experimental browser and blog subscriptions don’t work in the UK, Wikipedia access actually works. However pictures do not load and all other websites are blocked.
Since Amazon has announced that web browsing will not be available worldwide it was natural to assume that Wikipedia access will not work either. It looks like Amazon is treating Wikipedia as a separate feature.
It would be interesting to hear from K2i owners in other countries about their Wikipedia experience. Either if it works or it doesn’t – please drop a comment.

Update: It has been confirmed by several people that pictures in wikipedia now load.

International Kindle FAQ

My post about international release of Kindle received more attention than any other post on this blog so far. A lot of readers are asking questions so I’m going to answer these in this FAQ to the best of my ability. Some of the answers are going to be guestimates since I haven’t received my World-ready version of Kindle 2 yet. I’ll keep adding and changing content here as I learn together with you.

What countries is Kindle available to?

As of October 6th, 2009 Amazon has revealed international version of Kindle 2 eBook reader that officially ships to 169 countries. However you should be aware that some features like wireless, experimental web-browser, blog subscriptions (including this one) are not available everywhere. Number of books that you can buy is also different for every country. Complete list of countries, book counts and other details can be found here.

Why isn’t Kindle available in my country? When it will become available?

Although I can’t know for sure since I don’t work for Amazon and never had, from my experience with eBook industry I can guess that it may be related to one of the following:

  • Amazon didn’t rally enough publishers in a particular country so book selection would have been too small.
  • Some provision of copyright law prevents Amazon from offering Kindle in a particular country.

I’m sure that there are no political/religious/etc reasons behind these limitations. Amazon is in the business of making money. And you can’t make money by turning down paying customers. That’s why I’m sure that they are making efforts to overcome these limitations and ship Kindle worldwide.

But I really want to buy a Kindle now. What should I do?

There is a way to buy Kindle when you are outside US. It has been known and used long before Kindle became internationally available. As of recently you will also need to use proxy server, VPN or similar solution to overcome geographical restrictions.

I have already used gift-cards to purchase Kindle and use it outside of the US. Can I re-register it to my “non-US” account now?

I absolutely see no reason why you can’t. You can de-register your Kindle from your “fake US” account, and then register it with your local account. The downside is that you will loose the ability to download books that you’ve purchased from your “fake US” account. So before de-registering you should download these books to your computer make a secure backup copy. It may be a good idea to use one of the secure online backup services. You can then copy these books to your re-registered Kindle and you should still be able to read them.

Why does the coverage map show that Whispernet will work in my country but I still can’t buy Kindle?

Wireless coverage merely indicates where Kindle wireless will work. This only depends on roaming agreements AT&T has with wireless operators around the globe. However more is needed for Amazon to sell Kindles in particular country as was stated above.

Kindle International Coverage Map

Kindle International Coverage Map

Where can I find Whilspernet coverage map?

You can view the large map by clicking on the small map image to the right. Or you can access the interactive map here.

Is international Kindle DX available for purchase?

Currently only international version of Kindle 2 was released. However there are some rumors and speculations that international Kindle DX will be released next year.

What network does international Kindle use for wireless connectivity?

International version of Kindle 2 uses AT&T 3G GSM network in the USA. Outside of US it uses 3G GSM wireless networks of AT&T roaming partners.

Can I use WiFi with Kindle?

No. Not directly at least. You can download books and magazines to your PC via. Amazon.com website using WiFi Internet connection and then transfer them to Kindle using USB connection.

Does international version of Kindle support non-Latin Unicode characters?

Although I can’t tell for sure until my international Kindle 2 arrives, there is nothing on Amazon website that indicates any changes compared to the US version of Kindle. You can still use Kindle Unicode Font Hack to expand the character range Kindle can display.

Is it possible to upgrade my US Kindle to international version? Will firmware update solve the problem?

No. GSM and CDMA networks require different hardware. This hardware is not easy to replace and doing so will surely void your Kindle warranty. Even if you were able to replace the hardware, you would still need to make lots of software changes to make it work. Nobody was able to do this as far as I know.

What is the story with international book download surcharge of $1.99? Who will pay it? Where? When?

International data roaming is expensive. When I visit Canada with my US iPhone, I’m offered a rate of $15.35 per megabyte for data roaming. Average book is at least 300 kilobytes. This would translate to around $5.00 additional cost per book. So Amazon’s surcharge of $1.99 actually looks like a bargain compared to that.

There seems to be a lot of confusion around who is going to be charged this amount and when. My understanding is that only customers with US shipping address would be charged extra $1.99 per book when travelling abroad. Customers from all other countries are never charged anything above the actual list price of the book no matter where they download it. However this is reflected in the book price which is $2.00 higher than for US customers.

Why Australian Kindle is sold without AC power adapter for charging when customers in all other countries get one?

No idea. My guess is that it has something to do with safety regulations in Australia.

Why blog subscription and experimental web-browser are turned off for my country?

Wireless data costs. You can easily use 1 megabyte of traffic just by viewing several Wikipedia pages. In fact homepage of this blog would amount to roughly one megabyte of data if you factor in all of the images. Since Amazon doesn’t own wireless networks it has to pay for all this data. It would be too expensive for them as profits from book sales would not cover it.

My guess is that Amazon was able to strike some kind of special deal with wireless operators in Hong Kong, Mexico and Japan to make this work.

Why do newspapers and magazines come without pictures outside of US?

Same reason – wireless data costs. Images would increase the amount of data that needs to be transferred causing Amazon to loose money on subscriptions. Hopefully in the future when international wireless data becomes cheaper this should no longer be an issue.

Other questions or corrections.

Let me know if there are other questions that you believe should be covered in this FAQ. If you believe that some data became outdated or inaccurate – drop me a comment and I’ll what I can do.

Solution for cracked Kindle problem

Kindle Cover Velcro Fix

Kindle Cover Velcro Fix

While there is an ongoing law suit against Amazon on the matter of Kindle leather cases causing damage to Kindle devices, a user on mobileread.com forum has proposed a simple solution. While it will not help if your Kindle is already broken it will prevent you from damaging your device by opening the cover on the wrong side.

All you need to do is stitch some velcro tape to the upper right corner of the cover like shown on the picture. If you don’t want to stitch I believe that epoxy or super-glue will also do the trick.

The original thread can be found here. Personally, opening the cover on the wrong side never was a problem for me as I always make sure that I see the logo badge before I open it. But it may be helpful to someone.

Amazon may be blocking non-US customers from buying Kindle books

The method to trick Amazon into selling you a Kindle if you live outside of US was long known. There hundreds if not thousands non-US people using Amazon Kindle nowdays. However, recently, according to this thread on mobileread.com forums, please using this method started getting the following message when trying to buy a Kindle book:
We are sorry…
We could not process your order because of geographical restrictions on the product which you were attempting to purchase. Please refer to the terms of use for this product to determine the geographical restrictions.
We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

We are sorry…

We could not process your order because of geographical restrictions on the product which you were attempting to purchase. Please refer to the terms of use for this product to determine the geographical restrictions.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

There could be several things that are going on:

  • Software bug. Several users have reported Amazon.com website having some glitches recently.
  • Amazon did this unintentionally. It could be that they’ve rolled out a general system for geographically targeting or restricting certain products (not just Kindle books) and this message is one of the effects of this system. Perhaps it’s related to upcoming Kindle UK release… If that were the case, based on my own experience with software industry I would estimate that UK launch to be within weeks from now since it doesn’t make sense to make changes to production website that makes millions of dollars worth of sales per day long before you plan to release something. It can be Amazons major move for this holiday season and it would totally make sense. Though this is 100% my speculation.
  • Amazon specifically targeted Kindle books. Most likely this is because one of the non-US copyright holders found out that their intellectual property is sold in their country (ex: France) and they are not getting their rightful share of profits. Then they demanded action from Amazon and Amazon blocked Kindle books for non-US IP addresses. Let’s explore this possibility in detail…

The last scenario is yet another manifestation of how complex international copyright system is. Usually different publishers have rights to the same book in different countries. This worked well for paper book publishing since few people would like to purchase foreign edition of the book due because they would rather read it in their native language. It didn’t make sense to transport books internationally since they are heavy and it’s cheaper to print them close to where they will be sold. However when books went digital this legacy system started causing a lot of grief to publishers, book sellers and most of all to the customers. This was recently demonstrated by events surrounding Orwell’s 1984. Perhaps in the future publishing industry will adapt and embrace the global economy…

In this particular matter I doubt that Amazon would go do great pains to strictly enforce geographical restrictions on Kindle books. Mostly it’s because relatively few people used this loophole and amount of money involved is not significant. If Amazon were to press the issue, it would generate bad publicity just as Orwellioan deletion did. So they’ll only do what is needed to get the particular publisher happy. So I’m sure in time people will find a workaround for this problem.

One good way to try would be to have a separate browser that uses US pusroxy for all interactions with Amazon.com website from the day you create your new account. I’d recommend using real HTTP proxy that you configure in your browser rather than anonymizer websites that load destination websites in a frame as these are prone to bugs. The following proxy list would be a good place to start.

If you are affected by this issue or can add valuable information about the topic – please post a comment.

Update:

“Many thanks to Caroline Wong from the amazon forums for giving a hint to the solution. Amazon is now checking the IP address for those without a valid one-click payment option – generally those purchasing with gift certificates. You need to do a VPN to a US ip address – just do a google on “VPN to US” and download the software. Just run the software before any amazon session. Just bought 3 kindle books of amazon using gift certificates.”

So it looks like it is IP-related. Using public US proxy or VPN should solve the problem. I’ll look into the UltraSurf software and will post a review once I’ve tested it myself.

Amazon specifically doing the check for people without one click buying option would explain why most US residents travelling abroad like me will not be affected by this change.

Update 2:

I’ve just received the following email:

Hello.

I’m the guy who started the “Am I Screwed?” post on mobileread.com.

I update the thread. The problem is now over. People can buy books normally again, without needing to use a US IP. Amazon says it was a temporary glitch.

I myself (in Canada) just bought a book normally and successfully.

So it looks like this might be a side effect of upcoming international release or a simple bug.

Thanks to everyone who helped contribute information on the issue.

Copy-paste for search and notes

Kindle Copy-Paste

Kindle Copy-Paste

As I was playing around with my Kindle DX, I’ve found an undocumented feature that can be used in a couple of ways. I checked and it also works in Kindle 2. It’s possible that it is known in the Kindle community or even documented but I wasn’t aware of it until I discovered it by accident the same way as I’ve found Kindle calculator easter egg.

If you start selecting text in Kindle book or document with 5-way controller but instead of pressing the controller the second time to highlight the selection press any alphanumeric key or space bar, the highlighted text would get copied into the search box as shown on picture.

From here you can go two ways:

  • either use this text as a search query against current book/document, all of your kindle content, Kindle Store, Google, Wikipedia or default dictionary (to change search scope tilt 5-way controller left or right)
  • or select the rightmost search button “note” that would paste text from a search box to a newly created note. You can then edit the note text as you see fit. The note will be anchored to the location where you have finished your selection.

I hope you will find this tip useful.

Wireless Kindle Charging by WildCharge

WildCharge for Kindle

WildCharge for Kindle

By the looks of it, WildCharge products are going to be a hit. As reported by netbook-expert.com, wireless inductive charging soon is going to be available for over 500,000 products of all sorts and shapes.

It works like this: WildCharge pad is connected by wire to a power outlet and acts as power transmitter. There are several power receivers available that when placed on the charge pad will provide power for the devices they are connected to. For phones (including iPhone and iPod Touch) everything is nice and simple – there are neat thin sleeves that have the power receiver integrated in them and also protect your phone from scratches.

For other devices there is PowerDisc with PowerLinks that allows system to be used with a wide range of devices with standard connectors. Kindle (except for first generation) is one of such devices as it uses micro-USB connector for charging. Unfortunately this has little advantage over plugging it into AC outlet or PC since you are unlikely to carry around Kindle with this thing dangling from it. However the fact that they chose Kindle as an example device allows me to hope that they will come up with sleek Kindle sleeve soon enough. The moment it hits the market I’m buying it.

Just placing the Kindle on a mat would be some much easier than plugging it in twice a week. It would also help me develop a habit of piling up all my electronic gadgets in one place so that I don’t have to look for them all over the house.

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.