10 Amazon Kindle hacks

Why should you be bound by your Kindle’s restraints? If you’ve got the know-how your Kindle can be a virtual newspaper, its own reading light, compatible with a Bluetooth keyboard, and can even run Linux. Read on to see how, and prepare to bin that warranty.

Now we should state from the start that tinkering with your gear will invalidate your warranty, and unless you know what you’re doing, could actually damage your Kindle, so do so at your own risk. But speaking to the Seattle Times back in 2007, Charlie Tritschler, director of Kindle, admitted that while Amazon wasn’t opening up the Kindle for users to tweak, “all devices can be hacked. That’s something people can do.” When asked if there would be APIs and software developers to write Kindle applications, he said, “That’s an important future direction for us.”
Well some hackers didn’t want to wait, and so got busy with their Kindles. Here are 10 of the best hacks.

1. Bluetooth keyboard

Hacker Darron was fed up using a keyboard with keys the size of Tic Tacs, and so set about hooking up a wireless QWERTY to his Kindle DX for easier typing. He attached a Sparkfun Bluetooth Mate under the back cover, and modified it to take only 3.3 volts instead of the 4 coming off the Kindle to stop it from overloading. And hey presto – typing with a full size wireless keyboard straight onto your Kindle.

2. Reading light

The beauty of e-ink is that it looks natural and is as easy on the eyes as a regular printed page because of the lack of backlight. The downside is that you can’t read in the dark unless you’re willing to spend on a portable light. Or, as another hacker did, you could make your own. Using the power from the pockets in the top of the Kindle (they run the regular clip-on lamps you can buy), he attached his own brass hooks mounted on a piece of basswood. Then he housed the LEDs in another piece of basswood; these draw their power from the hooks and illuminate the screen. And there you have it, minimal expenditure required.

3. Use your own screen savers

If you’d like your favourite album cover, or a family photo as your screensaver on your Kindle, all you need to do is jailbreak it with a .zip file, then run an update. Then simply connect the Kindle to your computer, and drag which photos you’d like as screen savers into the folder that the hack has created. You’ll need to restart then, either using the auto reboot feature, or by just restarting manually. You can even set your screen savers to random – just create a blank file called random in the linkss folder and then do a full restart.

4. Use your own fonts

Another one from Mobileread. Again, your Kindle will need to be jailbroken, unplugged, then restarted. Upload fonts from the hack into the linkfonts/fonts directory, restart, and you’ll have a load more fonts to choose from, making reading that much more interesting than thousands of words in Times New Roman.

5. Web browsing over USB

This is a pretty strange hack for the second generation Kindle, but quite cool nonetheless. There’s actually a debug setting that enables browsing over USB, so you’ll need to hook your Kindle up to your Mac and then you can use the internet on it using your computer’s connection. It’s the work of renowned Kindle hacker Jesse Vincent. And it’s slightly pointless, we know, as it’d make much more sense to use your computer for the internet, but still, always fun to experiment with these things.

6. Virtual newspaper

Yes, you can use the Kindle 3’s improved browser as a news feed thanks to Google Reader, as Wired reader Ron Winters pointed out. Open the browser, start Google Reader, and hit ‘right’ cursor to enter the news articles. Then just press ‘f’ to enter full screen mode and turn your Kindle into a personalised virtual newspaper, scrolling through pages using the page turn buttons. Which, in our view, beats The Daily hands down.

7. Kindle 2 ePub and PDF support

The Kindle now supports PDFs but still not ePub documents, but back before even PDFs were a possibility, Jesse Vincent wanted to expand his Kindle’s abilities. He wrote a program called Savory that converts DRM files on the fly from PDF and ePub and Mobipocket, so they’re readable on the second generation Kindle. But as ever, there is a risk, so beware before you download it. As Vincent says on his website: “Installing Savory or any other third-party update on your Kindle may destroy your Kindle. If that happens, you will have a $360 paper weight. DO NOT INSTALL SAVORY UNLESS YOU’RE WILLING TO END UP WITH A DEAD KINDLE.” So that’s pretty clear then.

8. Linux Ubuntu

My, hasn’t Jesse Vincent been busy with his Kindle 2. Not content with making it compatible with ePub and PDFs, or getting online on it using his computer’s internet connection, he also installed a version of the open source Linux operating system. And again, he used the debug mode to do it. This opens up the Kindle to all sorts of possibilities to take third party applications; just don’t expect iPad-like performance from its specs.

9. Kindle DRM broken

Fed up with the kind of DRM last seen on iTunes, hacker I Love Cabbages came up with a program called unswindle which removes the Kindle’s rights restrictions, letting you do what you want with your e-books, such as read them on a different device. unswindle converts Amazon e-books into the open Mobipocket format, effectively making them DRM-free, as opposed to Savory which just makes readable previously unreadable formats.

10. Ebook Text Formatter

If you like reading long pages from the web, this is the hack for you. It reformats web pages so they’re easier to read on the Kindle, reformatting paragraph breaks, replaces html tags with white space, etc., so they look a lot more like text from a book. Check out the Blog Kindle for full instructions and a download.

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