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Get More From Your Kindle: Tips, Tricks, Hacks, and Free Books

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If you have an ebook reader chances are it’s a Kindle. Today we’re taking a look at ways you can get more from your Kindle using built-in tools, experimental features, and third party software. Read on to supercharge your Kindle experience.

You might have bought your Kindle, used it to buy some titles from the Kindle store, and thought that’s all there was to Kindle ownership. Millions of Kindle owners are perfectly happy with that arrangement but you can squeeze much more life and enjoyment out of your Kindle by digging into the device, employing third party hacks and software bundles, and more.

Jailbreak Your Kindle for Custom Screensavers

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Jailbreaking your Kindle doesn’t give you quite the range of tools and abilities that jailbreaking an iPhone does but it’s still a pretty neat trick to really customize your Kindle to fit your personality. On my Kindle, for example, I replaced the default screensaver with a large collection of pinup paintings by American pinup artist Gil Elvgren (pack available here) and on my wife’s Kindle I replaced it with a collection of Wonder Woman art (pack available here).

You can follow our guide to jailbreaking your Kindle here (and keep up on the world of Kindle jailbreaking here for the latest and greatest hacks). Creating your own screensaver images is easy; we detail how in our guide. If you’d prefer to custom without the work of cropping and scaling your own images make sure to check out some of the online Kindle wallpaper depots like this Kindle wallpaper Tumblr and KindleScreensavers, as well as searching Google for Kindle-friendly images like so.

Format Non-Kindle Store Books for the Kindle

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When you buy books on Amazon.com or from your Kindle they arrive neatly formatted and ready to rock on your Kindle. If you have ebooks that you have purchased from other sources like PDF, ePUB, LIT, or other formats you likely want to read them on your Kindle. The Kindle can natively handle the following file types: MOBI, PRC, TXT, and TPZ. The Kindle, as of firmware 2.3, also supports PDF files. PDF files aren’t usually formatted for ebook readers (the margins are huge, the fonts don’t scale, etc.) so even though you can load them on your Kindle you’ll likely want to convert them.

Fortunately Calibre, a third party and open source ebook manager, is amazingly robust and perfect for managing an ebook library of any size and with practically any device. We’ve shown you before how to convert PDF to ePUB and how to convert Word docs to ePUB using Calibre. You can easily swap out the ePUB part for MOBI and convert to your heart’s content for your Kindle. If you’re curious which formats are the best for conversion, they lay it out in their extensive FAQ here.

Formatting Manga for Crisp and Easy Reading on Your Kindle

DSC_6197Perhaps your problem isn’t that you want to convert one book format to another book format but that you want to read picture-based literature on your Kindle. Many Manga fans notice, for instance, that the Kindle is roughly the size of a Manga trade paperback and that the grayscale screen is a great match for the grayscale of Manga artwork.

The match seemed like such a perfect fit that one Manga fan even created a program called Mangle to help Manga (and comic book) fans optimize their collections for reading on the Kindle. You can check out our guide to using the application here. Even if you’re not a Manga fan, Mangle is an awesome application for optimizing your Kindle screensavers. When we ran it through our collection it shaved the size by 40+% without any noticeable loss in quality.

Score Thousands of Free Books Online

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This tip isn’t Kindle-specific, but it’s worth mentioning here. Although the Kindle Store has a large free and discounted books section (if you haven’t checked it out yet and you’re a Kindle owner, you really should) there are many other places to find free books online—and you won’t even have to hoist the Jolly Roger to get them.

Catalogs of public works, book giveaways, and more all contribute to the pool of free books available. Check out our guide to finding free books across the web here.

Access Your Ebook Collection Anywhere in the World

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The Kindle’s 4GB storage capacity is more than enough to hold thousands of books but if you’re a dedicated bibliophile you never want to be without your books, right?

Never find yourself settled into a lounge chair at your favorite resort only to discover you forgot to copy the books over from your computer to your Kindle. Calibre, the awesome ebook management application we promoted earlier in this guide to help with book conversions, also has a sweet media server built in that will help you link your Kindle (or other ebook reader) to your ebook library wherever you may roam. You can read all about configuring the media server here.

Convert Web Articles for Your Kindle

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Reading books on the Kindle is great but there’s no need to limit yourself. You can both browse the web and read web-based articles from your Kindle and, from the comfort of your computer, send articles wirelessly and neatly converted to your Kindle.

The first method requires no outside effort. Navigate on your Kindle to Menu –> Experimental –> Web Browser and then punch in the address of a site you want to read articles on. When you find an article you want to read then all you have to do is hit the Enter key and navigate the zoom pane that appears to highlight the body of the article (instead of the ads, sidebars, and such). Press the Menu button again and select Article Mode. The Kindle will zoom and reformat the text for you. It’s not perfect but it works pretty darn well most of the time. You can see the results in the screenshot above.

Alternatively you can take advantage of the Kindle delivery service. Your Kindle has a unique email address that you can email files to. These files are then converted and wirelessly transferred to your Kindle. You can read about how to identify and use your Kindle email address here. Once you know what your Kindle email address is you can use the awesome Kindlability bookmark to zip articles right from your desktop browser to your Kindle. 

Update Social Media Accounts from Your Kindle

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Although nobody is going to toss aside their smartphone to start browsing Facebook from their Kindle, you can push social media updates from your Kindle to both Twitter and Facebook. The entire setup is designed to make it easy to share snippets of text from books you are reading. If you’re interested in playing around with it navigate to Menu –> Settings –> Social Networks –> Manage. There you can authorize your Kindle to access both your Twitter and Facebook account. The sharing is fairly primitive and would, ideally, share a tiny URL to the book you’re talking about, but for now you’re limited to sharing quotes from the book that can be appended with a custom message.

Play Games on Your Kindle

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Your Kindle is no smartphone and there’s no chance at all you’ll be convinced of that by the quality of the games on it. None the less there are some little Easter Egg games hidden on the Kindle. From the main screen you can press ALT+SHIFT+M to load up Mine Sweeper. Once you’ve loaded up Mine Sweeper you can press the G key to load up a copy of GoMoku. You’re not going to get confused and think you’re playing Angry Birds but if you’re taking a break from reading a dense novel it’s a nice little distraction.


Have a Kindle tip, trick, or hack to share that we didn’t cover here? Have a collection of tricks to share for other popular ebook readers? Sound off in the comments and share your wisdom with your fellow readers.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 06/21/11

Comments (14)

  1. johnny

    thanks for the article, but your link to the kindle jailbreak guide goes to the wonder woman wiki page!

  2. infmom

    OK, now do one for Sony Reader. :)

  3. Jason Fitzpatrick

    Whoooops. Lemme fix that! =)

  4. ASIANxREDNECK

    once jailbroken i guess you lose your syncing abilities with amazon or no?

  5. The Geek

    My Kindle is jailbroken and the sync works just fine.

  6. dima

    Most of this was already posted before… Dear Geek, are you running out of stuff to write about?

  7. Deluth

    No love for the nook??

  8. Tim

    Isn’t the kindle ripe for text based MUD’s?

  9. Tim

    Is there a keyboard for the kindle yet?

  10. 1mb

    To convert Word docs to epub, i suggest Libreoffice + Writer2ePub extension.
    Result of convertion is a completely validated epub.

  11. DaveS

    Another feature that wasn’t mentioned is that Amazon has Whispersync which manages your ebook synchronization across multiple platforms. This woks fine with books published from Amazon, but what if you want to read/sync a book that’s not from Amazon? Calibre to the rescue again! Calibre can create MOBI format books that contain the Amazon default metadata that works with Whispersync. The trick is that once you’ve converted the ebook, you need to manually add it to your different platforms. I use this to sync my books on my Kindle with my iPhone and PC. Works great.

  12. dee

    I downloaded Calibre but when I clicked to install, a window popped up saying the Publisher could not be verified.

    Did anyone else have this problem? I didn’t install because of this.

    Thanks,
    dee

  13. Ushindi

    I’ve also asked before – any chance of an article about the Nookl? Any little secrets we Nook owners should know?

    @Dee: Calibre is an entirely safe download, seriously. Just make certain you get it from a safe source, such as H-T Geek or CNet, or the Calibre website itself. If you try to get it from a BitTorrent site or JoeSmith.com, then you might wonder a little.

  14. Benjamin R

    If you know where the file came from, I wouldn’t hesitate to install the software. I have installed it, and upgraded it with each new version. I also have the same result with Irfanview, which I have installed on all my computers. Calibre is a good application to have.

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