The Kindle's Hidden Treasures
At first, the plain Kindle device may seem relatively no-frills: it is an eReader, first and foremost, with Wi-Fi capability meant only for browsing the Amazon store and buying titles, but it was never meant to be the internet surfing, music and media playing, mini-computer that the Fire model is.
All of this is true, but with that said, the Kindle has a few hidden treasures and tricks up its sleeve that not many users know about. The biggest is a beta web browser that the Kindle staff is hoping to develop...with help from fans and their input. The browser app, which can be accessed under the “Experimental” section on the device menu, is almost painfully slow (the Kindle’s Wi-Fi reception is weak in the first place), but it’s a fun little hidden feature to play around with. Furthermore, it can check email, run Google maps, or even stream music, so while most smartphones will have superior web technology, the browser on the Kindle might come in handy, under the right circumstances.
Elsewhere, the Kindle’s typical “screensavers” (no more than a method for Amazon to advertise directly to their customers), can be manipulated and changed with a little bit of simple computer wizardry. Visit www.howtogeek.com/howto/37424/jailbreak-your-kindle-for-dead-simple-screensaver-customization/ for a comprehensive guide.
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How I Became a Kindle Addict
Last decade, the music world was changed forever when Apple introduced the iPod, rapidly phasing out the physical album and moving virtually all listeners over to the digital format. Undoubtedly, Amazon was hoping for a similar kind of success when they launched their Kindle series of eReaders in 2007. Now in its fourth generation, the Kindle has evolved from its clunky, pre-historic calculator appearance into a sleek and desirable device with a battery that lasts a month and enough storage space to keep a casual reader busy for the next ten years. And so it is that, thanks to my girlfriend and a particularly splendid anniversary present, I enter the Kindle market.
When I made the switch from compact discs to iPods in 2004, that technology was also in its fourth generation, so my delayed entry into the eBook world has had a pleasant air of deja-vu about it. Indeed, as eReader technology continues to improve and the Kindle continues to become more appealing (Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire, a full-fledged tablet to rival Apple’s more expensive iPad just last year), it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that it could do for publications the same thing that the iPod did for the music industry. Don’t get me wrong, I am an absolute sucker for traditional print books, but in this day and age, when my “to read” list stretches on for 20 or 30 titles, when the library waiting list for many of them includes as many persons, and when my bookshelves are bursting enough as is, without adding a 500-page manuscript every week or two, the Kindle is the perfect solution. It provides more freedom in checking out titles, removing the necessity to track them down in the library, dig through the stacks at a bookstore, or wait a few days for Amazon to ship a physical copy.
The first thing I noticed about my Kindle was just how user-friendly it is. My preconception about eReaders was that using one would be like reading off a computer screen, and while I certainly spend a lot of my time reading articles and posts online, when it comes to novels or full-length writing projects, I would much rather break away from a monitor display in favor of good old fashioned pages. Needless to say, there was a large gap in my knowledge about the Kindle, and I was pleasantly surprised at how seamless the transition from print really was. The original Kindle was designed to reflect traditional print sources more than LCD displays, and the genius of that decision is evident in everything about this device, from the lack of backlight (yes, if reading at night, a lamp is still necessary, but it’s also significantly easier on the eyes) and the astounding visibility of the words in even the brightest sunlight (where glare obscures devices with more “sophisticated,” full-color displays, from smartphones to the Kindle Fire).
And then, of course, there is the heart of the matter: the books themselves. Amazon.com is the biggest bookstore on the planet, and they have dedicated themselves entirely over the past five years to offering as many of them as possible in Kindle format. EBooks are generally offered at cheaper prices than their physical counterparts (rightfully), especially when compared to hardcover originals, and are obviously given unlimited supply, so that readers can bypass those lengthy library waitlist for in-demand titles. That said, there is still no “rental” option available on the Amazon Kindle store, and while the $8.99 regular eBook price is certainly more affordable than buying (and shipping) everything in physical form, prolific readers will find that those prices can add up fairly quickly. A Kindle “library” of sorts, even if it only offered favorites, new releases, and bestsellers, could do wonders to make eReader technology an even more attractive option for print purists, and it is likely that offering a rental price or $2 or $3 a book would pay for itself in the increase of appeal Amazon’s technology would surely receive as a result.
But those without a specific “to read” list like my own (which contains many of the current literary phenomena) will be thrilled to find that the list of cheap or free Kindle books actually numbers quite high. Many authors self-publish their works through Amazon and offer them at cheap prices, while several websites offer daily round-ups of free Kindle books. These pages (which include Pixel of Ink, Free Kindle Booksand Tips, and Ereader News Today) are essential, offering everything from fantasy fiction to instructional books, and one of the first things a new Kindle user should do is add them to their Facebook or Twitter feeds. Undoubtedly, there are more free eBooks available in any given week than the typical reader will be able to keep up with completely, but by following these pages and grabbing an appealing title or two every few days, readers may discover authors they never otherwise would, or find something relevant to their hobbies, tastes, or careers. Just like in music, talent in writing is everywhere, and Amazon and their Kindle device have made it possible for more people to get their work out there, which could only be a good thing.
I only received my Kindle two weeks ago, but I am already hooked. From the little things (reading while eating has never been easier, since holding the book open is no longer necessary), to the big ones (I am finally making a dent in my “to read” list, embarking on George R.R. Martin’s dense and epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire), I feel like I have finally been enlightened and brought into the new age of the literary art. There is still something about a tangible book that even the Kindle cannot recreate, and I will admit that I will probably always want to own and experience my favorite books in that format, but I feel like eReaders have endless possibilities, from giving readers more options and better access to them, to perhaps even revamping the entire textbook industry and freeing poor college students from the grotesquely overpriced (and underused) physical products that encompass it. Like I said, there are still some kinks to work out, still some services and ideas that Amazon and their competitors would be wise to put in place, but for now, the Kindle remains an exciting and addicting device, and a downright essential for 21st century book aficionados.
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Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In edition to writing for Independent Publisher, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for Rockfreaks.net and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.