Tips for Kindle Owners

So you’ve got a nice new Kindle, all fresh and filled with possibilities. Obviously you can buy books for it, but what else can you do with it? Read on to find out.

Getting Free Books

Once you’ve setup your Kindle you’ll want to get some books to read on it. You can buy books from Amazon (or other ebook stores, assuming they support it) but there are also plenty of free ebooks available and not just those which are out of copyright.

Supported Formats

It’s probably worth saying at this point that ebooks come in a variety of formats. The Kindle will support its own AZW format as well as Topaz (TPZ), plain text (TXT), Mobipocket (MOBI, PRC) and PDF documents. It can also handle HTML files and Word documents if sent via your Kindle email address as it will convert them (more details below) and you can convert from various formats (notably EPUB, the other big ebook format) using additional software (more details below).

The one thing to watch for is buying books in EPUB format (or other formats) as they’re likely to be protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM) code which will stop you being able to convert it.

Where to Find Free Ebooks

OK, so that said, starting with the big names, Project Gutenberg has long been a provider of free ebooks, largely those out of copyright, and they usually provide them in a range of formats so you should find one you can either download and load directly onto your Kindle (just connect it to your computer via the USB cable and copy the files into the documents folder, or use the software mentioned below).

Google Books is another big player in this market. They list books which you can’t download (but can preview) as well as books that are fully available (switch to advanced search and select ‘Full view only’ to focus on complete books). If the book is listed in their ebookstore then they usually offer then in EPUB and PDF (select the ‘Read on your device’ link) and if not then typically they’re in PDF.

Aside from selling ebooks, Amazon also list free ones as well. If you find the Kindle eBooks section of the site and scroll down to the bottom of the navigation on the left you should find a link to Free eBook Collections, which has details of external sites as well as the Kindle Popular Classics selection.

One of the sites linked to by Amazon is ManyBooks.net which, again, offers a variety of free books, largely out of copyright, in a wide range of formats to download.

Sending Content to your Kindle

Aside from books, Amazon also offers a range of periodicals to subscribe to, various newspapers and magazines, and Kindle Singles is an upcoming section to feature content in the 10-30,000 word range. Longer articles and novellas essentially. Another great way to get content onto your Kindle is to send web pages to it so you can read them on the device at your convenience (when you connect via WiFi it’ll download them automatically).

There are several ways to do this and, once setup, is a really fast way to save content for later. If you use Google’s Chrome web browser, install the Send to Kindle extension, if you’re on another browser then use the Send to Kindle bookmark from Klip.me (who provide the Chrome extension) or similar offerings from Instapaper (although you need a free account) and Readbility.

These basically send things to your Kindle email address, which you can find on the Manage Your Kindle page when you’re logged in to Amazon’s site. You have to manually allow email addresses to send to your Kindle, which is what the setup for these apps requires. This also means you can send other files (Word documents, etc) to your Kindle and they’ll get converted automatically.

This email address can also be used by local software (more info below) to load books onto your Kindle without the need to connect via USB.

Something to be aware of though, is that if you have a 3G Kindle, this service costs money if you download over Whispernet (the 3G service). It’s free for WiFi (so if you have a WiFi-only Kindle, don’t worry). If you have a 3G Kindle, make sure to use the alternative username@free.kindle.com address which doesn’t get charged and only downloads when you’re connected via WiFi.

As I mentioned earlier, you can manually load books onto your Kindle via USB as well (just copy them into the Documents folder).

Software to Manage your Kindle

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, you can do most things with the Kindle using built-in tools, but a great third-party app called Calibre brings many of these together, along with some extra functionality.

Ostensibly it’s an ebook manager, designed to act as a library to manage your books, but it can also convert books into suitable formats, transfer files to and from your Kindle (via USB or email) and subscribe to various news sources which are then downloaded automatically, formatted and loaded onto your device ready for you to peruse. You will even be able to preview and read ebooks on your computer. Among its other features, can also complete book metadata (author, blurb and other details) and download covers.

Once in your library you can search by metadata or browse by tags, author, etc. Useful when your collection gets larger. It can also search book stores to find the best price if you’re looking to buy.

Audio on the Kindle

The Kindle also has speakers built-in and can play back music and audiobooks.

The Kindle technically only supports audiobooks in Audible audio format 4 and Audible Enhanced (AAX) format from Audible (.com or .co.uk), which Amazon owns. It can even deliver these over WiFi or you can copy by USB into the Audible folder. They’ll be listed as any other book on the Home screen, but with a note to indicate they are audible. You could, technically, play back audiobooks in MP3 format in the same way as music, but you lose any chapter support.

To play music, just copy your files (it only supports MP3) into the Music folder, you can start the music by hitting the Menu button when on the Home screen, go to Experimental and select play music. You can control the volume using the plus and minus rocker button on the bottom of the Kindle. You can also attach headphones to listen in private.

While it’ll play music that is in sub-folders, there’s no control over the order, it just plays the first track it finds and keeps on from there. While it’s playing, you can use ALT+spacebar to pause/resume and ALT+F to skip to the next track. You can also stop the music by going back to the Experimental page from the Menu and selecting pause music.

Listening to Normal Content

Although support for audiobooks is limited, you can use the built-in Text-to-Speech functionality to read a book to you. Just open the book (or other piece of content) and press the text key (the one with two A’s next to the Home button). Once on, you can change it from a male to female voice and change the rate it reads to slow it down or speed it up. You can start the reading from a specific spot by moving to the relevant page and then placing the cursor next to the text where you want it to start.

Browse the Web

Possibly not the ideal device for it, but under the Experimental options from the Menu on the Home screen you’ll find a web browser option which will allow you to open and view web pages, you can zoom in on areas and combine it with screen rotation (see below) to help with layout.

Change the Angle

Obviously portrait mode works best for most things, but from the text menu (the key with two A’s next to the Home button) you can select the option to rotate the display to any of the four variations, so if you want to get more words per line but without reducing the text size, that’s an option.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully that gives you some ideas as to what you can do with your Kindle, but that’s not all, so check out the Customise Your Reading page over at Amazon for more tips.