Reviving a Kindle, hacking a Nook, and more E-Ink, please?

I remember back in 2007 when Amazon announced their first Kindle E-Ink portable reader, I honestly couldn’t imagine how it could be useful. Why in the world would I abandon print books and stare at yet another screen?

A couple years later, I sat next to a (rather talkative) passenger on a trip to Seattle. She had an Amazon Kindle–it was the first time I’d seen one in person. While I knew all about the device’s functionality, I couldn’t get over how appealing the E-Ink display appeared.

The image was greyscale, there was no backlighting and the print was incredibly crisp. It looked like great paper copy. She handed me her Kindle and I read a couple pages and was hooked.

In November, 2011, I purchased my first Kindle E-Ink reader: the Kindle III keyboard. That particular model sported Wifi and free international 3G connectivity.  It also had a cool experimental page with a functional, basic web browser that could actually cruise the internet–albeit with an interface that was never designed to do so. For a while there, I had free 3G service through that browser which came in very handy when I was off-grid two months the following summer on Prince Edward Island, Canada.

While I didn’t use the Kindle every day (I do still love paper books) it became an amazing and useful travel companion. It was great hopping on a flight with a whole library of books in tow.

Fast-forward a decade…

These days, I’m not sure if the 3G functionality still works, but my Kindle still does. Indeed, it works as well as the day I purchased it, save the battery life.

I used to charge the Kindle and it would operate for weeks on one charge. Lately, it needed charging almost daily. Not a surprise as this device celebrates it’s 10th birthday this year.

Even though consumer electronics manufacturers these days don’t want you to know, you can almost always replace batteries in devices as long as you’re willing to crack open the case and even solder battery tabs on occasion. I’ve replaced batteries in iPhones, Android phones, tablets, and numerous rechargeable devices.

I ordered a $15 replacement battery for my Kindle and installed it last week; it was a very simple, solder-free installation.

And it works like new again!

I’m such a believer in E-Ink tablets, I backed the Earl Android tablet in 2013. Earl was a rugged device that was supposed to even include a basic shortwave radio receiver.

It was a brilliant concept, but sadly failed. I believe the guys behind the crowdfunding campaign were sincere in their desire to create the product, but they lacked the experience to bring it to fruition, were poor communicators with their backers, and many lost their crowdfund contributions when the Earl project simply disappeared. A very, very sad ending to what could have been a revolutionary product.

Nook Hacking

In 2018, I presented at Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE). My buddy, Dave Cripe (NM0S), and I split the cost of a room at the Hotel Pennsylvania where HOPE was held that year. One evening we started talking about the Earl tablet (I believe Dave was also a backer) then he showed me his uber-cool, do-it-yourself E-Ink tablet: a Hacked Nook Simple Touch.

He showed me how, through a fairly simple process, you could root the Nook and replace its operating system with a basic Android OS. This opened the Nook up to more uses like web browsing and even adding some apps from the Android market.

After returning home from HOPE 2018, I hopped on ShopGoodwill.com and purchased two Nook Simple Touch readers for a whopping $15 US.

I knew it was risky purchasing from ShopGoodwill.com because these devices had not been tested and I had no idea how old they were. Still, the bet (or winning $15 bid) paid off: both Nooks worked perfectly.

I rooted both units.

Funny thing is, I gave one of the units to my wife and it has become her favorite digital device. Once she discovered Project Gutenberg–a massive searchable repository of public domain books–and the fact that one of her favorite authors (P.G. Wodehouse) had numerous books in the archive, she was hooked. I loaded her Nook device with over 100 books she hand-picked from the archive.

My rooted Nook is loaded with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novels and loads of other classics. I also have a PDF of my car’s owner’s manual, a copy of “Where There Is No Doctor,” and a number of other useful reference books (like issues of The Spectrum Monitor magazine!).

It must be the best $15 I’ve ever spent.

I also love the fact we gave these two discarded Nooks a second (upgraded!) life.

E-Ink love

E-Ink devices have improved over the years and backlighting options now are most impressive.

I’ve come so close to purchasing the Mobiscribe Origin, even though it lacks a GPS and other functionality I’d like.

Ideally, I’d still love to have an E-Ink tablet that’s somewhat weatherproof, sports a large rechargeable battery, allows for on-screen writing with a stylus, connectivity for a Bluetooth keyboard, features a GPS with topo maps, and supports full pinch-to-zoom functionality.

Please, if a device like this ever surfaces, let me know.

Any other fans of E-Ink devices in the SWLing Post community? Please comment!

Spread the radio love

38 thoughts on “Reviving a Kindle, hacking a Nook, and more E-Ink, please?

  1. Bob Comeau

    We’re die hard physical book folks here. My summer project was building an 8 foot high by 16 foot long book case to house our library.

    I swore I would never go to an ebook ever. However, we bit the bullet and each got one. Mainly for reading public domain books that are either way over our budget to buy, or unobtanium anywhere. I also have a small tablet to load the pdf material I have collected since pdf’s don’t always look the best on my reader. Can’t remember when I bought mine, but it’s a Kobo VOX, and works great with the original battery in it. That should date it . And, I have to admit that it’s nice to have when traveling too. Even though I usually bring a regular book along when doing so.

    Reply
  2. Tammie

    My biggest issue with standalone ereaders is no colour screens. Seems totally ridiculous to me that in a world of colour, the ereader is black and white? Until someone brings out a colour ereader I’m sticking to the various Kindle/Kobo apps on my iPad. I’d rather a standalone ereader then I could keep my books, rather than having to delete them to save space.

    Reply
    1. Sloth

      I hear you. I’ve got a samsung tablet I use for comic editing work, but I also bought a kindle oasis last year. The tablet does PDFs and guided reading, and the kindle does epubs, some text pdfs and the store. I’ve heard of some new ereaders out of China doing 4-color CMYK eInk like in a printer, and while it’s pretty faded, it looks promising.

      Reply
    2. slightlyevolved

      I don’t think there was much research on this article, as Onyx has made devices with pens and bluetooth for years, and color e-ink devices came out in the latter half of (what is now) last year.

      Reply
      1. Thomas Post author

        You’re right. I’m no authority on the subject which is why I was asking. Do the Onxy devices have word processor or notepad type apps for content creation? I’m digging through their website, but can’t see mention of this. I’m likely overlooking a page that list their applications.

        Thanks!
        Thomas

        Reply
        1. A Kh

          The Onyx devices that are built for note-taking and use Wacom EMR styli have a good in-built note-taking app and PDF reader that supports annotation. They work pretty good!

          Other Android apps can also work on these tablets, but they aren’t as optimized and so it’s a bit of a sacrifice. You can still use handwriting as text input though.

          Reply
    3. Hawk

      I’ve been reading since just after Kindergarten. It wasn’t long after that my books stopped having pictures in them and 99.9% since the. Have been black text on white paper. You know, what the Kindle masterfully mimics. As for reading on phones and tablets that’s like staring into a flashlight. LCD screens are backlit, the light shines through. eInk is opaque, light cannot pass through so they’re lit from the side. Far less eye strain.
      I’ve never understood the whole “I’m holding out for color eInk!” argument. They’ve come up with it. It’s slow, kludgy and crazy expensive. They’re not going to happen.

      I currently have just shy of a thousand eBooks on my Kindle and there more than a GIG of free space on my 8gb model. As long as I have a way to get power to the device it continues to weigh the same with
      1 book or 1,500.
      I read for hours a day, every day and only charge every 4 days or so. I keep the light low but the font moderate. Dedicated e-readers have long since proven their worth.

      Reply
  3. Mike S

    The Android-based Nooks were rather simple to hijack because they had an unlocked bootloader which allowed booting the OS from the SD card slot.
    At least 2 companies were selling prebuilt bootable cards containing the Cyanogenmod OS. These turned the Nook into a legitiamte Android device complete with the Play Store. Having an SD card as the main storage was, of course, limiting because of the slow write speeds, but it did work.

    Reply
  4. Kobaljov

    I started with the Kindle Keyboard also (as I remember there was a firmware update with a deadline a few years ago, it was needed for the further 3G use) for books and longer web articles also, but I’m a fast reader and the screen was too small for me (frequent paging) and the management, deletion of the articles from the web was complicated and the conversion of the web articles from some websites not worked (I think I used the Instapaper and/or the Pocket for multi device (PC, Kindle, Smartphone) availability) so I switched to a larger Android tablet but still interested in a larger e-ink device. The Amazon had the 9.7″ Kindle DX but it was discontinued a long time ago and they not created newer one in this size category. In the last years some manufacturers started to create larger (8-10-13″) e-ink display readers/tablets with touch support and Android or custom OSes (like the already mentioned Onyx with the Boox series, PocketBook, reMarkable, Sony created a 13″ pdf reader, etc.), but the prices are high compared to the tablets with much stronger hardware and the long term OS support seems not guaranteed (they focusing more on the new model than supporting the old ones). I’m not sure about the weatherproofness (I think Kobo have a waterproof smaller one) but maybe it can be solved with a rugged case, I think the Bluetooth is available in some, the GPS is probably not (but maybe can be solved via the Bluetooth connection and position sharing from a smartphone, smartwatch or external GPS receiver?)

    https://onyxboox.com/product#actual
    https://www.pocketbook-int.com/int/products/e-ink
    https://remarkable.com/

    Some e-reader websites with reviews, etc.
    https://blog.the-ebook-reader.com/
    https://goodereader.com/blog/

    Reply
  5. April

    I use a recent generation Kindle Fire HD 8 for a variety of purposes. I can pair it with a keyboard to make a laptop; I read on it; I play games on it. I do much prefer the e-ink Kindle Keyboard that I used to have before it broke; I only bought the Fire HD 8 because it was cheaper in the short run than buying a new Kindle Keyboard and a backlight for it. It’s a very nice device, but it has its limitations, like it can only read FAT32 formatted microSD cards. I have the Google Play store sideloaded onto it, as well as a bunch of other apps. KiwiSDR sites don’t work very well on it unless it’s the only tab in the browser, but I suspect that’s a limitation of the 32 bit CPU.

    Reply
  6. Aethena Drake

    I am a big fan of Pocketbook e-readers. They can handle a bit of water. The battery hasn’t seemed to lose a charge in the past couple years that I have owned the Pocketbook Touch HD3. It is compatible with multiple ebook formats, I can download files from Dropbox, and I still haven’t filled up the 2 Gig memory capacity yet. This e-reader also allows me to surf the internet and listen to audio books or music.

    I liked my first Pocketbook so much that I also have the new color one that has a micro SD slot. I read every day, and I download books from just about every digital publisher. The only thing I haven’t been able to do is read Kindle Unlimited on Pocketbook. Which is a slippery slope I am not sure I want to traverse.

    Reply
    1. Juston

      I wish I could find a way to run android on my old Pocketbook 912 device, or find a way to speed it up so I can browse basic PDF technical manuals I have, which it has been always just far too slow in loading such pdf manuals. Someone should know how to do this by now, right? Any links or suggestions on the Pocketbook 912 would greatly be appreciated. Thanks!

      Reply
      1. Laurence N.

        It’s not happening. I just looked up the specifications:
        “Processor 533 ?Hz RAM 256 MB Internal Storage 2 GiB”
        The hardware is the limiting factor. While a custom-built firmware could run in that space and do some things, it would have to be pretty custom to the particular device. Existing general-purpose replacement firmware won’t run well if at all, and those who want to go to the effort of writing such firmware likely won’t write it for a device with those specs unless they’ve already got one.

        Reply
  7. Karlie Schaefer

    Great article! I really wish there were more e-ink tablets available. I have a Kindle Paperwhite and Nook Glowlight 3, but would love both in one Android tablet with the e-ink screen and waterproof.

    Reply
  8. Robert Curtis

    I have an old kindle, with a browser, color screen , etc, from 2012. Battery is dead. How does one replace the battery? I love to read on this device.

    Reply
  9. The Radio Geek

    I rooted a nook for my sister years ago, as I remember it when you rooted it the device was like an android phone minus the phone. I told my sister it was a fook. part nook part phone OS. She used it for quite a while and then got an iPad.
    What fun!

    Reply
  10. Tom G. ABQ

    Check with your local library for e-books you can borrow for up to 21 days. My library offers books thru https://www.overdrive.com/ Click on, “find a library” in the upper right hand corner. They also have audio-books which you can download to your phone.

    Reply
  11. Mike H

    I love my 2012 Kindle. Was looking at upgrading to a new Oasis, but the things I like most about the older model is that it doesn’t have a touchscreen, as I frequently will touch the screen errantly without any intention to flip pages or bring up a menu. Also I dislike the backlit display, as it seems to defeat the purpose of using an eInk display. I’d rather just use a booklight and save my eyes from staring into a backlit display. The 2012 design is sturdy and ergonomic and I never use the Kindle store, just download epubs then covert to .mobi

    Reply
    1. Wilde

      Just a reminder, e-ink displays are not backlit, they are frontlit, which means there’s an array of lights around the bezel that shine down onto the display. It’s a bit like having one of those little clip lights attached to your eReader, but drastically better. So you’re not looking INTO the light as you are with a backlit display, you’re just looking at a screen with a light shining upon it.

      Reply
  12. Tim Kridel

    Is anyone using the Fire for ARRL magazines such as QST and On the Air? If so, how do they look? Exactly like the print editions? Any weirdness? Based on WD9EQD’s experiences with Smithsonian, it sounds like the ARRL pubs should be fine, too.

    I prefer print, but many of the magazines I read or write for are going digital. An iPad seems like overkill for reading. I use a laptop for everything else, such as email and browsing.

    Reply
    1. Bill (WD9EQD)

      Tim,

      ARRL QST requires a special App on the iPhone or Android. I just now downloaded it to my
      Fire 10″HD, signed in and downloaded the January QST. It’s like reading a PDF with the Adobe reader. Only with fewer features. You can page thru – full page at a time, zoom in on the page,
      and then scroll around the page. All the ads are there. The Table of contents is linked, so you can tap there and go to a direct article.

      In my view, not a great experience. It’s like reading a PDF of a magazine. There is no article flow option like some PDF magazines have. I have deleted the app.

      As far as I know, QST cannot be loaded into Kindle.

      It is in NO WAY the same as Smithsonian on the Kindle.

      It really irritates me that they didn’t do it as a Kindle app. I don’t need another single purpose reading app.

      73
      Bill
      WD9EQD
      Smithville, NJ

      Reply
  13. John Brewer

    Great article. I have a Kindle Keyboard that’s ailing and which I’ll probably try and revive with a new battery. Does Whispernet still work enough to deliver the books from my library?

    They bricked the 3G connection with the early web browser, which is a rip off and my one big gripe with Amazon. When I purchased the Keyboard I don’t recall it saying “we’ll supply 3G for only 5 years”.

    I have a small HDX that I use a LOT and like John mentions, still works great and has the best screen color and resolution that I’ve ever used. It’s one of the first HDX’s and has never bricked , blue screened or eaten it’s battery pack. Simply flawless.

    Can someone advise whether it’s still possible to download new books to older Kindles even if the 3G doesn’t seem to work?

    Reply
    1. Andres Arredondo

      Yes, you will need to manually download the update by connecting the device directly to your computer via USB cable and dropping the update file into the “Kindle Drive”. Make sure you look at your Kindle’s version and that you are accessing the appropriate update. Eject the Kindle from your computer and remove the usb cord. Then in settings on your Kindle you’ll be able to select “Update my Kindle”.
      You can always do a search on amazon.com for “Manually Update Kindle”

      Reply
    2. Carolyn Brade

      Use your USB cable to connect between the Kindle and the device you are going online with (computer,….) the Gutenberg website has lots of free material and some are in the old Kindle formats. I forget what directory I had to put the saved files to, but you can look for the various formats and place ones with same file extensions there. If I remember correctly the directory names are self evident.

      Reply
  14. Mike T.

    I also have a Kindle that had the 3G wireless option which with the experimental browser allowed emails to be sent. Unfortunately, the US supported Kindle 3G telcos providers have been shutting down their 3G networks and so this feature no longer works. The new model Kindles now only support 4G wireless.

    The other change is that Amazon has shutdown the Kindle owners lending library feature. So we are no longer able to borrow a free book each month.

    Reply
  15. John

    I’ve had a Kindle since the Kindle Keyboard days and currently own a Kindle Oasis.
    Amazon have really nailed the whole e-ink reader down almost to perfection. In fact, it’s difficult to see where they go from here. Others’ attempts to do color e-ink all look dismal to me, washed out colors that resemble sunlight-faded magazine covers.

    I love books but I also love my kindle. I love the fact that e-ink and the e-reader technology makes it easy to access long out of print SF novels.

    With respect to Amazon Fire tablets. A few years back they went slightly upmarket and released a couple of Fire tablets with high resolution (HDX) screens. A web site that reviewed LCD displays rated those displays as the best they’d ever tested, they won out over the best Apple displays current at the time.

    I bought the Fire 9.8″ HDX version. It’s proved to be one of my best purchases ever. Literally used that tablet everday since and, astonishingly, after years of constant use the battery is still holding up very well and showing no signs of failing. I’m actually not a little baffled by this since I know Li-ion cells have a life cycle and the one inside this tablet is, at this point, way beyond expectations.

    As for Apple and their claims of battery life, the less said the better. My expensive iPod’s battery promply fell to around 40% its claimed capacity a few months after purchase.

    Reply
  16. Bill R

    Unfortunately I never had to revive one, because I always get taken in by the new latest and greatest. It’s almost as bad as with radios.

    My current fave rave is a Boox Nova 2. This is actually an e-ink Android tablet. I have both the Kindle and Kobo apps on it, plus its own native e reader; very nice for non-DRM books, but of course not so for the Kindle or Kobo ones. It can also do web browsing (poorly) and email (kind of OK), limited by the fact that the e-ink screen doesn’t work so well for those things. I suppose it would run most of the other Android aps out there. I might see if there’s a Sudoku or similar game that works acceptably on the E-ink.

    Reply
  17. Bill (WD9EQD)

    I’ve been a big fan of the Kindle ecosystem since the start. I started with the first reader and have upgraded twice over the years to the latest paper-white.

    I use the term “system” since I do most of my reading on the paper-white, but then when I go out I can read a few pages on the Android Phone, then come back home and pick up where I left off. The seamless syncing across devices and the Kindle reading apps is wonderful.

    I agree that it’s best for reading sequentially from start to finish. Plus (my main reason) I can increase the font size for my old eyes.

    Another good use is the “Send to Kindle” feature. I clip internet articles, paste them into a word document and send to the Kindle for reading later. This is especially useful for long internet stories that I might want to read in the future. I find that most of my friends are never aware of this convenient feature.

    “Send to Kindle” supports several document formats including Word, MOBI and PDF. They are converted to Kindle format and then sent to your device in your personal library. The DOC and Mobi formats will support changing the fonts on the Kindle. There are loads of free books on the web in MOBI format.

    For reading PDF and Magazines, I use the 10″ HD Fire Tablet which I have side loaded the Google Play Store onto. It’ll run all my Android apps plus the Kindle Reading app. I just recently downloaded one of the free Smithsonian Magazines to the Kindle Reader on the Fire. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it supported the “article flow mode”. This lets you read the magazine from start to finish article by article with none of the print ads. It’s really fantastic and finally makes reading a magazine enjoyable. I’m not sure which magazines support this mode. But the both the Smithsonian and the Air and Space magazine do.

    I’m an avid reader and typically do at least two books per week. I currently have over 300 books queued up on my paper-white waiting to be read. I probably have another 300 books on the hard drive in MOBI format that I have downloaded from the web just waiting to be sent to Kindle for reading. And I keep purchasing new books all the time. I maintain a list of books that I might want to purchase and check it every now and then to see if Amazon has it for a special price.

    I would highly recommend the Amazon Fire 10″ HD for both a tablet and a reader. Especially after you have side loaded the Google Play Store onto it. While it’s not an e-reader, it does have decent battery life and does most of what you wished for. And it’s hard to beat the price when they have it on sale – about $100, maybe even less at times.

    73
    Bill
    WD9EQD
    Smithville, NJ

    Reply
    1. David Gemmer, KG4GDN

      I like the Fire 10″ too. Use it for NYT crossword app and Tune-in radio app. Some book reading on it but more web browsing. Graphic novels from Amazon look great on it, in color. I use it more than my Kindle Voyager… My wife is using it for now. Great value, got it on one of the$100 sales to replace the older model… Thought the older model had an issue with the NYT crossword app, b but turns out it was the app. Kept the old one for back up. For a Christmas present for myself I looked into buying some high priced tablet, but can’t justify it since the Fire does everything I need. Have laptops for the more complex stuff.

      Reply
  18. Guy Atkins

    Your comments about hacking the Nook OS brought back fond memories! I did the same thing to revert a Nook to Android, and also loaded some Project Gutenberg titles.

    73 Guy

    Reply
  19. Mark

    I started out with the Kindle 3 years ago, but have replaced it with the last-but-one generation Kindle Paper White reader.

    I love it for reading anything sequentially such as novels, but still prefer larger colour screens for anything else including magazines, articles and manuals. For my eyes at least, anything formatted as a print layout is too small for an e-reader screen, and the redraw speed is too slow for flicking back and forth to skip advertisements or pages I’m not interested in.

    Having said that, I still keep some manuals on the Kindle just in case, as the pixel density of the newer Kindles is good enough to resolve the text in well lit conditions.

    Reply

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