Much of what I discuss here will be old material to people who have had a Kindle for a couple of years, but will be very much appreciated by a new owner. Still, this will provide long-term owners an opportunity to share things they have learned. And, I may share something here others had not discovered.
Each Kindle model has slightly different features and a slightly different control mechanism for entering commands. Check to see which features your choice has before purchasing it. Amazon has comparison charts on its models. Go to the web pages for the other makes (Nook, Sony, etc) to compare their features.
Step 1: The Learning Curve
Amazon has some good helps in its Kindle forums. Very knowledgeable people are good about giving good advice, both online consultants and other users.
Step 2: The Menu
Step 3: Reading books and other things
According to a study by Amazon, people who own e-Readers read 2.7 times more books than those who do not, based on book sales. (I do have some books on my Kindle that I have not read, just as I have books on my shelves that I have not read.) The most logical place to get books for a Kindle is from Amazon. There are also a variety of sources on the Internet that offer e-books older than 75 years for free or for a very small charge. Use discretion. A 75 year old book on modern radio might not be too useful.* And, you can often download a sample of a book that might be of interest before deciding whether you want to purchase it. Amazon also allows you to "return" a book you discover you do not want, if you do it within seven days. And, I once found the same book at two sources. One was free while the other charged $4.00.
Do some searches on the Internet, and you can find surprising things formatted for a Kindle (or for a Nook) and available for download. When I retire in a couple of months we will be moving to another state. I found the manual one studies to get a driver's license in that state formatted for the Kindle and ready to download.
When I registered my Kindle with Amazon, I was given a special Kindle e-mail address. It is the first part of my regular e-mail address, but ends in "-@kindle.com." I can attach any MS Word document to an e-mail and send it to myself at my Kindle address. The next time I turn on the WiFi on my Kindle, that document will download to my e-Reader already formatted for the Kindle. The download may require a few minutes. In June I will attend a convention. The manual with all of its reports and overtures is now on my Kindle. To me this one feature makes the Kindle much more useful than just a device for reading books.
I spent my professional life as a Lutheran pastor. Sending MS Word documents to my Kindle means I could put orders of service onto it for baptisms, weddings, funerals, and private communions. My Kindle would take the place of a book or two I normally need to carry. I also have a full address list for the entire congregation on my Kindle.
I can send PDF files to myself, but the font size is usually too small to read comfortably. The Kindle DX and Fire allow the user to enlarge the font size on PDF documents, but that is not a feature on the Touch. (Note: See what I said about enlarging web pages in Step 11 for a quasi solution to this problem, but it is only a semi-satisfactory fix.)
When I read a book I like to mark it up with notes and underlinings so I can find things I have read later. The Kindle allows me to highlight a passage or to make notes on it. I can call those things up later and go directly to them. I can also search an entire book for all occurrences of any word. That can help me find something I remember later, but did not mark.
*Note: Many books scanned and formatted for a Kindle omit illustration images. I downloaded a free book on machine shop practices. It is practically useless because it makes constant referrals to illustration images that are not part of the electronic version of the book. And, scanned electronic versions of books often contain typographical errors, as well as strangely hyphenated and misspelled words. It is just what happens when an old book is scanned. Also, a book I am reading has some illustrations. The print under each is very tiny and impossible to read. I discovered I can place my finger on the illustration for a second or two. A magnifying glass with a "+" symbol inside it appears. If I touch the magnifying glass the illustration enlarges and the print is big enough to read. Just touch the illustration anywhere and the screen returns to the normal page for reading. (This was discovered after the recent firmware update version 5.1.0. I cannot speak about before the update.)
Step 4: The touchscreen
The touchscreen also responds to pressure from a light tap. If two selection buttons are right next to one another on the screen, a small tapping with a fingernail may be a better choice than a touch (to avoid getting the wrong selection). Often it is difficult to tap the correct letter on the pup-up keyboard. See the photo. I also have a pen with a heavy metal dome end. It makes a very effective stylus. I am not always sure if the touchscreen responded to interruption of the infra-red system, or to a light tap from the heavy end. You can see that pen here. I once tried a hardened eraser on a common wood lead pencil, and it worked well, too. Obviously, electrical capacitance was not the operative force, but simple pressure was.
Sometimes the screen responds better than at other times. It seems to respond better when the battery is not low. It seems to respond more poorly if my skin is dry. When it does not respond well, I get out my pen that I use as a stylus.
Step 5: A useful add-on
7 Dragons makes a calendar for 99 cents. It is more cumbersome to use than the calendar on my handheld, but it allows all of the usual calendar features. 7 Dragons offers on-line video tutorials on the calendar's features, and on their other applications for Kindle. My only complaint about the calendar is that my battery needs to be recharged much more often after installing it, even after turning "off" the holidays feature. The 7 Dragons Calendar is available through Amazon's Kindle Store. If the calendar does not respond as well as it should, I close it and open it again. That seems to help.
Step 6: Another useful add-on
Data in the calendar and in the notebook can be backed up. I copy the two Active folders and save them on my computer. If I lost my data or someone stole my Kindle, I could restore my lost data with these two folders.
If your Kindle is stolen or lost, you can download all of your old books and documents to a new Kindle from "Manage My Kindle" in the Kindle section at Amazon.
Step 7: Other pastor stuff
After many years of neglect I am working at relearning my Hebrew. The Glossary is helpful and surprisingly easy to navigate once I am certain of the correct three letter Hebrew root word. Getting to the Glossary is easier if I remember that it begins at Location 14. I open the Menu and select Location in Go To. If I make a written notation of the Location for the Hebrew text I am trying to read before I leave the page, getting back to it is easier, too. I can also call up the same chapter in one of the English Bibles on my Kindle and jump back and forth between the Hebrew and the English until the Hebrew makes sense in my mind. It is handy that the Kindle always saves the last place I was in any book so I can go to that exact page the next time I open the book.
Step 8: The Back Arrow
Step 9: The battery
There is a battery bar in the upper right of the screen. When the battery is nearly discharged a low battery warning does appear. Many recommend letting the battery discharge fully once a month to avoid any possible memory problems with the battery's charge level.
The charging voltage is 5 volts and up to about 2 amps. maximum. Kindles come with a USB cord so you can charge yours from the USB port on your computer. You can also buy chargers that convert AC current for the USB cord or convert 12 volt DC current from your car's cigarette lighter to 5 volts for charging the Kindle. I discovered the phone charger for my wife's current cell phone has the correct Micro-B USB end and I can also use it to charge my Kindle. See the photo. The USB cord that comes with the Kindle is necessary for viewing and manipulating files on your Kindle through your computer. When the Kindle is charged the amber light turns green. Charging time is about 3 hours.
Batteries take only so many charging cycles and they need replacement. At this link you can find a video on replacing the battery in a Kindle Touch yourself. Information is also given on where to order a new battery and a tool kit for opening the Kindle.
Step 10: The MP3 player
To use the MP3 player, touch the upper portion of the screen. Touch Menu. Touch Experimental. Touch MP3 Player. For maximum battery life, close the MP3 player when you are not using it. Closing the MP3 player will cause you to lose your place in a Podcast.
My kids gave me my Kindle a few weeks before Christmas. We were in another state at the time. I knew I needed to have a Sunday sermon ready only days after we returned. I went to a favorite site where audio files of sermons are cataloged and I found a Bible study on the text I would be using. There was something strange about the text and I needed a little help. I got the audio file with my wife's little netbook computer and loaded it onto the Kindle. While we were moving through airports, I was listening to this audio file and making notes on paper.
Step 11: The Internet
Follow the trail to the MP3 player as above, but touch Browser. Select your server and enter the password to join the network. Some web pages will display with very tiny fonts. I have learned I can do what users of iPhones and iPads have done for a long time. Put your index finger against your thumb. Place both on the screen and sweep them apart. The image on the screen will enlarge most of the time. (See the second photo.) Acceptance boxes that were too small to see are now large enough to use. This is useful in airports where free public WiFi is offered.*
I have been able to check and respond to e-mail when in meetings using only my Kindle and available WiFi. Several times the recipient of those e-mails needed my response as soon as possible. I have also been able to use Facebook, although its appearance changed and became more user friendly after I clicked on an option that shows text.
Very recently I was at a meeting in a hotel with password protected WiFi for guests. I had entered the password and pressed on the login button. I was taken to a new screen that asked for a username and password, but I had neither. I discovered I could connect if I pressed the Back Arrow and entered the password again. When I pressed the login button, a warning box appeared that said the certificate could not be verified, or that it was unable to connect. I saw both. I pressed OK to go forward, anyway, and I was suddenly on the Internet. I mention this in case you might have this problem. After getting on the Internet, I was able to check-in with my airline and confirm my boarding pass for the trip back home the next day. It was a great feeling to do it all with only a Kindle Touch and no smart phone, laptop, or iPad.
There is an Internet application where a Kindle is preferable over a smart phone. Southwest Airlines has WiFi on many of its aircraft as of 2012. Allowed devices must receive without connecting to a cell tower or sending a signal. This means a Kindle is acceptable, but a smart phone is not, not even on airplane mode. Connections fees seem high for only a couple of hours of flying, but the WiFi is free for anyone who simply wants to follow the flight's progress with flight tracker. The image is a little grainy, but automatically cycles through several views at different scales. Information like ground speed. altitude, and time of arrival are also given. This really helps take the boredom out of a long flight.
*Note: Tutorials at Amazon speak about enlarging images, like photos, by spreading the index finger and thumb. That did not work for me, but I decided decided to try it with web pages, and it worked for enlarging tiny acceptance of terms boxes.
Step 12: Deleting
Step 13: Managing files
The top of the screen also shows the time and battery condition, as well as the search box and Menu button. The icon between the Back Arrow and the search box is a shopping cart at Amazon.
Step 14: Miscellaneous
The Kindle Touch has a Text-to-Speech feature. If a book is set up for this feature, the reader can listen to the book rather than reading it. This, as well as the ability to enlarge font sizes to about 1/2 inch in height seems like a big help for the sight impaired. (Unfortunately, the larger font sizes also mean many words are hyphenated in some very strange ways and there are very few words per page.)
There are some accessories available for the Kindle. You can buy an LED light for reading in low light levels. (The Kindle screen does not have its own illumination.) My wife gave me an LED light with a flexible neck shown in the photo. It has a touch switch with three different levels of illumination. There are protective screen cover sheets, like you would use on an iPad. There are covers, some of which have a plastic shell into which the Kindle snaps, while most have an elastic strip across each corner.
Several Instructables show how to make a protective cover to hold the Kindle using an old book and other things. Some show how to make an LED light. One shows how to add solar cells to the back of the e-Reader's cover so it is always charging.
Periodically, there may be updates to the firmware used by your e-Reader. A week after posting this Instructable I downloaded an update for my Kindle Touch and installed it. The Touch now works better and is faster to respond. It also added a few new features. Had I not installed the update now, it would have downloaded by itself in a few weeks while my Kindle was connected to the WiFi.
Step 15: When things go wrong and a conclusion
If the Kindle or a feature on it becomes "confused," I sometimes turn it "off" and turn it back "on" after waiting a minute or so.
All in all, had I known I could do much more than read books with an e-Reader, I probably would have investigated getting one much earlier. They are relatively small, very light in weight, versatile, and not very expensive (especially since there is no monthly fee or data plan to buy.) And, people now always know what to buy me for gifts, namely, an Amazon gift card for Kindle e-books.