Introduction: You Can Do THAT With a KIndle Touch?

About: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying posting things I have learned and done since I got my first to…

I could never understand why anyone would want to own an e-Reader. Then my grown children gave me a Kindle Touch and I have found ways to make it do for me much of what a smart phone or an iPad does for other people. One day it will replace my aging Sony Clie' handheld. I do not have a smart phone, nor an iPad. I have discovered my e-Reader is not just for reading books. (I am well aware there are other e-Readers and will make some mention of them, but my experience is with the Kindle Touch, so it will receive more attention.)

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

I thought it could not be too hard to use a Kindle. The green line represents what I expected. But, there IS a learning curve made worse by the fact I somehow did not see the Kindle User's Guide that comes installed on every new Kindle. Still, there are some things I discovered, myself. I wish those were in the User's Guide, but were not. Do read the User's Guide. When I mention a Kindle learning curve to people who have one, they get a look on their face that says, "You sure got that right!!!!" The black line is what I and others I know have discovered.

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

Touch or tap in the upper 1/3 of the screen and the Menu button appears in the upper right. I had to learn that the menu which appears offers different options according to the page you are viewing. If you have already burrowed down a level or two in the menu options, the menu at that level will be different from what it was on the opening page. This seems like a small and obvious thing, but it can confuse during the first days of owning a Kindle. If you are lost, press the Home Button at the center bottom of the frame. It looks like four short black lines. After a few uses, you will begin to learn which options are buried on what menu level.

Step 3: Reading Books and Other Things

A Kindle is an e-Reader, so it seems natural that you can read books on it. Not all e-Readers are the same. Amazon Kindles do not use the same file format the Barnes & Noble Nook uses. Of course, there are also e-Readers from other firms, like Sony, and some totally unfamiliar to me. For those who are interested, here is a chart that shows which e-Readers use which file types.

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 "" 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. But, you can send a PDF to Amazon with the word "convert" in the subject line, and it will be ready for download to your Kindle in very legible form. The one caution is that any special characters will not reproduce properly in the converted form. 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 screen on the Kindle Touch responds to the touch of my finger by means of infra red sensors. Somehow the screen does not respond to the tip of my finger as well as it does to the soft pad of my finger back from the tip.

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

My Sony Clie' handheld is a Palm OS device. It has been great, but it does not synchronize with my Windows 7 OS laptop. It is also old enough that it could stop working in a year or two. I would like as much of its function on my Kindle as possible.

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

After getting the calendar application I also purchased a notepad application. Any notes I make must be tapped out one letter at a time with the on-screen keyboard that pops up whenever I tap to get a cursor in any box for entering text in any application. (See the photo for Step 4 to view the keyboard again.) A note in this application may hold up to 3,000 or so characters. Notes are supposed to be retrievable on a computer when the Kindle is connected by its cable. I have not done that, yet. The helps for the application tell which file to access in order to retrieve the document. Sadly, I cannot copy and paste on the Kindle.

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

Because I am a pastor, I want things on my Kindle others may not use. In addition to documents for orders of service, etc. mentioned earlier; I have a couple of contemporary English Bibles, both of which were free in the Amazon Kindle Store. I purchased a Bible in Koine' Greek for less than $3. And, I found a Hebrew Old Testament with Glossary from Miklal Software Solutions for just under $10. See the photo. (The Hebrew text in the photo is from Genesis 24.) Some of the features for navigating the Hebrew Old Testament, especially in the Glossary, that are mentioned in the helps do not work on the Kindle Touch. The developers have been very good about responding to my e-mail questions. Oddly, the Miklal Hebrew Old Testament does not show in the list of things on my Kindle at Amazon's "Manage My Kindle," so I keep an archived copy of the file in case I would ever need to reload my Kindle or get a new Kindle. 

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

When the Menu is displayed, there is also a Back Arrow in the upper left corner of the screen. It can be very handy and save you from a disaster. For example, right now I am reading William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It was only $2.99 at Amazon and, to its credit, it includes hot links to the index liberally sprinkled through the text. Several times I have touched the screen to turn the page and accidentally landed on one of those hot links. Suddenly I am in the index with no idea of the exact page location I was reading. I can call up the Menu and press the Back Arrow. Instantly I am right back where I was reading.

Step 9: The Battery

Before I added the calendar mentioned earlier, my battery life between charges was about six weeks. That was with the Kindle on stand-by (Press the power button and release it to go to stand-by.). Battery life may have been longer, yet, if I had turned the Kindle "off" fully (Press and hold the power button until the green light begins to flash.). After adding the calendar application, I need to recharge the Kindle about every seven days, perhaps more often. (Update: Since installing the new firmware update mentioned in Step 3, battery life is much, much longer; even with the calendar.)

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

The Kindle Touch comes with a built-in MP3 player. The intent is that the user may wish to listen to favorite music while reading. There are small speakers in the back, but earbuds work much better. Total storage space is just under 4GB for books and audio files. Add audio files through Windows Explorer by dragging and dropping on your computer. Audio files go into the "Music" folder, not into the "Audible" folder, whether they are music or Podcasts. 

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

Kindles connect to the Internet because that is how Amazon sells e-books. The Touch does not have the surfing capabilities of the Fire, but costs half as much, too. I am near a WiFi hotspot most of the day, so there is no need for me to have the Kindle Touch 3G. It offers Internet connection time direct with Amazon without a WiFi connection of your own. The initial Kindle purchase price is also higher for the 3G.

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

According to the instructions, I am supposed to be able to place my finger on the name of a document I no longer need and hold my finger there. A menu will appear which is supposed to allow me to delete the document. This does not work with some documents. Then I need to connect my Kindle to the computer by wire and delete the document from the folder where it resides. In my experience each file I sent to myself has the file and also a yellow folder. I delete both manually. I usually also remove these files from the list in "Manage My Kindle" at the Amazon web site. The graphic shows the content folders of the Kindle Touch when connected to my computer by wire. Open the Documents folder and delete the desired files.

Step 13: Managing Files

The Kindle allows making a collection. If you were using a laptop, you would call this putting files into a folder. One document may appear in more than one collection. Collections appear at the top of the listings on the main page. I have a collection for the convention I will attend in June. That will eventually be deleted after the convention is finished. I also have collections listed as Not Read Yet, Read Already, and What I Use Most Often. Collections reduce the visual clutter. Items on your Kindle may be arranged by alphabetical order (title), most recently used, or author.

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

There are times when you will need to scroll through pages of titles on your Kindle, or through pages of returns when you searched for a word or asked to see a list of highlights. Touching any one of them to turn the page merely opens it. In such a situation, swipe your finger across the screen. Swiping right to left advances one page. Swiping left to right goes back one page. Swiping top to bottom goes to the next chapter. The reverse goes back one chapter.

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

Hold the power button continuously for 20 seconds or more and the Kindle resets itself. A reset takes a few minutes. Afterward, the clock will display an incorrect time. Connect to the WiFi and that will correct itself. The calendar may also need the opportunity to connect so it displays the correct current date. The photo shows the Kindle screen display during a reset. Notice the black and white progress bar.

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.