The Kindle 2

A review of the sleek, slim, sexy successor to the Kindle.
Hacking the Kindle 2

Like the original Kindle, the Kindle 2 has several hidden features. One of these is the 411 information page. To display it, go to the main screen, choose Settings from the menu to go to the settings page, and then type 411. The 411 page then appears. I would include a screenshot, but the page is filled with things like the Kindle's serial number and other information that should not be made public.

Another thing the Kindle 2 has that the original Kindle had is a debug mode. To get to the mode, bring up the search box and enter ;debugOn, and press the Enter key. Then, bring up the search box again, and enter `help to show the various debug commands that are available. There's no documentation for what the listed commands do. And, if you break your Kindle messing around with them, Amazon probably will consider you to have broken your warranty.

Figure 10. The debug mode `help screen—the backticks (`) are required.

Figure 11. Turning on the hidden debug mode.

Figure 12. Some of the dialogs that appear when mucking around in Debug mode are less than helpful.

That said, one hacker found that the `usbQa and `usbNetwork commands enabled him to tether his Kindle 2 to his computer. It's not the kind of tethering where the computer was getting its Internet access from the Kindle 2 (like what you might do with mobile phone tethering). Instead, the Kindle 2 was able to connect to the Internet using the network connection of the computer. This is not terribly useful, but it's there if you want to experiment.

The Kindle 2 runs Linux, and a lot of the software it uses is licensed under the GPL or the BSD license. Some of the more interesting pieces of software include syslog-ng, u-boot, monit, lrzsz, iptables, gstreamer, BusyBox, dosfstools, e2fsprogs, ALSA, mtd-tools, bzip2, libpcap, ncurses, ppp and strace. The presence of BusyBox in particular suggests that a command-line environment of some kind should be available—if BusyBox had the right features enabled when Amazon compiled it, which it didn't. One hacker discovered that statically compiled Linux ARM binaries work just fine on the Kindle 2, and he was able to replace the onboard BusyBox with one he had compiled for the Android platform, which had Telnet enabled. This let him Telnet into his Kindle when it was connected to his local network via the USB tethering trick.

The Kindle 2 is less hackable than the original Kindle (there's no external serial port, for example), but determined individuals have been able to poke and prod at the hardware.

On the software side, there's a cat-and-mouse game currently being played out that looks a lot like what went on a few years back with Apple and its iTunes/iPod DRM. People are posting scripts that help you use encrypted Mobipocket files purchased from other on-line sources, to which Amazon responds by serving DMCA takedown notices. The scripts then surface on different sites hours later. Amazon then changes its DRM, which breaks the scripts. Updated versions of the scripts surface the next day. And, the cycle keeps going.

There is one neat project all of this hacking has enabled that I'd like to mention in closing: Savory. This is software that runs on the Kindle that will convert .pdf and .epub files into Kindle-compatible .mobi files automatically. It also updates the built-in Web browser to accept .pdf and .epub as valid, supported media types. Battery life is impacted with this package installed, but not by much, and the ability to navigate to, download and automatically convert .pdf and .epub documents without having to make a trip to my desktop computer makes it worth it.


So, is the Kindle 2 worth it? Maybe. If you have an original Kindle, it's a tossup. There are a lot of nice improvements, but if the original Kindle is working for you, there really is no compelling reason to make this a must-have upgrade. If, on the other hand, you don't have a Kindle, the reasons and justifications for getting the original Kindle still apply: get one if you love to read and don't like (or can't) carry around all the books you want to read. The Kindle 2 is the best of the current crop of ebook readers, and if you've been wanting to get an electronic reader, you could do a lot worse than the Kindle 2.



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Password & Device Security

Anonymous's picture

Two items to add to your Kindle 2 wishlist:
1) Password capability to keep device content private and secure.
2) Theft deterrence features, even if only to disable a Kindle reported lost or stolen. Amazon already has device serial number and remote access, how hard can it be to prevent unauthorized reset and reuse of a Kindle?