Kindle Kintsugi
Project Overview

v0.52 Started: 07/22/23, Last Updated: 07/27/23

A Mutual Aid E-Reader Distribution Project

Welcome to the Kindle Kintsugi Project, a unique initiative rooted in principles of tactical urbanism, mutual aid, and sustainability. Just as the Japanese art of Kintsugi repairs broken pottery with gold, transforming it into a thing of beauty, we aim to breathe new life into obsolete technology, transforming it into a tool for change and education.

The Kindle Keyboard, or the Kindle Generation 3, lies at the heart of our project. In our increasingly digital world, these devices have largely been discarded and are nearing their e-waste phase. Yet, with a bit of work, these Kindles can function just as well as modern e-readers, albeit with a bit more bulk and without a backlight. Our aim is to refurbish these devices and utilize them as a means of promoting literacy, free access to knowledge, and fostering eco-friendly practices. The focus is on freely available literature, and we place a special emphasis on circulating works that promote critical thinking and progressive ideas.

Introduction to Pricing and Device Acquisition

As I delve deeper into the Kindle Kintsugi Project, a clear picture of its cost-effectiveness and potential for growth begins to emerge. Allow me to dissect the expenses and discuss possible avenues of expansion to better understand the project's affordability and scalability.

The initial refurbishment of a Kindle Keyboard, including the replacement battery, totaled $33. Based on this data and current eBay pricing trends, the average expenditure for reviving one of these devices ranges from $32 to $38. This figure represents a significant saving compared to purchasing new technology, such as an iPad, which can cost several hundred dollars. To put it into perspective, the cost of refurbishing approximately 15 to 18 Kindle Keyboards equates to the price of a iPad.

While $32-$38 per unit might still seem like a substantial amount, it's a reasonable starting point for the project. However, I'm driven by the ambition to lower these costs even further, with the goal of making the project more accessible and potentially expanding its reach. The idea of implementing a 'buy one, give one' model, where the cost of refurbishing a device also covers a donation to someone else, is intriguing. But with a current price point of around $70 for two devices, this model may not be feasible just yet.

As the project evolves, it could be beneficial to begin accepting donations of old Kindle Keyboards and other devices. Such an initiative would not only reduce the refurbishment costs, but also further the project's sustainability goals by preventing usable technology from becoming e-waste. Donations could significantly increase the accessibility of refurbished devices, bridging the digital divide and promoting widespread access to knowledge.

However, the ultimate goal of the Kindle Kintsugi Project is not to centralize this work, but to inspire a multitude of decentralized projects operating with the same objectives. I envision a network of Kindle Kintsugi initiatives globally, all working independently yet aligned in their mission to promote literacy, progressive values, education, and knowledge.

By exploring ways to reduce costs and increase accessibility, I move closer to achieving a sustainable, accessible, and community-driven initiative that champions literacy and technological sustainability. This project represents a small yet significant step towards a more enlightened and environmentally responsible society. I encourage everyone to embrace this guide, breathe new life into old technology, and join in making education and knowledge accessible to all.

Across the globe, we're witnessing an alarming trend towards book banning, library shutdowns, and public school defunding. This project is our humble attempt to counteract these developments and continue to foster a culture of learning and critical thinking, despite the odds.

Embracing the Vintage Charm

There is no denying that the Kindle Keyboard belongs to a past era. The absence of a backlight, touch screen, and its physical keyboard - these all serve as undeniable markers of older technology. However, far from being a disadvantage, these features could, in certain contexts, be seen as a benefit, especially for those who might not be technologically adept.

The physical keyboard, for example, could prove more usable for some individuals compared to touch screens. Consider the ease of use that comes with dedicated buttons. On modern devices, increasing the font size often involves navigating through touch screen submenus, a process that could be cumbersome for some. The Kindle Keyboard, on the other hand, offers a dedicated button for this very purpose, making it significantly more accessible.

Additionally, the Kindle Keyboard offers more gripping area, a feature particularly beneficial for children and older individuals who might find slimmer, sleeker devices harder to handle. The added bulk, therefore, becomes an advantage, providing a sturdy grip and a sense of solid durability.

The Advantage of Text to Speech

One feature that distinctly sets the Kindle Keyboard apart from many modern e-readers is its text-to-speech functionality. Despite sounding primitive compared to modern AI voices, the utility of this feature cannot be understated. When activated, the device automatically flips the pages, creating a seamless reading experience that doesn't require constant manual page-turning. This feature could prove invaluable to an older person who might prefer to use the device on a stand, with text-to-speech activated and the font set to a large print.

While newer Kindles do offer text-to-speech, it's usually hidden in a submenu for accessibility options. Furthermore, these new devices lack built-in speakers and require the use of potentially expensive and harder-to-connect Bluetooth headphones. Some users have also reported restrictions on the VoiceView feature for certain books. Contrast this with the Kindle Keyboard, which enables text-to-speech with a simple two-button press.

Software Setup

One of the primary tools I'll be utilizing in this endeavor is Calibre software. Widely acknowledged as the go-to eBook management software, Calibre provides a user-friendly and comprehensive suite of features to effectively manage, convert, and transfer eBook files across devices, including our older Kindles.

Calibre's flexibility is further enhanced by the ability to integrate plugins that provide additional functionalities. Specifically, I'll be using a dedicated plugin tailored for Kindle devices. This plugin allows the customization of aspects such as collections, margins, and fonts on the Kindle, making the reading experience much more comfortable and personal.

There is a wealth of resources available online to familiarize yourself with Calibre. From an extensive manual that covers every facet of the software, to a myriad of tutorial videos on platforms like YouTube, you should find it relatively straightforward to get to grips with Calibre. But fret not if you're still feeling a little overwhelmed - I'll be providing a simplified guide focused on the key functions we'll need for this project in a later section of this guide.

Battery Replacement

Switching out the battery in the Kindle Keyboard isn't a walk in the park, but it's not a hike up Everest either. Let's get into what I found out while doing it.

It's not the hardest thing in the world, but you'll need to put some muscle into it. When you're trying to unclip the back, don't be shy. But whatever you do, don't go prying around the page turn buttons - they don't have clips and you could end up with a broken button on your hands.

Once you've got the old battery out and the new one in, it's time to reattach the back cover. Here's a little trick I learned the hard way: make sure you secure the area around the USB port and power switch first. If you don't, the rest of the back will clip in but that area will remain unattached. It's a little thing that can save you some hassle.

All said and done, replacing the battery took me around 15 minutes. Not bad, right? I found this handy video guide that gives you the play-by-play on how to swap the battery. Definitely check it out if you're unsure about anything.

After you've installed your new battery, make sure to do a factory reset. It's like a fresh start for your Kindle with its new battery.

In spite of their age, these Kindle Keyboards are pretty robust. Once you've replaced the battery, it's pretty much good to go for a long time. The lack of a backlight isn't ideal, but other than that, it's a solid piece of tech that can stand the test of time.

Every time we replace a battery, we're giving a new life to a device that was headed for the junkyard. It's a win for sustainability and a win for the Kindle Kintsugi Project.

Library Acquisition and Curation

The Kindle Kintsugi Project is primarily centered around two Kindle devices - the Gen 2 and the Gen 3 (Keyboard), with a particular preference for the latter. One of the critical facets of this project is establishing a broad and inclusive library that appeals to a wide range of interests, reading inclinations, and educational demands while promoting critical thinking as well as progressive, leftist and socialist thought.

The library will strictly comply with United States copyright laws, primarily incorporating public domain works sourced from reputable providers like Standard Ebooks. Since copyright laws vary internationally, some books may inhabit a "grey area". While these books will not be directly bundled with the device or personally hosted, a link to these resources available on sites like archive.org will be provided. It is advised for users to consult their local copyright laws before accessing these materials.

In alignment with the decentralized ethos of this project, distributors are encouraged to supplement the library with books they legally own. This practice promotes diversity whilst maintaining legal accountability, and opens up potential for collaborations beyond standard contributors.

Device Storage and Content Distribution

When considering their storage capabilities, the Kindle Keyboard has an evident advantage with 4GB of internal space, in comparison to the 2GB available on the Kindle Gen 2. Here's a preliminary distribution plan for the storage space on both devices:

Kindle Keyboard:

Kindle Gen 2:

Given the average ebook size of 2.6MB, the remaining space on the Kindle Keyboard can accommodate approximately 787 ebooks, and around 230 ebooks on the Kindle Gen 2. However, a "core" library limit of 500 books for the Kindle Keyboard, and 150 for the Kindle Gen 2 will be set to ensure smooth device operation, allow space for user-loaded books, and to avoid maxing out the storage.

Potential Library Audiences:

Specific books and resources incorporated within each audience category will be detailed as the library evolves.

Font Installation

Follow these steps to install custom fonts on your Kindle, like the opendyslexic fonts:

  1. Find some fonts to use. The font must have 4 Truetype or OpenType files - one each for Regular, Bold, Italic, and BoldItalic variants.
  2. Connect your Kindle to your PC and navigate to the Home screen.
  3. Create the directory "fonts" on your Kindle at the top if it isn't there already.
  4. Copy the 4 font files to your Kindle's "fonts" directory. The file names should be in the format "FontName-Variant.ttf" (e.g., DroidSerif-Regular.ttf).
  5. Run the Calibre plugin. Your font should be visible in the drop down menu for fonts. If it is not visible then check that the 4 file names are correct and in the right directory.
  6. Select your font, and click Save.
  7. Eject and Restart your Kindle.

Internet Connectivity and RSS Feeds

Exploring the internet connectivity of these older Kindles has led to some interesting findings. The Kindle 1 and 2 models, along with the Kindle DX models (which are technically Kindle 2s), don't support network connectivity because they relied on 3G networks which have since been phased out. This may seem like a setback, but it could also be seen as a benefit in terms of network security, and it makes these devices safer for children.

On the other hand, the Kindle Keyboard was the first model to support Wi-Fi. This functionality can open up numerous possibilities, such as the use of RSS feeds. RSS feeds allow for automatic content download when connected to the internet, which can later be accessed offline. This feature holds significant potential, especially for individuals without constant internet access.

Use Case:

For instance, homeless individuals often have intermittent access to Wi-Fi. In such cases, these Wi-Fi-enabled Kindles can provide them with crucial updates, including weather forecasts, news, and other pertinent information, all in a compact, portable format. With a custom RSS feed, these individuals can download all necessary content during their short periods of internet access and then read it later at their convenience. This is a far cry from the current norm of using cheap smartphones, which require constant internet access to retrieve information. Moreover, this method allows users to avoid loitering in areas with free Wi-Fi due to stringent laws against homelessness, letting them read and gather information in a safer location. It's important to remember that this is just one possible use case; the RSS feed can be tailored to meet the needs of various communities, locations, and recipients.

Please note, this feature is currently under exploration, and updates will be provided as I learn more.

Email Access

Another interesting capability of these older Kindles is their potential to send and receive emails. While this feature is still being tested, it holds promise for those who have limited access to internet or don't have a permanent home. Being able to access their emails on a device that doesn't need constant internet connectivity could be a boon. It could serve as a vital communication channel, enabling them to stay in touch with family, friends, or support services and to receive important updates. I look forward to sharing my findings on this once the devices arrive and the testing phase is complete.

MP3 Playback and Accessibility Features

Interestingly, the first three Kindle generations (Kindle 1, Kindle 2, and Kindle Keyboard/Kindle 3) all included the feature of MP3 playback. This can be accessed through the 'Experimental' settings of the device. Below is an example of what that setting looks like on the Kindle 3:

MP3 playback setting

In their initial release, Amazon provided support for downloading audiobooks directly to these devices. However, this feature has been discontinued. Despite their modest 2GB of internal storage (which might be a constraint for storing large media files), the devices could still be used to playback smaller, essential audio files.

Particularly, the Kindle 1 model offers an advantage in this regard, as it includes SD card expansion, making the storage limitation less of a concern. That being said, the Kindle 1 is considerably bulkier and less common on the second-hand market, which often makes it more expensive. Furthermore, it's fairly outdated by modern technology standards. Hence, while I acknowledge its potential usefulness, I've decided not to include the Kindle 1 in the testing for this guide. It may, however, hold value for future projects considering its expandable storage capability.

Text to Speech

All these three Kindle models also feature a 'text-to-speech' option and include built-in speakers. These accessibility features are a boon for individuals who may find traditional reading challenging, offering an alternative means to consume the content. Even though these features might not be the primary use of the device, they certainly add to its versatility and enhance its potential to offer essential information access under various circumstances.

Audiobook Feasibility

It's worth noting the constraints posed by the limited 2GB storage on these older Kindle models when considering the potential for audio content. To illustrate, let's consider a standard audiobook version of "Moby Dick" which lasts around 22 hours. Here are some estimated file sizes for different compression levels:

Low Compression (Higher Quality):

  • Bit Rate: 128 kbps (kilobits per second)
  • Estimated File Size: Approximately 600-700 MB

Medium Compression (Balanced Quality):

  • Bit Rate: 64 kbps
  • Estimated File Size: Approximately 300-350 MB

High Compression (Lower Quality):

  • Bit Rate: 32 kbps
  • Estimated File Size: Approximately 150-175 MB

Given the Kindle's storage limit, it becomes clear that including audiobooks isn't worth the trade-off in space, especially when considering the device's text-to-speech capabilities.

Hidden Features and Keyboard Shortcuts

The older Kindle devices come packed with various hidden features and keyboard shortcuts, which can significantly enhance user experience. It's essential that those receiving these devices are given sufficient instruction on how to operate them. As such, a quick reference card containing some of the most useful keyboard shortcuts could be attached to each device. Here's an example of what that could look like:

MP3 Playback Control:

  • Alt + Space: Pause/Resume
  • Alt + F: Skip song


  • Alt + Shift + G: Capture screenshot

Image Viewing:

  • F: Full-Screen Mode
  • Q: Zoom In
  • W: Zoom Out
  • E: Default Zoom
  • C: Actual Image Size
  • R: Rotate Image
  • 5-way Pad: Pan


  • Alt + Shift + M: Mine Sweeper
  • G (while on Mine Sweeper screen: GoMoku

Text Manipulation & Accessibility:

  • Alt + B: Set/Remove Bookmark
  • Shift + Sym: Text-to-Speech
  • Spacebar: Pause Text-to-Speech
  • Back button: Turn off Text-to-Speech

These shortcuts will aid in navigating and maximizing the Kindle's utility, making the transition to using these devices smoother, particularly for those who are new to them.

Image Viewer

The Kindle Keyboard offers a somewhat unexpected feature: a native image viewer. This capability makes it the last Kindle model to inherently support viewing PNG and JPEG files. While the display is in black and white and lacks a backlight (which isn't a significant setback due to the nature of E Ink technology), this attribute unlocks a range of possibilities.

Imagine being able to access not just traditional e-book content, but also image-based information like maps, diagrams, or first aid guides. This is particularly handy for content that isn't well-suited to e-book formats, or for users who benefit from more visual learning tools.

I strongly recommend including the quick reference guide of commands as an image file to make use of this feature. It will make the guide easily accessible and intuitive to use. This image viewer function adds another layer to the versatility of the Kindle Keyboard, transforming it from a simple e-reader into a more comprehensive informational tool.

Hacks, Homebrew and Other Apps

The Kindle Keyboard has a wide range of homebrew apps and hacks that can significantly increase its functionality. However, it's worth noting that these often sacrifice user-friendliness for additional features. While this might not be the desired trade-off for this project, some of these hacks may enhance the Kindle's utility considerably, provided they are straightforward to use and install.

A homebrew program called KIF enables you to play classic Infocom adventure games like Zork on the Kindle Keyboard. Although it may not provide the most seamless user experience, it's an intriguing showcase of the Kindle's potential.

Board game enthusiasts may be interested in a few chess applications. Firstly, a comprehensive program developed by Russian developer Vlasovsoft, not only features chess, but also games like Sokoban, Checkers, Reversi, and additional utilities such as a calculator and notepad. Regrettably, the legacy Kindle 3 version is no longer available on the Vlasovsoft website, but I've contacted the developer for further information. Another chess alternative, which requires installing "Launchpad," can be found on the MobileRead forums.

In addition to chess, there's a homebrew Chinese checkers app available at MobileRead forums, and an endless Sudoku game that can be found at MobileRead forums.

If taking notes is a priority, KindleNote is an app that facilitates note creation. Given the physical keyboard of the Kindle Keyboard, this might be an essential addition if it's easy to install and navigate.

As my devices arrive, I plan on testing these homebrew apps and hacks for usability and ease of installation. Please note that the installation process of these apps may require advanced knowledge, which could limit their accessibility for novices attempting this project. However, I've highlighted the most potentially useful options for a general audience. As this project continues, I'll explore more options and update this guide accordingly.

Additional Notes

This project is a living initiative.