Removing ads from the Amazon Kindle Fire lock screen (without root)

Yesterday, I wrote about installing the Google Play Store on my Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8 (5th generation) but one point I made was that the script I used didn’t remove the Amazon lock-screen ads as it suggested it would.

It’s possible to pay £10 extra when you buy your Kindle Fire to have the ads removed from the lock screen… and some people have had success in getting theirs removed by asking Amazon Customer Services nicely. Alternatively, if you have the tech skills, I’ve found a fix, thanks to Vlasp over on the XDADevelopers forums and now my Fire is ad-free (although I have to admit the ads have previously inspired me to make the odd purchase)!

Just as when I installed the Google Play Store, I first had to unhide Developer Options (by tapping 7 times on the device serial number in Settings) and enable ADB (the Android Debug Bridge). After connecting to a PC with a USB cable and accepting the connection, I was able to use ADB to control the settings on the Kindle Fire.

Enable ADB in Developer Options (Debugging)

Allow connections from the PC to the Kindle Fire

HowToGeek has an article about installing ADB but I didn’t do that… I used the copy that came with the script I had previously used to install the Google Play Store (from @RootJunky) – simply by opening up the command prompt and changing directory to the folder that had adb.exe in it…

Then, I ran the commands that Vlasp outlines in his XDADevelopers forum post:

adb shell
pm clear com.amazon.kindle.kso
pm hide com.amazon.kindle.kso
exit
adb reboot

Commands to remove ads from Amazon Fire (via ADB)

And, once the Kindle restarted, there were no more ads*!  Just remember to turn ADB off again on the Kindle.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8 lock screen with ads removed

*Sometimes the ads may return – just repeat the process and they will be banished again for a while…

Installing Google Play Store on an Amazon Kindle Fire HD

In preparation for my summer holidays this year, I bought a new tablet to replace my aging (and slow) Tesco Hudl. Again, I didn’t want to spend much money – I’ve suffered at the hands of Apple’s built-in obselescence previously, and the Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8 seemed to fit the bill quite nicely.

The only trouble with a Kindle is it runs FireOS – a fork of Android – rather than a “stock” Android. That means no Google Play store, which means you’re limited to the apps that are in Amazon’s store.  By and large that’s OK – I installed iPlayer, OneDrive, OneNote, Spotify, etc. but there is no YouTube and the browser is Silk, not Chrome.

I tried sideloading packages from unofficial sources, following advice from Arash Soheili (Android Cowboy).  That got me Chrome and YouTube but without the ability to log in to a Google account (so no syncing of shortcuts, no visibility of subscriptions, etc.). It seemed that installing Google Play Store and installing the apps properly needed me to root the Kindle.

Then, last night, I found a HowToGeek article that was a) easy to follow and b) linked to @RootJunky (Tom)’s script that did all the heavy lifting.  Within a few minutes and one reboot I had installed the Google Play store on my Kindle Fire HD; logged in to my Google account; and downloaded Chrome and YouTube – both working perfectly.

RootJunky's Amazon Fire Tablet Tool at work

RootJunky's Amazon Fire Tablet Tool at work

Just one point to note – Amazon must have updated their method of unlocking the device to remove ads from the lock screen as that part of the script didn’t seem to take effect on my device.

Google Play Store, Chrome and YouTube installed on Kindle Fire HD 8

With the last hurdle out of the way, this means I can recommend that my 10 year-old son, who wants to buy a tablet (and is too young for a smartphone), can buy something cheap like a Kindle rather than spending far too much money on a more fully-featured tablet in a dying market:

Fighting with competing eBook standards

Last year, I was involved in the production of Fujitsu’s White Book of Cloud Security (continuing the series after the White Book of Cloud Adoption) and earlier today I was sent copies in eBook form.  I emailed them to my Kindle (app), only to find that Amazon doesn’t support .EPUB format books.  Whilst I understand why Amazon might like its own content to appear in a different format, not supporting the .EPUB standard for people to add their own content seems strange (and I’m not alone in thinking this – Jason Perlow wrote about Amazon’s lack of support for .EPUB back in 2010).

Thankfully, it’s pretty simple to convert between .EPUB and MOBI formats, using freely available software (Calibre) – as  highlighted on Twitter by James Williams (@LoneGunmanUK) and Travis Atkinson (@TravisWhayne). It’s a bit of a sledgehammer to crack a nut (I don’t need an eBook library – just a conversion tool) but it’s undoubtably powerful and it seemed to do the job for me.

Incidentally, on my iPad, the .MOBI files viewed in the Kindle app seem to have better results than the .EPUBs in Apple iBooks (which seemed to resize some graphics to the point of illegibility).

Thoughts on consuming newspapers with a Kindle

I’ve become a bit of a Kindle convert of late. First Amazon added the ability to send documents to the Kindle app (it was previously just for “real” Kindles). Then, I discovered the highlighting and social sharing. More recently, after buying my wife a Kindle, I’ve been reading the newspaper.

I don’t normally read a daily paper – I might pick up one of the free papers (Metro or London Evening Standard) on the train to/from work and I’ll flick through the local rag (Milton Keynes Citizen) when it drops through the door but most of my news is consumed from the BBC (website, Radio 4, or the ten o’clock news). If we get a quiet weekend though, I do enjoy one of the weekend papers – Sunday Times for me (at least, until the “phone hacking” scandal uncovered so much evidence of wrong-doing at News International) or The Guardian on Saturday for my wife (if only it had a decent technology/motoring section).

So we decided to try The Guardian and Observer Kindle Edition, partly due to the existence of a free 14-day trial.

Unfortunately, once the trial is over, the cost for the Grauniad on Kindle in the UK is £9.99 a month, whilst it’s $9.99 in the United States. We’re used to US prices coming across with almost 1:1 parity over here but this is not a simple import duty/sales tax mark-up  – it’s just plain wrong  (remember, this is a UK newspaper). That leaves me feeling ripped off, and less likely to extend my occaisional 99p single issue purchase (which would just be 75c in the States) to a full month.

It’s not that I think £9.99 is a lot of money for a months’ worth of newspapers – actually, I think it’s fair, given that the cost of distributing electronically must be so much lower than in print but that newspapers still need to derive a revenue stream to avoid declining into the pit of dumbed-down celebrity trivia that threatens real journalism.  My issue is that US consumers of The Guardian on Kindle pay so much less – perhaps as part of Guardian Media Group’s drive to gain a foothold in the United States?

So, back to the point, what’s it like reading the paper on a Kindle?

Actually, it’s rather good – all of the paper laid out by subsections with sensible navigation.  If you’re reading on an E Ink device, then there may be limited value in some of the illustrations (remember the days of black and white newsprint?) but in the Kindle app on my iPad, I see the paper in glorious colour.  I also like that the paper is there for me in the early hours so that when I leave home to catch the 06:52 to Euston it’s ready for me to read on the train.

Unfortunately though, there are some downsides. Despite being delivered in the Kindle app, the digital edition lacks highlighting and social sharing – so many times I’ve wanted to highlight something, tweet and link to the online version of an article… only to find that to do that I have to drop out to the website. And I can’t even bookmark articles to come back to and look up on the web later – surely that’s a missed opportunity for integration of online and offline content?

Perhaps The Guardian would rather that subscribers didn’t realise how good the website is?  It seems that a lot of the tech news that hits me on the web via various Guardian Twitter aliases/podcasts is absent in the print edition and that, sometimes, the Guardian website might be a better place to spend some time than flicking through the paper… (but don’t get any ideas about paywalls – that’s why you never see me tweeting Times or Financial Times stories…).

My subscription to The Guardian Kindle Edition runs out on Friday and, sadly, I won’t be renewing. I may buy the odd copy on a weekend but, then again, I might buy a different paper instead (perhaps The New York Times, or The Telegraph?)… and the challenge for newspapers to find a new business model for the digital age continues.

Getting to grips with the Amazon Kindle

It takes a special gadget to capture my wife’s attention but the Amazon Kindle seems to have done quite well. Actually, I think that the Kindle’s success is largely down to the fact that it appeals to non-geeks (the low price helps) but I recently bought Mrs W. one as a present.

It was my first experience of using one of these devices (I’ve only used the Kindle app on iOS or Windows Phone until now) but it really couldn’t have been much simpler to set up. This is the latest incarnation of the Kindle (the Kindle 4 – officially known as “Kindle, Wi-Fi, 6″ E Ink Display“) and when it arrived, I wasn’t sure whether to open the “frustration free” packaging to find another box inside and wrap it as a gift, It turns out that the brown, wedge-shaped box with the word Kindle on the side and a rip-tab is the actual product packaging (typically functional and no-frills, but substantial enough to prevent damage).

After unboxing, all that was needed was to:

  • Plug the Kindle into a computer using the supplied USB cable.
  • Select the language.
  • Connect to a Wi-Fi network (using the soft keyboard).
  • Register (in this case, to an existing Amazon account – more on that in a moment).

That’s all the basics to get going but, in the Manage Your Kindle section of the Amazon website I also:

  • Edited the name (not much point my wife having a device that had defaulted to “Mark’s Kindle”).
  • Added an email address from which to receive personal documents (if emailed to the Kindle).

At this point it’s probably worth mentioning something about sharing Kindles.  Because I’ve been using the Kindle app on my devices, it made sense that we should be able to share publications with one another. Unfortunately, sharing requires the use of a single account (hence why my wife’s new Kindle was automatically named “Mark’s Kindle” and why the welcome note is addressed to me…). In the United States, there are limited options to lend books but it’s not universal, and it’s far from the model that we see in print (walk to shelf; pick up book; give to friend; friend returns book at some stage a few weeks later) – although I did find an interesting analogy on the Amazon website.

With multiple Kindles on one account:

  • We can select purchases individually but they are charged to one card.
  • Purchases using the Kindle will go to the Kindle being used at the time.
  • Purchases from the Amazon website can be sent to whichever Kindle is chosen.
  • Any purchase made can be also loaded onto other Kindles on the same account.

I’m not sure how easy it would be to damage the E Ink display but I didn’t want to take the chance – we bought a cover for Mrs W.’s Kindle which does have the downside of increasing weight and volume but also looks quite nice.  Amazon’s official cover is expensive (the one with a built-in light is even more so) but there are plenty of third-party alternatives available (the one I bought was less than £10 from Amazon.co.uk).

Overall, I’m pretty impressed with the Kindle. Strangely, buying one for my wife has increased my use of the Kindle app on my iPad (partly due to our increased use of our Amazon account) and a Kindle Fire could well be my next tablet, assuming they make it to the UK before the rumoured iPad Mini…