How I Built a DIY Kindle

Turn a secondhand tablet PC into a fully functional e-book reader

DIY Kindle

Luis Bruno

I tried to love Amazon's amazing e-ink electronic book reader, the Kindle, I really did. But I wanted a device that had full color and a higher-resolution display and that didn't limit the content you can view on it. So instead of shelling out $300, I decided to make my own version using a tablet PC -- basically a computer with a stowable keyboard (or no keyboard at all) that you mainly control with a stylus and touchscreen.

It doesn't have the long battery life or always-on connection for downloading books and magazines that the Kindle offers, but with a few system tweaks and the addition of some free software, it does everything else the Kindle does. Plus, unlike Amazon's gadget, it lets me read any comic book or magazine in color, and doesn't require an extra fee to read blogs and download PDFs. And since tablets never quite caught on with consumers, they're available by the truckload on eBay for about half the cost of a Kindle.

Build an E-Reader

Time: 1 Hour
Cost: About $200

  1. BUY Hit eBay to find cheap tablet PCs. Look for older models like the Motion M1400 or Fujitsu Stylistic. Expect to pay around $200 for a fully functional one, or a little less if you're willing to fix it or get missing parts elsewhere.
  2. FORMAT Strip down Windows XP by removing programs you don't need (check out extremetech.com or lifehacker.com for help). Next, go to Control Panel and then Display to change the look of the system. Choose "high contrast/white" for the background, and increase the size of the icons so you can tap things easily with the pen. You can even make the interface black and white to look more Kindle-like. Use the D-pad mapping software included with the tablet or the reader apps to change button functions -- for example, I mapped Page Up and Page Down to be "next page" and "previous page."

  3. LOAD Install reader software like Calibre (calibre.kovidgoyal.net), Adobe's PDF reader (get.adobe.com/reader) and ComicRack (comicrack.cyolito.com). Also try Zinio (zinio.com) so you can view digital editions of magazines like PopSci. Install RSS readers such as FeedDemon (newsgator.com) to download news with the tablet's Wi-Fi connection. (If your tablet has Bluetooth, you can also connect through your cellphone.) And bookmark newspaper sites like the New York Times Article Skimmer version (prototype.nytimes.com/gst/articleSkimmer) and sites like Project Gutenberg (gutenberg.org) for no-fee, copyright-free books.

  4. READ Sit back and enjoy. I've read more classics and PDFs lately than I ever expected. Now my girlfriend and I sit around for hours without talking to each other, transfixed by electronic text. Perhaps this wasn't the best idea after all.