Opinion: Amazon Kindle does e-mail and more

Don't tell Amazon, but its e-book reader does e-mail, RSS feeds and calendaring

Current Job Listings

In all the marketing blather about Amazon.com Inc.'s awesome new Kindle e-book reader, you won't hear "e-mail," "RSS feeds" or "online calendars" mentioned at all.

Well, they do use the word "e-mail," but only to tell how to convert and install a document (something that happens via e-mail and costs a dime per document).

The device is marketed as a wireless e-book reader. Its best feature is a free broadband wireless connection, which is designed to let you browse and buy books, as well as subscribe to magazines, blogs and daily newspapers, which are downloaded automatically.

You can also surf the Web, but this "surfing" is also optimized for the greater good of enhancing your experience while reading books and periodicals: They point you at reference works and more things to read online.

The Kindle comes with a low-key, "experimental," largely nonconfigurable Web browser. Called Basic Web, the Kindle browser supports cookies, JavaScript and SSL, but doesn't support plug-ins like Flash or Shockwave, or even Java applets. It can't read XML pages, either.

These limitations -- plus the fact that you cannot install third-party applications (except for an app that gives you access to the Audible.com store for buying audiobooks) -- means that using the Kindle's browser for everyday tasks like e-mail, RSS feeds and calendaring is impossible.

Or is it?

I've discovered that the applications Google Inc. designed for cell phones actually work on the Kindle. They're clunky, funky and slow. But if your laptop dies during a business trip -- or if the Kindle is the only device you happen to be carrying, it's great to check your e-mail, free RSS feeds or calendar.

I'll give you URLs to the resources I mention, but you can find direct links on my new Kindle page, which I will maintain and expand indefinitely. Please feel free to use this page as your Kindle browsers "start" page. The URL is: http://elgan.com/k.

You'll also need Gmail, Reader and Calendar accounts to do all this. Once you're signed into one of them from your Kindle, you'll be able to access the rest without logging in again.

Note that, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first set of tips on how to do e-mail, RSS feeds and online calendaring from a Kindle ever published.

Gmail on a Kindle

Using Gmail on a Kindle is slow, even slower than on a phone. However, the page is much bigger. So reading, for example, Computerworld e-newsletter subscriptions, is on balance better on a Kindle than on most cell phones.

Like everything else on the Kindle, e-mail is presented one page at a time. There's no such thing as scrolling down. To see what's below, you click one of the "Next Page" bars.

I believe Amazon plans to add e-mail in the future. Why? Because it devoted an entire key to the @ symbol (even such common punctuation marks as the comma and the question mark don't get their own key). In the meantime, Google's free mobile version of Gmail is the best option for using e-mail on a Kindle.

From the Home screen, use the Select wheel to choose Menu at the bottom, then select Experimental. Choose Basic Web, then press the Select wheel to bring up the Enter URL box. The box should already have "http://" after which you can type m.gmail.com (or go there from my Kindle page), then press the Select wheel on the Submit option to enter.

Now you're on the mobile version of Gmail. Selecting, opening and reading e-mail is self-explanatory. However, sending e-mail requires some explanation. Here are some tips on how to do it.

  • Press one of the Next Page bars until you see the Compose Mail option. Use the Select wheel to choose that grouping of links, then choose Compose Mail from the menu.
  • Select the To: box with the Select wheel, then choose INPUT FIELD. Enter your recipient's e-mail address and choose Done. Add a subject, then the body of your message in the same way.
  • Click on the row of buttons under the main message box, then choose Send.
  • You'll get an error message that says, "Your Kindle is unable to access this Web site at this time. Please try again later." Choose Close. Despite the error message, your e-mail was sent.

Press the Kindle's Back button (under the right-side Next Page bar) to go back to the main Gmail page.

To reply to e-mail, select the message with the Select wheel, and choose the Subject line from the menu. Select Reply with the Select wheel, then, either Reply or Reply to All. After that, it's just like sending a new message.

To return to your in-box, press the Kindle's Back button (under the right-side Next Page bar) twice to go back to the main Gmail page.

RSS feeds on a Kindle

You can subscribe to any of hundreds of blogs available in the Kindle Store. They cost either 99 cents or $1.99 per month. Subscribing has advantages, namely, the blogs flow automatically into your reader's easy-to-access Home page, and are nicely formatted for the Kindle. The main disadvantage is that only a tiny minority of the RSS feeds out there are available in the Kindle Store.

Google offers a free online RSS feed reader called Google Reader. Although the "mobile" version of Google Reader is best for reading feeds on the Kindle, I recommend that you use the "normal" version of Google Reader to add and manage feeds. The address is www.google.com/reader/. You can add feeds you run into or if you have feeds in a PC-based RSS reader application, you can likely export your OMPL file, then import it into Google Reader.

Once you've got your feeds set up, here's how to read them with the Kindle. The address for the mobile version is www.google.com/reader/m. Navigate there with the Kindle browser (or go there from my Kindle page).

You'll see the most recent nine items for your feed. If you don't want to read any of these, use the Select wheel to choose "mark these items as read." When you see an item you'd like to read, select it.

Everything else is straightforward. Just make sure you take advantage of the Back button on the right side of the device to return to previous pages.

Calendar on Kindle

Using Google Calendar is super easy. Simply point your Kindle's Basic Web browser at www.google.com/calendar/m (or go there from my Kindle page).

The mobile version of Google Calendar shows you appointments for today and tomorrow by default. Choose an item with the Select wheel to see details.

You can add an item with the Quick Add option, but I don't recommend it. The Kindle will add your appointment, but many times. You'll end up with something like 20 copies of any appointments you add.

The Kindle wasn't designed for e-mail, RSS feeds or calendaring. Doing these activities won't void your warranty, but they aren't recommended by the manufacturer. Still, it's nice to know that when you really need to, it's possible to do these things from anywhere on your Kindle.

Have you done any unauthorized Web browsing on your Kindle? I'd love to hear about it: mike.elgan@elgan.com.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. Contact Mike at mike.elgan@elgan.com or his blog, The Raw Feed.

5 collaboration tools that enhance Microsoft Office
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon