Feb 032011

The Kindle Settings Menu

Kindles are really just small computers, and they run software (like an operating system) just like your Mac or Windows PC. Every so often, Amazon will release an update to the Kindle’s software, sometimes to fix bugs and sometimes to include new features.

Amazon, like many software makers, uses an odd decimal system to differentiate the versions of its software. The current Kindle software version is 3.0.3 — where the initial 3 is the major release number; in this case, the software for the Kindle 2 always starts with 2 and the software for the Kindle 3 starts with 3. The second digit is the revision number, so version 2.5 is a fairly important upgrade from 2.4, often adding new features. The last digit is a minor revision number, usually just a simple bug fix, where you might not even notice the difference between versions 3.0.2 and 3.0.3, for example.

This leaves three questions: (1) How do I know which version of the Kindle software I have installed?, (2) How do I upgrade my Kindle’s software?, and (3) When should I upgrade my Kindle’s software?

How Do I Know Which Version of the Kindle Software I Have Installed?

First, we’ll cover how to figure out which version of the software you have currently installed on your Kindle. From your device’s Home screen, press the “Menu” button and choose “Settings” from the menu. From there, you should see the currently-installed software version in the bottom-right corner of the screen (see the screenshot above).

Note that the software version in the screenshot is “3.0.3,” while the long number in the parenthesis is an internal Amazon version number you can usually safely ignore.

How Do I Update My Kindle’s Software?

There are generally two ways to update your Kindle’s software: (1) wait for Amazon to send the update wirelessly (over Wi-Fi or 3G, depending on which type of Kindle you have), or (2) download the latest update to your computer from Amazon’s Kindle Software page, and then transfer that update to your Kindle via a USB cable.

The first option is the easiest. When Amazon feels the update is ready, it will send it out to wireless-connected Kindles. Note that to receive these updates, your Kindle must have wireless turned on. Some people will leave their wireless on overnight when they know a new software version is being rolled out, in the hopes of being one of the first to get it. Otherwise, so long as you turn on your Kindle’s wireless every so often (I usually keep mine off to conserve battery life), you should eventually get a notification on your screen that there’s a new software version available to install. Just follow the on-screen instructions and the update will proceed automatically (it may take 5-10 minutes).

The second option is to visit Amazon’s Kindle Software page and find the latest version of the software for the type of Kindle you have. Through this page, you can get “pre-release” and trial updates, so I’d only recommend it if you feel comfortable messing around with your Kindle a little bit. As I discuss below, this is probably not necessary unless you have a good reason to upgrade right away.

To upgrade, select the proper software version from the page linked above and download it to your computer. Then plug your Kindle into your computer via the USB cable and transfer the downloaded file to your Kindle’s home directory. Then, from your Kindle (once ejected / disconnected from your computer), press “Menu” from the Home Screen and select “Update Your Kindle.” (There are more detailed directions on the Amazon Kindle Software page.) Your Kindle will then update, and restart once or twice. Again, the process will take 5-10 minutes.

When Should I Upgrade My Kindle’s Software?

As I said, minor revisions (e.g., 3.0.X) are usually just bug fixes and the like. In general, if your Kindle is working fine, I wouldn’t bother going out of your way to upgrade it for 2 reasons: (1) if you have no problems now, then there’s nothing an update can solve, and (2) it’s not really worth the time and effort since there are no new features.

Of course, if you’re having problems, it’s probably a good idea to try the update to see if that fixes them.

On the other hand, more major updates (e.g., 3.X) — like 2.5 or whenever they come out with 3.1 — usually have new features that you may want, and it’s probably worthwhile to make those upgrades.

So, if you need the upgrade (to fix some bug or get some new feature you want right away), you may want to go ahead and do the update manually by USB. If not, you may as well just wait until your Kindle updates automatically through wireless.

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