Reviving an Old Tablet

Over the past few months I've taken to scavenging through drawers and boxes at my parents' home to unearth old and forgotten electronics and “reviving” them in some shape or form. I've found multiple iPod touches, an iPod nano, an iPod shuffle, a few macbooks, a couple of old phones and a tablet. Most of these devices I simply charged and updated, specifically the iPods. I also plan on putting a Linux operating system on at least one of my older macbooks. After personally fixing the screen on an old Oneplus 3, I've run into significant roadblocks when I attempt to flash LineageOS onto it, and I am at the point of calling it a lost cause (though I learned a lot from replacing the screen myself). Another old Samsung phone seems to be heading towards the same fate, though I might spend some more time trying to break through. This just left me with my 2011 Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9.

The first thing I had to do was charge it. After scouring the house for days looking for the charging cable, I acquiesced and bought a cable on ebay for $7.00. Finally, after fully charging the tablet, I was ready to get to work. I first checked whether the software was up-to-date. After finding that the latest android version available on my tablet was 4.0.4, I got to work researching whether there were alternative operating systems I could flash onto the tablet. I looked at Ubuntu Touch, PostmarketOS, and Lineage. Unfortunately, there appeared to be no support for this model anywhere. I begrudgingly settled on “de-googling” my tablet as much as I could, as well as attempt to only use free and open source software (FOSS) apps. After removing my Google account from the settings, uninstalling every extraneous app I could, and downloading F-Droid, I was ready to start turning my tablet into a dedicated e-reader.

When it comes to reading, I am a sucker for physical books. I love holding the book in my hands and physically turning the pages. However, I began to believe there was value in owning some books as ebooks. For one, a backlit screen makes reading in bed significantly easier. Additionally, with ebooks I can mark-up pages, set multiple bookmarks, and make notes with ease. But before I began, I established specific criteria and principles I would abide by when purchasing and reading ebooks. The first rule was the most obvious: No Amazon. I've stopped using Amazon to purchase items for over a year now and I am determined to maintain that practice as I delve into ebooks. As such, I resolved that I would not use the kindle app or buy any books from the Amazon store. The second rule I made for myself was that I would avoid DRM as best I could, or if not, strip the DRM from books I purchase. My final rule was that I would only use a FOSS e-reader application. With my guidelines in place, I got started putting together my ebook workflow.

My first stop was to Libreture is a book management and storage website with a focus on DRM-free books. Creating a free account grants you 500MB storage and a comprehensive book management system. One of the many great things about Libreture is their focus on making it simple to find DRM-free books and bookshops. You can also browse other readers' public libraries and find recommendations made by Libreture members. Another key feature of Libreture's book management system is their OPDS feed. The OPDS catalogue format allows you to access and download your Libreture library to any device through a compatible OPDS application. My second task was to find a FOSS application that would work on Android 4.0.4 and had OPDS functionality. After trying many different applications, I settled on KOReader. KOReader is a FOSS reader application available on F-Droid with pared-down visuals and OPDS functionality. Cool Reader was another great FOSS e-reader application, however, it would not connect with my Libreture library. Now that I had my Library and my e-reader, I had to buy my first book and add it to my Libreture library.

On Libreture I searched for the book I wanted to buy, “The City & the City”. My search result showed that another reader on the site had purchased the book from Kobo. I then went to Kobo and purchased the book. I realized too late there was Adobe DRM on my book. Though I could download the book, I could not upload it to my Libreture library and read it on my ereader of choice. I then spent a lot of time trying to determine the best solution for removing DRM from this book. I eventually settled on the following solution. The first step is to download Adobe Digital Editions (ADE). On ADE, authorize your computer and upload your ebook. This will convert the ebook into a .epub file. Next, I downloaded Calibre onto my computer. Calibre is a powerful ebook management tool that allows you to upload, convert, and configure your ebooks. After downloading Calibre I added the De-DRM plugin. Once the plugin was installed, all I had to do was upload the .epub version of the book to Calibre and click convert. I converted my book to a .pdf format and uploaded it to Libreture. Though this process sounds cumbersome, after all the applications and plugins are installed and implemented, the process is quite seamless. With my book uploaded to Libreture, I could now open up KOReader on my tablet, browse my Libreture OPDS catalogue, and download the book onto my tablet. At the bottom of this piece I've added links to various solutions and articles I found helpful.

It took me about two days to put everything together, and in the end I was able to create a workflow that worked for me and allowed me to enjoy my ebooks in a way that respected my specific values. As frustrating as the process was at various points, I am proud of myself for sticking with it and never caving on my principles. All that's left to do is read!