Last year I bought my first new car since 2003. Every day I called a friend or relative to tell them about yet another new feature I had discovered. It had Bluetooth! Lane change alerts! A camera for parking! With each new feature, my friends and family—everyone who has bought cars in the past 20 years—sighed and reminded me that these features were plain and simple new to me. I imagine the Amazon Kindle Scribe will be the same for many people. This thing is packed with old ideas turned into mediocre reality, but if you’re not deep into the world of E Ink notepads, they’ll just look neat.
The $339.99 Kindle Scribe is Amazon’s largest Kindle ever. (It’s even bigger than the long-discontinued 9.7-inch Kindle DX.) The Scribe has a 10.2-inch screen at 300 dpi, which means you can make the print bigger instead of blurrier, or you can put more words on the page than with Amazon’s smaller Kindles. It’s also much more comfortable for reading comics and graphic novels than the typical 6- or 7-inch Kindle.
But the real appeal of the Kindle Scribe is that it’s the first Kindle with a Wacom layer, meaning you can easily annotate with a stylus on the books you’re reading or take notes in a meeting. Unfortunately, I’ve used many of the Kindle Scribe’s E Ink competitors, such as the similarly priced Remarkable 2 and the more expensive (but more flexible) Onyx Boox Note Air 2. And compared to those devices, the Kindle Scribe is lacking.
But look, I’m an E Ink geek. I import e-readers from China because I want to see what advanced E Ink design looks like. I knew Amazon’s device wouldn’t have some of its competitors’ fancier features. I knew it would make sacrifices to keep costs down. I also knew that since Amazon has a virtual monopoly on the e-reader space in the United States, it doesn’t really need to do much to compete. I was still disappointed.
As an e-reader, the Kindle Scribe is fine. I reread Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree, and it was extremely easy to do – even with such a large e-reader. Words are crisp and clear and page refreshes are fast. The Scribe is light and easy to hold and read in one hand with its asymmetrical design — even though it’s so big, I sometimes feel like an extra in Star Trek: The Next Generation when I walk around the house while reading. The cases made for the Scribe are more meant to imitate a pen block than a book, but I still love them. It didn’t seem to get in the way of the device like the book-style cover on other e-readers. It also has a built-in loop for the (thankfully) included pen, and it doesn’t feel like a dinky add-on like pen loops almost always do.
There are two pens available: my review unit came with the fancier Premium Pen (an additional cost of $30), which includes a shortcut key and built-in eraser, but there’s also the basic pen without an eraser and button. Both have a magnet to lock onto the side of the device if you don’t have a case with a pen loop. Because the pen uses Wacom technology, you don’t have to charge it. Surprisingly, I didn’t miss my regular E Ink stylus when using the Premium Pen either.
The Scribe also has some of the best battery life I’ve seen in an e-reader of this size. I don’t have to turn off Wi-Fi to keep the battery from draining between uses, as I do with other devices (although I’ve only had the Scribe for a week and a half – I need more time to make final thoughts on battery performance).
But one of my biggest frustrations with the Kindle Scribe is when I’m trying to choose what to read. Earlier this year, Amazon completed integrating Comixology with the Kindle Store. Now all my books and comics can be found in the same place – even if that place is a black-and-white e-reader not intended for reading comics. Recently, Amazon added the ability to filter out comics in your library. That worked on the Scribe, but it didn’t help with the recommendations on the Scribe’s home page. That’s still full of colorful Harley Quinn comics I don’t want to read on this thing. (Kevin Keith, vice president of product management and marketing at Amazon, was surprised when I mentioned this to him and said he’d have the team look into it.) More off-putting than the recommendations was how quickly the Scribe tried to get me to sign up for Kindle Unlimited and Audible subscriptions. I had to skip ads for both services when I first turned on the Scribe. Considering the Scribe starts at $339.99 and doesn’t have lock screen ads like other Kindle readers, the nagging felt like a bit much.
But maybe that’s okay because you’re not just buying this to read books; you probably also want it to take notes. Amazon copied the Remarkable 2 and gave the glass a rougher surface. The nibs on the stylus have a rougher texture, which gives the Scribe a nicer writing feel than the iPad’s hard glass will never have. It, dare I say, almost feels like real paper.
Even so, the Remarkable 2 still fares better. Unlike the Remarkable 2, the Scribe has front lights that create a small gap between the glass you write on and the E Ink surface below. That gap is clearly visible and it creates a very small but noticeable delay as you write. But given the choice between this little delay and headlights or no delay and no lights, I’m happy to take the delay.
I also like to take the Scribe’s reading experience over the Remarkable 2 – and especially its annotation ability. The Scribe allows you to take small notes while reading a book, and it automatically collects all your notes in one place. If you constantly write down marginalia, it works like a dream. There isn’t really any other mainstream device that lets you do that so easily.
Same goes for PDF markup – it just works. You open the PDF, you start scribbling all over it, and then you email it to yourself. Done.
The dedicated notebook feature is adequate, but not as good as anything Remarkable or Onyx Boox does. It’s pretty easy to get into writing: just flip open the cover, open a notebook, and go. But you can’t choose from multiple pen and pencil grades or shades. You get five different pen sizes, five different highlighter sizes, and an eraser. I would have liked a few pencil options and more than one type of pen choice. Keith didn’t give details, but did suggest that software updates could add more features to Scribe’s Notebook app. So fingers crossed it will improve with time.
I also cross my fingers that the whole sync situation will improve because right now it’s crazy as hell. To get articles and other documents onto the Scribe, email your Kindle and wait for it to receive the files, which it will automatically load into your library alongside any books (or comics) you may already own. But it doesn’t actually sync notes you take with the Kindle app on your phone or the web. So annotations disappear when you open the same PDF on your phone. Notebooks are synced, but you can’t add them to your phone or other device. You can only read them. And if you’re hoping to turn your handwriting into text instantly… find another device. The Writer does not. Since Amazon is one of the largest and most successful cloud computing companies in the world, it’s amazing how poorly this whole process works.
Here was one place where Amazon couldn’t just match the Remarkable 2, it could have crushed the other company to dust. It could have followed Apple, Samsung and Microsoft, all of which have intuitive and flexible note-taking options – even if their tablets aren’t as pleasant to write on as a Remarkable 2. Instead, the Scribe just offers a perfectly adequate , if undercooked, service. The entire time I’ve used the Scribe, I’ve struggled to escape the feeling that this is some kind of lazy entry into a burgeoning market. While I keep comparing Amazon’s Kindle range to the Remarkable 2 and devices like the Onyx Boox Note Air 2, they aren’t really significant competitors. Amazon has a lot more resources, and I expected something of real quality from Amazon – especially considering the Scribe starts at $339.99.
The Scribe is technically cheaper than the Remarkable 2, which starts at $299 but requires you to spend at least $79 on a stylus. And it’s cheaper than the Onyx Boox Note Air 2, which includes a pen (and a case!) for free, but starts at $449. While Amazon may position the Kindle Scribe as a luxury option compared to its smaller e-readers, it’s still a bargain compared to the 10-inch competition. I only wish it did more and took the note-taking capabilities further.
For most people, the Kindle Scribe is probably the easiest choice if they’re looking for a basic note-taking device or large e-reader. It works, and there is plenty of room for improvement for the software. Amazon’s own executives have told me that the company plans to roll out more updates. But right now, the Scribe does just enough to keep up with the competition, and nothing more.
Photographed by Amelia Hollow Krales
Agree to continue: Amazon Kindle Scribe
Like many e-readers, Amazon’s Kindle Scribe requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it – contracts that no one really reads. It is impossible for us to read and analyze all these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to press “agree” to use devices when we review them, since these are agreements that most people don’t read and certainly can’t negotiate.
When you use your Kindle Scribe for the first time, you will be prompted to connect or create an Amazon account. When you set up or connect your Amazon account, Amazon receives your email and billing address, as well as your credit card number, so that you can purchase and download content. You must also agree to the following terms:
In total, there are 11 mandatory agreements to use the Kindle Scribe.