You already knew that the pen is mightier than the sword. Now it shoots at the keyboard. Kindle Scribe is Amazon’s first e-reader to include a stylus that lets you write directly on the e-ink screen. (In the face, paper!) You can add handwritten digital “sticky notes” to the books you read, mark up PDFs, and create all kinds of full-page documents: letters, journals, sheet music, and so on. It’s a slick premium device that’s surprisingly pleasant to write on, but comes at the right price: Scribe starts at $340 for the 16GB model with a basic pen, though it’s currently on sale for $295. I tested the $390 model that has 32GB of storage and a Premium Pen, now discounted to $320. Would I recommend any of them?
Let’s start by addressing the flat, rectangular elephant in the room: why choose Kindle Scribe over, say, an iPad 10.2 and an Apple Pencil? Granted, the latter pair would cost close to $439, but the iPad offers a lot more than the Kindle – let alone a color screen. The pencil allows you not only to take notes, but also to create works of art. (Seriously, you should see what my daughter can do with the Procreate app.)
Handwriting on the iPad, on the other hand, isn’t quite as paper-like, and battery life is a fraction of that of Scribe (which promises up to three weeksworth writing, based on half an hour a day). iPads can also be quite distracting, with games, movies, and more clamoring for your attention. Just as a regular Kindle offers distraction-free reading, Scribe leaves you alone as you write your diary.
My Brain’s Value page says iPad offers more bang for your buck. The creative side loves the Kindle for its elegant simplicity.
Kindle Scribe: How is it as an e-reader?
If you’ve used a Kindle before, there’s nothing too revolutionary here other than the size: it’s a glorious 10.2 inches that allows you to see a lot more text at once. However, this has a downside: because the screen is wider and taller than most printed books, I’ve found that I don’t enjoy reading as much. My eyes struggled to adjust to the extra movement. Fortunately, like all Kindles, Scribe offers adjustable line spacing and margins, which allowed me to create a more comfortable layout.
Unfortunately, although you can rotate the screen to landscape mode, the text takes up its entire width; you can’t split it into left/right pages like a real book, a feature I’ve long appreciated in the Kindle iPad app.
Whichever orientation you choose, the display delivers a resolution of 300 pixels per inch (ppi), making text virtually indistinguishable from print. Like most other Kindles, it includes a “warm light” option that softens the LED lighting to a more amber color, pleasant for evening reading.
The Scribe feels incredibly thin and light when you pick it up, although it does tip the scales at almost a pound. As it happens, the iPad 10.2 is only a hair thicker and heavier. The entry-level Kindle, meanwhile, only weighs 5.5 ounces, so it’s a lot easier to hold for long periods of reading. While the Scribe has a generous side bezel that provides a fairly comfortable grip, I did find myself using the device two-handed on occasion.
Indeed, as a regular e-reader, the Kindle Scribe is not ideal; it’s a bit too big, heavy and expensive. Physical page-turning buttons are also missing, although there’s so much screen that it’s not difficult to swipe around. I’d say Amazon’s Oasis and the Paperwhite Signature Edition are probably smarter choices for serious readers, but even the basic Kindle is also a great device.
Of course, Scribe isn’t meant to be just an e-reader; it’s also a writing tablet.
Kindle Scribe: What’s it like to take notes?
The Scribe plastic stylus requires no batteries, charging or pairing; it just works. A strong magnet clips it to the side of the screen when not in use, but it can easily fall out in a purse or backpack. I already felt that I was getting more and more worried about losing or missing a pen, especially considering that replacements cost $30 and $60 (for Basic and Premium respectively).
As noted, I tested the Premium Pen, which adds a dedicated “eraser” as well as a shortcut button. I liked the girth and height; made writing on Scribe joyously paper-like (and even sounds like that). There is no lag between your pen strokes and the digital ink appearing beneath them; the overall experience really mimics putting a pencil into papyrus.
A small on-screen toolbar that can be collapsed when not needed lets you choose between Pen, Highlighter and Eraser modes, with a choice of five thicknesses for each – enough for simple note-taking. It also has helpful undo and redo buttons. But that’s the Scribe’s range of writing tools; you can’t select and move a section of notes, for example, and there’s no handwriting recognition to convert notes to actual text.
The tablet offers a rich assortment of notepad templates, including numerous lined “paper” versions, as well as dot grid, graph paper, sheet music, checklist, daily and weekly planners and much more. Anyone who asks, “Why is this better than a $3 pencil and spiral pad?” has the answer: you can have 18 different types of notebooks on one device, with enough space to hold literally thousands of pages.
In the meantime, you can send any file (PDF, Word document, image, etc.) to your Kindle via email (it has a dedicated address) and then use the pen to add notes. However, only PDF files allow you to write directly on them; other types of documents, as well as any Kindle books you might want to annotate, limit you to virtual sticky notes.
The real disappointment is that Scribe can’t sync with, say, your Google Drive or Evernote account. In fact, the only way documents can get on or off the device is via email; the ones you create in Scribe are sent as PDFs. Speaking of syncing, any notes you add to an eBook on Scribe don’t sync with other Kindle devices or apps (although at least you can access your notebooks).
This is an area where the iPad, as well as competing writing tablets like the Onyx Boox Note Air 2 and Remarkable 2, offer much more flexibility. Scribe makes document creation fun and easy, but it lacks document syncing and sharing.
(UPDATE: New features are coming. In late December, Amazon added the following information on the Scribe product page: “Kindle Scribe will add more writing tools in the coming months, including new types of brushes and copy/paste tools, additional options for organizing notebooks, and the ability to send documents to Kindle Scribe directly from the program Microsoft Word.”)
Kindle Scribe: is it worth buying?
What we have here is a large e-reader that is also a writing tablet. It’s good at both, but not great, despite the price tag suggesting a more powerful, capable device.
If you’re someone who reads a lot and likes to add notes and highlights along the way, Scribe is a great tool. Just grab a pen, select text, then jot down your thoughts. This is much better than the traditional Kindle method of highlighting with your finger and tapping on the tiny on-screen keyboard. But Amazon really needs to (and almost certainly will) update the software to get these annotations synced across devices.
As a basic digital notebook, Scribe also has its advantages; Anyone who prefers to take notes by hand rather than typing them out on a keyboard will love the smoothness and ease of use of the stylus and screen. And while you can’t sync these notes anywhere, you can email them easily.
I like Scribe, but I also see room for improvement. At least wait for a sale like the one happening now; Amazon devices always get discounts, usually very regularly. A Kindle Scribe for, say, $250 would be much more attractive than for $340.
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