But Amazon is a little late to the party. In the years since we last developed a big-screen Kindle, companies like reMarkable and Onyx have dabbled in digital notebooks—and some have gotten so good that Amazon’s work can sometimes feel a little inferior in comparison.
I’ve spent the past few weeks testing and pitting the Kindle Scribe against some of its most exciting competition. Here’s what you should know.
(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, but at Help Desk, we review all products and services with the same critical eye.)
At $339 (or more, if you opt for a nicer pen and add a case), the Scribe is Amazon’s biggest and most expensive Kindle in years. When tested alongside competing devices like the $299 reMarkable 2 and $599 Onyx Boox Tab Ultra, it didn’t take long to discover that Scribe isn’t nearly as good for reading and writing.
Scribe has perhaps the most polished software of the three, and with its small weight and great screen luminance, it’s the one I’d most like to run through a novel. But if you’re interested in doing some serious writing on a device like this, you might want to consider something like reMarkable instead.
I’m not saying taking notes or crossing items off your to-do list was annoying at all. Writing on Scribe with the included pen display felt smooth and satisfying, and it comes with a few notebook templates for people who need to jump between broad-ruled music “paper,” grid, and even sheet music.
What really excites me is that Scribe’s writing features feel a bit simplistic compared to some of its competitors.
There’s no way, for example, to select and animate a bunch of text you’ve typed. If you realize you put some notes in the wrong place, well, all you have to do is erase them and rewrite them. (iPads, reMarkable laptops, and digital Onyx devices can handle this just fine.) It’s also missing any kind of handwriting recognition, which means there’s no way to search for specific things you’ve written or convert your writing to text to make it more intuitive. Clarity. .
Casual writers may not notice the lack of these features. Ditto for people who primarily want a writer for books – this is definitely still a read-first tool. In an email, an Amazon spokesperson said the writer was “inspired” by people who have been highlighting and leaving notes in their Kindle books for years. Okay, but when you think about the last time Amazon debuted it, it was the new big-screen Kindle reader more than a decade ago, I’m a little surprised she didn’t elaborate on her writing tools a little more.
People who want to see more. Scribe has a 10.2-inch screen, which is the largest Amazon has ever squeezed into a Kindle. This means that you can now view more of the book at a glance, or – if your eyes aren’t what they used to be – you have to increase the font size.
People who hate charging gadgets. Tools with electronic paper displays are known for their long battery life, and so far, Scribe is no exception. Unless you’re reading 24/7, expect it to last a few weeks on a single charge.
People who write notes in the margins of a book. As a digital notebook, Scribe is basic at best. But writing notes in the books you’re reading—as well as exporting and reviewing them later—works just fine.
People who work with complex documents. You can import and overwrite Word documents and PDFs, but Amazon says you can’t encode files that include large tables. And if you work with a lot of long PDF sheets, you might see Writer hesitate when you try to scroll to a new page. (It doesn’t always happen, but it can really slow you down if you’re looking for something specific.)
People who keep files in the cloud. Scribe can’t connect to services like Dropbox or Google Drive, which means it takes some work to work on the documents you’ve stored there. And if you want to get the stuff back from Scribe, you have two options: email it to yourself, or view it (but not save it) in the Kindle app on your phone or tablet.
Those who like to read in the tub. Many of Amazon’s other recent Kindles can survive an accidental spill or splash. Not so for the company’s most expensive Kindle—you might want to think twice before packing it up for a day at the beach.
What the marketing doesn’t say
Other devices can make reading a little easier. iPads and Android tablets can run Amazon’s Kindle app, which includes one useful feature that Scribe lacks: a two-column display when you hold your gadget horizontally. It feels like reading a real book, and its absence here will be a real problem for some.
You can just drag and drop files onto the writer. Using Amazon’s Send to Kindle website to send files to Scribe is easy enough, and it didn’t take more than two minutes to get through. But if you’re somewhere you can’t get online—or if you don’t want Amazon as an intermediary—you can transfer files using the included USB cable.
You can fill it with books you didn’t buy from Amazon. Okay, okay, Scribe’s product page technically mentions this. But it bears repeating that you can transfer digital books in EPUB format You didn’t buy it from Amazon on the author. So far, the books I’ve tested look the way they’re supposed to, but your mileage may vary.
What are the alternatives?
If Scribe is an e-book reader first, and a digital notebook second, reMarkable 2 is the exact opposite. You can’t buy books on anyone, although loading them with files to read is trivial. And the lack of any built-in lighting means that reading in bed may require turning on the lamp.
But what really shines is how it handles writing and organization. The features I mentioned to Writer that it lacks — such as navigating parts of writing and converting handwriting to text — work great here. reMarkable also includes more options for customizing pen strokes, as well as support for cloud services like Google Drive and Dropbox for easy access to your files.
The catch: reMarkable doesn’t come with a free stylus — it’ll cost you at least an extra $79. The full package costs more than Writer, but people who crave being productive might benefit more from reMarkable’s features.
Meanwhile, the $599 Onyx Boox Tab Ultra is the most ambitious digital notebook I’ve ever seen. It has a processor fast enough to play HD video, a camera for scanning documents, and it runs on a customized version of Android. This means you can install Amazon’s Kindle app — or the Kobo Store or Libby — and read books from just about anywhere.
The catch: The program is, frankly, a mess. You don’t need to search for long before getting into the confusing menu options, and app crashes are not uncommon.
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