But Amazon is a little late to the party. In the years since the last big-screen Kindle was created, companies like reMarkable and Onyx have dabbled in digital notebooks — and some of them are so good that Amazon’s work sometimes feels a little lacking by comparison.
I’ve been testing the Kindle Scribe over the past few weeks, pitting it against some of its more interesting competition. Here’s what you need to 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 pick up a nice pen and add a case), the Scribe is Amazon’s biggest, most expensive Kindle in years. Testing it with competing devices like the $299 reMarkable 2 and the $599 Onyx Boox Tab Ultra, it didn’t take long to discover that Scribe’s read and write performance wasn’t up to par.
The Scribe has the most polished software of the three, and thanks to the weight and excellent screen lighting, I’d much rather power 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 the reMarkable instead.
I’m not saying that taking notes or crossing things off a to-do list is undesirable. Writing on the Scribe stylus screen was smooth and satisfying, and it comes with a handful of notebook templates for people who need to jump between wide-ruled, grid, and sheet music “paper.”
What really gets me is that the writer’s writing features are a little basic compared to some of its competitors.
For example, there’s no way to select a block of text you’ve written and move it around. If you realize you’ve misplaced some notes, oh, well — you’ll have to erase it and rewrite it. (iPads, reMarkable, and Onyx’s digital notebooks handle this well.) There’s no handwriting recognition of any kind, meaning there’s no way to search for specific things you’ve written or convert your writing to text to make it more legible. .
Sometimes writers overlook the absence of these features. Ditto for anyone who likes Writer mainly for books – it’s definitely still the first reading device. In an email, an Amazon spokesperson said that Scribe has been “encouraged” by people who have been highlighting notes on their Kindle books for years. Well, but when you consider that Amazon recently introduced a new big-screen Kindle reader For more than a decade, I’m a little surprised it hasn’t fleshed out its writing tools a bit more.
People who want to see more. The Scribe has a 10.2-inch display, something Amazon has never squeezed into a Kindle before. That means you can now see more books at a glance or — if your eyes aren’t what they used to be — you can actually increase the font size.
People who hate charging gadgets. Gadgets with e-paper displays have a reputation for long battery life, and so far, the Scribe is no exception. Unless you’re reading 24/7, expect to last a few weeks on a single charge.
Those who write notes in the margins of books. A digital notebook, Scribe is a great base. But jotting down observations on the books you read — and exporting them for later review — is enough.
People working with complex documents. You can import and overwrite Word documents and PDFs, but Amazon says you can’t mark up files that include large tables. If you work with a lot of long PDF sheets, you may find that Scribe hesitates when you try to swipe to a new page. (This 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 a bit of work to process the documents you store. If you want to receive your writing from the author, you have two options: have them emailed to you or view (but not save) them in the Kindle app on your phone or tablet.
People who like to read in the tub. Many of Amazon’s other recent Kindles can survive the occasional spill or splash. Not so for the company’s most expensive Kindle — you might want to think twice before packing for a beach day.
What marketing doesn’t mention
Other devices may make reading a little easier. iPads and Android tablets can run Amazon’s Kindle app, which has one useful feature that Scribe lacks: a two-column display when you hold your gadget horizontally. It always feels a little too much like reading an actual book, and its absence here will be a real bummer for some.
You can drag and drop files into Scribe. Sending files to Scribe using Amazon’s Send to Kindle website is easy and takes no more than two minutes to arrive. But if you’re somewhere you can’t go online — or if you don’t want Amazon as the middle man — you can transfer files with the included USB cable.
You can fill it with books you didn’t buy from Amazon. Well, well, the author’s product page technically mentions this. But it’s worth repeating that you can move digital books to EPUB format You didn’t buy from Amazon On the writer. So far, this seems to be what the books I’ve tested should be, but your mileage may vary.
What are the alternatives?
If the Scribe is an e-book reader first and a digital notebook second, the Notable 2 is the exact opposite. You can’t buy a book, but loading files to read is trivial. And since there are no built-in lights, you may have to turn on the light while reading in bed.
What really shines is how it approaches writing and setting. The features I mentioned as lacking in Scribe — like moving scribbles and handwriting-to-text conversion — work wonderfully here. Notable are more options to customize your pen strokes and support for cloud services like Google Drive and Dropbox for easy access to your files.
Catch: The reMarkable doesn’t come with a free stylus — it costs at least $79 extra. The entire package costs more than Scribe, but those interested in being productive can get more out of reMarkable’s features.
Meanwhile, the $599 Onyx Books Tab Ultra is the most ambitious digital notebook I’ve seen. A fast app that can play HD video, a camera for scanning documents, and runs a custom version of Android. That means you can install Amazon’s Kindle app — or the Kobo Store, or Libby — and read books anywhere.
Catch: The software, frankly, is a mess. You won’t have to fumble around for long before running into confusing menu options, and app crashes aren’t uncommon.