But Amazon is a little late to the party. Since it last developed the big-screen Kindle, companies like reMarkable and Onyx have tackled digital notebooks – and some of them have gotten so good that Amazon’s work can sometimes seem a bit lackluster by comparison.
I’ve spent the last few weeks testing Kindle Scribe and testing it against some of its most interesting competitors. Here’s what you need to know.
(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, but at Helpdesk we view all products and services with the same critical eye.)
At $339 (or more if you choose a nicer pen and add a case), the Scribe is Amazon’s biggest, most expensive Kindle in years. While testing it alongside competing devices like the $299 reMarkable 2 and the $599 Onyx Boox Tab Ultra, it didn’t take long to discover that Scribe wasn’t equally good for reading and writing.
Scribe has perhaps the flashiest software of the three, and thanks to its barely-there weight and great screen lighting, it’s the software I want to power most in a novel. But if you’re interested in serious writing on a device like this one, you might consider something like reMarkable instead.
I’m not saying that taking notes or crossing out items on to-do lists is unpleasant at all. With the included stylus, typing in Scribe felt smooth and satisfying, and it comes with a handful of notepad templates for folks who need to switch between wide-lined, gridded, and even music “paper”.
What really struck me is that Scribe’s typing features feel a bit simplistic compared to some of its competitors.
For example, there is no way to select and move a bunch of text you type. If you find that you’ve misplaced some notes, oh well – you’ll have to delete it and rewrite it. (iPads, reMarkable, and Onyx’s digital notebooks can handle this just fine.) It also lacks any handwriting recognition; this means that there is no way to search for specific things you type or convert your writing to text to make it more readable. .
Occasionally writers may not realize that these features are absent. It’s the same for people who mainly want a Printer for books – it’s definitely still a reading priority device. In an email, an Amazon spokesperson said Scribe has been “inspired” by people who have been highlighting Kindle books and leaving notes for years. That’s good, but when you think about the last time Amazon released a new big-screen Kindle reader, over ten years ago, I’m a little surprised that he didn’t improve his authoring tools a bit more.
Those who want to see more. The Scribe has a 10.2-inch screen, the largest Amazon has ever put on a Kindle. This means you can now see more of a book at a glance or – if your eyes are not what they used to be – you can actually increase the font size.
People who hate charging devices. E-paper display devices are renowned for their long battery life, and so far Scribe is no exception. If you’re not reading 24/7, expect it to last a few weeks on a single charge.
People who write notes in the margins of books. As a digital notebook, Scribe is simple at best. However, scribbling on observations in books you’ve read—as well as exporting them and reviewing them later—works well enough.
People working with complex documents. You can import and overwrite Word documents and PDFs, but Amazon says you can’t markup files with large tables. And if you’re working with lots of long PDF documents, you may find Scribe hesitates when you try to scroll to a new page. (It doesn’t happen all the time, but it can really slow you down if you’re looking for something specific.)
People keeping files in the cloud. cannot connect to services such as Scribe, Dropbox or Google Drive; that means it takes some work to start working on the documents you have stored there. And if you want to retrieve things you’ve written from Scribe, you have two options: email them to yourself, or view (but don’t save) them in the Kindle app on your phone or tablet.
Those who love to read in the bathtub. Most of Amazon’s other new 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 it for a beach day.
What marketing doesn’t talk about
Other devices may make reading a little easier. iPads and Android tablets can run Amazon’s Kindle app; this includes a useful feature that Scribe lacks: a two-column view when you hold your gadget horizontally. It feels like you’re reading a real book a little more than usual, and not being here will be a real bummer for some.
You can drag and drop files into Scribe. It’s easy enough to use Amazon’s Send to Kindle website to send files to Scribe, and it took no more than a few minutes to arrive. But if you’re in a place where you can’t go online or don’t want Amazon as an intermediary, you can transfer files with the included USB cable.
You can fill it with books you didn’t get from Amazon. Well, Scribe’s product page technically talks about it. However, it is worth repeating that you can carry digital books in EPUB format. You didn’t buy from Amazon On the script. So far, the books I’ve tested this one look like they should, but your mileage may vary.
What are the alternatives?
If Scribe is first an e-book reader, then a digital notebook, reMarkable 2 is the opposite. You can’t buy a book from someone, but loading it with files to read is trivial. And the lack of any built-in lighting may require turning on a lamp to read in bed.
What really shines, though, is how he approaches writing and organization. The features I mentioned that Scribe lacks – like navigating through snippets and converting handwriting to text – work great here. ReMarkable also includes support for cloud services like Google Drive and Dropbox for easier access to your files, along with more options for customizing your pen strokes.
Catch: ReMarkable doesn’t come with a free pen – it’ll cost you at least $79. The full package is more expensive than Scribe, but those keen to be productive can get more of reMarkable’s features.
Meanwhile, the $599 Onyx Boox Tab Ultra is the most ambitious digital laptop I’ve ever seen. It has a fast enough processor to play HD video, a camera for scanning documents, and it runs on a custom Android version. This means you can install Amazon’s Kindle app (or the Kobo Store or Libby) and read from almost anywhere.
Catch: The software, frankly, is a mess. You don’t have to tinker around for long before you’re greeted with confusing menu options, and app crashes aren’t uncommon.
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