Review |  Big-screen Kindles are coming back as notebooks, but they're better for reading

Review | Big-screen Kindles are coming back as notebooks, but they’re better for reading


I do not remember anything unless I write it down. Some of you may know this feeling.

That’s why gadgets like the new Kindle Scribe are so great: in addition to serving up books, it doubles as a digital journal. With an included stylus, you can jot down notes in that new novel, mark up documents that need work, and yes, jot down reminders throughout the day.

But Amazon is a little late to the party. In the years since the last development of a large-screen Kindle, companies like reMarkable and Onyx have dabbled in digital laptops — and some of them have gotten so good that Amazon’s work can sometimes seem a little insufficient in comparison.

I’ve spent the last few weeks testing the Kindle Scribe and trying it out against some of its more interesting competitors. Here’s what you need to know.

(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, but at the 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. Testing it alongside rival devices like the $299 reMarkable 2 and the $599 Onyx Boox Tab Ultra, it didn’t take long to discover that the Scribe isn’t as good at reading and writing. ‘writing.

The Scribe has perhaps the finest software of the three, and thanks to its barely there weight and excellent screen lighting, it’s the one I’d most like to fuel a novel on. But if you’re interested in writing seriously about a device like this, you might want to consider something like the reMarkable instead.

I’m not saying that taking notes or crossing off items from a to-do list was at all unpleasant. Writing on the Scribe with the included pen display was smooth and satisfying, and it comes with a handful of notebook templates for people who need to switch from “paper” to broadly ruled, gridded, and even sheet music.

What really appeals to me is that the Scribe’s writing features seem a bit basic compared to some of its rivals.

There’s no way, for example, to select a bunch of text you’ve written and move it around. If you find you’ve put notes in the wrong place, oh well, you’ll just have to erase and rewrite them. (iPads, reMarkable, and Onyx digital notebooks can handle this just fine.) It also lacks any kind of handwriting recognition, which means there’s no way to search for specific things you have written or convert your handwriting to text to make it more readable.

Casual writers might not notice that these features are missing. Ditto for people who primarily want a Scribe for books – it’s definitely still a read-first device. In an email, an Amazon spokesperson said the Scribe was “inspired” by people who have been highlighting and leaving notes in their Kindle books for years. Fine, but considering the last time Amazon launched a new large-screen Kindle reader, it was more than a decade ago, I’m a little surprised he hasn’t fleshed out his writing tools a bit more.

Want to borrow this e-book from the library? Sorry, Amazon won’t let you.

People who want to see more. The Scribe has a 10.2-inch screen, the largest Amazon has ever squeezed into a Kindle. This means you can now see more than one book at a glance, or if your eyes aren’t what they used to be, really increase the font size.

People who hate charging gadgets. Gadgets with e-paper screens have a reputation for long battery life, and so far the 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 books. As a digital notepad, the Scribe is basic at best. But jotting down observations in the books you read — plus exporting and revising them later — works well enough.

People who work with complex documents. You can import and write on Word documents and PDFs, but Amazon says you can’t annotate files that contain large tables. And if you work with a lot of long PDF documents, you may see the Scribe hesitate when trying to drag 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 store files in the cloud. The Scribe can’t connect to services like Dropbox or Google Drive, which means working on the documents you’ve stored there takes some work. And if you want to get things you’ve written on the Scribe, you have two options: email them to yourself or view (but not save) them in the Kindle app on your phone or tablet.

Those who like to read in the bathtub. Many other recent Amazon Kindles can survive the occasional spill or spill. That’s not the case for the company’s most expensive Kindle – you might want to think twice before packing it up for a day at the beach.

What Marketing Doesn’t Mention

Other devices may make reading a little easier. iPads and Android tablets can run Amazon’s Kindle app, which includes a useful feature the Scribe lacks: a two-column view when you hold your gadget horizontally. It’s a bit more like reading a real book, and its absence here will be a real bummer for some.

You can simply drag and drop files onto the Scribe. Using Amazon’s Send to Kindle website to send files to the Scribe is quite simple and it took no more than a few minutes to arrive. But if you’re somewhere you can’t get online – or don’t want Amazon as the go-between – you can transfer files with the included USB cable.

You can fill it with books you didn’t buy from Amazon. Alright, fine, the Scribe’s product page technically mentions it. But it’s worth repeating that you can move eBooks in EPUB format you did not buy on Amazon on the Scribe. So far the books I’ve tested this with look like they’re supposed to, but your mileage may vary.

The FBI closed the book on Z-Library, and readers and authors clashed

What are the alternatives ?

If the Scribe is an e-book reader first, then a digital notebook, the reMarkable 2 is the exact opposite. You can’t buy books on one, although loading it with files to read is trivial. And the lack of built-in lighting means reading in bed may require turning on a lamp.

What really shines, however, is how he approaches writing and organization. The features I mentioned Scribe lacks – like moving writing snippets and converting handwriting to text – work great here. The reMarkable also includes more options to customize your pen strokes, as well as support for cloud services like Google Drive and Dropbox for easier access to your files.

The catch: The reMarkable doesn’t come with a free stylus – it’ll cost you at least $79 more. The full package costs more than the Scribe, but people who want to be productive can make the most of reMarkable’s features.

Meanwhile, the $599 Onyx Boox Tab Ultra is the most ambitious digital notebook I’ve ever seen. It has a fast enough processor to play HD videos, a camera to scan documents, and runs on a custom version of Android. That means you can install Amazon’s Kindle app – or the Kobo Store or Libby – and read books from almost anywhere.

The catch: The software is, frankly, a mess. You don’t have to dig deep before you come across confusing menu options, and app crashes aren’t uncommon.

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