The Kindle Scribe is a rare miss in Amazon’s e-reader universe

I’ve been looking for a good, usable e-ink reader/notebook for a while. I had seen the Remarkable pop up in my feed, tried it, and came away unimpressed. Now I’m in possession of the Kindle Scribe and I can say that, perhaps, the world doesn’t really need an e-ink notebook.

Or, more correctly, maybe Amazon can’t make one.

The Scribe, as you may recall, is a $340 10.2-inch tablet with a stylus. You can use it to read standard Kindle books or your own converted ebooks (Amazon still hasn’t added ePub support) and it also displays PDFs. With the pen, you can take notes in a floating box on the screen – not in the text itself – and you can use the stylus to manage the UI.

When you’re ready to create you use the tablet to make a notebook and add a page to it. The pages range from the standard ruled notebook to gridded graph paper to various templates for To-Dos and daily planners. Basically it’s a glorified notebook.

Writing on this thing is very nice. The e-ink is very reactive and if you have handwriting like the person above, you’re golden. If you have handwriting like mine, well…

There is no real way to recognize your handwriting, at least using common tools, so the PDFs this thing spits out are basically files full of images. This is useful if you want to archive our share your work but it’s fairly useless if you want to, say, write a poem by hand and then paste it into a Word Doc.

Further, the writing experience is sub par. If you are a paper notebook person you will only notice the lack of friction from the smooth screen when it comes to taking notes and sketching plans. This is not paper and pen and it probably never will be.

I described the e-reader and I described the notebook. These two tools never meet in the middle. You can’t mark up ebooks. You can’t create anything more than you could create with a spiral notebook and a biro. You can’t reall use it to draw comics or create complex UI mockups or build flowcharts. It’s basically like having a paperback book with a few blank pages at the back that you can mess up.

Is the Kindle Scribe a good product?

For $340 you’d think Amazon would have put a bit more thought into the UI and UX. As it stands, this is two products glued together, sloppily. Further, the size is ridiculous. It’s not great for casual reading nor is it small enough to become a notebook replacement. It’s like having a big, stiff piece of A4 paper in front of you all the time. It’s an awkward size in any permutation.

You absolutely don’t have to buy this thing and you honeslty shouldn’t. It’s not ready and I doubt, in this form-factor, it ever will be. The original Kindle was a beast, to be sure, and it even featured the same weird design issues that the Scribe has, including an unnecessarily large left side bezel which is designed to hold the battery and give your hand somewhere to grab.

I don’t see myself using this thing as an e-reader or a notebook and if you’re a huge fan of fancy pens and Moleskines you won’t use this thing either. It’s just not the same experience in either case. It’s a product with a lot of nice to have features but nothing that will change the game when it comes to e-ink products. The Kindle Scribe, sadly, is a dud.

John Biggs

John Biggs is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer, and maker. He spent fifteen years as an editor for Gizmodo, CrunchGear, and TechCrunch and has a deep background in hardware startups, 3D printing, and blockchain. His work has appeared in Men’s Health, Wired, and the New York Times.

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4 thoughts on “The Kindle Scribe is a rare miss in Amazon’s e-reader universe

  1. I’m curious, what left your unimpressed by the Remarkable? It generally gets rave reviews from writers. The only negatives I’ve heard is that it’s not a great e-reader, but then that’s not it’s primary use case

  2. I think most of what you say here is spot on, from the other reviews I’ve read. I’m kind of surprised Amazon released this in such an unfinished state.
    The one part you said that I haven’t heard before was about the writing experience. Most other reviews seem to think there’s enough friction to feel something like paper.

    I do think it’s a miss for Amazon though. Hopefully the next generation will be better.

  3. Well that is what I thought it will be and I’m glad you wrote this review. My main concern was the inability to produce textual documents out of the hand writing and the viscosity of the plane.
    I think I’ll wait for the Lenovo yoga or even further

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