For many years, I tried various technological alternatives to my trusty yellow notepad: Microsoft Word and Google Docs, OneNote on a Surface tablet, Evernote on the web and on smartphones, Samsung Galaxy Note Plus with stylus, etc.
But to me, nothing beats the old-fashioned art of doodling on paper as a natural way to take notes. I always find myself coming back to the good old yellow pad, for all its analog flaws.
Will Amazon’s Kindle Scribe be any different?
To find out, I pre-ordered a 32GB Kindle Scribe (Amazon’s first e-reader you can write on), choosing the premium pen option, for a total of $390, or nearly $430 with the taxes. It didn’t arrive on release day as promised (it was a few days late) but I’ve now spent several days using the Scribe to decide whether to keep it or return it.
So far I’m torn. Here’s a Kindle Scribe Notes page summarizing my experience (and other random observations), which I’ll expand on below (in typescript for anyone unable to decipher my scribbles).
Writing: The writing experience is almost as satisfying as writing on paper. There’s just enough friction on the e-ink screen to make it look like you’re scribbling. Any offset in the ink is so small it’s barely noticeable. Especially compared to an LCD screen on a standard tablet, it seems almost like the real thing.
Virtual pen options: Amazon offers a nice variety of virtual ink thicknesses. I opted for “thin” as my preferred pen weight. For reference, this is what I used to write the document above.
Stylus Material: The premium stylus seems worth it, mainly for the built-in eraser, meaning you can just flip the stylus over to erase something rather than manually selecting eraser mode from the on-screen menu. The customizable button, which defaults to the highlighter, is a nice addition, but the killer app is the eraser.
E-book integration: While that’s not the main reason I’m trying out the device, Amazon’s main competitive advantage in this market is its long history in e-books. The ability to scribble notes while reading a book is a nice bonus, but not without its flaws (see below).
Screen size: The 10.2-inch screen is ideal: small enough to be portable, but large enough to type without feeling constrained. And overall my grades are way more accessible in this format than scattered around my office in various notepads and paper notebooks.
Inconsistent approaches to annotation: With some file formats (such as imported PDFs), you can doodle directly at the top of a page. In other cases (like e-books), you instead use a “sticky note” that opens in a window at the bottom of the page. Yes, it offers more space than writing in the margins, but it would be nice to have the ability to do so in any situation, regardless of file format or scenario.
Lack of basic file management: Do you want to insert a new page between two existing pages? Move a page from one notebook to another? Cut and paste a selection of handwriting? Sharing an individual page rather than sending an entire notebook? Here are some of the things you can’t do on Kindle Scribe.
Pages turn inadvertently: As with many other devices of its kind, Amazon uses palm rejection technology to recognize when your hand is resting on the screen, giving a sort of navigational input instead. But something about the way I hold or move my hand when writing is causing the device to inadvertently turn the page sometimes. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I’m doing to cause this.
Email Sharing and Send to Kindle: To transfer documents back and forth between Kindle Scribe and a computer or device, you email a PDF file from a notebook or send files to Scribe using the Send to Kindle option. . This tool has gotten much better and simpler since the last time I used it, but this multi-step process illustrates one of the downsides of Amazon not having its own PC operating system or of its own smartphone platform to natively integrate with and sync seamlessly.
Battery life? I charged this device to full on Saturday, and it was 50% mid-week. Amazon says for writing, a single charge should last up to three weeks based on half an hour of writing per day, with wireless turned off and the light set to brightness level 13. I connected it to WiFi, and yes, I used it for more than half an hour a day during my tests. I will try turning off the WiFi and see how it goes in the days and weeks to come.
Offline sticky notes when exporting: As an experiment, I sent a web page to the Kindle Scribe using a browser extension. I annotated it using the sticky notes feature mentioned above, with each note linked to a specific snippet of text. But when sharing the annotated page on my computer, the resulting PDF separated the sticky notes from the associated text, placing them all at the end of the document, making it hard to see what they were referring to.
Left bezel: I’m sure there are good technical reasons for the thick bezel on one side, and I understand it’s useful in some reading scenarios (similar to the Kindle Oasis) but it seems unnecessary for my purposes, at least on the basis of my experience with the device so far. I would prefer a thin bezel all around.
- I’ve converted webpages to PDF on my computer, then sent them to Kindle Scribe using the Send to Kindle webpage to annotate directly at the top of the page, rather than using the extension from Send to Kindle browser to send the web page.
- With the premium Kindle Scribe stylus, it took me a while to figure out that putting your index finger on the flat side helps prevent inadvertently activating the customizable button (which defaults to highlighter).
- If you subscribe to online journals, many offer PDF versions of each edition. I downloaded newspapers to my PC, then sent them to the Scribe, which is large enough to see the headlines before zooming in. Once you’ve mastered the navigation, it’s a great way to read the newspaper.
- Likewise, the screen is large enough to read PDF books, which can be a challenge on smaller Kindle screens. I took another look at Google Books with that in mind.
- I purchased coverage (which ranges from $60 to $100) after I received the device. Inexpensive, they add instant start capability, waking the device immediately after the lid is opened, plus protecting it from damage and providing a foldable stand. They attach magnetically and the device can fall awkwardly when you open the lid the wrong way. Still, it seems worth it.
- I’m learning to create individual Kindle Scribe notebooks for specific topics, rather than putting a bunch of stuff in one notebook for a specific time period, which is my usual approach with yellow notebooks. It’s a mindset change, but it’s easier to share and export exactly what I want.
It is important to note that my exploration of this category is not complete. I haven’t used the Kindle Scribe’s existing competitors, notably the reMarkable 2.
But the original question was more basic: can the Kindle Scribe replace a notebook? For me the answer is now perhaps. There’s a lot to love, and a few things that make me think.
Many shortcomings at least have the potential to be fixed with future software updates. The ability to move, rearrange, and export individual pages would top the list. Given the recent cutbacks in Amazon’s Devices & Services division, I’m not counting on that. Amazon understandably declined to disclose its product roadmap.
I will continue to use the Kindle Scribe for a few weeks and make one last call before my return window ends at the end of January. In the meantime, I hope my experience so far helps others who are considering something similar. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with comments, questions, or ideas.
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