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The Amazon Kindle Scribe is on sale for the first time — here's my review

You already knew the pen was mightier than the sword. Now, it's gunning for the keyboard. The Kindle Scribe is Amazon's first e-reader to include a stylus, one that lets you write directly on the e-ink screen. (In your face, paper!) You can add handwritten digital "sticky notes" to the books you're reading, mark up PDFs and create all manner of full-page documents: lists, journals, sheet music and so on. It's a slick, premium-grade device, one that's surprisingly pleasant to write on, but it has a price tag to match: The Scribe starts at $340 for the 16GB model with Basic Pen, though it's currently on sale for $295. I tested the $390 model that comes with 32GB of storage and the Premium Pen, now discounted to $320. Would I recommend either of them?


Amazon Kindle Scribe,16 GB with Basic Pen

The Scribe isn't Amazon's best Kindle, nor does it rival competing writing tablets. But if you want a big e-reader that's great for basic note-taking, it's worth considering. (Pro tip: Wait for sale pricing.)
$340 at Amazon

Let's start by addressing the flat, rectangular elephant in the room: Why choose a Kindle Scribe over, say, an iPad 10.2 and Apple Pencil? Granted, the latter pair would cost you close to $439, but an iPad offers significantly more capabilities than a Kindle — to say nothing of a color screen. And the Pencil affords not only note-taking, but also art creation. (Seriously, you should see what my daughter can do with the Procreate app.)

On the other hand, the iPad handwriting experience isn't quite so paper-like, and battery life is a fraction that of the Scribe's (which promises up to three weeks' worth of writing, based on half an hour per day). iPads can also be quite distracting, with games and videos and whatnot clamoring for your attention. Just as an ordinary Kindle offers a distraction-free reading experience, so does the Scribe leave you alone for journaling.

The value side of my brain says an iPad offers more bang for the buck. The creative side loves the Kindle for its elegant simplicity.

The Kindle Scribe with its pen magnetically attached to the side.
The Kindle Scribe is a big e-reader that comes with a pen for marking up books and taking all kinds of notes. (Photo: Rick Broida/Yahoo)

Kindle Scribe: What's it like as an e-reader?

If you've used a Kindle before, there's nothing too revolutionary here except for the size: It's a glorious 10.2 inches, which lets you see a lot more text at once. There's a downside to that, though: Because the screen is wider and taller than most print books, I found I didn't enjoy reading as much. My eyes had a hard time adjusting to the extra movement. Thankfully, like all Kindles, the Scribe offers line-spacing and margin adjustments, which enabled me to create a more comfortable layout.

Unfortunately, although you can rotate the screen to landscape mode, the text runs the full width of it; you can't split it into left/right pages, like a real book, a feature I've long appreciated in the Kindle app for iPad.

Whatever orientation you choose, the display delivers a crisp 300 pixels per inch (ppi), resulting in text that's virtually indistinguishable from print. Like most other Kindles, it includes a "warm light" option that softens the LED lighting to a more amber color, nice for evening reading.

The Scribe laying flat on a table, with its pen alongside.
The super-skinny Scribe isn't even a quarter-inch thick, though it does weigh nearly a pound. (Photo: Rick Broida/Yahoo)

The Scribe feels incredibly thin and lightweight when you pick it up, though it does tip the scale at just under a pound. As it happens, the iPad 10.2 is just a hair thicker and heavier. An entry-level Kindle, meanwhile, weighs only 5.5 ounces, so it's much easier to hold for long periods of reading. Although the Scribe has a roomy bezel on the side that makes for a fairly comfortable grip, I did find myself two-handing the device at times.

Indeed, as a straight-up e-reader, the Kindle Scribe isn't ideal; it's a bit too large, heavy and expensive. It lacks physical page-turn buttons, too, though there's so much screen estate that swiping is hardly a hardship. I'd say Amazon's Oasis and Paperwhite Signature Edition are probably the smarter picks for serious readers, but even the baseline Kindle is a great device as well.

Of course, the Scribe isn't intended as a straight-up e-reader; it's also a writing tablet.

Kindle Scribe: What it's like for taking notes?

The Scribe's plastic stylus requires no batteries, no charging and no pairing; it just works. A strong magnet clips it to the side of the screen when not in use, but it could easily get knocked loose in a purse or backpack. I could already feel myself growing concerned about misplacing or losing the Pen, especially given that replacements cost $30 and $60 (for the Basic and Premium versions, respectively).

As noted, I tested the Premium Pen, which adds a dedicated "eraser" as well as a shortcut button. I liked the circumference and heft; it made scribbling on the Scribe feel joyously paper-like (and it even sounds that way, too). There's zero lag between pen strokes and digital ink appearing beneath them; the overall experience really does emulate putting pencil to papyrus.

A small onscreen toolbar, which you can collapse when not needed, lets you choose between pen, highlighter and eraser modes, with a choice of five thicknesses for each of them — plenty for simple note-taking. It also has helpful undo and redo buttons. But that's the extent of the Scribe's writing tools; you can't, for example, select and move a chunk of notes, and there's no handwriting recognition to convert your notes into actual text.

The tablet offers a generous assortment of notebook templates, including numerous versions of lined "paper" as well as a dot grid, graph paper, sheet music, a checklist, day and weekly planners and more. For anyone asking, "Why is this thing better than a pencil and $3 spiral notebook?", there's your answer: On a single device you can have 18 different kinds of notebooks, with enough storage to hold literally thousands of pages.

The Kindle Scribe next to an Apple iPad.
There's a case to be made for choosing an iPad and Apple Pencil over the Kindle Scribe, even if it means spending a bit more. (Photo: Rick Broida/Yahoo)

Meanwhile, you can send just about any kind of file (PDF, Word document, image, etc.) to the Kindle via e-mail (it has a dedicated address) and then use the Pen to add notes. Only PDFs, however, let you write directly on them; other document types, as well as any Kindle books you might wish to annotate, limit you to virtual sticky notes.

One real disappointment here is that the Scribe can't sync with, say, a Google Drive or Evernote account. In fact, the only way for documents to get on or off the device is via e-mail; those you create on the Scribe are sent as PDFs. And speaking of syncing, any notations you add to an e-book on the Scribe aren't synced to your other Kindle devices or apps (though at least you can access your notebooks).

This is one area where an iPad, as well as competing writing-tablet devices like the Onyx Boox Note Air 2 and Remarkable 2, offers a lot more flexibility. The Scribe makes document creation fun and easy, but it falls short on document syncing and sharing.

(UPDATE: New features are coming. Late in December, Amazon added the following to the Scribe's product page: "In the coming months, Kindle Scribe will add more writing tools, including new brush types and copy/paste tools, additional notebook organization options, and the ability to send documents to Kindle Scribe directly from within Microsoft Word.")

Kindle Scribe: Should you buy it?

What we have here, then, is a big e-reader that's also a writing tablet. It's good at both but not great, despite a price tag that suggests a more powerful, capable device.

If you're someone who reads a lot and likes to add notes and highlights along the way, the Scribe is a great tool. Just grab the pen, select some text and then scribble your thoughts. This is vastly superior to the traditional Kindle method of highlighting with your finger and tapping a small onscreen keyboard. But Amazon really needs to (and almost certainly will) update the software so these annotations get synced across devices.

As a basic digital notepad, the Scribe also has its merits; anyone who prefers taking notes by hand to tapping them out on a keyboard will love the smooth, easy feel of the stylus and screen. And although you can't sync those notes anywhere, you can easily dash them off via e-mail.

I like the Scribe, but I also see room for improvement. At a minimum, wait for a sale like the one happening right now; Amazon devices always get discounted, usually on a very regular basis. A Kindle Scribe at, say, $250 would hold a lot more appeal than it does at $340.


Amazon Kindle Scribe,16 GB with Basic Pen

The Scribe isn't Amazon's best Kindle, nor does it rival competing writing tablets. But if you want a big e-reader that's great for basic note-taking, it's worth considering. (Pro tip: Wait for sale pricing.)
$340 at Amazon

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