Stylus-equipped touchscreen E Ink digital notepads have been around for a while, but with the arrival of Amazon’s Kindle Scribe, we’re suddenly seeing a lot more interest in these types of devices. The 10.2-inch Scribe is not only the largest Kindle e-reader to date, it’s the first time Amazon has brought precision pen input to the Kindle line.
To be clear, the Scribe is not cheap: It costs more than the Kindle Oasis or an entry-level iPad, starting at $340 with a standard “pen” or $370 with a premium pen and 32GB of storage.
But after using the Scribe for a week, I can say it’s mostly an excellent tablet-style e-reader, though there’s certainly room for improvement with software and feature updates, particularly on the note-taking side of things.
- Text and images appear sharp on large 10.2-inch, 300 ppi display
- Writing feels smooth and natural
- Adjustable warm light with 35 LEDs
- Can mark up PDFs, other docs
- Easy to send documents to device
- Weeks of battery life
- Pretty weighty and pricey
- Needs a cover with a built-in stand
- PDF browsing could be better
- Can’t mark up Kindle e-books (or DRM-free ePub ebooks)
- Note-taking could be more robust
The first thing you’ll notice about the Kindle Scribe is that it’s big — a lot bigger than the Kindle Paperwhite. It kind of looks and feels like a jumbo Kindle Oasis minus the physical page-turn buttons and waterproofing (both the Paperwhite and Oasis are waterproof, with an IPX8 rating).
Read more: Best E-Readers of 2022
Like the Oasis, it has a flush-front design and, according to Amazon, is made of recycled aluminum and is currently the only front-lit 10.2-inch e-reader with a high-resolution 300 pixels-per-inch E ink display. A mere 5.8mm thick (0.22 inch), it weighs in at 433 grams (0.95 pound). For comparison, the Kindle Paperwhite weighs in at 205 grams and the new upgraded baseline Kindle (2022) is 158 grams.
The iPad (2022) weighs a touch over a pound (477 grams), and like the iPad, you can certainly hold the Scribe in your hand, whether it’s your left or right hand (the screen flips according to whether you prefer a left- or right-hand orientation). However, you’re probably not going to want to do that for long periods. You’ll either want to set it down on a table and prop it up at an angle with some object or, ideally, buy a folio cover that converts into a stand.
If you buy one of Amazon’s covers, which the Scribe adheres to magnetically, it’ll cost you an extra $60 for a fabric cover or $80 for a leather version (you can also buy a Scribe and case together with one of the Scribe Essentials bundles that start at $410 and include a premium pen and power adapter). Other third-party cases are available for less (they all tend to have some sort of loop to store the pen). But Amazon’s cases are attractive, slim and allow you to prop up the device at a couple of angles. It’s also worth noting that the pen adheres magnetically to the side of the Scribe, even if you have a cover on it (the side of the Scribe remains exposed with Amazon cases).
Both the standard stylus and premium pens don’t require power or Bluetooth connectivity and use electro-magnetic resonance technology, so you’ll never need to worry about charging them. The premium pen has an eraser (you turn the pen over and press the erase button on top of the stylus against the screen just like you would a real pencil eraser) and a programmable button for $30 more.
The review sample I received included the premium pen, which worked quite smoothly for taking handwritten notes and drawing on the screen. There’s virtually no lag and it felt natural — pretty much like writing on a piece of paper with less friction. There are five pen thicknesses to choose from as well as five thicknesses for the highlighter. Some additional pen styles would be nice, and I did have to be a little careful with how I held the pen because I accidentally hit the programmable button on a few occasions as I was writing or doodling (I write left-handed).
But if you’re at all interested in the premium pen, it’s best to buy it with the Scribe because it’s $60 ($30 more) if you buy it separately. The pen tips are replaceable, Amazon says.
Large, crisp display with uniform lighting
Aside from the 300 ppi display, which shows texts and images with good sharpness, the Kindle Scribe’s front-light scheme is composed of 35 LEDs. That compares with 25 LEDs for the Kindle Oasis, 17 LEDs for the Kindle Paperwhite and four LEDs for the 2022 entry-level Kindle. You can adjust the color temperature from a warmer sepia tone to a cooler more bluish one. I generally kept it toward the warmer side, which gives it a more paperlike appearance, and like with other Kindles, for night reading, there’s a dark mode that turns the screen black (or actually, very dark gray) with letters and images appearing in white or shades of gray.
The lighting has excellent uniformity to it and the touchscreen is quite responsive with the overall performance for an E Ink e-reader being top-notch despite the inherent laggy nature of E Ink. The Scribe runs on the same Mediatek system on a chip that runs the Paperwhite. It’s capable of running up to 2GHz but only does so for certain applications that require higher performance, according to Amazon. As for storage, the base model has 16GB, but 32GB and 64GB configurations are available for more money. The Scribe is Wi-Fi-only Kindle, with no cellular option.
The power (and limits) of note-taking on the Scribe
While the 9.7-inch Kindle DX was discontinued around 10 years ago, the Scribe is its spiritual successor and a great choice for sight-challenged folks looking for a large Kindle that has the ability to display more lines of text at larger font sizes.
In the past, that was the biggest appeal of larger format e-readers (and that their screens wouldn’t get washed out in direct sunlight, making them great for reading outdoors). But in recent years we’ve seen more of these stylus-equipped touchscreen e-readers finding a market with students and other folks looking for a dedicated E Ink device that offers note-taking and annotation capabilities without the distractions found in a feature-packed iPad or Android tablet (and that includes Amazon’s own Fire tablets) which offer everything from web browsing to video watching to gaming. The Kindle Scribe, like other Kindles, has a rudimentary web browser, but it seems mainly designed to allow you to enable a Wi-Fi connection in public places like coffee shops and hotels where some web authentication is necessary.
Fellow CNET writer Sarah Lord has used more tablet-style e-readers, but I have tested the Kobo Elipsa, which is arguably the Scribe’s most direct competitor and has been on the market for a while. It sells for $360 in a bundle that includes a cover and Kobo stylus. It has a front light, but the big difference is that its display is 227 ppi compared to 300 ppi for the Scribe’s display. It’s a noticeable difference.
With the Elipsa, you can mark up Kobo ebooks. However, the one current shortcoming of the Scribe is that you cannot mark up Kindle ebooks or even DRM-free ePub ebooks (non-copy-protected ePub files). With e-books, you have to use Amazon’s Sticky-note feature, which is available with other Kindles. You tap and hold on a word, then slide the pen across whatever words or sentences you want to select. Lift the pen and you have the option to create a handwritten or text note, highlight the word or sentence or share it.
Personally, I’m not someone who likes to mark up books and take notes in the margin, so I don’t mind the sticky-note functionality, but lots of today’s students do mark up their physical school books (my kids certainly do) and it would be nice to have the ability to make notes in the margins and circle sentences and whatnot.
As it stands, you can import a variety of file formats and document types to mark up if you so choose. You can import and write directly on-page in PDF documents (so if you had an e-book as PDF file, it could be marked up) and I found it easy to import PDFs using Amazon’s Send-to-Kindle feature where you simply drag a file into a box on the Send-to-Kindle web page and it gets sent your Kindle (there are other options to send files, including via the Kindle app for iOS, Mac and Android as well as via email). It’s also easy to export files via email.
Unfortunately, marking up PDFs isn’t as seamless or intuitive as it is on other E Ink tablets. When you’re in a PDF, you aren’t able to adjust the font size or layout, so instead you have to pinch-to-zoom in order to enlarge or reposition the document. That part works well, and it’s not too hard to find a level that works best for you. Once you’re positioned in your PDF, you can’t stay there. With the launch software, the Scribe makes it impossible to maintain your current zoom levels from one page to the next. Instead, you have to zoom all the way out again in order to swipe to the next page, just to reposition it all over again. This can make reading long PDFs cumbersome.
You can also import and create handwritten sticky notes in Microsoft Word docs (DOCX, DOC), HTML, EPUB, TXT, RTF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP text and graphic files, but not in manga, comics, graphic novels, magazines or newspapers. Like with other recent Kindles, you can listen to Audible audio format (AAX) or text-to-speech audio with Bluetooth headphones or speakers. Additionally, Amazon says it’s working with Microsoft to allow you to export a Word doc directly from a computer to your Kindle Scribe within that Word doc. That feature is coming in 2023, Amazon says, along with the ability to sync.
For free note-taking, doodling or creating notebooks and journals, the Scribe has 18 templates to choose from, including six lined options, graphing paper, musical notation and to-do lists. You can organize your notebooks in folders and search by their titles and Amazon says that in early 2023, you’ll be able to get access to your notebooks through the Kindle app sync feature on other devices.
However, as my colleague Sarah Lord — who also spent time with the Scribe — notes, “All of that is great, but these notebooks lack any smart features. For example, there’s no way to insert equations or convert your handwriting to text. Similarly, you don’t get any help in drawing shapes or straightening lines. And while you can export your notebooks via email, there’s no support for Dropbox or any other third-party service.” That may not be a big deal for some folks, but the long and short of it is that serious note-takers might want more.
Lord says she prefers the ReMarkable 2 as a pure note-taking E Ink tablet, but it has its limitations as an e-reader and obviously doesn’t include access to Amazon’s extensive Kindle eco-system and its massive library of ebooks.
Kindle Scribe final thoughts
The big question for a lot of people will be whether to buy a Kindle Scribe or perhaps a new iPad or a Samsung Galaxy Tab S, the best Android tablet (or so a lot of people say). While you still have to buy some sort of stylus for an iPad (while Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S8 series includes a stylus, iPads don’t), it clearly offers a lot more functionality, zippier performance and high-resolution color display (alas, we’re still waiting for color E Ink). You can certainly take notes and mark up documents with an iPad — and also basically use it as a computer, particularly if you link a keyboard to it.
But as I said earlier, the Scribe is for someone looking for a distraction-free device with a specific purpose, and I do think it has some room to grow a bit with software and feature updates, some of which we know are coming in 2023.
Compared to a tablet, it also delivers much better battery life. You can get up to three months of battery life if you just use the Scribe as an e-reader (based on 30 minutes of reading a day), but note-taking draws more energy and cuts battery life down considerably. However, depending on usage, you can still get weeks of battery life while note-taking and doodling. It charges via USB-C — a cable but no power adapter is included — and using a 9-watt or higher adapter does speed up charging just like it does with your iPhone or Android smartphone.
The Scribe’s size and weight make it more of a burden to carry around, especially when you consider the smaller baseline Kindle can fit into a coat pocket. But in all, the Scribe strikes a very good balance between a large-format e-reader and an E Ink note-taking tablet. Folks will probably have some quibbles about the Scribe’s high price and the robustness of its mark-up and note-taking capabilities, but I do expect we’ll see the device improve in the coming months.
CNET’s Sarah Lord contributed to this review.
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