Kindle Scribe Impressions

A number of my co-workers have Remarkable 2’s, the digital note-taking device that has been on the rise for the past 18 months or so. If you know, you know, but if you’re not familiar with it, Remarkable offers the experience of writing on paper fused with the power of technology, enabling you to compress all of your journal and note-taking needs into one thin digital device.

I don’t want to play on the obvious pun of the name, but the Remarkable writing experience is quite lovely. Not only because the combination of the pen / stylus and the e-Ink screen makes for a tactile experience missing from most tablet + stylus combos (and it really cannot be understated how much that tactile element matters; it’s a rare moment in which technology organically feels as good to use as the “real” thing in paper and pencil).

During my brief demos with my friend’s Remarkable, the obvious things stood out: the organization options, variety of templates, syncing and exporting notes, the thinness and battery life. But always, most importantly, was how using the device felt. For me, taking notes on my Samsung Galaxy Tab 6 Lite screen was convenient and decent, but felt arbitrary. I was just moving a stylus across a glass screen with no feedback. No sense of me putting words on proverbial paper; just the digital ink manifesting.

It may seem hyperbolic to focus on such a simple component of most tablets these days, but as someone who grew up filling notebook upon notebook (on college ruled paper, because anything else was simply madness) with stories, scripts, poetry and even drawings, that sensory experience was essential. The symbiotic relationship of person + pencil + paper is the Holy Trinity of Creativity.

Perhaps it’s a generational thing? Or perhaps a writer thing. ¿Por que no los dos?

Regardless, I never found myself using my Galaxy Tab as much for notes and writing as I wanted to (however, it makes a great media consumption device). I would use it for work and some creative endeavors, but that sense of disconnect – that I didn’t realize at the time – was a (first world) problem.

And why did I get a Samsung Galaxy Tab when I could have spent more on the Remarkable in the first place? The Remarkable + stylus + case was something along the lines of $600+. I got the Tab + case + stylus for almost half of that on sale. For a device that only does note-taking – even if it was brilliant at the job – it was too steep a price for me personally to justify. With the Galaxy or an iPad I get much more versatility, and that was a hard argument to overcome in my oddly partitioned mind.

Still, I was tempted to sell my Tab, and maybe try to find a used Remarkable to save some money, But then Amazon announced the Kindle Scribe, their take on the digital notebook but with the Jeff Bezos Amazon sauce.

On the high-end, the 64GB Kindle Scribe – which includes the Premium pen and cables – goes for $419. An official leather cover goes for another $80, but I didn’t care for it and picked up the CoBak case for under $30. I would much rather have the pen be held inside the case instead of dangling on a loop at the top or bottom where it could easily get lost.

The immediate appeal of the Scribe to me was that it doubles as a 10.2 inch Kindle eBook reader as well as a digital notebook. My eBook collection is mostly on the Amazon Kindle, and these eyes of mine are not getting younger. The crisp e-Ink screen is a joy to read from, and navigating the Kindle UI is a fairly smooth experience. The screen is backlit – something the Remarkable does not have – and coupled with the higher pixel count of the screen (300 PPI vs the Remarkable’s 226) and lower price point made for a tempting purchase. The device itself is svelte and the grip on the side to hold while reading (or writing) is a great touch.

I read and watched a number of reviews, and browsed Reddit and other forums to get opinions on the Scribe before purchasing one. Eventually, I pulled the trigger, and after almost 2 months with it, I am very happy with the Scribe. But there are some caveats that should be considered before purchasing.

First off, if you’re an experienced Remarkable 2 user, I’m not sure the Scribe is going to move the needle for you. I can’t speak in depth as to the Remarkable’s abilities, but the Scribe does not have the full breadth of templates the former has. It also lacks some key functionality that, thus far, I am living without just fine but am hoping to see implemented in the near future. Namely, Cut / Copy / Paste and converting notes to text. Which, for a note-taking device, is a pretty big deal.

Amazon didn’t do itself any favors with positioning the Scribe as a first generation attempt to take on the Remarkable; the software holds back the otherwise solid hardware. The device is a a Kindle with bolted-on notes functionality, and while what is bolted on is quite good, it’s not stellar.

Let’s start with the highlights of the device: the pen and screen are very responsive, and using the Premium pen is as intuitive as using a pencil and paper. I can erase what I wrote simply by flipping the pen over and rubbing the “eraser” end on the screen to undo my writing. It’s exactly as someone who grew up with pencil and paper would expect it to work and I love it.

The backlight is a big deal. Reading and note-taking at night – something I do often – is just as easy with the Scribe and that convenience can’t be overlooked. The battery life has been fantastic – weeks between charges, something I could never get with a full-featured tablet (which is understandable), but having my go-to notetaker be ready and instant-on without having to worry if I charged it between all of my other devices in the last couple of days (again, first world problems) is so useful.

Syncing PDFs and documents to the Scribe is less than ideal. You can use the Send to Kindle page to upload documents which get synced to your Scribe (there’s also Windows & Mac apps as well as mobile apps and a browser extension you can use). Early on, I had an issue where certain Word documents would error out when trying to send them to my Scribe, but re-saving them / converting them to a different format worked.

Testing the markup functionality, I had received a contract for a short story, and I sent it to my Scribe. On the device, I had no issues reviewing and signing it. From the document menu, you can “Share” it, sending it via email to whoever. you want (in my case, I just sent it back to my regular email for review) and it worked without issue. However, your workflow may greatly differ and be hindered by this process.

A recent scenario cropped up where my co-worker with a Remarkable 2 needed to send me notes on a project. I asked him to send it to my Kindle address and he did, sending it directly from his Remarkable. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive it, but I did receive an alert from Amazon that the document was blocked and that I needed to edit my preferences to allow their email address to send to my Scribe. I did, but when my co-worker resent it, nothing happened. I never received it nor did I receive a warning email. So I’m not sure what happened there, but it is a valid annoyance with trading documents back and forth on the Scribe. There should be a more seamless way.

Syncing my notebooks from my Scribe is something that just happens in the background… but you have to look for it. It wasn’t immediately obvious to me when I first get the Scribe as to whether the notebooks are backed up anywhere. After some digging, I found Amazon does back them up to your Amazon account and they’re accessible (at least on iOS) from the Kindle app as read-only files (tucked away under More > Notebooks). You can read them but do little else; there’s no way to share or manage them from the app, which is not a dealbreaker for me.

Once you get past those initial paces, and start to delve into what you want out of the Scribe, your results will vary. An early pain with the device was the inability to just jump to a page in a notebook; you would have to flip through pages manually to get there. A recent update added this feature, as well as some other functionality but there’s still much more to be done. I want to be able to add pages in the middle of a notebook. I want to be able to insert pages from a different notebook (or copy and paste the contents as I desire). Hell, cut / copy / paste is just straight-up mandatory at some point. Amazon has stated that updates are coming to improve the functionality of the Scribe, but a single minor update almost 4 months after release is a little concerning, considering the recent layoffs at the company.

The Scribe is an odd and frustrating product, as much as I love it. As just a Kindle, it’s a great size but at a high price point. As a digital notebook alone, it’s still a bit overpriced for what it gives you compared to the competition. As both, it’s an easier trade-off, but recognize that there are trade-offs, and the promise of what the Scribe could be is just that. If Amazon can really enhance the note-taking tools in the Scribe and expand the sharing and sync capabilities, then the Scribe will fully come into its own and be a legit contender in this space.

Let’s hope Amazon steps up.

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