Amazon Kindle Scribe review: The great e-reader aims to replace paper

Amazon’s latest Kindle is a behemoth e-reader that wants to replace not just the printed book, but paper itself, offering on-screen reading and writing with the included stylus.

The Scribe costs from £330 ($340) and is the company’s largest and most expensive model yet with a 10.2in screen, dwarfing the 7in Oasis and 6.8in Paperwhite.

It has the same paper-like e-ink screen technology as its smaller siblings, is sharper than competitors, and an LED front light that automatically adjusts brightness and hue to suit the time of day, making it readable in any light.

Scribe takes 2.5 hours to charge with a 9W USB-C power adapter (not included) and lasts for 11 hours of writing or over 42 hours of reading, which is far longer than any other Kindle. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The touchscreen feels silky smooth, rather than traditional glass, and the phone is responsive to taps and swipes. The 5.8mm thick recycled aluminum body feels slim, solid and luxurious. There are small rubber feet at the corners, which prevent it from sliding around on the table.

One side of the screen has larger bezels that make for a good grip. The screen rotates automatically so you can hold it either way but it lacks the Oasis’ page-turning buttons, so you have to swipe or tap instead. The pen attaches to the thin side of the writer with a strong magnet for storage.

reading

Options for reading books on Amazon Kindle Scribe.
There are plenty of layout, theme, and typeface options available, including large font sizes for easier reading. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The reading experience is similar to that of other recent Kindles. It has access to a huge library of e-books and audiobooks, each of which can be purchased on the device or from the Amazon website. It syncs over wifi and downloads text, charts and audiobooks to its internal storage and keeps itself up to date.

Otherwise, the oversized screen will fit plenty of books on screen at once. I can hold the Writer in one hand, but its size and weight at 433 grams — more than twice the weight of the Paperwhite — make it more of a couch reader as it rests on different parts of the body or furniture like a big book. It is truly an enjoyable reading experience that allows the book to shine.

The large screen improves the reading experience for the comics and graphic novels available from the recently merged Kindle and Comixology stores but it’s not quite as good as the iPad. The comics don’t fill the screen properly and the lack of color means the monochrome-only books are perfectly legible but I did enjoy reading some of the original Judge Dredd comics in black and white.

in writing

Handwritten document on Kindle Writer screen.
The screen responds instantly, with very little delay between the movements of the stylus tip and the ink-like lines that appear on the page. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The typing experience on Writer is shockingly good. The surface of the screen feels like paper as the stylus-like tip glides across, providing just the right amount of friction unlike the glass of a tablet or phone.

You can annotate books with typed or handwritten sticky notes. Documents sent to the writer via the Kindle app or website can be marked up, either directly on the page for PDFs or via sticky notes for other file types.

Finally, the notebooks feature basically replaces the paper journal. You can have as many notebooks as you want and arrange them in folders. There are 18 different templates to choose from, including blank and line pages, grids, checkbox to-do lists, schedules and calendars, and even sheet music.

Pen options selection menu on the Kindle Scribe screen.
You can change the ink width and switch to a highlighter or eraser using a dropdown menu. The premium pen has a shortcut button and an eraser at the end. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

As a simple alternative to Paper, Scribe is great, but it lacks advanced features that other devices offer. There is no handwriting recognition to convert it to text. You can only view and not edit or otherwise use notebooks via the Kindle app on Android, iPhone, or iPad devices. Laptops don’t have the web or Kindle desktop apps either. You can export your scribbles as pdf by emailing them to yourself from Scribe but you can’t sync them with any other note-taking app or service like Evernote.

Documents sent to the writer for markup are treated like books, and end up cluttering your reading library, not compiled into your notebooks. Writer has great potential as an alternative to paper but everything other than the actual writing experience is terribly basic.

Specify

  • Monitor: 10.2in Paperwhite with adjustable color front-lighting (300ppi)

  • Dimensions: 196 x 229 x 5.8 mm

  • Weight: 433 grams

  • Water Resistant: no one

  • Delivery: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB-C

  • storage: 8 or 32 GB

  • Estimated battery life: 12 weeks of reading 30 minutes a day

  • Native format support: Kindle (AZW/AZW3), TXT, pdf, unprotected MOBI, PRC, Audible (AAX)

sustainability

Aluminum back for Kindle writer.
The recycled aluminum back is smooth and well-made, with only a small amount of flex when pressed. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Scribe will receive software and security updates for at least four years after it was last available from Amazon. The company does not provide an expected battery life but it should last more than 500 full charge cycles with at least 80% of its original capacity. Access to first-party repair options varies by country. The device contains 100% recycled aluminum and 48% recycled plastic.

The company offers exchange and recycling schemes and publishes information on various sustainability efforts.

price

The Amazon Kindle Scribe costs £329.99 ($339.99) with 16GB of storage and the basic stylus — the premium stylus costs an extra £30 ($30). The 32GB and 64GB versions come with the premium pen.

For comparison, the basic Kindle costs £84.99, Paperwhite £104.99, Oasis £194.99, ReMarkable 2 £358 with stylus and Kobo Elipsa £349.99.

to rule

Writer is the giant Kindle many have probably been waiting for. There’s no doubt that the large, high-quality screen, long battery life, massive e-book library, and premium build are compelling for couch reading and beating out the 10in-plus competition.

Whether you’re looking for bulky text or just to fit a lot of your book on screen, size really does matter. Otherwise, the reading experience mirrors other Kindles—average for comics because of the grayscale-only screen but great for regular books if you’ve ceded all control to Amazon and don’t want to buy your content elsewhere.

The feel of typing on the screen is phenomenal but it lacks the modern features needed to improve on a paper notebook. There is no handwriting recognition, no syncing with other services, nothing but reading on the Kindle mobile apps and exporting via pdf is email only. Everything is very basic.

While it’s priced the same as its large-screen E-Ink competitors and the iPad, it’s not a general-purpose tablet. It has a web browser but can’t load the Guardian website, for example.

The Scribe is an excellent, giant e-reader. But its huge potential as a digital writing tool is yet to be realized.

Positives: Giant screen, very long battery life, auto brightness and tinted front light, recycled aluminum, great writing feel, with a magnetically attached stylus.

cons: The typing experience is expensive, and it’s basic, there’s no handwriting recognition, no useful syncing for laptops or compatibility with third-party services, and a case not included.

A Comedy by Judge Dredd on a Kindle Screen Writer.
The large screen makes reading comics and graphic novels viable but it’s not a great experience due to the lack of proper size and color. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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