Amazon’s Kindle Scribe is pen-centric hardware let down by book-centric software

Amazon’s Kindle Scribe is pen-centric hardware let down by book-centric software

Amazon’s Kindle Scribe is pen-centric hardware let down by book-centric software
Enlarge / Amazon’s Kindle Scribe e-reader.

Andrew Cunningham

Amazon’s Kindle e-readers have been around for 15 years, and they’ve remained steadfastly focused on displaying books for reading (and, to a lesser extent, audiobooks). Input has never been something they’ve been particularly concerned with. The devices’ poky processors and laggy touchscreen keyboards are best suited for short annotations or looking up the name of a book or author—not for writing anything longer than a sentence or two, and certainly not for taking notes or jotting down idle thoughts.

That’s the main change to the Kindle Scribe, the newest and most expensive member of the e-reader family. It’s the first Kindle with its own purpose-built pen accessory and a 10.2-inch screen that’s more suitable for input than the 6-to-7-inch screens on other Kindles. It doesn’t come cheap—it starts at $340 and goes up quickly from there. It’s over three times as expensive as the Kindle Paperwhite and not much cheaper than a baseline iPad and Apple Pencil combo. But it’s also trying to do some new things that older Kindles aren’t built for.

The problem for the Scribe is that the Kindle’s software, likewise laser-focused on the reading experience and not the input experience, doesn’t feel robust enough to deliver on the pen’s promise. The actual handwriting experience is great, which gives us some hope that further updates could make this device more useful. But as it is, most of the things it’s trying to do are things that an iPad is better at, and they come at the cost of some of the regular Kindle’s best features.

Look and feel

The Kindle Scribe (right) next to the current-gen Paperwhite (left).
Enlarge / The Kindle Scribe (right) next to the current-gen Paperwhite (left).

Andrew Cunningham

The Scribe takes its design cues from the Kindle Oasis, previously the top-tier Kindle. Its display sits flush with its asymmetrical bezel, which is thicker on one side to give people holding the device with one hand more room. As with the Oasis, the Scribe can be used either left- or right-handed, and the screen’s contents will flip 180 degrees based on how you’re holding it.

The back of the Scribe is a large, flat slab of aluminum, and if you’re holding it without a case on it, the increased size and weight definitely make it more reminiscent of an iPad than the other Kindles. The increased size also makes one-handed operation less comfortable than it is with smaller Kindles—it’s comfortable for short stretches because the side bezel is large enough that you can really get a good grip on it, but it becomes fatiguing after a few minutes.

The Scribe is missing two Oasis features of note. One is waterproofing, so don’t drop the Scribe in the tub, pool, or ocean. The second is physical page turn buttons, leaving the Scribe with the same touch-only navigation as most of the other Kindles. It’s been years since touchscreens became the default way to interact with Kindles, and I can’t say the absence of buttons bothers me, but the small-but-vocal contingent that continues to demand them will be disappointed.

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