The newest Kindle is the first truly new Kindle in years. It’s called the Kindle Scribe, and it’s both a reading device and a writing one. With a 10.2-inch E Ink screen, a stylus that attaches to the side of the device, and a bunch of new software, the $339.99 Scribe is trying to be as much a tablet as an ebook reader. It’s available for preorder today, and Amazon promises it’ll be out before the holidays. It’s also the kind of device people have been waiting for Amazon to make for years.
Kevin Keith, a vice president of product and marketing at Amazon, says the display is the reason the Scribe took so long. “This is the first 300ppi, front-lit display that has an adjustable warm light,” he says over Amazon’s Chime conferencing system, holding the Scribe up to the camera. “And that makes sure it doesn’t have any compromise between the reading and writing experience.” Historically, bigger E Ink displays have meant lower resolution. The Scribe has the Kindle’s typical contrast and clarity, he says, while still adding all the tech necessary to make the whole surface possible to write on.
Ultimately, how the Scribe’s writing experience works and feels is the biggest question about this device. You can buy it with one of two stylus options: a “Basic Pen” or a “Premium Pen” for $30 more that also includes a customizable shortcut button and an eraser sensor on the top. Both use the same Wacom EMR technology and magnetically attach to the side of the Scribe but don’t have batteries or need to be charged.
Amazon built new note-taking capabilities into its reader so you can tap on a passage and scribble a note, similar to the way you’d highlight or type a note on the on-screen keyboard. Those handwritten notes are stored in your Kindle collection along with everything else. One of the biggest knocks against ebook readers has been that they don’t support marginalia, the quick reactions and scribbles that so many bookish types like to leave on their pages; the Scribe brings a lot of that back. The bigger screen should also make images and charts easier to work with. A color E Ink screen would be even better, but that’s apparently for a future Kindle.
The device also supports PDF markup and can display saved webpages and other file formats. Amazon even partnered with Microsoft to put a button into Word that’ll let you export a document right to your Kindle. “The whole idea is, over time, we want to make sure that that’s in your natural workflow,” Keith says. Amazon’s document-sending features haven’t been particularly useful in the past, but Keith says the team is working on making it easier to get all your stuff on and off the Scribe. Right now, you won’t be able to see your notes in the Kindle app on other devices, but Amazon says that’s coming soon.
The Scribe borrows its asymmetric design from the Kindle Oasis, with that chunky bezel on one side meant as a hand-hold; one hand on the device and one on your pen seems to be how Amazon imagines most people using the Scribe. It’s 5.8mm thick and weighs 430g, which makes it a little thinner and a little lighter than the most recent iPad Air. (It’s also almost exactly the same size as the $479 Boox Note Air2, though that tablet doesn’t have as high a resolution screen.)
The comparison to the iPad Air is a useful one, actually. The iPad is obviously a dramatically more capable device: it has millions of apps, a web browser, and a screen that can show videos and games. It also measures its battery life in hours. Amazon measures the Scribe’s in weeks and hopes that it can entice users with a distraction-free device for reading and taking notes over one that seems to be mostly a tool for endless distraction. Amazon could have opted to use the Android-based software that powers the Fire tablets in this device, but Keith says that, then, it would no longer be a Kindle. “What makes a Kindle special is this distraction-free environment and the battery life,” he says.
About the battery life: it sounds like your experience will depend on how much you write. Amazon says the Scribe will last 12 weeks based on a half-hour of reading a day but just three weeks based on a half-hour of writing every day. The difference is most likely due to the Scribe’s screen having to refresh far more often to show your scribbles, and it means heavy writers may not get the weeks of battery Amazon advertises. My colleague Alex Cranz says she gets one to two weeks out of her Boox Note Air, so that may be a good barometer here, too.
The formula works, at least for some users. The reMarkable 2 is a solid E Ink tablet with plenty of devoted users, and more powerful Android-powered devices from companies like Boox are becoming more popular as well. Even Kobo beat Amazon to the E Ink writing-and-reading tablet game with the Sage and the Elipsa.
Amazon is trying to give the Scribe more power, though, and trying to figure out what’s cool about a more interactive Kindle. Maybe the Scribe could be a place to do crosswords, Keith says. The company already built a bunch of notebook templates, so you can scribble out a to-do list or write meeting notes on the Scribe. And he hints that there are altogether new kinds of books and documents that could be made for a bigger screen and a pen.
So far, my only experience of the Scribe is through Keith’s webcam, so all I can say is it looks an awful lot like a blown-up Kindle Oasis — which is mostly a good thing. The one-sided bezel was controversial at first, but it does make the device easy to hold in both hands. Keith scribbled a quick note for me on the screen, and if there was any input lag as the E Ink screen refreshed, I couldn’t see it.
Amazon has said for years that the end goal for the Kindle is to be like paper: just as malleable, just as versatile, and just as pleasant to look at and interact with. (Keith even said Amazon has worked to tune the sound the Scribe’s screen makes when you write on it, so it sounds more like you’re scribbling on paper.) The Scribe is still very much a Kindle, but it pushes Amazon’s ebook reader lineup a bit closer toward replicating all the things you can do with a physical book. Paper’s battery still lasts longer, though, so Amazon’s got some work left to do.