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By Scott McNulty

Kindle Scribe review: Big, beautiful, and… buttonless?

I like big books, and I cannot lie. Trade paperbacks and hardcovers are my preferred format when it comes to physical books. Admittedly, they do not offer the best reading experience anywhere other than in a nice comfy chair. (Yes, sometimes I have to leave the confines of my home. I don’t like it.)

This preference extends into ereaders as well. I’ve always been a fan of the Kindle, though the folks at Amazon seem to think that the “paperback” size is the way to go. I assume this is based on the fact that very few people bought their previous giant Kindle variants: DX and DX Graphite (I have both, and I really liked them. If only they had chopped off the keyboard, they might have created my ideal Kindle. Hey, wait a minute…).

Enter the $339 Kindle Scribe. There’s now a market for note-taking tablets, and it would seem Amazon would like to dominate it. While the Kindle DX was sold as a Kindle that you could take notes with, it really sucked at taking notes. Can the Kindle Scribe improve on that experience?

Well, it would be hard-pressed to do worse… and I have to say the note-taking aspect of the Kindle Scribe is the least interesting thing about it to me. And yet I bought one immediately.

Why? That glorious screen. This is the best Kindle screen I’ve ever read on—I’ve read four books on it so far—and I’ve used a few Kindle screens in my day. I could list all the tech specs, but I’m not going to because they don’t matter to me1. I’ll just say that the crispness combined with the even lighting and size make it a joy to read on.

If you’ve read anything on a Kindle, imagine that slightly crisper and much bigger. Nice, isn’t it?

Now, I know there will be people who say, “I don’t want to lug around a giant ereader, Scott.” To them, I say, “You shouldn’t!” This product really isn’t for everyone. If you want to pocket your Kindle when you’re out and about, you’ll either need to get massive pockets or embrace disappointment.

I brought the Scribe along on my commute, and I was worried that it might be uncomfortable to hold for extended periods of time. I found it well-balanced, and best of all, it didn’t feel like I was holding a novelty-sized Kindle.

The Amazon folio cover is a nice addition and allows you to fold back a bit and stand the Scribe up or have it pitched at an angle (there’s only one angle, which is a shame, but that one angle works for me). It does take a bit of getting used to folding the cover the way it is meant to be folded. It just didn’t work the way my brain thought it should—though, to be fair, very few things do. Also, the cover sort of overhangs the sides of the Kindle for some reason. I’m guessing that’s so the power button is protected from errant collusions. I don’t like how that looks, but I hardly ever notice it, and I would like the Kindle turning off and on in my bag even less.

The Scribe feels solid and well-made. There’s none of that creaky cheap plastic feel that you might find with other ereader top models. The power button’s action is satisfying, and while the placement was a worry for me before using it (on the side of the Kindle instead of the top), in practice, it has made no difference.

Right below that power button is a USB-C port. USB-C charging is welcome and means I can responsibly recycle most of my micro-USB cables and remove them from my travel bag.

The one thing (or, technically, two things) missing from the Scribe are its page-turn buttons. Even the flippin’ DX(s) had them, so I am slightly perplexed by their absence. It doesn’t keep me from loving the Scribe, but it keeps me from truly madly loving it. Come on, Amazon, give us buttons! Give love a chance!

Scott's handwriting: 'I never use this feature!'
This feature, it’s not for me.

What about note-taking? Well, as I said, I didn’t buy the Scribe with that feature in mind, but you know, I tried it out. I’m very impressed with how much writing on the Scribe feels like jotting a note on a piece of paper. Every stroke from the pen pretty much appeared on the screen in real-time.

If I could read my handwriting, this thing would be a game-changer—or if it could read my handwriting, for that matter. Unfortunately, the Scribe doesn’t do OCR, it only syncs your notebooks to Amazon, and you can’t search your handwritten notes. You can use the stylus to highlight and annotate in books, though, if you’re into that. (I was raised never to “deface” a book, so I never got into the habit of writing/highlighting in books.)

I bought the model with the basic pen, and it is a basic pen. Feels nice in hand and has a flat side so it won’t roll off your desk. It makes a satisfying click when magnetically attached to the side of the Kindle too.

Who should buy the Scribe? People who want a giant ereader or those who don’t mind getting started on the ground floor with Amazon’s note-taking plans. I’m sure they’ll be adding many more features to the note-taking aspect of the Scribe, but it is pretty basic at the moment. What’s not so basic is getting the best ebook reading experience on the largest and nicest E-Ink screen I’ve used.

  1. It’s got a 10.2-inch diagonal, 300 ppi screen.-Ed. 

[Scott McNulty has bought every Kindle ever. Long ago, he was the lead blogger at The Unofficial Apple Weblog. These days he blogs for the sheer thrill of it, appears on numerous Incomparable podcasts, and lives, plays, and works in Philadelphia.]

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