Initial thoughts on the Kindle Scribe

I like the idea of e-ink devices, and often think about how much I could make use of an e-ink tablet which allows writing with a stylus. The marketing hype would suggest that it’s a life changer, which seems a bit strong, since they essentially aim to perform a similar function to pen and paper. Recently I impulsively purchased a Kindle Scribe without having done much research on it. I’ve had a lot of thoughts swirling round since receiving it. Here is an attempt to put them into positive/negative categorisation.


I read a fair mix of non-fiction and fiction, either on the train, in the garden on a sunny day, in bed with the lights out, or a quick 10 minutes in a waiting room. Some people aren’t keen on reading ebooks, but I am quite content to read on an e-ink device (I own an early generation kobo and a kindle of similar vintage), or via an android tablet for shorter periods. I own a lot of paper books, but most were bought before ebooks became popular, or I needed a nicely formatted textbook, plus there are quite a few paper books i bought because they were cheaper to buy 2nd hand. I always check if a book is available from my library via Borrowbox or Libby before purchase.

Reading an ebook on the Kindle 4th Generation (L) alongside the Scribe (R).

I own a pile of notebooks and favourite pens and regularly write lists, doodle and take notes. I’ve watched the Remarkable tablet from afar, and I think it looks really nice. Unfortunately the price, and lack of built-in illumination put me off. But mostly the price. Similarly the Supernote looks great but I would really have to be convinced of the benefits before shelling out over £400 for lifestyle device.

These devices remained something that I would “buy if I was rich”. Then, my manager told me that he’d picked up a new, sealed 32GB Kindle Scribe for less than half the retail price, via an auction house (not eBay) - probably liquidated stock from a company closure, or surplus stock after a change of strategy. The price was compelling enough to make an impulse purchase; an uncharacteristic decision to buy something without fully researching it to my usually obsessive degree. I did however, spend a good deal of time researching after the purchase, to convince myself that I’d made a good decision. I also spent a lot of time researching cases…

The Kindle Scribe

It’s a monochrome e-ink device, with a lovely 10.2 inch 300ppi screen, plus a stylus. I watched quite a few YouTube videos between purchasing and receiving the device, and I developed a picture of what it can do. As is typical with YouTube, the most sensational content rises to the top, and some of the drawbacks I’ve experienced weren’t covered. Some of this is due to the fact that a lot of the videos were made shortly after release - most of the negative criticism seemed to refer to the most obvious deficiencies which have largely been resolved by subsequent releases.

I’m going to list a few likes and dislikes I’ve discovered while using the device for a short while. I might refer to the competing devices in the market but this isn’t intended as a comparative list. The Scribe seems to stand alone in the market as it appears to be a reading device that happens to have some annotation features. The Remarkable and Supernote appear to primarily be note-taking and planning tablets with e-reading capabilities.

Annotation of ebooks takes the form of sticky notes which can be handwritten. Once a note is added, a small icon appears in the text to denote presence of the note. You can tap on it to view the content. Usually I find that by also highlighting the text, it draws the eye a bit better to the existence of a note. A PDF of all the notes and highlights can be emailed to yourself, or viewed directly on the Kindle.

Adding a handwritten note to an ebook

Subsequently viewing all notes and highlights

Annotation of PDFs is more intuitive and allows you to write directly on the page. You can email yourself the PDF and it will contain your handwritten annotations within the document.

Making notes directly onto a PDF


  • The 10.2 inch screen is a nice size, and reading ebooks is really enjoyable on a larger screen. Build quality feels good, which is also to be expected, given the competition.
  • The backlight is an essential feature for me, as I tend to read a lot at night. One feature I’m particularly happy about is the warm/cool backlight option - brightness and warmth are configurable on a sliding scale.
  • The supplied “premium pen” stylus is pleasant enough to write with, and is pressure sensitive. Apparently the nibs wear down after a while, and you are supplied with a spare set in the box. Replacements are not too expensive. It has a button which can be assigned to erase/highlight, and an eraser on the tip. It would have been nice if the eraser was made of a softer rubber, like the Remarkable.
  • Battery life is excellent, and in occasional use, you might go weeks between charges. Writing uses a bit more battery than reading. Note also that the stylus is a fancy Wacom pen which doesn’t require charging. It magnetically attaches to the side of the Kindle.
  • Within the note-taking tool, an adequate range of pen/pencil/marker pens and thicknesses are available.
  • Since you can write directly onto PDFs, it’s possible to create your own planner/calendar/to-do list page to your liking. Alternatively the notebook feature provides a selection of templates to choose from.
  • OCR of handwritten notes is provided at no extra cost or subscription.
  • Auto rotate functionality allows 180-degree rotation, however switching PDF views from portrait to landscape requires tapping an option in the Aa font menu. The large screen size means than 2-column landscape view is possible for ebooks is possible.

2 column landscape view for ebooks is a nice option to have


There’s a few annoyances I have. It’s frustrating because most of them are software issues that could be fixed with some focussed development and effort, which would make it the best device for combined reading and note taking device. It’s a real shame that the note taking and productivity side isn’t getting focus here - it feels like the key aim is just to shovel more kindle books into the hands of users, instead of genuinely providing a brilliant all-round reading and writing device. It really feels within their reach if they wanted it. I’ve seen note-taking, annotation and sketching features on the Supernote and Remarkable that could easily be added to the Scribe, whereas those devices are primarily focused on writing and lack an integrated backlight. So onto, the things I’d like to see improved:

  • File management is pretty poor, including filtering and moving files around. I ultimately decided on using Collections to manage which books I see at any given time.
  • Document import/export doesn’t make use of any cloud drive services (apart from your Kindle library automatically appearing on the device, complete with progress synchronisation). To send other PDFs or ebooks to the Scribe, you have three options: email them to your device’s unique kindle email address, use the “Send to Kindle” web site, or connect a usb cable and use Calibre to manage your collection. Once a PDF has been annotated, you select an option on the Scribe to email the new PDF, or alternatively an OCR’d text file, back to you. This lack of automated workflow means that integration with tools such as Obsidian are rather manual.
  • PDFs of handwritten notes are a bit of a disappointing quality - I’m seeing jagged edges that weren’t there on the original.
  • The official case is really expensive. At £55 for the cheapest fabric one, and even more for the leather one, it feels exploitative. I wouldn’t want to pay more than £25 for a case. I went for a third party case, out of necessity.
  • Although I got my Scribe for a really good price, the retail price is a bit steep for what is currently an e-reader with special bonus features.
  • The screensaver is limited to either the book cover of the book you are currently reading, or a selection of defined images which appear randomly. I haven’t found a way to add my own images.
  • One thing that bugs me is that if you are reading a PDF that has wide margins for example, you can use the very nice pinch to zoom in order to read the text comfortably, but you have to zoom out again before you turn the page. The constant zoom in/out process isn’t really workable. The workaround for this is to choose “Make layout adjustable” from the expandable menu in the “Send to Kindle” web page. Effectively this converts the PDF to KFX format for reading as a reflowable ebook. Since this conversion may lose formatting, this may not be what you want though. Also, the PDF->KFX conversion will alter the annotation style.
  • You can only write freehand text directly on PDF pages and with ebooks you can only add handwritten sticky notes - these both work a bit differently. It’s a shame you can’t add freehand annotation to ebooks, but exporting this in a readable format would be challenging I guess. Mixed feelings about this one - I feel it should be better somehow but I’m not sure how.
  • Unfortunately, the ability to read Libby books on e-ink Kindles is limited to USA only. Borrowbox doesn’t have the functionality at all either. This is quite an annoyance as I am compelled to use my Android tablet to read Libby/Borrowbox books.
  • Amazon don’t offer a roadmap of upcoming features. It’s not a good idea to buy a device based on promised features, but it would be nice for users to at least know there’s a chance…

Photo of a monitor (L) displaying an exported PDF notebook, alongside the original notes on a (backlit) Scribe (R)


How does the Scribe change things for me? Having a larger e-ink screen that I can use at night means that I will go for ebooks ahead of paper books in most cases now. I’m also going to make a better effort to manage my chaotic ebook library. I also find that I’m using my 4th Generation Kindle more when I’m out and about, for those short 10-15 minute time periods, since it’s more portable, and my reading state is synced on both devices. Hopefully it encourages me to use my phone less for idle browsing. I will also reach for the Scribe instead of a paper notebook for planning, meeting notes and to-do lists. Time will tell how effective this will be. I will still likely carry a small notepad, along with a Fisher Space Pen around with me to scribble notes on, since the Scribe isn’t exactly an everyday carry item.

I do like this device, and it was a good buy at the price I paid. At the moment it’s a very nice e-reader with some note taking and annotation features. It could be a very compelling all-round productivity, writing and reading tool if Amazon put the effort into the necessary software updates, but I’m not convinced they will.