With the Scribe KindleAmazon is hoping a device it launched under the George W. Bush administration can once again become its next big success story.
Amazon isn’t afraid of flashy ideas, whether it’s a delivery drone, robotic sentry or a conversation with the virtual assistant Alexa. But this week, Amazon started selling its Kindle Scribe, an updated version of the E Ink reader first released before Amazon even had a mobile app.
The Kindle Scribe is not futuristic. It’s not semi-sensitive. It doesn’t even have a color. Its big update: in addition to reading, you can now also write on it.
Read more: Amazon Kindle Scribe Review: This e-ink tablet for note-taking strikes a great balance
But by rejuvenating the low-cost Kindle, Amazon hopes to give you new reasons to experience the age-old joy of reading. The first Kindle launched the same year as the first iPhone, and in the decade and a half since, our personal devices have become smarter, faster, flashier – and now wield greater influence over our well-being. – to be mental. Swimming against the tide, the Kindle Scribe’s mission is unglamorous. It’s designed to help you dig deeper into the tasks plagued by most internet-connected devices: careful reading and note-taking.
“We’ve expanded the world of what customers can do, but we’ve always kept this idea of a sanctuary where people can access content and not be distracted,” said Kevin Keith, vice president of management. of Amazon’s products and marketing, in an interview.
Perhaps the Scribe’s real breakthrough is simply that Amazon, the world’s fourth-largest company by market value, is succeeding.
Kobo, reMarkable and Boox E Ink tablets smaller manufacturers already offer writing as a feature, and some have large formats with screen quality almost as good as the Scribe. But none let you bookmark Kindle books, and some don’t even support the Kindle app. With the Scribe, Amazon has opened up its vast and popular library to your doodling.
Adding a new shine to the Kindle experience makes sense, given Keith says Amazon customers buy more Kindle books than physical ones. And there’s a large potential base of future Kindle users who already use Amazon’s e-reader app. The Kindle app has been downloaded more than 326 million times worldwide since 2012 on Apple and Android devices instead of Kindles, according to data.ai, a market analytics firm that tracks mobile apps.
The company sees the device “as a new category of Kindle that adds writing to everything customers love on Kindle today and opens us up to new and different customers,” Keith said.
Chris LaBrutto, senior product manager at Amazon, said Kindle users are already creating a “Cliff Notes” version of their Kindle books with highlights and typed notes. Adding a stylus to write on the Scribe enhances that experience, allowing readers to more actively engage, LaBrutto said.
The question is whether, after 15 years of growing smartphone addiction, gadget shoppers like you yearn to return to grayscale reading and writing.
E Ink fans love its limits
First sold as part of e-readers in the mid-2000s, E Ink displays have won devoted admirers from readers of all genres. The displays render text and graphics in grayscale with tiny charged capsules that turn black or white in response to negative or positive electrical signals. They consume far less power than a traditional tablet, giving them a battery life measured in weeks instead of hours.
You can also read an E Ink screen in direct sunlight and avoid shining blue light into your eyes since it is not backlit. This immediately appealed to Nick Price, a security engineer in Portland, Oregon, who has used a number of Kindles with E Ink, as well as a Boox reading light.
“I found it was a lot easier on my eyes at night when I was trying to go to bed,” Price said of his first Kindle screen.
For aficionados, the simplicity of the devices takes precedence. Besides eliminating bright colors glinting off screens, E Ink devices typically don’t offer the full Internet, a massive distraction from focused reading. That was the appeal of the reMarkable 2, an E Ink tablet with a stylus that was released in 2020, said Andrew Loeb, an English professor at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, who wanted to be able to focus on his reading and note-taking.
“For the same price you can get an iPad,” he said, but that defeats the purpose. “If I have an iPad, I’ll do something else with it.”
Writing on an eBook is the next logical step when trying to capture the experience of reading on paper. Loeb is using his reMarkable 2 to annotate student papers, solving a problem he faced at the start of the pandemic when his classes were held remotely. He also likes to use it to read articles and take notes during meetings and lectures. The tactile feel of writing on the tablet adds to the experience, he said.
Read more: Best E Ink tablets for 2022: Amazon’s Kindle Scribe and more
E Ink that stimulates the senses
With devices like the reMarkable to compete, Amazon aimed to make the Kindle Scribe a premium writing experience.
The distinction of the Scribe is its combination of high-end features. Its lifelike writing experience paired with a 10.2-inch display with 300ppi crisp image quality brings together aspects of a variety of beloved eReaders.
Amazon sent me a test unit so I could see for myself. I found the stylus captures the pleasure of writing on paper, immediately rendering a crisp line. The screen has just enough texture to produce a satisfying creaking sound as you type.
This experiment is the result of intense effort, according to LaBrutto and Tim Wall, one of Amazon’s leading industrial designers. It was about tweaking the texture of the screen, the sharpness of the images and the immediacy of the writing experience.
With an E Ink display, “you’re not actually writing on the surface you’re writing on,” Wall said. “Everything below that lens, that surface, is additive.”
The team focused on the microns of distance between the top layer of the screen and all the components that needed to be sandwiched underneath with the E Ink. They also focused on microseconds of latency, or how long it takes for the line to appear after the stylus makes contact with the screen.
Amazon says the Kindle Scribe is particularly suited to reading non-fiction. The large display renders charts and graphs crisply in grayscale and fits more text on each page. In addition to pasting notes into Kindle books, you can annotate PDFs and Microsoft Word documents. Adding handwriting also makes sense for non-fiction, as research has shown it improves learning compared to typing notes.
Highlighting and marking directly on a PDF helped me absorb information from a dense legal file, for example. While reading a non-fiction book in the Kindle app, I set about highlighting important names and dates, as well as creating a running commentary with handwritten and text-based sticky notes.
(I will return the Kindle Scribe test unit after this story is published, in which case I will revert to the Kindle app on my phone – where I will not be able to access my handwritten notes. I can download separately as a PDF. But my highlight and text notes created on the Scribe will still be visible in my Kindle app.)
Writing on the Kindle book involved more steps than writing directly on the PDF, something CNET reviewers found it unhappy and cumbersome. The Kindle team made this design choice to not clutter the pages, Keith said. It also means readers can adjust their font without disrupting the placement of their notes on the page, he added.
“One of the things customers love about Kindles is that there’s no distraction,” he said.
If the Scribe succeeds, this simplicity will keep you in the Amazon universe, without the gadget needing a splash of color, not to mention the ability to fly like a drone with camera or roll and dance like a home robot.
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