Briefly speaking: I am a note-making addict. I write/sketch all the time, and effective visual language is essential in my daily routine (both personal and professional). I have two primary use cases:
- creating notes just for myself - as a contribution to my evergrowing knowledge base
- collaboration with others, e.g., when I need to impromptu explain something to other people
I use purely digital, mouse-operated white-boarding tools (like Miro) a lot, but even the best of those fail in comparison with handwriting (less friction and inertia). That's why I invested in reMarkable 2 as soon as it was released. For those of you who haven't heard about it, it's an e-ink tablet designed for note-taking explicitly. I'm pretty happy with the device; you can find my review here, but as the old proverb claims:
"better is the enemy of good"
... so when Amazon announced its first Kindle with writing capability, I knew I had to give it a proper try. A few weeks have passed since I've made my pre-order, and now I'm among the first wave of customers who have put their hands on the device. So as I'm a nice fellow, I'd like to share my first impressions of using the Kindle Scribe.
But there's a catch (or even two), so please pay attention. First of all, I'll use a point of reference here. Yes, I believe you've figured it out already - it's reMarkable 2 - a gadget I have been using for over two years now. I'm not going to evaluate Scribe as it is; I'll focus on comparing these two devices.
Besides, it's not a complete review - far from that. I have used Scribe for a bit more than a week now. There are plenty of things I don't know about it yet (its reliability, ergonomy, the lifetime of the battery, Amazon's commitment to device updates, etc.). That's OK - I'm posting my initial comments here (sorry if they are a bit chaotic), but I'll keep updating the post with my recent findings in the forthcoming weeks or even months.
And a final disclaimer: I'm not going through the very basics you can find everywhere: like the device size, its weight, price, etc. I want to focus on the practical differences that struck me while I was using the devices - things that may be valid reasons when picking one item over the other one.
Kindle Scribe does have a backlight, and it's a good one. Quality-wise, it's on the level of Kindle Oasis - the light is not too intense, its intensity is uniform on the whole surface (of the significantly larger device), it's pleasantly diffused, and it doesn't strain the eyes. reMarkable 2 doesn't have the backlight at all - I wouldn't say it's a show-stopper, but I would have lied if I said I wasn't missing it at times.
Both items have pens of very comparable quality (in both cases, they come in "basic" and "pimped" versions - I have chosen the latter for both). There are very few practical differences I've noticed:
- The strength of the magnet is higher for Kindle Scribe - it snaps to the device in a nearly furious way; it doesn't mean the reMarkable's one is likely to drop off - it feels reliable enough.
- The Scribe's pen feels noticeably lighter - initially, I considered that a con, but TBH that's probably something you get used to very quickly.
- The "pimped" pens have got erasers at one of the ends (pencil-style) - but they work slightly differently; reMarkable 2's one doesn't require any force to be applied - you just touch it to the screen to erase the content. Kindle Scribe's one works more like a button that you need to press (with the screen ...) by applying some force - I had the impression it increases the chance of causing some scratches, but so far, so good.
- The most significant difference is the button under your thumb, which Kindle Scribe's creators have added. When you keep it pressed, you switch the pen into an alternate mode which is highlighting by default (but can be altered). I've seen some people complaining about accidentally pressing this button, but I've never experienced that myself. Overall: a decent idea, but not a game-changer.
On drawing, sketching
OK, that's it when it comes to a physical pen, but what about its virtual representation? reMarkable 2 wins here by far. First of all, you can pick from a bunch of very different "brushes" (pencil, marker, mechanical pencil, pen, highlighter, eraser, ...), while Kindle Scribe provides only three very basic options: "normal", highlighter, and eraser. Additionally, reMarkable 2 supports a few different "colors" (on screen, they are shades of grey, but they are actually exported as different colors). Both devices support the variable width of the "brush" (you can make it thinner or thicker).
Wait, that's not all. Another area where Kindle Scribe lacks terribly is what you can do with the already-made content - there's no option to select part of the screen, scale it, or move around (yes, you can do all of that on reMarkable 2). So if you don't like what you've written/sketched/drawn, you need to erase and re-do it. It's a huge blow when it comes to everyday usability ...
Let's clarify how the actual note-making looks alike. In reMarkable 2 you can create separate notes, but you can also freely scribble on the top of the text in the book (e.g., PDF) - underline, circle around, put notes on margins, highlight text in the book. While the former (separate notes) is also possible in Kindle Scribe, the latter IS NOT. What you can do is to create a tiny marker in a given place in the text, and once you click that marker, a separate box appears (approx. half of the screen, where you can scribble at will) - so it works like a basic extension of the notes functionality we all had in the previous versions of Kindle. reMarkable 2 wins easily here.
The advanced stuff
If all you want is to put some digital text notes (on Kindle Scribe), you can do that by summoning a virtual keyboard, but it's much less convenient than what is possible on reMarkable 2: handwriting some text and asking the device to OCR it into an extracted note. This option is NOT available on the Amazon device - I find it very disappointing, keeping in mind that AWS has got a dedicated service that does just that: Amazon Textract. Well, maybe it will appear in some update ...
There's one particular feature that reMarkable 2 has introduced recently that I'm missing badly on Kindle Scribe - expandable workspace in notes. It means that if you are getting low on screen estate but still want to add something, you don't need to decrease the size of the image, move it, or split it - it's possible to add more space at any border of the page. That creates an impression of working on a nearly infinite virtual workspace. Sadly, you're not getting that goodness on Kindle Scribe - at least for now.
Another killer feature (of reMarkable 2) missing on its competitor device is the live-share of the screen content. You just start the session on the device to see your actions mirrored in the thick client app on your computer. And then you can, e.g., screen-share it on a video collaboration tool of your choice - it's a minimum-friction virtual white-boarding experience. Sadly Kindle Scribe does not have that capability ...
The hardware is essential, and so is its firmware, but let's not forget about two other complementary elements: companion app(s) and various ecosystem('s) integrations. Unfortunately, Kindle Scribe doesn't shine here too. Its companion app is (ol' good) Amazon Kindle client, but I haven't noticed any particular updates in its functionality - e.g., you can read text notes but not handwritten ones (!), not even mentioning standalone notebooks. No additional integrations, no bonus capabilities (e.g., OCR on PC), and no export options for popular tools. Amazon, seriously?
By the way, both devices are pretty expensive, and the price tag goes even higher with the pen, but that's not all - you don't want to risk any scratches, so a proper cover sounds like a must, correct? Please keep in mind that their dimensions are different than older devices (e.g., Kindle Oasis), so you need a dedicated one - unfortunately, they do not come cheap, especially the "official" ones.
I don't know about you, but for me, the most crucial thing when it comes to making notes with a "digital" pen is feedback. What do I mean by that? Few different things combined together: the latency (the delay - how quickly the effects of my handwriting appear on the screen), the accuracy (how good the device is in capturing oblong, rounded, or simply irregular shapes), the friction (what is the characteristic of the surface: slippery, resistant, makes squeaky noises), etc. Good feedback means that using a pen feels natural, you forget about it (it's just an extension of your hand), and you're confident it will do its job correctly. Bad feedback means pausing to double-check or (even worse) fixing something that wasn't reflected according to your intentions.
How does Kindle Scribe do when it comes to feedback? Surprisingly good but not perfect. What are its advantages when compared to reMarkable 2?
- Latency feels minimally better, consistently - I haven't measured it or made comparative videos, but this impression is lasting. Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that latency in reMarkable 2 is bad or unacceptable - not at all, but the one in Scribe feels smoother and "more pleasant".
- The surface is softer and more pleasant to write upon - there's no screeching sound at all. In reMarkable 2, it required getting used to - initially, I had a feeling I'll be leaving marks on the screen (which is not true, no scratches so far).
And what are the disadvantages?
- Well, there's one, but it's quite annoying: occasionally (but far more frequently than I'd like), the moment of pen's first impact with the surface is detected with a delay - which means that, e.g., my note starts appearing with the 2nd, 3rd, 4th letter. That's disrupting as it requires me to fix the previous sentence when I'm already thinking about the next one. Such things never happen with reMarkable 2 (fortunately).
Not a summary (YET)
My initial impression is very simple. Contrary to what you may have thought, these two devices do not play in the same league. Yes, the hardware may be very similar, but the purpose (and intended usage scenarios) are very different. reMarkable 2 has been designed as a digital note-taking tool, while Kindle Scribe is still an e-book reader. They are NOT interchangeable in these roles, at least at that moment. If you want to pick the one that would work best in your case, you need to think twice about what you need the device for.
To be continued.