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Life With an Amazon Scribe - Metaphors Are Lies

Life With an Amazon Scribe

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This may read a little weird given what I wrote on Monday, but I really like my Amazon Scribe.

Yes, Amazon is in fact a monopoly doing terrible damage to the country. But so are most companies, and even the ones that aren’t monopolies are far from perfect. There are no easy outs in late-stage capitalism. I understand if you don’t want to give Amazon any business, but E-readers are a boon to book readers. The screens are as easy to read on as paper and their storage means that I no longer have to forgo books for lack of space, a real issue for most of my life. When we moved cross country, we had so many books to give away Goodwill literally refused to take them all.

E-readers in the United States are largely limited to Kindles. You can get Barnes and Nobles and Kobe devices, among others, but the Kindle devices are far superior, in my experience. Kobo’s store does not have the selection the Amazon store has. Barnes and Nobles devices seem to consistently perform worse in the little areas like page turning and menu responsiveness that make a small but noticeable difference in the quality of your reading experience.

The scribe itself is a nice reader. The ten inch or so screen feels like a trade paperback, which is my preferred size, the device is light and easy to hold, even one-handed, and the screen is excellent. The main page is the usual mix of helpful and hard sales push, but you learn to ignore the suggestions, which range from good to insulting, and focus on your library. Which, by the way, you can fill with library books and purchases from other places. It’s fairly easy to get books onto the device, especially with the expanded “send to Kindle” apps and website. Where the Scribe really excels, for me, is note taking.

The experience is not seamless. It is not a full-fledged e-ink tablet like the Onyx Book 2, for example, nor a note taking device first, like the Remarkable 2. Taking notes in books is a touch odd. The notes aren’t really in-line — you hit a button and they are appended to the text in hidden boxes, kind of like post-it notes that you can make appear and disappear at a whim (text with associated notes have an indicator). And the handwriting-to-text isn’t perfect, though that may be a function of my terrible handwriting.

But I take a lot of notes throughout the day. My typing is terrible. If you think the typos that get through in these posts are bad, you should see them before they go live — a sea of red squiggles. The interface actually begs me to take remedial typing classes (in an unrelated note: I took typing in high school and got an A. Let’s hear it for South Jersey’s educational system!). It is a running joke at my job, trying to interpret my chat messages. It’s bad is what I am saying. And while my handwriting is not good either, it is somehow still easier to be on a call or reading a document/bit of code and have the Scribe open and jot down some notes rather than trying to type then into Onenote. By having them in an electronic format, I can transfer them to PDF and incorporate them into Onenote easily. Transferring notes from paper almost never happened, making retrieval and research much harder.

The Scribe is not a complex organizational system — the note organization is primarily at the notebook level and syncing is pretty straightforward, with limited options. It does let you send Word docs right from your computer to the device that can then be marked up, and I am hopeful for Onenote integration in the future. This is a basic, supplementary tool that they have slowly iterated on since its release.

Onyx puts out a line of Android e-ink tablets. In theory those should work much better. They have the same kinds of abilities, and they offer, for example, the Onenote app right on the device — I could take my notes right in the app. But in practice, the screens were not as good for either writing on or reading from. The Scribe screen feels almost like writing on paper — it is not slick; it has real resistance — and it is almost paperwhite at the right settings.

There you are: if you need a device that both reads and allows you to take simple notes, and if you can live with the compromises of embedding deeper into Amazon, then the Scribe is good device to consider.

Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled capitalism bashing.

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