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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

OPINIONTechJune 2, 2023

Weird: The Kindle comes with a pen now

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Amazon’s top-selling digital reading device now offers much more than just books on a screen. But is that a good thing?

All day, I think about words. From the moment I open my laptop, I tap away at my keyboard, turning letters into words, words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs. Ideally, but not always, those paragraphs become stories. That means writing, then editing, and writing some more. I kill my babies, then I write more babies, and I consider slaughtering them too.

Those babies keep me up past midnight. They wake me up at 4am. They dance around my head like wailing banshees looking for a home. They tease me, taunt me, daring me to put them in some kind of order that often remains frustratingly, tantalisingly out of reach.

Whatever I am doing, I am haunted by words. Sometimes, it feels like I live inside a real life Wordle nightmare. No wonder I never played that cursed game.

A woman sits with her Kindle reader jotting down notes.
The Kindle Scribe comes with a Premium Pen. (Photo: Amazon)

When I close my laptop at the end of the day, I try my best to cease this incessant, infinite word waterfall. I play sport. I watch TV. I swim. I let my kids beat me at Fifa. I grow things in the garden. I cook. I cuddle the dog. Anything that helps take words out my mind, to make me forget that they’re there, no matter how brief that moment is, I cherish.

Do you know what I don’t want to do at the end of the day? Write more words.

Amazon has other ideas. Its new Kindle reading device – called the Kindle Scribe, which has, as far as I can tell, nothing to do with the Christchurch rapper – comes with a pen. It’s a nice pen, sure. The Premium Pen feels good to hold. It is the right weight, the correct texture and, in slate grey, comes in an inoffensive colour. There is one button on the top, and another on the side. (You shouldn’t let peanut butter get anywhere near the buttons on your Premium Pen.)

That pen allows you do all kinds of things on your Kindle Scribe that you could not do on your old Kindle. You can start a journal, jot down ideas, create a to-do list, import and edit pdf files, or write sticky notes on the pages of your favourite books. You can edit documents, draw a quick bar graph, circle things and write “wrong” in capital letters, or pen a critical letter to the author of the book you’re reading then chicken out of sending it in the morning.

Amazon's Kindle Scribe is bigger and comes with a pen.
Amazon’s Kindle Scribe, with a bigger screen and a Premium Pen. (Photo: Supplied)

It opens up your Kindle to a whole new world. You can use your pen to scroll through pages. Press the button and your pen becomes an eraser. There are all-new menus to navigate, drop down bars to get used to, scrolling mechanisms to manage. Your pen will never run out of ink, and its battery lasts for months. It is, says Amazon, perfectly calibrated to offer “the best possible reading and writing experience”.

In theory, more is always better. But I have an iPad, and that iPad has an Apple Pencil. It does much more than the Kindle Scribe. It offers apps, games, puzzles, Netflix, Disney, Apple TV+, Facebook, Google, Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter… A Kindle Scribe can’t do any of those things. It remains a device offering a screen of inky black and white. Yet, with its internet browser, and its Premium Pen, it seems to be making a cautious step towards the iPad’s direction.

Yes, you can still read books on a Kindle Scribe. I tested all kinds out on this: biographies, novels, poems, short stories and a Mediterranean cookbook full of ideas for one-pot dishes full of seafood I cannot afford. Not once while turning these pages did I think to myself, “I would like to jot some notes down here”. (It is worth pointing out at this point that several of my officemates have voiced support for a note-taking device like the Kindle Scribe, and its closest competitor, the reMarkable 1, so I may be in the minority here.)

Only once did I want to write a note, and that was to Jeffrey Bezos to tell him that graphic novels, my preferred choice of reading material for taking my mind off my own words, still look like absolute dogshit on the Kindle Scribe, just as they did on the original Kindle. I even began to jot it down. The pen flowed nicely, capturing my prose perfectly. I didn’t hate writing those words. In fact, I even forgot that I’d spent the whole day doing that exact thing.

By the morning, my anger had passed. By then, I had many other words on my mind.

Amazon’s Kindle Scribe with 16Gb and Premium Pen retails for $699; e-books are sold separately.

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