A big-screen E Ink device is as home as Amazon’s docs and books during the downturn, and it’s not the Kindle Scribe that Amazon unveiled Wednesday during its massive smart product launch.
This is Amazon Kindle DX (opens in new tab), the 9.7-inch E Ink reader released in 2009. It’s not as slim, light or bright as the 300ppi backlit Kindle Scribe. There’s not even a touchscreen, instead there’s a physical keyboard and navigation buttons. The Kindle DX is considered the future of Amazon’s e-ink book business, especially textbooks.
The device’s large screen and ability to hold thousands of books means students will struggle under the weight of extra-thick backpacks filled with bulky and expensive textbooks. The Kindle DX costs close to $500, but most expect typical college and school textbooks to cost half the price of Amazon’s online bookstore.
After an update in 2010, the Kindle DX died quickly and flatly. I’ve always wondered why, but I’ve come to believe that most Kindle e-reader users use them to read novels while on vacation and aren’t interested in a tablet-sized device or need to only offer a black and white screen and can t even play video.
2010 Apple’s iPad launch essentially sealed the fate of DX
By this standard, the new Kindle Scribe could be the same failure. However, despite the economic similarities, 2022 is not 2009, and the Kindle Scribe is far more technically complete than the DX.
The biggest innovation, at least for Amazon, is the stylus for the Kindle Scribe, which is included in the $339 price. First, it’s comforting that Amazon doesn’t follow a DX pricing model: it’s expensive or it goes home. Second, bundling a stylus, which is probably smarter than plain plastic, is a bit of a genius. That’s what makes the Kindle Scribe cool and desirable, and, aside from the obvious design differences, it’s nothing like Amazon’s last attempt at a big-screen E Ink tablet.
Even here, Amazon is dabbling in familiar territory, though not necessarily its own.
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In 2017, I tested the first ReMarkable tablet, 10.1-inch, 350g E Ink and stylus-enabled tablet. It has the look and feel of 226ppi, which is as close as a sheet of paper without being made of pulp. ReMarkable worked closely with E Ink to create an e-paper version that offers a 100ms response time, making it feel as if the E Ink that appears on the page is streaming from the ReMarkable stylus. By the way, that stylus doesn’t need a battery, it draws power from the screen via inductive charging. The subsequent ReMarkable 2 tablet is lighter and thinner (4.7mm).
The similarities between the Kindle Scribe and the ReMarkable 2 aren’t significant, as they reflect how far E Ink’s display, handling, materials, and stylus technology have advanced in the 13 years since Amazon introduced the Kindle DX. ReMarkable is to their credit for getting there in the first place, but it’s also a problem now.
Amazon has spent 15 years perfecting its e-reader business, with a line of products that start as low as $99 (normally $69) and go as high as the $249 Kindle Oasis. The 10.2-inch Kindle Scribe is more affordable than the original DX, though not as cheap as the $279 ReMarkable 2. It extends the usefulness of the Kindle into a space once owned by ReMarkable.
Amazon now has enough money to let the pricier and mostly niche e-reader penetrate and grow market share, while scrappy startup ReMarkable needs some high-profile innovations. It needs to remind consumers that it’s here in the first place (as if that’s important) to survive.
Strangely, my excitement about the Kindle Scribe is based almost entirely on my ReMarkable 1 experience. Drawing on E Ink with a stylus is fun. It looks and feels like paper. ReMarkable is always smart enough to use the processing power behind a paper screen for more utility.
The arc of technology often rises, but also bends in time to produce the long-forgotten failure of something new. It’s fun to see and try new things, but it’s always worth remembering how we and others got here.
You can read about everything Amazon is launching at its big event here.