Retro computing with a touch of modern and the home for all things, retroCombs (aka Steven Combs).
Disclosure Statement: When you click on links to various merchants on this site and make a purchase, this can result in this site earning a commission. Affiliate programs and affiliations include, but are not limited to Amazon, the eBay Partner Network, and/or others.
7 January 2023
Amazon Kindle Scribe for Retro Computing
by Steven B. Combs, Ph.D.
I’ve used a Kindle since the release of the first version in 2007. I enjoyed that early device and followed it with several other models over the years. My use waned because of the small screen of current models. It might be my older eyes, but I appreciate the larger iPad screens; however, iPad screens are difficult on the eyes and disturb the lovely account if I want to read in bed.
When Amazon announced the $350 Kindle Scribe, I was excited. Not only would this new Kindle have a much larger screen for reading and reviewing PDF files, but now, with a pen, I can annotate e-Books and PDF files. I can even journal and create new content. I hypothesized this device would be a boon, not only for standard reading, but for my retro computing hobby. Let’s if my hypothesis is correct.
Here’s the thing; a standard small screen $100 Kindle Paperwhite can be a great device for the retro computing hobby because you can read and collect:
modern retro computing e-books.
out of print retro computing books.
instruction sheets and manuals for both modern and retro devices.
magazines from the 1970s and 1980s that cover the early 8-bit computing scene.
But the $350 Kindle Scribe’s experience is better because it adds annotation with a Wacom pen (a retro brand itself) on a 10.2 inch e-ink screen. Let’s find out more about this device’s hardware before I dig into how to use the Kindle Scribe.
The Kindle Scribe’s hardware specifications include:
Size - 7.7 x 9.0 x .22 inches
Weight - 15.3 oz
Screen - 10.2 inch 300 PPI glare free 32 LCD backlit Paperwhite e-ink display
Memory - 32GB (16 and 64 GB available)
Power - Battery provides months of reading and weeks of writing use with power coming from the USB-C port
Connectivity - Wi-Fi (Download content and access Amazon Store), Bluetooth (Headsets), & USB-C (Use to charge and access the internal storage)
Power button - Short press to suspend Kindle and display a title screen or long press to Restart or Turn the Screen Off.
Case - I didn’t purchase the $60 Amazon brand folio cover. I choose the $32 Moko Kindle Scribe Case. The case includes stands for both vertical and horizontal viewing and the most important feature, magnetic standby for the device when I close the cover.
Pen - Premium pen is 6.4 inches long, weighs .49 oz, and includes replacement tips
With the hardware covered, let’s find out what document formats the Kindle supports.
The Kindle Scribe supports the following formats:
PDF (with adjustable layout)
Microsoft Word Documents
TXT, RTF, and HTML text documents
PNG, GIF, JPEG and BMP image files
EPUB documents imported through Send to Kindle
Image files and documents with color images will display as black and white or gray scale. Moving documents to the Kindle doesn’t convert them. Useful when you export the document back to another device. Let’s talk more about the pen.
You use the pen to annotate e-books, PDFs, and notebooks. You access tools from the Writing Toolbar.
I purchased a premium metal pen that includes a customizable side button and an “eraser.” I find the pen comfortable and natural to use. The non-glare screen provides enough resistance on the pen tip to cause a slight drag, making the experience more pencil like.
And the pen’s superpower…no battery! Unlike an iPad or other tablet, the Wacom pen technology does not require a power source. It is always ready. No cables, no charging, no muss! Fabulous. Let’s look at how to use the pen annotation tools.
You access the annotation tools via the Writing Toolbar. The options include:
Pen - Choose to annotate a PDF/e-Book or write in a notebook. Tap the tool again to select fine, thin, medium, thick, or heavy strokes.
Highlight - Choose to highlight an area of a page. Tap the tool again to select fine, thin, medium, thick, or heavy highlights.
Erase - Choose to erase an annotation or highlight. Tap the tool again to select fine, thin, medium, thick, or heavy erasures. This tool includes options to erase a selection (draw around items to erase) and erase an entire page.
Finger - Choose to use the pen in finger mode. Confusing and I recommend against using this feature.
Undo - Undo the last action.
Redo - Redo the last action.
⋮ - Move the palette to the left or right side of the screen.
You cannot manually position the toolbar, but the default position works well. The palm rejection, because of the use of the Wacom technology, is impressive. Unlike note-taking apps on the iPad, I never have rogue marks on my pages. Now that we know how to use the pen and annotation tools, let’s learn more about adding content to your e-Library.
The most important part of your Kindle is the library. You add to your Kindle library by purchasing e-books from Amazon on the web or from the Kindle Scribe using the Kindle Store. I enjoy browsing on the Kindle and if you are unsure about a title, you can download a sample.
A Kindle Unlimited subscription adds to your library. I added the four free months of Kindle Unlimited option in my order to sample the collection of retro computing books available. If I keep this service, it will cost me $10/month. The Lovely Accountant, added as the other adult in my family plan, enjoys Kindle Unlimited to read free books using the Kindle app on her iPad mini. I might need to get her a Kindle in the future.
You can send documents to a Kindle Scribe using one of the options below.
Use your send to Kindle email address and mail a document. Your email provider may limit the size file you can send. You can customize your send to Kindle email address using the instructions found on the Send To Kindle Email page.
Use the Chrome extension to send a web page to the Kindle Scribe. This option works great for blog posts and even removes the advertisements. Try it on this page and keep these tips and tricks on your own Kindle Scribe.
Use the Send to Kindle web page. This option has a 200Mb limit but should take care of 99% of your files. This page also includes a list of the recent files you’ve sent to the Kindle Scribe no matter which option you used above.
As your library grows, you will want a way to locate content. The Kindle Scribe includes a limited search feature.
The Kindle includes a search bar at the top of each main screen to help you find specific books or documents. It works but lacks any advanced boolean search functions. To make a search, tap the search bar and the on-screen keyboard appears. This is a basic keyboard that inputs alpha-numeric characters. There’s no SWIPE to type or emojis, but it includes auto-complete and Shift/Caps lock. The keyboard is just one part of the user interface (UI). Let’s look at the main UI.
Kindle User Interface (UI)
The Kindle UI runs on top of a Linux OS and includes four pages:
Home - Provides access to your recent items, Kindle Unlimited recommendations, similar to recommendations, and a host of other recommendation areas based on genres and authors.
Library - Limits the view based on the books and documents in your cloud and local library. Filters narrow the list to display downloaded, unread, read, books, samples, documents, newsstand, Audible, comics, and Kindle Unlimited. You can sort your content by recent, title, ascending, or descending. View options include grid, list, or collections. Mix and match all filters, sort, and display options to create your own custom view of your library.
Notebooks - Displays your notebooks. You can filter the list to show downloads. Sort using recent, title, type, date created, date modified, ascending, and descending. View options include grid and list. Mix and match these options to create a custom view of your notebooks. I’ll cover notebooks in more detail later.
More - This final page provides access to your reading lists created in Goodreads, access to Goodreads, a barely functional web browser, settings (more later), and legal notices for nights of insomnia.
All four pages provide buttons in the upper-right corner to create a new notebook or visit the Kindle Store. Having your library scattered about the UI can get confusing. This is where collections come in handy.
Collections allow you to group your content by kind, type, subject or all the above. I’ve created a few retro collections for the MEGA65 and Commodore PET. When I collect more library content, I will create more collections. I’ll share more about the creation and management of collections later.
The best kept feature of the Amazon Kindle echo-system is called Whispersync. This synchronization feature ensures you have not only the same books and documents available between devices such as your Kindles, PC, tablet, or phone, but that your reading locations and annotations are all synchronized! If I create a notebook on my Amazon Kindle Scribe, I can review it on my Pixel 6 Pro phone using the Kindle app or on my Mac using the Kindle app for Mac. As of now, I can’t edit the notebooks, but I’m not sure I would want to without a pen. Future firmware and app updates may allow this feature.
Several document options are available depending on the type of document being read. Here’s a summary of each type of document.
Tapping the top of the page reveals a menu at the top of the page with the following options:
Layout - Options to manage the reading themes, change the font family and size, change the layout orientation, or turn on options to display the reading progress, show a clock, mention of other books, or information about the book the first time you open the book.
About This Book - Displays info about the book when you open it for the first time. Information includes file name and size.
Go To - This option will allow you to jump around the document quickly. The Go to Page or Location option offers the ability to jump to a specific page or location.
Notes - View all the notes and highlights you made in an e-book.
Bookmark - Bookmarks a specific page. An e-book can have multiple bookmarks that you access by tapping the bookmark on a bookmarked paged or using the Bookmark option. Delete a bookmark using the ⨂ option to the right of the bookmark’s name.
Share - More on this option later.
Search - Find specific text in an e-Book or in your notes and highlights.
⋮ - Reveals options to Show/Hide the Writing Toolbar, toggles the Vocabulary Builder to review words you’ve looked up in the Kindle dictionary while reading, access Settings (more later), and Sync to Furthest Page Read when reading the same document on another device.
An area appears at the bottom of the screen to allow you to navigate through pages of the book quickly with a single page scrubber or via a thumbnail of pages scrubber. All features are available when viewing e-books, but not for PDFs.
Tapping the top of the page reveals the same options for PDF found in e-Books with these caveats:
Layout - Does not include any view options such as font or layout since those are predefined by the PDF file.
About This Book - displays info about the book when opened for the first time, such as the filename and size.
The thumbnail scrubber option at the bottom of the page is not available, but the single page scrubber is.
The other options are the same as e-Books when a PDF file is in an OCR format with proper formatting elements such as headers. Time to talk about notebooks on the Kindle Scribe.
Notebooks is the app on the Kindle Scribe that is used to create pages of e-ink notes. To create a note, follow these steps.
Tap the Notebooks icon on the upper-right of the screen and to the left of the Kindle Store icon. The Create notebook dialog box will appear. This option to create a notebook is handy because this icon is available on all four Kindle UI pages.
Another way to create a notebook is to tap the Notebooks option at the bottom of the main UI. The Notebooks page will display the current folders and notebooks on the Kindle. You can use the step #1 option to create a notebook or you can press the + icon in the upper-right corner to reveal two options; Create notebook or Create folder. Selecting the Create notebook option displays the Create notebook dialog box mentioned in step #1. Selecting the Create folder displays a Create folder dialog box. Provide a name of the folder and tap the Create button. A folder will display on the Notebooks page. Tap the notebook to enter the folder, view, or create a notebook or multiple notebooks within that folder.
Using the Create notebook option will display the Create notebook dialog box. Give the notebook a name and then choose from one of 18 different templates from a lined page to a blank page to a storyboard. The Kindle Scribe includes the most useful templates and I can’t think of others they should include.
Once you create a notebook, the Kindle will display it automatically. Use the pen to capture your notes.
Once you create a notebook, you have additional options when you tap the ⋮ button under the notebook.
Open - Opens the notebook on the Kindle Scribe.
Rename - Rename the notebook.
Move - Move the notebook to another folder.
Remove the download - Remove the notebook from the Kindle Scribe but maintain in the cloud.
Permanently delete - Delete both the local and cloud copy of the notebook. There is no undo!
Share - More on sharing in the next section.
Create as many notebooks as you like. With free cloud storage and the ability to move notebooks off and back on the device, you are not likely to run out of space for your retro computing notes.
There are several ways to share information from the Kindle to other device or services. Here’s the breakdown by type of document:
e-Book - Use the Share option to send a highlighted quote to Goodreads. This might seem like a limitation, but you can add a handwritten or text note using the Note tool and afterward send a PDF to your account email address, or up to 5 individual email accounts using the Share via email page. This option is available when you view your notes in the All Notes page for the e-Book you are reading.
HINT: As of firmware 5.16.1, there is no screen capture on the Kindle Scribe, unlike other Kindle models that have this function by long-tapping two opposing corners of the screen at the same time.
PDF File - Use the Share option to send the entire PDF, complete with notes and annotations, to your account email address or up to 5 individual email accounts using the Share via email page.
These are not great options, but with a few more steps, you can get almost any content out of the Kindle to another device or service, such as Google Drive or Twitter. If you are interested in these steps, drop a comment below and let me know.
I’ve shared a lot of information about how to read and write, but you customize your Kindle Scribe using the settings.
The Kindle Scribe comes with a Settings page, complete with options to customize your experience. Settings include:
Your Account - Give your Kindle Scribe a unique name. Add your own personal information in case you lose the Kindle. Manage your Goodreads account. Deregister the device to recycle or give to someone else. View your Send-to-Kindle Email address.
Household & Family Library - Manage your adult household sharing of purchased content.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth - Manage Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections (headsets for audio). You cannot currently connect to the file system via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
Device Options - Toggle the display cover of the current document/book being read. View the device information. Manage display settings such as a standard or large UI, the screen warmth schedule to reduce blue light in the evening hours, and toggle nightlight to decrease the screen brightness over time and allow your eyes to adjust. Set a device pass code. Restart the Kindle. Reset the Kindle to its original settings. View advanced settings such as time, home and library view options. Update the Kindle firmware. Toggle Whispersync. Turn on power saver to conserve battery. Toggle sharing of privacy information and manage device storage.
Pen - If you have a premium pen, you can change the default action of the pen shortcut button to either highlight, erase, or add a sticky note.
Book & Notebook Options - Toggle page refresh with every page turn and the vocabulary builder.
Language & Dictionaries - Set the language for your Kindle. Add a different language keyboard. Select a default language dictionary.
Accessibility - Toggle the VoiceView screen reader. Change the display size. Invert Black and White.
Parental Controls - Set restrictions for the Kindle’s web browser, the Kindle Store, the Cloud for Whispersync, and Goodreads. These options will require the use of a PIN on the Kindle Scribe.
Help & User Guides - Hidden in this area is a quick start guide, a full user’s guide, an interactive tutorial, and contact us technical support page.
⋮ - Update, Restart, Reset, or display Device Info
You can find additional settings by swiping down from the top of the Kindle to reveal an Android like settings shade. Shade options include:
Airplane mode - Toggle Airplane mode.
Bluetooth - Toggle Bluetooth.
Dark Mode - Toggle Dark Mode. This mode reverses the screen with the background black and the text white. Great, when you don’t want to disturb the person beside you or you find this mode easier on the eyes.
Sync - Force Whispersync to push books, documents, and reading locations.
All Settings - Display the Settings Page.
Auto Brightness - Allow the Kindle to set the screen brightness based on the ambient light available.
Brightness - Change the brightness level of the screen.
Warmth - Change the warmth of the screen to reduce the amount of blue light.
That’s the complete collection of settings, but other tools are available online. Let’s check those out.
While the Kindle Scribe itself provides tools to manage the library, collections, and notebooks, there are several online tools that will make your Kindle Scribe experience even better. This section begins by opening your browser to the Kindle’s Digital Content page. On this page are the following areas.
Books - View, deliver, return, or remove books from a device. A more selection includes advance options such as clear furthest page read, read online, or gift.
Newspapers - Manage newspaper subscriptions.
Magazines - Manage magazine subscriptions.
Blogs - Amazon once tried to help bloggers monetize content. This legacy feature is no longer available for new content.
Audio Books - Manage your Audible books. You can play and even sync Audible books on the Kindle Scribe. Not a feature I use regularly and I will not cover it here.
Apps - Manage your App purchases. Not applicable to the Kindle Scribe.
Video - Manage your video purchases. Not applicable to the Kindle Scribe.
Docs - Manage your personal documents and collections.
Dictionaries & User Guides - Install additional language dictionaries to your Kindle Scribe. While the title includes User Guides, I could not locate any in this section.
Music - Displays the Amazon Music page. Not applicable to the Kindle Scribe.
Collections - Select a collection to display.
USB-C Connect to Computer
The Kindle Scribe includes a USB-C cable that does more than charge the device. Options available when you connect the Kindle Scribe to a computer include:
Add Fonts - Drop OTF or TTF font files in the fonts folder to install custom reading fonts. The Readme.txt file in the folder provides additional information.
Manage Files - Delete, organize, and add files to the Kindle.
PRO TIP: On a Mac, type ⇧ + ⌘ + . to reveal the hidden files/folder on the Kindle Scribe. Use this option at your own risk.
Upload Large Files - Overcome the size limits for Send to Kindle app and e-mail transfer. When you copy a PDF via USB-C, you cannot annotate or use the page/thumbnail scrubber.
Charge - Top off the Kindle’s battery. To charge the Kindle without accessing the internal storage, eject the KINDLE volume from the computer.
Was my hypothesis correct? Is the Kindle Scribe an outstanding tool for retro computing? Yes! And here’s why.
The 300 PPI e-ink display, although black and white, is fabulous. Documents are crisp, clean, and clear and you can read documents in any lighting situation. I prefer to read on this display over a phone or tablet.
I love brainstorming on the Kindle Scribe. The Kindle Scribe includes a storyboard template. I storyboard ideas and add pages as needed. Other useful templates include a to do list and grid paper. If I had a particular content creation schedule, the calendar and planner templates might be useful.
I’ve been reading old issues of RUN and Compute! magazines downloaded from Archive.org. The large screen makes the pages almost full size. Since I download these as PDFs, I can annotate and bookmark pages.
I scan PDF files of instructions for modern devices that upgrade my retro computing experience.
I take notes during livestreams or video recordings using the Kindle Scribe and archive those notes for later.
There’s an amazing collection of out-of-print PDF books available for retro computers. You can download, add to a collection, and enjoy quick access to the reference material. I recently download Compute!’s First Book of VIC-20 Games and Compute!’s First Book of PET/CBM.
I love to program on my MEGA65 using BASIC65. The BASIC65 Reference Guide is available, searchable, and I can annotate on the pages or in the margins.
The Kindle Scribe experience has a few quirks in this first release that include:
I can’t write in lower corners.
The device occasionally locks up. It’s rare, but requires a reboot by holding the power button for ten seconds.
As of the current firmware version, I can not markup image files (which makes sense given the format) but I can add a note, but here’s where the file format logic breaks down. When you share the images with a note, it’s a PDF file which I can annotate. I’m hopeful Amazon will correct this oversight in a later firmware update. It would be great to have the option to take a retro computing image, annotate using the pen, and send it to myself or others.
I’d like a few edit options using Kindle apps on other devices for notebooks, but I do like that I can access notebooks anytime on almost any device.
Kindle once included support to Tweet from the device. I wish Amazon would bring more social networks to the device other than Goodreads to share content with followers.
There’s no wireless access via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to access the Kindle’s filesystem. A hard USB-C cable option makes this inconvenient.
The $350 price might be a show stopper. Amazon regularly discounts Kindle devices during events such as Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday. I suspect the device will receive a discount during the next Amazon Prime Day in 2023.
But these quirks do not diminish my enjoyment and usefulness of this device and I’m guessing many fixes will come, along with promised new features, in future firmware updates. What free updates we can look forward to? As of now we know Amazon plans to include these features:
More writing tools, including additional brush types
Options to organize notebooks
I’ll keep a lookout for new additions. Follow me on Twitter or keep watching this blog and my YouTube channel to learn more and watch me use the Kindle Scribe with all my retro computing content.
Help make this content better! Leave your comments, corrections, additions, and thoughts in the comments below. You can email me at email@example.com. Thanks for reading and if you are inclined, please let others know about the blog using the hashtag #retroCombs.