MobiScribe Notepad: The E-ink Notepad Android Device Review
With all the glossy color screen note taking options on an iPad or Android tablet plus 2-in-1 convertible Windows and Chromebook computers, why would anyone want anything like the MobiScribe? Reading comments about it on their ads on Facebook and Instagram makes one wonder if anyone does, but then you talk to the committed core of Indiegogo backers who forked over $200 sight unseen and you get the idea that maybe MobiScribe discovered a niche that can propel them to success.
I recently received my new MobiScribe: The E-ink Notepad Android tablet after backing it on Indiegogo just a few months ago. That’s a record. By comparison I backed a little selfy drone called the Selfly Drone and it took almost three years and when it arrived I tested it and wondered if I could find a way to get my money back. The MobiScribe instead came quickly and I’m enjoying it.
MobiScribe Review: Hardware
The MobiScribe E-ink Notepad runs Android 4.4, unfortunately. However, it comes with a bright and sharp e-ink display that’s easy to read and responds fairly well to touch. The tablet also comes with a stylus so you can write in the note taking app built into the operating system. More on that below. The stylus also works like your finger as you interact with things on the screen. Add touch capability when not using the stylus.
The processor inside this notepad won’t win any benchmarking awards. It’s a Freescale i.MX6 Processor and runs at 1GHz. You also get 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage (only 2GB of that is available to the users) with an expansion slot able to read up to 32GB micro-SD cards.
The MobiScribe Notepad measures about 6 inches wide and 7 inches tall. It’s less than half an inch thick and weights only 8 ounces. With the case made by the company attached, it probably doesn’t weigh even a pound.
The 3.7V 1500mAH Li-polymer battery gives the e-Ink MobiScribe great battery life. Under heavy usage for about four hours I only drained the battery about 30 percent. I’ve charged it only twice in over a week of sparing usage.
Kindle users will feel at home on MobiScribe’s screen. It has a sharp 265 DPI screen. The front light offers warm/cold glow settings you can adjust in the Settings app. The Settings app also lets you change the font to make books and text easier to read.
On the top edge we find two buttons, one to turn the backlight on and off and the other turns the screen on and off. The bottom edge holds the card reader slot and charging port. It uses a micro-USB port. Some critics couldn’t believe that the company didn’t use USB-C. I agree. I wish they had, but USB-C still costs more and this thing definitely doesn’t need that much charging power or speed, so I understand the choice.
The custom version of Android on the MobiScribe Notepad runs on the old Android 4.4 Kitkat first announced on September 3, 2013. We’re now seeing people upgrade to Android 9.0 Pie and the next version will come out sometime this year. The old OS hampers what apps run on the device.
Built in apps and the operating system respond adequately to touch and input. The familiar e-Ink flash when the page refreshes can get annoying in some situations, especially while running third-party apps. This slows down the performance significantly.
The company advertises the ability to run other Android apps. In my experience, none of the Bible apps I want to run worked. The Logos Bible app won’t even install. It tells you that it’s incompatible with the operating system. Logos users can find an old version of the Android apps that installs, but it won’t let me log in using my correct email and password. The older apps aren’t supported so don’t bother to call Logos for help. Just give up.
Neither the Accordance Bible app nor the Olive Tree Bible app will install either. I get a “Parse Error” after I download them and try to run the APK installer.
I also tried to install the Kindle app and one called Kindle Light. Both of those were slow painful to use, both of which other MobiScribe Notepad users report working. Neither worked well for me.
The tablet makers promise that the device runs Android apps. They recommend using APKpure.com to download apps. I got Dropbox working, but it seems easier to download apps on a computer and put them in a Dropbox folder. The APKpure app is clunky and runs slowly on the MobiScribe Notepad.
Don’t buy the MobiScribe Notepad to use as an Android tablet. Few of the apps I want to run work on the ancient version of Android included. Others will barely run on the hardware. I gave up at this point since I also own an iPad. I’ll use it for mobile apps and the notepad for note taking exclusively.
The Home Screen has a toolbar on the top of the screen with…
- Back button
- Home button
- Task switcher – switches between running apps.
- Refresh button
- Time – doesn’t do anything when tapped.
- Wi-Fi – tap to join or disconnect from Wi-Fi networks.
- Display Light – changes the brightness, warmth and contrast.
- Front Light – switch to turn on and off the screen’s light.
- Brightness slider – from dark to bright light.
- Temperature slider – from cool to warm color screen.
- Contrst slider – makes contrast less or more extreme with a row of letter As to show the results.
- Security Lock settings
- Language & input
- Date & time
- Battery – shows batter life but does nothing when tapped.
The Settings are basic compared to other Android devices and that’s fine since it’s not intended to function as a full Android tablet.
Let’s focus on what does work. The built-in Notes app runs smoothly. I bought the MobiScribe primarily to take notes in meetings or as I study. The Notes app is simple and responds quickly.
On the main screen you see two rows, one for Notes and one for Books. There’s a “Create Note” button or you see the last few notes you edited. You can either tap on the “All Notes” link to see all of your notes or tap on the “Create Note” button to create a fresh note. If you want to open a recent note tap on it.
The OS lists all notes in one of a two ways – with a generic icon or a preview of the note as a small thumbnail. That view may bog down the system with a lot of notes.
The app has a toolbar along the top and the left. The top toolbar has buttons for…
- Menu to …
- Convert – to PDF or an Image file.
- Backup – to the internal memory, SD card, or Dropbox.
- Restore – from memory, SD card or Dropbox if you used the Backup feature earlier.
- New page
- Delete page
- Back a page
- Jump to page number
- Forward a page
- Full-screen mode – to view note without toolbars.
The left side toolbar includes the following buttons:
- Pencil configuration tool to change the style and thickness of the pencil.
- Insert image
- Erase page
- Change page background
- Star – to make this a favorite note.
- Tag – add a tag to the note
- Search – shows all notes
- Settings – lets you calibrate the stylus and change toolbar from left to right edge of the screen.
- Save the note
- Hide toolbar
I used the insert image to add a page I scanned using my phone camera. Back up the photo to Dropbox and add it via Dropbox on the MobiScribe Notepad.
Use the Background button to change your screen background. The MobiScribe Notepad offers 11 pre-installed backgrounds. You can also create your own with a custom background option.
The included backgrounds offer ruled pages, some with check boxes and others with meeting notes layout. There’s also graph paper and musical notation pages. Two are just geometric shapes.
While writing with the stylus, you can adjust the size using the toolbar to change the input. The basic tool writes with a consistent width. The marker tool has some pressure sensitivity so you get a slightly wider line when you press harder.
The MobiScribe Notepad claims to support the following formats:
I can’t get mine to open Amazon files even with the DRM removed. You get an error message like this…
The Books app works okay, but I’d ranter read on a Kindle. However, you can use it for the above formats. You’ll need to find the right formula to make the book readable. I struggled to read PDF books, because most were laid out for 8.5×11 paper size. These don’t display well on the smaller screen.
The EPUB format seems to work well. I used a program on my Mac called Epubor to convert Kindle books to EPUB. It’s not an easy process, but works better than anything I tried. Epubor isn’t free. It starts at $25/year for Windows and $30/year for Mac. You can get a lifetime subscription for $50 and $55 respectively.
When you put your converted books into a Dropbox folder on the computer, then open Dropbox on the MobiScribe Notepad, download the book files by tapping on them. You will get an error message saying that the Dropbox app can’t open the file. You will have to choose the OPEN WITH… button and it offers to open the book with the HomeReader3 app or other apps installed on your Notepad.
At this point the book behaves a lot like it will on a Kindle Paperwhite. You get the ability to increase or decrease font size (tap the center of the screen and a font size slider shows up at the bottom) and you can bookmark spots in the book, but that’s it. I couldn’t find a way to highlight books and inexplicably there’s no way to annotate the book with the stylus. That’s an unconscionable omission for this device advertised as a great note take tablet.
Sometimes opening a book in the Book app takes a long time. That’s going to happen with large books.
Tap on the left or right edge to go back or forward in the book. Tap on the top edge to bring up the toolbar. There’s a progress bar at the bottom edge. Tap on it to quickly jump to a new place in the book.
MobiScribe Review: Accessories
The stylus feels light and some might call it flimsy. However, it’s not bad while writing. The hexagonal shape runs up two-thirds of the stylus. The top third starts to become more round toward the top end. There’s a fine tip on one end and button on the other. The other ends behaves like an eraser. That’s something you don’t get with the Apple Pencil that alone costs more than 50% of the price of the MobiScribe Notepad, which includes two styli.
The box comes with three extra tips and a tool to replace the tip. We’ll see how long the tips last, but it feels sturdy and writes smoothly on the screen.
I got the branded case. The tablet attaches to the MobiScribe Notepad case with a small rectangular sticky adhesive. Pull off the protective plastic and press the table onto the case. It seems to stay put. Again, time will tell if it holds up or comes lose. Plenty of users complained about this design.
The case feels okay in the hand with a textured cloth they call “rugged fabric.” It feels like it will wear out over time. Inside you get a felt fabric. On the right side of the internal part of the case next to where the MobiScribe sits, there’s a recessed section and and elastic loop. That’s where you put your stylus. On the top edges you get two tabs with magnets. They come together when you close the case and the magnets hold it closed to protect the screen while not in use. The case allows the user to easily plug in the charger without opening the case. However, the screen doesn’t turn off automatically, so be sure to hit the button to turn it off manually or set the Sleep time under Display in the Settings.
Any micro-USB charging cable will power the tablet, but they do include a simple USB cable. You’ll need to supply your own AC adapter or plug it into a computer to charge. The tablet arrived with about 65% charge and didn’t take along to top off. I didn’t time it, but it seemed like about an hour.
Conclusion and Recommendation
People who take a lot of notes and don’t want to use paper and pen/pencil, can get a lot of functionality out of the MobiScribe Notepad. It works well as a note taking device. It’s light and quick, as a note taking solution.
The MobiScribe team of developers respond quickly to users’ wishes. People didn’t like that you had to convert notes to PDF or PNG file before backing them up. So they changed the backup screen (above) to include a “Save file via” drop down box that includes Dropbox as an option. Now you can export and backup notes files in one step.
The book reader is subpar and I won’t use mine for that reason. People who want a good e-Ink book reader should buy a Kindle. No other book reading tablet can compete.
Do NOT buy this device to run Android apps. The inability to open some favorite Bible apps disappointed me. I hoped I could use this device to read books on an excelllent e-Ink screen. It’s not a good experience, even with the apps that do work.
Tips for Using the MobiScribe
- Turn on the ability to side load apps. You almost have to have Dropbox to use the MobiScribe Notepad. Without it, the experienced will be drastically limiting.
- Don’t download the APK Pure app store as the recommend. Instead, just use it from your computer’s browser.
- Find a way to convert your eBooks to a form that the MobiScribe can read, if you insist on using the device to read books. I like Epubor.
- Change background of paper in Notes and even create your own as transparent PNG files. Use drawing program to make a 3.75-inches x 5.0625-inches file with a transparent background. Then put it in your Dropbox folder to sync to the MobiScribe Notepad. Click the background button in the left or right toolbar, depending on where you put it. Choose Customized and select the file in your Dropbox folder.
- Join the MobiScribe Notepad Facebook users group. It’s a closed group, so you’ll need request membershi.