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MOBISCRIBE ORIGIN REVIEW

Something Different

Mobiscribe Origin is not your everyday average e-ink tablet. This much is clear before you even open the box. You are welcomed by an eco-friendly, playful kind of approach, that puts you in a happy mood.


We're used to 3 standards in the note-taking e-ink world, 7.8" for portable devices, 10.3" as a standard, and 13.3" for close to A4 standard. Folks at Mobiscribe weren't bothered by these standards when they created the Origin. They had a clear idea and goal that they wanted Origin to achieve, and as such it sports an unusual, for a note-taking device, 6.8" format. However, when you first encounter the Origin, the first impression isn't "small" as in constraining. For me, it was, "this feels right", without even powering it up. It takes guts and know-how to decide to do something like this.

(Image credit: Mobiscribe)


Design And Build

The front isn't a flat glass surface. Instead, we have a screen-colored frame of the device and a very slight indentation for the screen. I don't know about you, but when I see an indentation I go "Oh no" because it usually causes problems with touch interaction. But, again here, the Origin is different, because the indentation is barely 1mm tall, and it proves to cause no issues in daily use, whatsoever.

(Image credit: My Deep Guide)


The back and sides are of a lovely matt gray color, and the material is plastic, but very pleasant to touch, not slippery, and not sticky. It feels like a modern and high-quality product, without using brittle materials, such as aluminium and glass, which we usually associate with high quality. Back is designed in a lovely way, because the shapes and indentations are just the right balance between visual appeal and functionality. I highly appreciate a good and thoughtful design. They could have gone the standard "it's a tablet, well, let's just make it a tablet" route, but they didn't. A bit of extra thought and extra care went into every part of designing this digital notebook. So you end up with a product which not only sits incredibly well in hand but also has a great tactile feel and looks very nice too.


On the top, you will find an orange-colored power button and a gray-colored front light toggle button. Again, thought and care. There is nothing on either of the sides of the device. At the bottom is the USB C for charging and data communication and a micro SD slot.

(Image credit: My Deep Guide)


Build quality is excellent. From materials used to manufacturing quality, everything feels, sounds, and looks very good.


Ergonomics of Origin is excellent. The curves fit the hand perfectly, yet the flat back area provides rock-solid support when it's lying down on the table. The back materials are not slippery, which means that the device won't be sliding all over the place, as you write on a smooth surface table. At 228 grams, it's very light and comfortable to use in one hand, making it super easy to take notes in your lap, or in your hand, even for extended periods of use.


Overall, I am thoroughly impressed by Mobiscribe Origin's design and build quality. It looks like and feels like a high-quality modern device, which for the price point of $250 for the bundle, is a nice thing to see.

(Image credit: My Deep Guide)


Specifications, Price, and Availability

CPU: Quad-core 1.8GHz

RAM: 2GB

STORAGE: 32GB

MICRO SD: Yes

SCREEN: 6.8", 1440x1080 @ 265 PPI

FRONT LIGHT: Yes, dual, color & intensity adjustable

WIFI: Yes, 2.4GHz only

BLUETOOTH: No

OS: Android 8.1


Height: 177mm

Width: 130mm

Thickness: ~8.5mm

Weight: 228g


Origin is primarily a digital notebook with e-reader capabilities, but it's best to think of it as a highly portable, yet powerful digital notebook. As such, it quite responsive and feels confident when going about the system. It's not the fastest, but it doesn't hinder usability. There are areas where the performance will get sluggish a bit. Sometimes, a heavier notebook, when opened for the first time can take a bit of time to redraw the strokes. This is especially true with drawings because we tend to use a lot of strokes when we draw.


The other area that is slow is the OCR functionality. Generally speaking the OCR, or handwriting to text recognition is quite precise and effective, but it is also very slow during the initial recognition. The good news is that you need to do it only once, per notebook. After the initial recognition, each subsequent access to the already converted notebook is instantaneous, as the conversion is obviously saved along with the notebook. Furthermore, even upon restart, or power off, the conversion is retained.

(Image credit: My Deep Guide)


Opening documents and books works as expected, as does navigate and jumping from one place to another. Things are not so smooth when handling extremely large PDF files (a 10.000+ pages, 800MB large document). It takes a long time for the PDF Reader app to fully load up and become interactive when dealing with such a large document. Once it does, it's all normal, but you better leave it alone to do what it needs to do, otherwise, you'll start running into some of class A bugs that will freeze or crash the PDF Reader app. These are strictly app limitations and bugs, as the Origin was able to comfortably open the same large document in a different reader application and handle it without such problems. In Librera Reader, for example, while the performance wasn't blistering, it was perfectly usable and the app never once crashed while handling the same large document, so the system is able to handle large loads, but the PDF Reader app currently is not, as it becomes increasingly unstable.


Overall performance is ok, but I think that it is currently somewhat hindered by the instability of the apps, mainly the PDF Reader and the Notes. Since this is still an extremely young platform, I hope that the coming updates will be addressing these issues and that we will see increased performance, and more importantly, stability.


Screen

Origin is equipped with a 6.8" e-ink screen (I'm not sure completely, but since the screen surface isn't glass, that indicates to me that it is using a Carta Flexible screen) that runs at 1440x1080 resolution with a density of 265 PPI.


The image is crisp and clear even with really small fonts. There are very advanced panel controls available, allowing you to customize the image exactly to your liking, which is a very powerful tool to have. There is very little to no perceivable ghosting going on, so the screen refreshing is being managed in a very nice way. Even if you do run into a situation where you'd like to do a manual screen refresh, the top menu bar has a dedicated refresh icon that allows you to do just that, which is always welcome to have. Default screen whiteness is a standard shade of gray, so not brighter or darker than the standard devices we are used to.

(Image credit: My Deep Guide)


It is equipped with a dual, color, and intensity-controlled front light that is very pleasant and uniform. It reminds me of the Kobo Libra H20 front light, which was and still is the nicest front light I have used to date. This one isn't quite there, but it's a very close second place. It is possible to adjust the color of the front light between the blue and amber tones, and there is an intensity control. The only issue here is that the intensity control doesn't allow for really fine-tuning and the current minimum is still way too bright for comfortable reading in complete darkness, for example, while in bed. It would be good to see if the minimum allowed would be lowered so that we can have more flexibility with the front light intensity adjustments. Additionally, it would also be nice to have the ability to create and storefront light presets, or at least to customize several predefined presets, such as Day, Night, Bed, for example.

(Image credit: My Deep Guide)


Since it's not a glass surface, reflections are nicely muted down and diffused, which makes the Origin very usable under direct sunlight, awkward lighting conditions, and outdoors.


Overall, I find the screen to be very pleasant to use under any conditions. Coupled with a uniform and flexible front light and excellent screen contrast and brightness controls, it offers a very good reading and writing experience. I just wish that the front light minimum can be lowered, so that we can comfortably use the device in complete darkness as well since right now the minimum is way too bright.


Battery

I was unable to find the exact specifications for the Mobiscribe Origin, but the battery testing apps consistently came up with a 2850mAh estimate, so it looks like it is equipped with a 2850mAh battery.


This is not the brightest side of the device, unfortunately. I performed my regular tests and depending on the amount of front light used, you can expect from 10 hours (no front light), 8.33 hours (front light at 50%) down to 6.25 hours (front light at 100%. Not the best, but the consumption was even higher during my writing test resulting in about 5 hours of continuous writing time with WiFi on and front light at a minimum.


These are not good results, and I hope that the result is like that because the battery didn’t really get to have many cycles yet, as I have recharged the device only once, prior to these tests. If not, then hopefully they will be able to optimize power consumption, because 2850mAh should be enough for quite a lot more battery time, so I am inclined to believe that this is a malady of a very early version of the OS. On the upside, stand-by consumption seems to be putting the device in true “deep sleep” where battery consumption should be close to 0, and that coincides with the behavior I have observed with the Origin, so far. Time will tell if this improves or not, but at the moment, it’s definitely a downside of the device.


Pen

The pen that comes with Mobiscribe Origin is of a Wacom standard pen. It is shaped like a standard hexagonal pen, uses felt tip nibs of a regular standard, so they can be easily exchanged to a different type if you so choose. There isn't a button on the pen, but it does have an eraser sensor at the back end, which works quite nicely.

(Image credit: My Deep Guide)


Even though the pen is entirely made out of plastic, the design and build quality aren't cheap by any measure, and I quickly found myself thoroughly enjoying writing with that pen. Its light, well-balanced provides a good grip, and very easy to control. The nibs feel great in combination with the screen surface. It feels and sounds paper-like, not the raspy cardboard-like, but an actual graphite pen-on-paper type of feel and resistance.


The thing where this pen experience excels above the competition is in the pressure sensitivity precision. Lots of pens have 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity, but only a handful are able to handle such precision levels in a usable way. Origin is pretty much the first and currently the only e-ink device that offers a complete pressure sensitivity range for you to actually use. This means that if you use a pressure-sensitive brush, set the brush thickness or size to maximum, and start writing, you will have, at your disposal, a complete range of that brush. If you touch the screen lightly, you'll draw the thinnest possible line. As you gradually increase the pressure, the line thickness will follow with amazing precision and responsiveness. This is a very big deal for writing or a drawing device, and it directly translates into one of the best writing experiences I have had.

(Image credit: My Deep Guide)


Writing Experience

As mentioned in the Pen section, writing experience on the Origin is among the best I have ever experienced. My initial impression was that it feels "fast" and I was guessing that it would be super fast when compared to the competition. DESTA test revealed that it's not the case. Origin is definitely not among the fastest latency devices out there, as its latency is in the above 50ms category. So why did I get that initial impression? It's the precision and a careful balance between friction and smoothness that they have achieved here that makes it feel absolutely wonderful to write and draw.

(Image credit: My Deep Guide)


Mobiscribe Origin goes to show that speed alone can't compensate for the lack of quality. They obviously focused on quality at the expense of speed, and the result, for me at least is, all things combined, subjectively, the nicest and best writing experience I have had on any digital device. I have used and I use a lot of different devices and I do a lot of writing. Only a handful of devices actually make me want to come back to just use them, to get that satisfying tactile feeling while writing or drawing on the device, but Origin is most definitely one of them. Notebook functionality shows a lot of promise and already now offers excellent functionality that puts Origin above the competition. You have the ability to add text boxes, images, tables, shapes, all easily customizable.

(Image credit: My Deep Guide)


OCR (handwriting to text conversion) is especially effective, though you should be aware that the initial conversion is slow. The reason behind it is that it's local. This means that unlike the majority of the devices out there, on Mobiscribe Origin, you are able to do all of your OCR conversions while offline. Not only that, but once converted, the results are persistent, which means that conversion results and edits that you may have done to the conversion are saved along with the notebook. So, after that initial conversion, which does take quite a long time, every subsequent word search in that notebook is instantaneous and all edits that you have done to the OCR results are retained even after restarts or power-offs. Fantastic!


I hope that they will add an option to enable background OCR recognition, so that we can choose to enable an option that will let the device actively process OCR recognition data in the background, as a background process, so that when we return to a notebook after a while, that we can have that instantaneous speed. It would really mean a lot. We're also currently missing the option to do a complete notebook OCR conversion, but there is a workaround for that. Just go into the Search option inside a notebook, and type in the letter "a". This will trigger OCR recognition for the entire notebook. It will take a long time (over 1 minute per page of text), but once it is done, you will be able to access stored OCR results instantaneously and they will be saved with the notebook upon exiting. Pretty sweet!

(Image credit: My Deep Guide)


Even as it is, if you are prepared and keep in mind that the initial conversion will take time, then you will be able to devise a workflow that suits your needs, and while not ideal, it's certainly very usable in a real-world situation, and for me, definitely worth the wait required. OCR converted results can either be saved as a text file (unfortunately, only per page, for now), or can be inserted as a textbox into the notebook page. I hope that we will see in the future whole document conversion functionality and the ability to save multi-page conversions into a single text file.


Notebooks also have the ability to bookmark pages with Stars and they introduce a concept called Notemarking. Note marks function basically as hashtags. You add one or more to the current notebook page and you give it a corresponding name. It is then possible to tag several pages in the same notebook with the same notemark, or hashtag, and it is possible to have multiple notemarks defining a single page.


This is an excellent concept that future proofs your notebooks in a very significant way because it means that even if your notebook grows to be extremely large and messy over time if you use the bookmarks and notemarks, you will be able to quickly and easily find what you are looking for. Notemarking system is young and will benefit from more user feedback to make it more usable and smooth it out some more. For example, it would be very good if we would be able to see the existing notemarks when adding a new one so that we can easily and accurately tag other pages. The same goes for when doing a notebook search and using a notemark search filter, we need to be able to see which notemarks are used in the current notebook and select one of them to easily filter results.

(Image credit: My Deep Guide)


Finally, another first that Mobiscribe Origin Notebook allows is the ability to save and backup your notes in their native format. This is a huge plus, as far as I am concerned, because it makes reliable and redundant backing up extremely easy. It doesn't require any kind of cloud account, or internet connection, for that matter. You can simply copy the notebook files onto your SD card or onto your computer when you hook up via the USB cable. Fantastic!


Overall, while the platform is still in its infancy, fragile, and needs some more work to strengthen it, what is already there and what the potential is, is very impressive and usable in a real-world situation. It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but for me, and many like me, any one of these existing features would be a much-needed breath of fresh air on the competitor's platforms, let alone all of them combined.


Reading Experience

Reader experience is where things get to be a bit shaky on the Mobiscribe Origin. It works but is far from ideal.


First of all, the Origin uses 2 separate apps for reading, one for reading book formats such as EPUBs, and a dedicated PDF Reader that is sideloaded the very first time you attempt to open a PDF file on the Origin. PDF Reader isn't pre-installed because Mobiscribe developers and as a company are acutely aware of the open-source licensing agreements and choose to respect them properly. This is highly commendable, especially when you take into consideration that some other companies, namely Boox is still consciously ignoring these laws and is refusing to respect the GPL agreements that any company that uses an open-source product, such as Android is since it's built on Linux kernel, is required by law to do.


Book reading and PDF Reading are two completely disconnected experiences. While it is possible to long-press words and bookmark pages in an EPUB, it's not possible to write with the pen in it.

Likewise, while it is possible to mark up the PDF document with a pen, it's not possible to long-press a word or bookmark pages in a PDF document. However, it is possible to insert a notebook page into the PDF document after the current page that you are viewing, making it possible to actually edit the PDF files. This is incredibly powerful and I love having it as an option. It will always be better than associating a notebook to a document, simply because we are in direct control of where we want to insert a notebook page for our notes and, most importantly, we can easily export the entire document, including the inserted notebook pages and notes, as a single PDF document to share. Again, the Origin shows that it is geared towards real-world professional usability and productivity.


This is where good news stops and bad news starts. The bad news is that the PDF Reader is a very unstable app at the moment. Yes, it offers a lot of functionality, but the real-world usage experience is far from smooth, and if you challenge the app in any way, it'll more often than not, freeze and crash. The same large document that would cause PDF Reader app to frequently block or crash when opened in a different reader behaved completely as expected, so the good news is that hardware and the system are definitely able to handle and deal with large documents, but the PDF Reader app at the moment isn't. Hopefully, we will see both standardization between E-Books and documents and a much more stable PDF Reader platform in the updates to come.


It's not all doom and gloom, as underneath we have an Android system that makes it possible to install other apps. Install Kindle, or Kobo and the Origin suddenly transforms into a very nice reading experience.

(Image credit: My Deep Guide)


Overall, I can see the potential of the native reader side of things at some point in the future, but as it is now, it is an unstable experience and needs quite a bit of work to polish both the book and the pdf readers to be on what I'd characterize as production-ready. The saving grace here is the ability to install and use 3rd part readers until this is sorted out.


User Interface

Even though Origin is running an Android 8.1 under the hood, the system is using a custom-built UI that offers a nice overall user experience. The learning curve is easy, and intuitiveness is quite high. For example, there isn't a user manual available at the moment (that's how fresh the platform and the product are), but I was able to easily figure stuff out with a little bit of trial and error. Users are also able to customize which app shortcuts they want to have on the home page, sleep screens, and custom notebook templates.


However, the overall user experience could use a bit of improvement in standardization of the experience, mainly between the e-reader and e-note side of things. We are able to organize our notebooks neatly into folders and we have a fairly complete and expected contextual menu, which isn't the case when we go into the library.

(Image credit: My Deep Guide)


There isn't a Google Play store, but it is possible to sideload and install apps via the apkpure.com platform, or their own Mobi Store which offers a limited, but useful selection.

I hope that future updates will standardize this experience, because then it will be a very nice overall UI adaptation of the Android system, making it simple to use and learn, yet very powerful and customizable.


Peripherals, Bluetooth, USB OTG

Mobiscribe Origin doesn't have Bluetooth capability nor does it support USB OTG. As primarily an e-note I don't think that it needs them, especially since we already have an SD card slot that allows you to easily organize, expand, or backup the internal storage in any way you see fit.


MobiShare and Upcoming MobiCloud

MobiShare is a feature unique to this product, built specifically for working remotely during the pandemic. Just like conferencing, if you join a passcode then all the handwriting strokes will appear on all devices no matter which one you are writing on.


MobiCloud is an upcoming feature Mobiscribe is actively working on as well. It will enable the user to view their MobiScribe notes on any browser without converting them to pdf or images. Everything happens automatically and transparently. They are planning to build apps in iOS and Android as well, which will enable users to upload files from their smartphones and edit them directly in MobiScribe.


Cons

  • Battery life is quite short at the moment, but this is the earliest version of the OS tested, so hopefully, this is something that will be improved in subsequent updates.

  • EPUB and PDF Reader apps have potential but need quite a bit more work to increase stability and performance.

  • Separate user experience and functionality between E-books and documents. It should be a unified experience.

  • Performance is adequate, but not stellar.

  • Initial OCR conversion is slow

  • The front light minimum should be set lower so that we can have a finer control for dark conditions.

  • Small form factors may not suit everyone's requirements or needs.

  • The default case is floppy and has some issues. Unfortunately, my comments that it's a talking taco have stuck, even they are calling it Taco Shaped cover. Mobiscribe's response? Quickly came up with a solution for those affected by the issue, offering a free replacement that doesn't have the bendy issue. Current bundles with the affected covers include it for free. The pretty smart way to turn a con into a pro, which in this case would be customer service and smart PR.


Pros

  • Fantastic writing experience and quality.

  • Unmatched pressure sensitivity precision.

  • Great pen.

  • Notebook functionality and flexibility

  • Persistent OCR conversion

  • Excellent note search and management options

  • Ability to store and backup notes externally in their native format.

  • Micro SD slot for expandability

  • Ease of use

  • Flexibility and customizability

  • Great value for money

  • Great customer relations


Conclusion

Mobiscribe Origin is a platform in its infancy, but even so, it clearly shows off its focus and what it's meant to be: a mobile digital note-taking device. As such, already now in several areas, it rises above the competition very noticeably. It offers for me, subjectively, the most enjoyable and the best writing experience of any device I have ever used. No, it's not as fast as reMarkable 2, or Papyr or Note Air, but the end result is, for me, an experience that I want to come back to and I just want to use the device, because of how it feels when writing and drawing. The comfort level and the quality of that pressure sensitivity make all the difference to me when compared to every other e-ink device out there. Take this with a grain of salt, as I am talking about a writing experience, which is a subjective matter, so what I personally like, you or someone else may not.


Coupled with excellent notebook management functionality such as bookmarking and note marking pages, advanced tools as inserting tables, shapes, text boxes, and images, transform the note-taking aspect of Mobiscribe Origin into something much more than just a simple e-note device.

MobiShare and MobiCloud both sound like extremely promising features, and I can't wait to be able to test them, since they can expand and free up the platform even more.


The reader side of things needs a lot of work, as far as I am concerned, and I wouldn't use it as a reader for documents and books using the current apps designated to do that work. Kindle and Kobo, however, work perfectly fine, and then the device is able to transform into a very nice e-book reader.


The only real concern is the battery life, at the moment of testing, but this is something that we’ve seen time and again that developers are able to optimize and dramatically improve via updates, so we will see if this will be the case with the Origin as well. The important aspect is that it physically has a strong battery that should be able to provide a lot more battery life. Let’s see if they manage to utilize it.


The Bottom Line

The bottom line for me is this. I do not want to part with it. I want it to be in my pocket at all times, so that I can use it to doodle, write down ideas, stories, write down meeting notes, brainstorm, problem-solve systems, design solutions, and find new ways that I can enjoy it. It's one of those rare devices that has a personality and is a lovable companion, rather than just a simple device to use and discard.


Mobiscribe is a US-based, eco-aware company, which I think is a very important aspect to keep in mind as it already now reflects on the quality and level of customer support and interaction.

"I don't consider MobiScribe a digital gadget people will throw away in 1-2 years. It's a personal belonging that you can take with you everywhere and read/write whenever you can. It's unique 6.8" inches makes it easy to carry and put into a small bag to travel with. Just like people have their favorite notebook, no matter if you are a student, a teacher or office worker, you always need a notebook to write notes and write down ideas." - Hugo Chien (Co-Founder and CEO of Mobiscribe)

I'll always appreciate a product that has character, a "backstory" if you will, more than a generic iteration of yet another tablet that will become irrelevant and forgotten in 6 months. I'm a technophile and I value the mentality behind making a product last, to allow it to become a person's lifestyle, routine, a part of them. Because of the focus and everything mentioned, Origin manages to do that, quite easily, might I add.


This product will not be for everyone. Its size and reader limitations will deter some, but if what you're looking for is a mobile companion that you intend to use anywhere and everywhere for years and make it your own, personal or professional digital notebook, Mobiscribe Origin definitely fits the bill.

(Image credit: My Deep Guide)



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