Here is my in Depth review of the reMarkable writing tablet. It’s written from the standpoint of actually using the device vs. just comparing bullet point features (though I do that as well). (UPDATE – see end of article)
A little background
I have always been in love with writing, and especially printing. In the past I owned a Franklin planner and used it religiously. Not to long ago I rediscovered my tiny handheld book, sought out new pages as well as my fancy pen and committed to using it. It was very fun. However, it was still paper, with all the limitations.
Many years ago (before the advent of the Apple Newton) at the Consumer Electronics show in Chicago I saw the AT&T EO. This was the coolest thing I had every seen – it was a notepad that you could write on, had a built in phone (with a full sized headset, could recognize handwriting and used the notebook metaphor for storage of ideas.
Then it just disappeared.
Recently there has been a revival of the concept of an electronic notepad – and it should be a fairly easy thing to pull off.
- The computing power required is minimal (we have phones that do HD video and 3d graphics processing as well as multitasking).
- Touch screens and writing tablets are not new
- e-ink has been around for a while (kindles, nooks, etc.O
- Cloud storage allows for syncing and off-loading
And yet the options for a true writing tablet are limited. Companies like Amazon and Barnes and Noble really could have introduced an amazing device by enhancing one of their existing devices, but they did not.
e-ink, unlike a standard display, is just on or off. So if you change the display it just sits there, whether there is power or not. It only uses power to change the display, not to keep it going. This tech has been used for a while in signs for merch for a while (Whole Foods, Kohls, etc.). it means the display is crisp and looks awesome in direct sunlight, and is the technology that all the e-readers are based on. The downside for now is that these displays do not update quickly. Anyone who has used a Kindle/Nook has seen this.
What I considered
I looked at the product by Sony, the ipad and ipad pro, and a handful of other competitors. None of them seemed to have the simplicity and had the right mindset except for reMarkable (the name sort of helped, since that’s also my email address…). A lot of them were caught up in being an “everything” notebook. reMarkable seems to get the “distraction-less” experience. The price was competitive too, all features and function considered.
What this is not
Before we get into this let’s be clear what this device is NOT:
- It is not intended to be an ereader – if you want an ereader then you should go with one of the many kindle models that do it right and inexpensively and are backed by amazon’s massive library, or one of the varies epub readers. Notice I said “intended.”
- It is not an ipad – it doesn’t browse the web or load apps
- It is not a (computer) notebook/laptop/ipad/computer replacement
What it is:
It is a writing tablet. That’s it. And that’s all I wanted; an electronic version of a writing tablet. So if you are asking questions like “Does it have a camera?” or “Can you browser the web” or “What apps does it load” or “Does it run android?” then the answer is “Wrong question” and you need to correct your mindset.
If you can’t do it with a real writing tablet you probably can’t do it with the remarkable, and you shouldn’t.
So, if you are looking for an electronic writing tablet, here’s what you’ll encounter with the reMarkable…
The interface is minimal, like a real notpad – the only technology things are the wifi indicator and battery % – there isn’t even a clock, and I like that.
Like the AT&T EO that I will never ever see again, your sheets are organized into notebooks, which is just a stack of paper. You can make as many of these as you want, and put as many pages in as you want. Yes there’s a finite limit, but it’s got around 7.5 gig of usable storage so, let’s not get absurd about your writing needs. it’s enough; more than enough.
I ordered online and express shipping is included. $499. It arrived quickly via a slightly crabby DHL person.
In the box:reMarkable paper tablet Marker 8x Marker tips Cable one year warranty 30 day return policy
The cable is a standard micro usb to USB cable. Like many products being sold now there is no power supply but you can use any standard USB charger or even connect it to your PC/Mac (and get an added bonus – see below). There’s a main button on top, a port for the cable on the bottom, and three square buttons allow the bottom face for back home and forward.
Let me give you the likes and dislikes in bullet format before I give you the overall, because that’s probably what you want anyway if you’re like me…
What I liked and what surprised me:
- The screen not only responds to the pen, but it’s also capacitance touch, which means the whole thing responds to touch – by your fingers. This is a bonus because you don’t have to find the pen to interact. Mind you, I would have been perfectly fine with a pen-only interface because a real notepad is that way. But this is an added bonus (and a tiny detraction, see below). Just to be clear you can only write with the pen, but you can click icons and pan with your fingers.
- I can’t feel the OS. Meaning, it doesn’t feel like a computer trying to be a notepad. There’s no android look, there are no “icons.” The pad is actually Linux based and running something called “Codex.” To me it is just a notepad, and the only computery thing is when you click the logo and get all the menu items like Device, Account, WiFi, Power, etc.
- I like that the above internal menus turn the screen inverse so you know you are in a different “mode.” Neat.
- The release notes for each update are pretty, and with pictures instead of just a rudimentary list of bug fixes. Great when they give you something new – like the handwriting recognition.
- Updates are made regularly and they are not just bug fixes but entirely new features.
- The ereader is pretty good. Again, I didn’t buy a tablet to read ebooks, however it was really fun to mark up stuff naturally.
- The white border around the unit has no edge… but your brain will assume there is one. If you run the pen (or your finger) over it you can’t feel where it ends. I don’t know why this surprised me but if you have one I bet you’re doing the same thing right now!
- When you shrink an area the stroke components are retained, so just like an SVG/vector drawing it is perfect and identical no matter how small or big you make it. This means you can draw a fairly complex flow chart, and then just shrink it down to 1/4 size and put in in the corner of your document, leaving more room for notes. You’ll see what I mean once you do this.
What I wasn’t fond of / was disappointed by
- The overall feel is that of a very basic version. Meaning, it feels like it was just released and you’re just getting a core. See my wish list for what I mean. This is mostly software/interface and not hardware, which means updates will continue to improve this.
- The paper writing feel – though supposedly the best or one of the best according to many users and reviewers – feels to me that I am writing on a resistant plastic. But then I really notice things that most people wouldn’t. I honestly don’t care what it feels like for the most part, but everyone made such a big deal out of it. I think fine point marker on paper or pencil on paper has much more resistance. This is not a knock in this product, just electronic writing as a whole.
- It did seem to lock up/become sluggish one in a while. It spontaneously rebooted once but I didn’t lose anything.
- You cannot connect (at this time) with a wifi spot in which you have to authenticate through a browser window (like a cafe in which you have to “agree” to terms.) However, I swear it did this the first time I took it to a local cafe. This might be a software update in waiting…
- When you are zoomed in you can’t move anything around. This would be really helpful for finer work. (you can pan around, but you can’t grab an object and move it).
- It’s too easy to accidentally tap the panning screen when zoomed in.
- There’s no intuitive way to “exit” the zooming, you just have to select “100%.”
- The tools, if you don’t minimize them, cause you to ignore a good sized strip of the writing area. I found myself instinctively writing to the right of that strip, but later on started to expand and use the minimized tools more. See wishlist for a fix on that.
- The thumbnails for the pages are cut off for some reason, which is really odd because the 3×3 grid of them leaves a blank strip on the bottom.
- The thumbnails show the last page you were on in the notbook rather than showing the first page. Wish I could change that
It’s a great experience using this. If you wake it from sleep it wakes up almost instantly and jumps on the WIFI and starts syncing anything it hadn’t synced, you can use it immediately. The menu item on the left side (or right if you’re left-handed) shows you Notebooks, Documents, eBooks or bookmarks. These are just filters for the My Files above that. Your stuff occupies most of the pad as little rectangles representing the last page you worked on in a document, ebook or notepad. Just tap it and the page loads and you go from there.
The drawing tools are simple and you get a pen, pencil, brush, highlighter and eraser. There are variations of each of the above too. I defaulted to using the pen + finepoint + black + middle size stroke, which means it ignores pressure sensitivity or angle and you get the exact thickness and darkness in each stroke. I’m boring but I like my writing to be consistent and predictable.
The drawing tools are located along the left side and there are icons along the top. You can reduce this to a minimum by clicking the bottom arrow or minimize them almost completely (leaving only a small square at the top). This is nice if you want to maximize the writing real estate and treat the tablet just like a blank sheet of paper.
You can zoom in and out, by just choosing a zoom level or just drawing around the area you want to zoom into, and you can pan around. Very useful for getting more into a small area or correcting minor issues. This is one of those magic technology advantages that an electronic tablet as over a standard one. When starting a notebook or new page you get to choose a “template” which is really just the background you’re taking notes on. These range from looking just like a legal piece of paper to a grid, to dots to a checklist, even a storyboard or a perspective map. You can even add your own templates and some people sell them on Etsy. I tend to choose the find grid for almost everything including writing lists. When you send your notebook via email the template is also shown (in my opinion the template should be dimmed out more when printing, but I think that’s a minor rendering issue/choice on reMarkable’s part).
The reMarkable really dangerously enables my Productivity ADD (I made that up) because there’s almost no effort switching between notebooks, so I can go from working on the next podcast, to writing in a journal, to taking notes from a phone call, to mindlessly doodling. If you did this in “real life” you’d either have to carry around a bunch of notebooks, or get a big thick on and keep flipping to sections for each subject, but then you’d run into the problem of not having enough pages for a certain section. This was really useful for keeping things straight for my daughter’s recent car accident and I immediately flipped to it any time I had a conversation with the towing company, the auto body place, the insurance company and the car rental place.
You can very easily eMail a notebook to anyone, in the form of a PDF, PNG or SVG. The email comes from your email address, and you cannot control what it says which is simply:
Sent from my reMarkable paper tablet
Get yours at www.remarkable.com.
PS: You cannot reply to this email
So, if you want to send something you are working on to a client without advertising your nifty tablet, you can’t.
That being said, it really is an amazing thing to take a whole bunch of notes in a meeting, and then before you even leave the client’s site they have a copy of all of your notes in the mailbox, as a pdf… Sure you could do that with a laptop/macbook, but they would really have handwritten notes, and I venture that your creative thoughts are expressed better in handwritten notes vs a few bullet items in text in an email. Sending an entire “notebook” makes that very handy and you can now send just one sheet.
As a bonus, you can use the mobile software and the desktop software to do the same kind of sharing. With the mobile software you can send the PDF not only via email, but send via text message, add to notes, print or even air drop it (on the iPhone).
If you are an artist you might fall in love with this as a sketch pad. I am not and my doodles look like they should only be featuring wooly mammoths and stick men with bows and arrows, so I can’t speak to that. People who are actual artists really seem to enjoy it. But selling a notepad based on an artist’s talent is like selling a microphone based on a really good singer.
Documents & eBooks
Remember I said that it wasn’t (intended) to be an eBook reader. Well it is an ebook reader, I just didn’t buy it for that. The reMarkable can load and read ePub books (not Amazon compatible books). So, if you had a non-Amazon reader and your books are ePub and DRM free you should be able to load them on the reMarkable. The bonus of reading ebooks here is that you can mark them up like you would in real life and draw all over the page (not just highlight next). Even scribble in the margins. So that means your cool notebook is also a repository for your books (or a book you want to take on vacation with you).
I converted my latest book (Alchemy for Life: Formulas for Success) to a .pdf and then brought it into the reMarkable (via the desktop app – very easy). This was really a cool thing because not only could I read it and mark it up, but I could fill out the worksheets in the back. And erase and reuse again and again.
This form-filling ability is why some people use the reMarkable. Just load in a pdf form and you can freehand fill it out. People use it for interviews, onboarding, etc.
A recent software upgrade allows you to convert your printing to text and then email it. Your results, like your handwriting, will vary. It is fun to play with but you do have to be connected to the cloud via wifi at the time. You have to convert an entire notebook and can’t convert only one page at a time. I’m assuming this will change.
I opted not to buy the folio advertised on the reMarkable site, as it seems rather costly ($80 – $130) for what amounts to a sleeve you shove the remarkable into. Instead I found a leather case cover on Amazon for $20. It keeps the remarkable safe, has a cover and even a strap for your hand to hold it while you use it. I feel a little safer with this as this $20 cover will take the brunt of a spill or a scratch instead of my $500 pad. I do get the urge to take it out but I feel this case really completes it. After a week of use I can say this is a must, especially at this price.
Syncing is a big bonus. The tablet syncs to the cloud (which is a google-hosted cloud account provided for free by reMarkable). That sync creates a backup of your stuff which in and of itself is a great thing. However it also allows a different kind of syncing. You can (and should) install the desktop app (both for PC and Mac) and mobile (for iphone and android) to sync and see your stuff. The reason this is a bonus is because you can not only see everything you’re working on, but you can print it or delete it, or move it. So if your pad is at home and you want to check your notes, they are on your phone, or your Mac.
This means you are free to take all the notes you want and not care about whether you are forced to keep the notepad with you all all times. So take it to your conference and then leave it at home when you go back to work – you still have ALL of your notes and doodles and drawings. No one seems to get how important or useful this is. The downside of writing in a notebook has been removed.
The battery is supposed to last for about four days between charges. I went a couple days and then charged it. Since I’m forcing myself to use it as often as possible I am probably using it more than average, but I think the four days is reasonable.
Intuitively it seems like this should last a lot longer as e-ink screens are pretty low power, and the processor should be half asleep most of the time. However four days (or even two days) is fine. Though I haven’t done the math I can’t shake the feeling that an e-ink tablet should have a couple weeks of power?
Sleeping vs off
If you do not use the pad for a while it goes to light sleep and you can just wake it by hitting the middle button, but if you hit the top power button it goes to sleep. If you hold down the button for four seconds you can then turn it completely off.
It will still be using power in light sleep or sleep.
So it goes Light Sleep –> Sleep –> Off.
My wish list
These may or may not be reasonable, but they are all very doable and almost all just software enhancements. This would turn the reMarkable into the perfect device for me, personally and selfishly:
- Snap to grid for drawing lines and stuff
- Shapes – being able to drop (and rotate and size) a perfect circle or square. Would be great for mind mapping, work flows and stuff
- A user-assignable button on the side of the pen. Mine would be set for zoom/zoom out. That one thing would make my drawings better, clearer, more packed with info. Would use it constantly
- The top of the pen kicks in the eraser. (other devices actually have this feature).
- Ability to manage/add/delete templates from the desktop software. There are companies that sell this software, and you can do it yourself by getting a little technical (SSH into the connected notebook via USB, then copy files into a specific folder, update the schema, etc). If you don’t know what that means then you’d probably appreciate the software too.
- An omnipresent clipboard – cut/copy something in one place and it is available anywhere to paste e.g. – cut from a page in one notebook and paste it into a page in a different notebook, cut out part of a document and paste it into one of your notebook pages.
- Since we have an omnipresent clipboard in Wishland, let’s also email those contents on demand
- Ability to copy sections of an ebook or document like a bitmap screen grab – you could then past this into your notes.
- Inserting images from documents (see above).
- Ability to mark areas of a template that are not writable – like a logo area, or a part of a form. Really helpful if you hand the pad to someone to fill out a form.
- Ability to mark an area as a “checkbox/on off.” Would make a to do list much more satiusfying, from a lizard-brain standpoint.
- Ability to create links between sheets, or notebooks. Meaning, you mark an object or word (really just an area you define) and then link it to another page. So you could have a bunch of notes about something, and then when you mention a certain thing that links to a whole page you have on it. That way you could really expand on an idea by immediately going to a whole page (or notebook on it). How cool would that be if this linking was retained when you send someone the PDF? eg – So, as we learned in the last meeting, or this would be explored more in the garden, or this idea would be enhanced by a rewards program, etc. You’d have a hyperlink enabled notebook.
- Huge yet simple: A change to the main interface that instead of using small rectangles would just display one big folder the size of the page. Then each folder “behind’ it that you create would show its tab along the side – the same way an actual notebook/organizer would use tabs. Then the entire notepad would feel like a notebook organizer. (See crude drawing below).
- Some tablets recognize “gestures” in that you can make a gesture with your fingers to activate a feature. Since the reMarkable recognizes both the pen and touch input use could really be enhanced by just a few gestures. For example swiping up with a finger = minimize all controls, swiping left = undo, right = redo, double tapping the center of the screen would cycle through the various templates, and swiping bottom left to upper right would send just that sheet via email.
- If you want an electronic version of a notepad and you’re serious about it, this is a great choice.
- If you take a lot of notes, and want them all in one place (and have the bonus of sharing) this is a great choice.
- If you want want to simplify and declutter and are a note-taker, this is a great choice
- If you go to meetings, conduct interviews and want to have your notes be available in their original form this is a great choice
- If you want an electronic tablet and want to back a startup vs. a giant company this is a great choice.
- If your desk is a mess and you have post-its all over the place and often find yourself writing things on the back of envelopes, perhaps this would relieve a lot of stress…
- If you want an ereader, get a Kindle instead and leverage the massive Amazon library and your prime account.
- If you want to take super complex notes, and browse the web, watch youtube videos, use a keyboard, then get an iPad pro.
- If you are an artist and want everything between you and the paper gone, this is a great choice (and a better writing experience).
- If you like “split screen” stuff or consider yourself a “master multitasker” then this probably isn’t for you (and you should listen to my podcast on what multitasking really is, or check out the AFL Book).
Overall I would recommend this for the reasons stated above.
I’ve run a small tech consulting business for 15+years, became a coach three years ago, published four books and a card game, invented a role playing game 20 years ago, love notes and writing and keep damn good documentation. I have an eye for noticing things others don’t and a desire to help everyone also see that, gently and without condescension. As far as I know.
Was this helpful?
I tried to tell you as much as I could, from the standpoint of someone seriously considering taking the plunge (well, I already did I guess). Let me know if I missed something. And let me know if you’d like to see a video on this too.
8/21/2019 Update – 188.8.131.52 update was just released.
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