I’ve always been one who likes to write things down in order to grasp what is being shared. I’m always scribbling, whether it be meetings, reading a book, watching a webinar etc. However, I’ve always had two issues related to note taking. First, its always hard to find information when I most need it. Second, I would prefer to have the content digitized in order to leverage the information whenever and wherever I need it. With this in mind, over the years, I’ve been trying to leverage touch screen laptops and tablets (both iOS and Android) to try and find the perfect paper and pen replacement. But I always fell short.
I’ve been following the eInk tablet market for a while now and was extremely excited when the reMarkable tablet released a few years back. Back then I was skeptical about it being a v1 product (product features, writing latency, apps) and could not justify the price. So when the reMarkable2 was announced, I was super excited and all over it. I ordered my tablet back in September and received it about a week back. And based on my experience so far, I think I’ve finally found the replacement for a traditional notebook. In this post, I’ll try to explain why.
As part my preorder, I purchased the tablet, a polymer book folio (you also have the option to go with a leather folio or a polymer sleeve), and the marker plus which has the eraser (as compared to the standard marker which lacks the eraser).
First thing I noticed when I received the shipment was the packaging and minimalistic design. Very apple like and appealing. The build quality of the tablet and the marker are excellent. It’s extremely slim (0.19 inches) and feels perfect when holding with one hand. The tablet has a 10.3 inch display and 226 DPI which I believe are the same as the original reMarkable tab. The folio is magnetic and the tab snaps in. While writing, the sleeve can be folded. The marker plus is just the right weight and feels like a high end pen in your hands. The marker is also magnetic and latches on to the tab. There is a single button on the tab, which can be used to power on the device and put it to sleep. The rest of the navigation is done by swiping (turning pages, closing docs etc.) Overall, it feels like a premium product!
UI and Overall Performance
The tab was extremely simple to set up. A full initial boot took about 45 seconds. The initial set up was very intuitive (set up remarkable account, configure WiFi, UI walkthrough). I was up and running in no time at all. The tab has a 1.2 Ghz dual core ARM processor with 1 GB RAM and 8 GB storage. I found the tab to be snappy in general and when navigating through the different functions (Notebooks, PDFs, EBooks, Favorites). Occasionally, you’ll notice the screen refreshing (much like the kindle). The battery time seems excellent so far. I’ve been using it quite a bit the past 4 days (on and off for 5 hrs/day) and I still have around 70% battery time. I suspect I can run a week (5 hrs/day) or more on full charge if all I do is take notes. Officially, reMarkable claims that the battery could last up to 3 weeks, but that is based on minimal usage. One interesting quirk that I’ve noticed is that the device only charges up to 98%. I’ve seen others talk about this anomaly as well on reddit and other forums.
This is a no frills tab by design as it is purpose built to eliminate distractions. It’s primary purpose is to help you take notes quickly, read and mark up PDF’s and ebooks, convert your written notes to text and lastly share across devices and with others via email. The tab does all of these things as well as one could expect. One aspect that can use some more granularity is the types of notebooks that are available. Today, there is “notebook” and “quicksheets”. Would be great to have a few more options in there as default options.
As I mentioned earlier, I have been on a quest to find the perfect writing experience on a tab. I have tried the Google Pixelbook, Ipad Pro, Microsoft Surface Book 2, Ipad Pro and most recently, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7. And I can confidently say that all of the above pale in comparison to the writing experience on the reMarkable 2. First off, there is no perceivable latency (less than 21 msec). The cursive writing feels buttery smooth with the Marker. There is a surface resistance/friction that you feel when writing which is quite close to the writing experience on paper, which I quite enjoy and was missing on my other tabs. I would highly recommend getting the Marker with the eraser. Without it, it will take a couple of clicks to erase content, which can be frustrating while writing, especially if its a long document. The tab has 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity, which could be particularly useful for those who like to draw.
Another nice aspect is how quickly I can start and resume taking notes when compared to other devices. On the iPad or an Android device, I have to power on, find the app, choose the notebook and so on. In addition, the tab constantly goes to sleep which can be annoying. On the reMarkable2, you wake the tab up from sleep (which is instantaneous) and you are right where you left off! I find myself taking a lot more notes and feeling a lot less frustrated now. The reMarkable2 has a good selection of pens, pencils and highlighters. You can organize your notes in notebooks and folders and search. You also have the ability to scribble something down quickly using what they call “quicksheets“. There is a collection of templates when it comes the paper type. You can also use layers, which can be handy when drawing. With all that said, I do miss the colors that are available to me on the other devices. What I’ve found is that I still tend to prefer the iPad or the Galaxy Tab when it comes to whiteboarding, but prefer the reMarkable2 for writing hands down!
Reading and Marking PDFs and eBooks
Reading and notating PDF’s was a key use case that I was hoping to solve, and I am certainly not disappointed. It is quite easy to import, read, mark up and share documents, and the performance is really good. The reading experience is very similar to the Kindle. The design makes it convenient to hold the tab with one hand and read. I will get into the file synchronization and import process in the next section. I haven’t yet tried to edit really large files. I’ve seen some videos on Youtube that seem to indicate that it can take some time to make document wide changes to large files. However, based on my experience so far, I haven’t seen any issues editing files (PDF or eBook)
Importing, Sharing Files and Accessing Notated Documents and Notes on Other Devices
Remarkable has a number of apps available for the various platforms including Windows, Mac and mobile apps (iOS and Android). In addition they also have a chrome extension that makes it easy to easily transfer a website to the device to read and notate. So far, I have tested the Windows, Mac and Android apps, and also the chrome extension. The Windows apps is what I’ve been using to import documents to the tab. I don’t see the import function on the Android app on my Note 10 plus. The extension is what I find the most handy though. I read a lot of HBR articles for instance and it is so convenient to just use the extension, which converts and transfer the articles to the device. I can then mark it up and save the docs (See an example in the gallery below). What I find excellent is the conversion and how the article looks on the tab. The images are not carried over during the web page conversion process based on my experience so far.
In regards to sharing docs, it’s quite easy to share via email directly from the tab. However, I have had mixed luck in terms of how quickly the files are sent. This could have something to do with the WiFi connection dropping at times. There have been scenarios where the email has not shown up for 3+ hours. There is no direct print from the tab itself. You will have to share the document via PDF and then print it from another device or access the document via the Windows/Mac/Android/iOS app and print it from there. Not a big deal for most.
One of the questions that was brought up to me was the quality and fidelity of the conversion process, especially with regards to images and the quality of text. I have been told that the conversion on the kindle leaves a lot to be desired. Below is an example of an 8 page HBR case study that I imported via the Windows app and synchronized on the tab. The images look perfect and there is no garbled text.
One gripe that I have is the lack of integration with third party apps. For instance, I have a collection of docs that I have saved on Google Drive and there is no way to access my Google drive or any other third party app from the tab or from the apps directly. I hope this is something that Remarkable will address soon. With that said, I can access my notes and docs from any device using their app and export directly from the app to other storage repositories. I suspect reMarkable will release some sort of paid subscription service in the future (like everyone else).
Other Frills Worth Noting
There are a few other features that I wanted to touch on that I haven’t yet covered:
Convert To Text
My handwriting has always been terrible (being forced to change from writing with the left hand to right hand back at a Catholic School in India did not help the cause). In fact, sometimes I myself can’t read my own writing. So, I was pleasantly surprised with the note to text conversion of the tab. It was not perfect, but fairly accurate, and considering my handwriting, that’s quite the feat!
With the selection tool, you can select something you wrote or marked up. You can then resize, move, copy or cut that selection, and even the selection to a different document. This is particularly handy when you are sketching.
LiveView is a new feature that allows you to share what you are writing or drawing on a computer where the app is installed. This could be a useful feature. Eg: Sharing a whiteboard during a Zoom or Teams call. I have had mixed luck so far and can’t vouch for this functionality yet. Hope they address the quirks by the time the feature is officially out of beta.
Customer Support and Documentation
First and foremost, the only way you can reach support is through a form on their website, which is well hidden. I also found out that sometimes, they just send you canned responses, which can be extremely frustrating. There is no phone support as far as I can tell. Email responses can vary from 1 to 3 days based on my experience. I had to reach out to customer support a few times so far. First, I wanted to modify my initial order to include the Marker Plus. I was a little surprised to find out that they did not have the capability to modify the existing order. So I had to cancel and reorder. I reached back out to them to make sure that I did not lose my place in the queue due to this. They were kind enough to put me back where I was with the initial order (or so I was told). I also reached out to them to find out the status of my shipment, which was over 2 weeks behind schedule (in addition to the three months of waiting). Response was mixed. They could not provide any specificity. Overall, based on my experience so far, I’d say that customer support is mediocre.
With regards to documentation, I think its quite good. I’ve been able to find technical documentation fairly easily to learn capabilities of the device. I’m quite pleased with the level of detail as well.
The million dollar question in my mind while deciding to purchase the reMarkable2 was whether it would be worth the money. Paying nearly $500 for a device to take notes and mark up documents seems like a lot and I debated the decision for a while. However, the minimalistic design is exactly what makes it worth it. The device itself is rugged and well designed and the UI is simple, intuitive and purpose built. It minimizes distractions and lets you focus on the task at hand. So if you are like me and like to take a lot of notes in addition to reading and marking up documents, then this will be well worth the investment. But if you only take notes occasionally or already own a newer iPad or a Samsung Galaxy Tab S7, then maybe not. Another factor to consider is the lack of integration with third party apps like OneDrive, Google Drive, OneNote, Box etc. and how important that is to you. Personally, I find the tab to be a worthwhile investment that is already turning out to be an indispensable tool! Feel free to share your thoughts or if you have any questions in the comments section.
Update – 01/10/20
More than one month in, I wanted to update this post based on my experiences so far. I have grown more in love with the device as I can honestly say that it has made me more productive. Wanted to share some tips that have helped me make the most out of the tablet:
- There is an amazing facebook community that I’d highly recommend you join if you do end up purchasing the device. You’ll find tons of tips, templates and much more.
- The remarkable 2 helper app has been a God send. It is freeware that is built and maintained by Roland, a very active community member. The app allows you to copy community templates to the device, build your own community templates from images, change the sleep , power off screens etc. and much much more. Great tool that I’ve found to be super handy.
- If you are like me and like to read in the dark, then check out this reading light.
- With regards to spare markers, I’ve tried the Staedler noris digital, the noris digital jumbo and the remarkable marker plus. If you write fast like I do, I think you’ll appreciate the noris digital and noris digital jumbo. The remarkable marker plus is a great stylus and has a premium feel to it. But it can feel a little heavy to some. The noris digital (regular) is great for sketching since it feels very much like a pencil.
- I wanted to find a storage option for my marker when travelling. I ended up purchasing the Stilgut Pencil Holder elastic band which goes around the case. It’s only $5 and holds the marker securely. Highly recommend it.