Spending a week with the reMarkable paper tablet

I’m the type of guy who needs to write things down by hand to remember them properly, and I’ve always enjoyed the sensation of writing in a nice notebook with a good quality fountain pen.

For well over a decade now, I’ve wished to have an e-ink tablet with a stylus to mark up books and take notes. Several months ago, I discovered the existence of the reMarkable, the very tablet I had been dreaming of that promised a writing experience like using paper that can be used for taking notes, sketching, or annotating ebooks. The company behind reMarkable refers to it as a paper tablet and I think that is an apt description.

You will pay for this functionality. The full price of the reMarkable, stylus, and eight replacement tips is $599. A wool felt sleeve for the reMarkable and stylus is an additional $99. It’s a lot to pay and I quickly resolved to move on and stick to my pens and notebooks. When I started my current job back in August of 2018, the topic came up in a chat with my boss and he revealed that he owned a reMarkable but didn’t use it to its full potential and offered to loan me to see if it worked well for me. I’ve spent time using it over the past week, enough to get a feel for the paper tablet, and here are my thoughts:

The writing experience is vastly improved over writing on an iPad. The Apple Pencil is a wonderful stylus, but I’ve never liked the feel of a stylus on the glass screen of most tablets. ReMarkable’s CANVAS e-ink display provides enough friction to feel very close to that of writing on good paper with a decent pen. I suspect that feeling is due to the stylus tip and a bit of research revealed that these tips need to be frequently replaced to achieve that feel. That’s why reMarkable comes with eight of those tips and you can buy another eight for $12 on Amazon.

It offers a few different tools (pen, pencil, brush, and highlighter), three nib sizes, and three opacity levels. It can also utilize layers which comes in handy for drawing. It also offers handwriting recognition which worked reasonably well but not as good as apps like Apple Notes or Notability.

Here’s my crude exploration of the various tools on the reMarkable

You can also read ebooks on the reMarkable in EPUB or PDF but without any of the platform advantages of Kindle or Kobo such as a built-in store, exporting of highlights and notes, and syncing with other platforms. The size and weight mean that it’s a bit too unwieldy to use as an on-the-go e-reader for commuters. It’s way too big to read from while on a plane.

It’s the size of an iPad but with the battery life of a Kindle. I really enjoy that the stylus does not need to be charged. The user interface is basic but functional and palm rejection works as expected. reMarkable runs a custom version of Android but is unable to run any Android apps. This might be a feature if you are prone to distraction offered by games or social media.

Amazon would be well served by buying this paper tablet or making their own version. I’d definitely pay $300 or so for a Kindle Paperwhite where I could write on the ebook with a stylus as easily as I can markup paper books, especially if those annotations synced with my Kindle account. Add in a decent handwriting app that can sync with Evernote, Dropbox, and Apple Notes and they’d have a winner. You can get a matte screen protector for the iPad that greatly enhances the stylus feel but the downside is that it affects the display quality when doing anything with the iPad other than using a stylus to draw or write.

I have enjoyed my time with the reMarkable, but I don’t plan to purchase one for myself. If it had a backlight and synced with other standard cloud applications, I would be tempted, but it’s too limited of a device for the high cost. For now, I will stick with my iPad for writing/drawing even if the feel of the stylus isn’t nearly as nice–I’m too spoiled by being able to use whatever app I like to draw, take notes, or read. As far as taking notes by hand, I still prefer using a fountain pen and Tomoe River notebooks and I probably will for some time to come but the reMarkable is a great step toward the writing experience I’d like to have someday.

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