My reMarkable 2 eInk tablet arrived whole 2 days early! Let’s take a look!
The packaging is pretty much standard for tech these days. A lot of nice slip-cover wrappers, boxes with pull tabs, and everything sitting a convenient and snug little cardboard well. The tablet itself is wrapped in that velum-like plastic paper, while the USB-C cable is nicely coiled inside of it’s own slip-cover beneath that. A small sheaf of papers which really tell us nothing about how to use the product is included in the flip cover on the left.
The premium stylus comes in its own box, as it was a separate line item when purchasing. There are a few additional marker tips included, so I have to remember to not throw out the box.
Taking the tablet out and unwrapping it, we’re greeted with this display. This is a display, not a cling. Because eInk uses very low level magnetism to align the fibers, a display can last for weeks in low power mode.
Look at how thin this thing is! One of the main draws of an eInk tablet over a more robust option like an iPad or an Android tablet is that, because it only does one thing, and does it with eInk, these devices don’t need a lot of internal hardware. They are incredibly svelte and relatively light to hold.
Booting it up, we get out splash screen. This is at 10″ tablet (on the diagonal, I believe) which represents the usable space in that center border. The total size of the device is about 7.25″ x 9.75″ x 0.185″. The entire front face has a textured feel to it, not quite like paper as advertised, but certainly more granulated than your average Gorilla Glassed tablet. It’s been said that the reason why the stylus comes with additional tips is because that after using the stylus on this textured surface for a while, the plastic nib will get worn down.
The UI is pretty simple and easy to navigate. The “home” screen lists our folders and “loose notebooks” that have been created. Any additional content we create is organized into virtual reams under this “notebook” designation, and the notebook icon is either the first page in the set, or the last page we edited (this can be set at will in the notebook settings). We get one “quick sheets” notebook by default.
When creating a new notebook, a default template can be selected. There are several default options that run from blank pages to ruled notebook paper to musical notation sheets. There’s even hex templates for you TTRPG nerds out there.
Each page has layers, with the template being the base layer. Then, additional layers can be added. By default, we get one other, and this is where the main writing and drawing happens. I guess if you are sketching, layers are more useful than if you’re just taking notes, but the option is there. As far as I can tell, templates can be changed per-page, so we’re not locked into one template throughout the entire notebook.
There are several different ink styles. There’s also a default line thickness, and a “color” selector. Considering that this entire device only displays in black, white, and shades of gray, the colors available are — wait for it — black, white, and gray. The toolbar offers a dedicated erase brush, but the premium stylus recognizes the butte end as an eraser, just like a normal pencil. The standard stylus does not have this feature. The toolbar also offers a lasso select. Selected text or sketches can be moved, copied, or deleted. Finally, there is an undo and a redo button for immediate corrections.
At the bottom we have a button to display all thumbnails of all pages in the current notebook, allowing for easy navigation. We’ve already talked about the layers button. This is followed by the “sharing” button. Apparently the device can share it’s screen, making it a portable projector for use during meetings or something. I doubt I’ll use this. We can also send a page via email. Finally, there’s the option to convert text to type, and then to immediately send it via email. I haven’t tried the handwriting recognition because my handwriting is horrific.
So why this over an iPad, Surface, or Android tablet? I have an iPad and I do have (and have used) a Surface. Both were purchased mainly to fill that Microsoft Courier-shaped hole in my soul. The Surface was clunky (it was Gen 1) and while the iPad did work well enough, it’s not the slimmest device that Apple makes. I had to buy a sticky textured overlay to get some haptic feedback when using the Pencil, but it’s still not completely 1:1 with working with paper. Beyond this, I always felt that I was only using a fraction of what each device was capable of, yet attempts to fit the Surface or iPad into my daily routine (outside of note taking) failed miserably. I was left with a powerful note taking device that was constantly distracting me with promises that it could never fulfil to my satisfaction.
The reMarkable, however, does one thing, and it does it incredibly well. It’s slim and light, so I can hold it and use it for long periods of time. The built in texture lands squarely between the silky smooth face of the iPad and the ham-handed attempt a texturing provided by the cling I later applied to it. And the surface-to-render time is almost imperceptible. Both the Surface and the iPad suffer from the smallest of lag between when the stylus touches the surface and the stroke begins to render. While it’s small enough to be almost non-existent, it’s still noticeable, especially when tilting the stylus; the line being drawn isn’t exactly beneath the tip of the stylus, and that can be pretty off-putting even when writing. The reMarkable doesn’t seem to have that issue. Lines are drawn where the tip of the stylus lands, and even rapid strokes are able to keep up, rendering quickly and giving the feeling that it’s actually the stylus drawing physical lines.
The downsides, however, are many. As this is an eInk device, it has no backlight so cannot be used in the dark (or even relative dimness). It also has that “eInk flash” where the entire screen blinks black, then white, then renders its contents as the magnetized dust renders where it’s supposed to. And certain activities are slow. It’s not a snappy device; scrolling through content jumps rather than flows like we expect from a tablet-based device. And unlike a tablet, the internet connection is mainly for updates and synchronizing files. There’s no web browser, no music player, and the thing won’t (or at least shouldn’t) play video. It can read PDF and ePUB formatted content, but there is no bookstore. It’s pretty much just a note taking tablet.
There is a fairly active hacking community out there. I happened upon a Discord and sat in for a bit, watching participants talk about their experiences with manipulating the device. It runs on a Linux variant, and the info needed to connect via SSH is readily available — no unlocking or fancy tricks needed to get into the system. This is how custom content can get onto the device. A template is just a PNG/SVG image file, meaning that people can make their own, and its super easy to get them onto the device. Although I haven’t found one (yet), I can imagine that it wouldn’t be difficult to make a TTRPG character sheet for this,
There is a bit of grumbling in this community, however, as reMarkable has apparently just switched over to moving some functionality behind a monthly paywall. The ability to convert handwriting to text, access to Google Drive and Dropbox, screen sharing, send by email, and unlimited cloud storage at reMarkable HQ are being offered through their “Connect” subscription which is $7.99USD/month. Right now, if you agree to 3 months of this Connect play ($23.97) you can get $130 off the total price of a new device, which considering the the fact that the stylus’ are an individual line item, and the cost of a folio is also extra, is nothing to sneeze at. I didn’t get a folio at this time, on account of the price.
I have yet to actually use the device aside from screwing around and, of course, trying to hack into it. I will be setting it up to accommodate my dual needs of having a place for work notes, and having a place for personal project notes, and hope to get to using it tomorrow. Overall it’s a very well made device that focuses on a specific task and doesn’t apologize for not being as sexy as more popular counterparts. Performance-wise, it surpasses the iPad and other devices, although that comes at the cost of bowing to the limitations of eInk in other areas like UI navigation. The Connect plan, while not necessary, does put certain useful functions behind a paywall (like synchronizing to personal cloud storage), but the desktop and mobile apps are free and can be used to download notebooks for PC or mobile viewing.