Writing, drawing and reading tablet with no lag and the tactile experience of paper
The reMarkable 2 tablet is a very thin low-latency tablet that recreates the pen on paper experience. It’s presented as a tablet that helps users focus because it can only be used as an e-reader and note-taking annex drawing tablet, but there’s more to it.
As I am one of those nerds who’s still scribbling on anything from Post-Its to A6 index cards and A4 paper pads with a collection of rollerball and fountain pens, I was very interested to try one out.
reMarkable sent me a reMarkable 2 tablet (299 USD) in addition to the Marker Plus pen (129 USD) with the incorporated eraser, the standard Folio (79 USD) to carry the tablet and marker with you, and — much to my delight — the Book Folio in brown leather (129 USD). I also got a free subscription to the Connect service that adds unlimited cloud storage, writing-to-text conversion, and more.
The reMarkable is made from stylish dark aluminium, is only 4.7mm thick, and has an A5 writing surface in structured glass for a paper-like “grip” of the marker. The 21 milliseconds refresh results in an invisible lag and lets you write and draw very fast. There’s no discernible gap between ink and marker.
The marker pen has a structured surface that is comfortable to touch. It attaches to the tablet’s side with a magnet if you’re not using it. If you orientate the pen with its nib downwards, the attachment is strong enough to withstand bumps.
Upon seeing the writing surface for the first time, it struck me as quite dark. I would have liked a lighter shade of grey for more contrast, but it’s not a deal breaker by any measure.
What you can do with it
With the tablet comes an app that lets you synchronise your content. Synchronisation is very fast and makes use of reMarkable’s own servers. If you don’t subscribe to the optional Connect service, you will need to edit, open, or touch the files within 50 days before they are removed from the server. The 50-day period resets, so if you open a file on day 49, you’re good to leave it be for another 50 days.
For writing, the reMarkable 2 comes with a large number of templates for storyboarding, perspective drawing, common and specialised notes, lists and more. PDFs can be redacted right on the page, which is the most efficient.
Although it will only render marker strokes in B&W, you can select your marker to export to blue and red for the pens, markers, pencil and paintbrush, and grey, pink, yellow and green for the highlighter.
Its individual layer on/off capability makes the reMarkable very useful for drawing perspective sketches, flowcharts, situation roughs, setups for studio lighting, film scene planning, and more. Upon offloading your note, you turning off the template layer gives you a clean looking file.
The free reMarkable app enables you to upload PDFs and ePub files to the tablet. There’s also a web extension for Chrome browsers that allows you to read websites.
Offloading the tablet is easy. From within the app, you can export to PDF, PNG, and SVG. If the tags you add to documents on the tablet would be exported as well, it would be perfect. With the Connect service, you gain the ability to export from the tablet without needing the app using the Send by Email feature.
The Connect service
The Connect service is optional but I’d recommend it. The tablet comes with a trial of a year for free and the full service costs only 7.99 USD/month.
Connect offers unlimited cloud storage on reMarkable’s servers. It includes Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive integration, handwriting conversion (MyScript based) and Screen Share to put your notes on a big screen via the reMarkable app. It also includes a 36-month extended warranty.
Text conversion works in tandem with Send by Email. It’s excellent if you write in capitals. If your handwriting is a mess like mine, it’s far from perfect and it can’t handle tables and lists. And yet I was inclined to use it because even as it only succeeded in a correct conversion of about 95% of my scribbles, it’s easier than typing a note twice.
The cloud services integration allows you to share notes directly from your tablet to for example a Dropbox folder with just a working Wi-Fi connection. There’s room for expansion, though, as the integration doesn’t support privacy-minded services like Sync.
The science of writing, learning and memory retention
reMarkable’s website lists the obvious benefit of enhanced focus that comes with using a tablet that you can use solely for note taking, redacting and drawing. There is, however, more to this than an enhanced focus. A growing corpus of published research shows writing on paper benefits learning and memory retention. Where does that leave the reMarkable 2?
According to one recent study, those who write by hand on paper are 25% quicker at note-taking tasks than those who use digital technology. The reason is that physical paper allows for tangible permanence, irregular strokes, and uneven shape (like folded corners). In contrast, tablets and computers are uniform, have no fixed position when scrolling, and notes disappear when you close the app.
A superiority of paper to computer screens in terms of reading comprehension was reported earlier (Wästlund et al., 2005; Mangen et al., 2013). The latter studies indicated the importance of visual and tactile cues for perceiving constant physical sizes and spatial locations, because “the material substrate of paper provides physical, tactile, spatiotemporally fixed cues to the length of the text”. Moreover, the actual writing of notes relative to each page of the real paper provides more concrete encoding information, because that same information can be easily erased and updated by new information on the physically same screen of a tablet or smartphone.
(Source: Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience).
What that does is raise the question if there’s a sliding scale between a computer, a traditional tablet and an e-ink device like the reMarkable 2’s, and whether real paper simply is unbeatable.
Undoubtedly, reMarkable 2 offers a user experience that is closer to writing on real paper than traditional computer screens, not only because reMarkable 2 is a one-trick device or its surface is roughed up and less slippery than glass, but because the reMarkable system — the device/OS combination — resembles writing in a paper notebook more.
In the area of tangible permanence, for example, reMarkable 2 comes close to paper as it exclusively stores content in a paper-like shape and format, and doesn’t invite the erasure and updating of content as readily as an app.
The same can be said of irregular strokes and visual and tactile cues for perceiving constant physical sizes and spatial locations. For example, one of the things I had to adapt to when trying out the reMarkable was that I couldn’t scroll down and was forced to start a new page when the current one was full.
Notes on the reMarkable 2 don’t necessarily disappear, either. If you stop writing a note and come back to it up to 20 minutes later (when the tablet is not yet sleeping), the content you wrote is visible and you can resume where you left off — just as when you’d left a paper notebook open on the last page.
When the tablet is sleeping, it wakes up by short-pressing its power button and will show the note you were working on, or the screen where you left off. That’s the same behaviour as when you’d close your paper notebook and reopen it for a new writing/drawing session.
Having said all that, the potential to erase and update the content more easily than when you’re using paper still exists, but reMarkable does succeed in mimicking a paper notebook as closely as possible.
That means, for example, that, although you can make notes disappear, there are more obstacles to doing so using the reMarkable 2 than when you’re using an iPad.
The out-of-the-box reMarkable doesn’t ask for a password, which means your content is exposed if you leave the tablet unattended.
If you write on a paper pad or use a notebook and leave either unattended, they too leave your content exposed, so one might say you should take better care. The comparison with paper notebooks, however, is somewhat flawed as there can be many, many more notes on your reMarkable (about 7GB is available for content) than you can stuff in any sort of portable paper container.
The reMarkable developers therefore allow you to enable a layer of security with a passcode. You’ll be asked for that passcode when reMarkable wakes up. It can only be reset from Security settings, but you have an unlimited number of trials to unlock your device.
After several failed password attempts, though, you’ll get a lockout timer which will increase for every failed attempt. If you try the wrong passcode too many times, you’ll be able to reset your device by following the instructions on the device and visiting your space on the my.remarkable.com service website.
That’s a quite secure system, but what I would have liked is a single passcode applicable to individual notes. On a side note, the device handled password-protected PDFs fine, which is important as you can use the reMarkable as an annotation/redaction tool for non-DRM ePub and PDF documents.
I’ll be honest: the first day I tried out the reMarkable 2, I was disappointed. I never write on my iPad with a stylus as the glass surface is like writing on water and my hands leave a cloud of skin grease as thick as fog hanging over the English Channel. Writing with a pencil-thin marker on any sort of glass is also entirely different from writing with a fountain pen or a rollerball on paper.
Consider only the difference in weight: my preferred fountain pen weighs 45g and my rollerball pen comes in at 55g. The reMarkable 2 markers come in at 15g and 18g, respectively. Both my pens have a barrel that is about 8mm in diameter. The reMarkable markers are 5mm at most.
In short, if you aren’t used to writing and drawing with a digital marker pen, you’ll need to adapt. That also goes for the surface, which — contrary to comments from influencers on YouTube who clearly have never written with a decent fountain pen on high-quality paper stock — kept feeling somewhat slippery because it’s not just the glass, it’s also the marker tip that’s involved.
It’s only when I compared the reMarkable with writing on an index card (the smooth kind) that I realised the tablet does feel like paper, but the pens I write with make the index card experience less slippery.
Conclusion, facts and pricing
As I’m writing up my conclusion, we’re a week after I first put the reMarkable’s pen on its writing surface. I’ve grown accustomed to the feel of the writing experience and must admit the stylish Book Folio with the tablet and pen snugly held in place with strong magnets has already found a prominent place on my desk for jotting down notes, ideas, sketches, and personal thoughts.
Sub-editing with the reMarkable 2 by uploading a PDF and being able to redact right in the text is also nothing short of marvellous.
I will probably never stop writing with pen and ink on paper because my lightly autistic ego gets comfort out of repeating a tactile experience that goes back to my early childhood. For everything else, though, I see myself using the reMarkable 2 on a daily basis because it comes close to the pen/paper experience and lets me integrate my handwriting with DEVONthink Pro, iA Writer or Bear.
Facts & pricing
The reMarkable weighs 403.5 g, measures 246 mm / 188 mm / 4.7mm, is powered by a 1.2 GHz dual core ARM, has 1GB LPDDR3 SDRAM and 8GB of internal storage. The display is a 10.3 diagonal inch monochrome digital paper display with a 1872 x 1404 resolution (226 DPI) and is multi-point capacitive touch capable. It is made of a custom composite with tempered resin, featuring a paper fibre structure imprinted on a chemically strengthened thin sheet of glass.
The marker/display combination features 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity. The tablet connects to your network using a Wi-Fi 2.4GHz or 5GHz connection. It has a two weeks battery life when you use it for about three hours a day, with three months of standby time. The OS is Codex, a purposely designed Linux-based operating system for low-latency digital paper displays.
A reMarkable 2 tablet with standard marker and 1-year Connect trial subscription retails for $299. The Folio cover is $79, while the luxurious leather Book Folio costs $129. The white marker without eraser is $79. The marker with eraser retails for $129.
Every marker comes with nine replacement tips. A tip lasts from three to seven weeks.
A Connect subscription costs $7.99/month, which kicks in after the free trial period. The Connect Lite service, which only gives you the unlimited cloud storage costs $4.99/month.