ReMarkable 2 with firmware version 3 – a review reconsidered

A few months ago, I wrote about the ReMarkable 2 e-ink tablet and gave it a rave review, especially because here was a company and product that understood mainstream tablets, even used with a stylus, can’t compete with pen and paper when it comes to memory retention and focus on content instead of the device and its quirks. Shortly after, ReMarkable started working on a version 3 of their firmware and its release yesterday has changed everything — for the worse.

What I read about it from beta testers in the past few weeks didn’t forebode well and when it was actually released yesterday, I instantly realised it is even worse than I could have expected. Gone is the page-per-screen concept, gone is the inability to scroll, which is one of the scientifically proven components of the superiority of pen-and-paper for taking notes and studying a topic. Gone also is the pen-only way of writing on the tablet.

Instead, we now have pages that resize and become infinitely scrollable with the move of a finger, or the side or palm of your hand. That’s OK, you’ll say, because it’s an upgrade and upgrades usually take into account not every user wants the new stuff. So, surely you’ll have a gesture or a button to reset all this to — at the very least — a 100% zoom.

There’s no such thing as a reset to 100% zoom on the ReMarkable 2. Yet, the company still markets the tablet as “A digital notebook as close to paper as it gets” on its website. I know why: with the ReMarkable 2, they have focussed solely on the pen writing experience, on the fact that the glass has been coated in a way the feeling is more akin to writing on paper.

However, science is clear (read my initial review for quotes and links): writing class and research notes on paper is not superior only because of the tactile experience. No-scroll-ability is even more important, as is the fact that notes can’t be altered with the flick of a finger or a tap on the screen.

But what do you know… You can now type on the ReMarkable’s screen with the incorporated keyboard. The result is that you can type text right within, for example, a PDF’s content. However, this typing experience comes with a couple of caveats:

  • Typing with that built-in keyboard is even more awkward than typing with an iPad’s built-in keyboard. It’s not only awkward but it also makes the screen flicker intensely as what seems to be witness of the processor’s limited power
  • You need to carefully position the first typing position for this to work well. That’s easier said than done in my experience.
  • You can’t erase the typed text with the eraser without first going into the typed text mode. Even then, it’s clumsy if you want to select a few typed characters or words and delete those.

Conclusion

ReMarkable’s devs have decided not to offer their users anything that will let them reset their tablet in the state it was in before the “upgrade”. They’ve actually not upgraded the firmware but have near-completely changed the way you add and edit content on the ReMarkable 2 in a way that makes it resemble an ordinary tablet more.

It’s enigmatic why they chose to do all this without ensuring the tablet’s hardware is capable of keeping up with these new “features”. It’s even more a mystery to me why the company think they will lure more users to buying the tablet. If I need to choose between a ReMarkable 2 v3 with a simple folio but with the eraser-equipped pen that sets me back EUR 547 and the latest Apple iPad with 64GB of memory for EUR 589, I know what to do.

The iPad may not have a bit of sanded feel to its glass surface, but I can do a hell of a lot more with it than taking notes. Its screen won’t flicker any bit with whatever I throw at it (my iPad Air 2 doesn’t even flicker, ever) and it won’t be worse for memory retention or focus than the ReMarkable 2 which now adds page space whenever you happen to accidentally touch the glass.

In short, ReMarkable has just killed its Unique Selling Point.

If you want to downgrade your ReMarkable 2, others are already offering solutions on Github, but bear in mind that those are hacks and you’re on your own if the downgrade fails.

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