I am a handwriting note-taker. Scattered around my apartment are a couple dozen notebooks, all with an intended individual purpose that has in no-way been adhered to. Some have started out as story ideas that ended up with lists, others were for specific classes but ended up with half-baked design storyboards for websites. Many ended up being scratch pads for quick notes during meetings, but then I wouldn’t be able to find those notes when I needed them.

Along came the iPad Pro, with the Apple Pencil. Finally, the beloved Apple tablet could act as a digital notebook, with some really great apps to take advantage of this capability (GoodNotes has been a favorite!). Despite the capabilities with the Pencil and the iPad, the actual experience of writing on the iPad quickly falls apart for me. My handwriting, already not perfect (but serviceable) on paper, quickly becomes illegible when I try to take notes with any speed using the Apple Pencil on glass. The friction that normally comes with pen and paper that I’ve been used to for my whole life has been completely absent. I considered one of the screen protectors that give a more paper-like feel to writing on the iPad, but those have their own problems (that I won’t go into here).

So when I began seeing ads for the reMarkable a number of years ago, I was intrigued. I love E-Ink’s technology, and I think it has a wide application range yet to be discovered. However, trying to justify the cost at the time was difficult. I was still trying to force myself to love writing on the iPad, and even if I didn’t, it was still hard to justify the cost; during the reMarkable’s initial run, it was over $670 for a “complete” package, including the tablet itself, a pen, and a cover. It seemed a lot for a single-use device.

Fast forward to now, and the reMarkable 2 is out (well, it has been for awhile), touting better battery life, lower latency, a thinner design, and improvements to the accessories. As of this writing, the price is lower (not by much, and a much lower price requires subscribing to Connect, their new subscription service; more on this later).

Also, there is a 100-day trial period, so I figured – maybe it’s time to give this a try.

Unboxing: First Impressions of the reMarkable 2

The company uses DHL for shipping, and the device arrived from Hong Kong surprisingly fast (within 3 days from the original ship date). The box’s opening mechanisms were all uniform, and well-packaged. The packaging for the tablet itself was reminiscent of the packaging for my first Kindle, the second generation and my first E-Ink device.

Boxes to unbox.

I immediately noted the premium feel of the device and the accessories. The fit and finish of the tablet is fantastic; minimalist, quietly elegant. The left side has a metal bar that runs down the length; at the top is the sleep/wake button, and at the bottom is the USB-C power/data port. The back has four almost unnoticeable “legs” to keep the tablet off the surface you lay it on (if you don’t use a case). There are no buttons on the front, as there were on the original reMarkable. There is some kind of connector on the side of the metal bar that looks like it might connect to something like a keyboard case; however, as of now it doesn’t appear there is a use for it (I assume the company has plans for this at some point in the future).

The device is also pretty lightweight, and holding it with or without the case is about as equally comfortable. I chose a leather folio case, which didn’t have the deep brown I was looking for (it’s almost a burnt orange, but I know that the natural leather will get a patina over time, and the color is still nice). The tablet connects magnetically to both the side and the back; both magnets are not super-strong, but together work well. It won’t just fall out. The pen also connects magnetically to the side of the tablet, and my impression is that, as long as the magnetism doesn’t lessen too much over time, it’s a pretty secure connection. I could not easily shake the pen off.

The setup process was remarkably (sorry) quick and easy. After some simple setup steps (the usual: wifi, account, etc.) and a software update, I was up and running. The first two things I noticed right away was how much this really did feel like paper, and how good the pen felt in my hand. (They call it a “Marker” but… I don’t like that, so pen it is.) The texture of the pen is very satisfying — the only word I can think of to describe it — and it’s weighted quite well.

And what I had hoped for the writing experience was exactly what I got. The friction between the textured surface of the reMarkable and the pen tip provided the analog that one is looking for from something like the reMarkable when you’re writing long notes.

Testing out the various brushes.

After playing around with the brushes, I realized how good a job they did recreating the character of each (and just how easy it would’ve been to get it wrong without anyone really noticing). The fineliner pen had the same feel as the one that I’ve used often in my Code & Quill notebooks, which surprised me. The ballpoint pen brush — which, on an E-Ink display, could’ve been virtually indistinguishable from the fineliner — has the familiar minuscule rolling marks of a real ballpoint ink pen.

As I noticed that, I also noticed (since I was looking closely) at how the dpi wasn’t quite as good as I was expecting. Holding the tablet back from my eyes again, it wasn’t as jarring, so I decided to park this in the back of my mind for now to see if it bothered me later. (Spoiler: it didn’t.)

Likewise, the latency wasn’t quite as good as I was expecting, but it was still pretty good. Again, this was something I knew I was scrutinizing up front, but didn’t think it would matter to me as much in daily use. So far, that is the case; I don’t even think about the latency as I’m in the process of writing on it.

If you get the Marker Plus, it has an eraser on the top, so you can flip it over and erase text. Works as expected.

Observations: Using the reMarkable 2

Connect Subscription

Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way upfront: the subscription. Originally, the reMarkable 2 supported handwriting conversion out of the box as well as unlimited sync; both of these are now part of the Connect subscription. Without Connect, you can still sync, but any document unopened after around two months will not sync. This isn’t a big deal; if you don’t get the subscription, it’s pretty easy to archive documents to the desktop if you don’t plan on writing more in a specific notebook.

The handwriting conversion to text is a bigger problem if you are adamant you will not get the subscription but relied on that as a feature. There are other devices in this class that offer it with no subscription, and there are other caveats to handwriting conversion here (as well as the subscription).

First, let me say that I understand the need for the company to offer a subscription here. This category of device is still pretty niche, and sales across all companies that make these paper tablets aren’t very high. For it to make financial sense to continue software development in the direction reMarkable wants to go, they need more consistent revenue. Dropping the price of the tablet (currently $100 off) in exchange for a subscription (which has two months free currently, and it’s unclear if you can cancel that soon if you took advantage of the offer) and getting people to rely on (or see the value in, depending on your perspective) the features is a smart move. Already, they’ve added some additional syncing functionality with Dropbox and Google Drive and have a beta program for you to try new features on the next release before it’s dropped.

With that out of the way, there are two tiers to Connect: the lower tier at around $5 per month gives you unlimited cloud storage and sync. The higher tier (around $8 per month) gets you the same, plus the aforementioned text conversion and Google Drive and Dropbox sync, as well as a screen sharing feature (to present your reMarkable screen live on your desktop), send by mail feature, and faster sync. If you’re still interested in this device and don’t need those things, it works just great without them. A number of users I’ve interacted with don’t subscribe and don’t use those features, and are just as happy with the reMarkable 2.

Hardware

There isn’t much to add here beyond what I’ve already mentioned in the unboxing section. The hardware has a very premium feel. The contrast on the display is quite good for what you ink with the pen, though a little less so for pre-made PDFs and ebooks. If you make your own PDFs or templates, you can often adjust this depending on your software, so it’s something to keep in mind.

The fact that the surface of the entire tablet, even where you’re unable to write, covers the entire front of the tablet is nice; your pen will not run into the edge, though it will (obviously) stop writing when you hit the edge. The hue of the bezels matches the hue of the display, so it often feels like one continuous sheet of paper across the entire device.

There is a bit of glare if you hold the reMarkable in direct light; depending on the light source, it could blot out where you’re writing. This could be a dealbreaker for some. One of the promises of E-Ink screens is the ability to read in all natural lighting anywhere, though even some e-readers (like the Kindle Oasis) have shipped with these new textured display covers. I rarely find myself pointing the display directly at any light source, so I don’t see this as a major problem, but your mileage may vary of course.

The reMarkable does not have a backlight. If you know you will need a backlight, this is not for you. I do understand why it doesn’t; the company is trying to recreate the experience of paper as much as possible, and backlighting ain’t it, son. (There are alternative devices, such as the Boox line, that have a backlight.)

One annoying thing I noted right away is that not just any power source will do. I plugged my USB-C power adapter for my Mac into the reMarkable, and it did not charge. It did, however, charge just fine off a computer with the included cable. Still, I wish that the charging situation was as flexible as most other things that charge on USB-C.

The battery life verdict is still out. Using it a full day on a single charge, the battery life, which is touted as two weeks, dropped by a full third. However, I need to test this further because I didn’t realize until the end of the day that I had inadvertently attempted to share my screen and it was trying to connect wirelessly to my desktop for most of the day. Of course, battery life varies anyway depending on use.

Software

The set of tools offered in the software on the device is pretty straightforward and shouldn’t be difficult for anyone to get accustomed to quickly. Opening the toolbar (which can be set to the left or the right depending on whether you’re right-handed or left-handed) gives you access to brushes, line width, highlighter colors (the display is grayscale but colors will show up on exported documents), and some other useful tools.

Those tools are:

  • Manipulation: select an area of text, cut and move it, delete it, or rotate it
  • Eraser tool: if you have the regular Marker that does not erase, you can use this to… well, erase.
  • Undo/redo
  • Page view: this gives you a tiled view of all the pages of your notebook, PDF, or ebook
  • Layer tool: this allows you to place multiple layers on a notebook or document, as well as flatten them.
  • Share: this is where your screen sharing, text conversion, and emailing tools live
  • Document settings: various setting depending on if you’re in a notebook, PDF, or ebook, so it has things like text settings, landscape view for notebooks, etc.

On the main page, you have access to your files, folders, and device settings.

Palm rejection isn’t a thing on the reMarkable, because while it recognizes touch to navigate around and select things, you cannot ink anything with your hand or fingers.

On the syncing end of things, you get desktop apps for both Mac and Windows, as well as iOS and Android. These apps don’t do much; you can view your documents in the app, and on desktop, you can also drag and drop PDFs and ebooks to sync to the reMarkable, as well as export notes or notebooks as PDFs out of the device. This is all done wirelessly; you don’t need to connect your reMarkable via cable. However, if you do connect your tablet via cable, you’ll also have access to the files on it via web browser; useful if you are connected to a computer where maybe you don’t have authorization to install apps but need to get some documents off it.

There is also an area of the reMarkable website where you can do various things like set up a bookmarklet in Chrome to send web articles to the tablet instantly, either as a PDF or text-only. This is not available for Safari yet, but there is a third party tool you can run on your Mac to “print to reMarkable” which sends a PDF of anything you can print right to the reMarkable wirelessly. (I’ve asked them to create a Safari version of the extension; it’s easy to do, and would enable this feature for Safari on iOS, as well.)

One pretty important missing feature is the ability to search your handwritten notes. This is a major flaw, in my opinion, but one I believe will be rectified. Other devices in this class, such as the Supernote, have this feature, and I hope the reMarkable team will see this as a competitive feature.

Another thing that is a little minor and I suspect will be fixed in a future patch is that I sometimes get syncing errors when attempting to send PDFs and ebooks to the device; however, the sync still worked. This wouldn’t even hit my radar really except for the notification on the bottom of the screen; it doesn’t disappear even if I manually sync again without error. The only way to clear it is to tap the link in the error, which takes you to a setting to check for syncing issues and clears the notification when it doesn’t find any.

Finally, the other caveat to handwriting-to-text conversion that I mentioned earlier: you can only use this feature when you are connected to wifi. With every phone having a hotspot feature these days, it’s probably not a major issue, but could be a dealbreaker for some.

Templates and Customization

There’s a very good number of templates built in, including note-taking (various lined notebooks, as well as Cornell-style pages), planner, and art templates. Also included are a variety of music templates. Template contrast is obviously lighter than the ink, which is fine for many of them, but for templates such as the dot-grid, it makes it a bit hard to see the dots.

There is no built-in tool for creating your own templates; fortunately, there are a number of tools that enable uploading your own templates. The best is available at FreeRemarkableTools.com, though it’s a Windows-only application. (It even allows you to upload custom system screens, such as the sleep screen; I am taking great joy in creating my own sleep screens.) There is another available for Mac from eInkPads, but I haven’t tried it out.

There are also plenty of system tweaks you can accomplish with various tools from around the Internet, most of which require a simple SSH connection into the device to modify the software. It’s unclear if this is a violation of the warranty; I haven’t done any of these, either, so I can’t speak to their ease of use or efficacy, so try at your own risk if you get a reMarkable.

Shhh… this is my custom sleep screen.

Apps

There aren’t any. reMarkable was designed to be a paper analog as much as possible, so there is no calendar-syncing, email, web browser, app store, or any other distractions.

That said, there are alternative devices, such as Supernote and the Boox line, which do have apps. The Boox tablets are actually full-fledged Android devices, with the Google Play store, so if you want an E-Ink Android tablet, that would be more your speed. The Supernote does have a handful of apps, such as a calendar and email client, and access to the Kindle library (something I do hope reMarkable adds). These devices are also more expensive and have their own shortcomings, but there are some very good comparison reviews on YouTube if you think they might be better for you.

Conclusion…?

Well, there isn’t one, yet. This was intended to be a “first impressions” review, though it admittedly got quite in-depth.

I like to use paper for thinking through things, such as story ideas, business ideas, features, and for scratch notes at meetings. For most of these applications, I wanted a digital version of paper that doesn’t have apps with notifications or things which might distract me. I also want the feeling of pen on paper, to keep my characteristic handwriting the way it is. While an iPad Pro (which I have and I love) allows me to take handwritten notes, I don’t love doing it on that particular device, especially for longer periods.

The reMarkable (like all devices of its kind) isn’t for everyone. It’s expensive, limited in capability for a tablet, and has niche attraction. Some people will miss some of the features they think a tablet like this should have.

I think back to my first Kindle purchase and I remember feeling the same way I felt after the first few hours of using the reMarkable: this is both awesome, and lacking, but with potential. And like with all burgeoning technology, you could just wait until it does more, but when will it be enough? You can always wait for more.

But if something like this appeals to you, and you have the means, begin investing now, because without the dollar votes, companies who can make those visions happen will have no reason to.

I am very much enjoying this so far. I’ve done some side-by-sides of writing on the reMarkable and an iPad, and every time I switch back to the reMarkable, I feel a little sense of joy in the process of writing something. I’ll be back in a few months to see if that is still the case, and I’ll let you know what I think then.