A reMarkable Review

Time spent with my new digital notebook

I believe reviews have to be informative, honest, and constructive. I might love or hate the product, but if I just gave you a performance check with my personal thoughts in one sentence, I wouldn’t be helpful. I’ll do my best to be thorough.


I have to admit I was ecstatic when I first heard of the reMarkable tablet. I have an iPad, and even used the Surface for a while, but neither could replace my scattered pile of notebooks.

First, writing on glass is awkward. It can’t emulate the feedback of graphite trailing on paper, or mimic the smooth flow of a pen. Even if technology has made latency an issue of the past, it still didn’t feel right.

Second — and most importantly — tablets are too disruptive to my productivity. The literal millions of apps, games, and constant improvements to multitask created a theme park of distractions. I wanted a simple digital notebook, not a full-blown computer.

The reMarkable pegged itself as the future digital notebook solution, so I took a leap of faith and preordered one. After a slight delay it arrived in my hands. While delays might bother some, I’ve always believed people don’t remember if it’s late, they remember if it’s great.

Do I think it’s great? Let’s have an honest talk about it first.

What is it?

My friends have said “the reMarkable tablet is basically a Kindle you can draw on”, but in reality it’s so much more. It’s a notebook tablet. No apps, no flashy games, just read and/or sketch on it.

It’s a focused productivity tool, and a very good one. We’ve seen more and more of them these days. They’re devices focused on a single need without turning into a Swiss army knife.

The idea is you create notebooks, sketch, read ebooks on it (not from the closed Kindle store, sorry, blame Amazon) and save to the cloud. That’s pretty much it. Its goal is to offer the closest experience to real paper, and I believe it has succeeded.

Who’s the audience?

If you love to draw, write with a pen or pencil, sketch, and take notes, then this is for you. If you want a computer available at different sizes then get a tablet and stop complaining it’s not a tablet. It doesn’t want to be an iPad, a Kindle, or an Android tablet. It doesn’t want to be another web browser or photo collector. The reMarkable wants to be a digital notebook. If this is what you have searched for, then take a closer look and decide if it fits your needs.


Let’s talk physical

It’s white, slick, and pretty sturdy. It has a metal polish in the back, with two rubber strips to avoid it slipping all over the place. The screen blends seemlesly with the outer white avoiding a bezel, which is crucial to get that paper feel. The power button is at the top and it’s pretty standard and unobtrusive.

Up close and personal. It doesn’t feel cheap. I love the white frame.

Screen

It’s E Ink (some might not like it), but it looks great. It’s crisp, clear, with great contrast, and it doesn’t have a backlight (just like real paper). It has a texture on its screen to mimic the feeling of graphite leaving its mark on paper, and it pays off the more you use it. Many times I was taking so many notes I forgot it wasn’t paper, no joke.

The pen

I feel pretty. Oh, so pretty. I feel pretty and witty and bright! No battery!

The pen is everything, and it was developed with a partnerhip with Wacom. Anybody who has ever used a Wacom pen can tell you how great they are. Personally, I believe they make the best in the business. This was one of the reasons I got curious about the reMarkable.

One of the best features is you don’t have to recharge the pen, and the tablet can detect tilt. I never could get into the Apple Pencil because of the constant charging.

Because of the texture on the screen, the plastic tip needs to be replaced. It comes with some and you can order more online. They seem to last a lot longer than you would think.

I can see this being a deal breaker for some, but friction creates wear and tear, so the solution they provide makes sense. I buy pencils, pen refills throughout the year.

Tips that last weeks, not days. The metal ring thingy is to swap them.

Let’s talk digital

The reMarkable comes with its own OS. It does the job, and with some tweaks I think it can be truly great. I’ve read reviews saying the UI is confusing, but I think we should take an in-depth at the whole package take it from there.

Latency

The reMarkable needs to keep latency in-check if it ever wants to be useful in any capacity. Luckily, it succeeds.

The iPad’s latency is 20m and the reMarkable is set at 100ms, which still means the naked eye won’t usually notice it. I only ever noticed small latency when I tried to go crazy writing super fast with big brushes all over the place. I don’t normally write at such speeds.

I write fast and weird, but the reMarkable kept my pace without having to adjust myself, and it translated all my hand movements onto the screen. It allowed my personality to show.

Refresh Rate

If you’ve ever used a Kindle, you know the refresh rate sucks, and this isn’t any different. It doesn’t have this problem while writing or sketching (thankfully), but there’s a slight delay sometimes when activating options and menus.

Home Screen

The home screen is pretty standard.

  • rM brings up the reMarkable’s settings.
  • My Files is pretty much everything. Here you can see your folders.
  • Notebooks is your Notebooks.
  • Documents are files you uploaded to your reMarkable.
  • EBooks are downloaded ebooks. Amazon made the Kindle a closed system — just like the Apple store — so you can’t link to a Kindle account.
  • Bookmarks are items for quick access once you have too much stuff to handle.
  • Search is to… you know, search.
  • Quick Sheets is to quickly create a notebook.
  • Bottom left you can see if it’s connected to Wifi, and the battery life percentage.
  • At the top you can create a Folder or a Notebook.
  • Display allows you to see your content with previews, or as a list.
  • No clock.
Sort of ugly. Reminds me of Brutalism design.

Settings Screen

The settings is nothing wow, but it’s worth mentioning. You can access wifi settings, link your account, check storage amount, add a passcode, and it has some accessibility options. I appreciate the Right and Left Handed options.

Notebook Tool Bar

The notebook is where you’ll spend the most of your time.

I wish it came loaded with a screen like this so I knew what those icons mean.

At the top left you can click to hide the entire menu, which is very useful. You can also collapse it with the small arrow on the bottom of the list.

At the right of you have context-aware buttons. One is one stroke style and the other it for stroke width. Then there’s the title, page count, options, new page, view all pages, and the close button.

Layers

You can create layers just like in modern design tools. This helps to create outlines, or just section off parts you want. You can also move these layers however you see fit. It’s probably one of the best features.

I doodled!

Apps

The iOS, Mac, Win, and devices itself share the same UI. If you know how to use one then you know how to use the others. They all sync with each other and I haven’t experienced any problems with it.

Templates

The reMarkable has plenty of paper templates to choose from. Grid, dots, line, even calendar templates. The list is extensive and plentiful. I find it odd the thumbnails loads in reverse (bottom to top), and I wish the thumbnails had a bit more contrast to easily distinguish them.

A Favorites at the top, or a Recent would help a lot.

Live View

When Liveview is activated, you can see on the desktop app what is being drawn or written in real-time. I liked it, but I felt it was too slow to sync sometimes.

As a Reader

It’s an OK reader. You can upload books and even pdf’s. You highlight them and make notes on it. Useful, but nothing to it go crazy about. It’s meant to write, not read, and it shouldn’t replace your e-reader. I highly appreciate it being there, though.

Battery Life

They claim the battery to last about five days. I say three with my testing. I used it a lot during my eight hour work day and late into the night. If I turned off WiFi I got a bit more out of it. Not having to daily charge is great.

Price

As of this writing, its $599. You might think this is expensive — and I agree it’s on the high end side — but it doesn’t feel cheap. You could get an iPad or another tablet for less, sure, but it defeats the point. I personally don’t need a tablet because I have a phone and a computer. While they’re useful, I don’t need the same device in multiple sizes.

I wanted a distraction free digital notebook, and I think this is the best option.


Feedback for the Team

If anybody working on reMarkable is reading this section, this is for you. If you’re a curious buyer, know that these are just my suggestions to make something I like even better. I wanted to be honest about it’s state when I wrote this.

Confusing Icons
I won’t sugar coat it, a section of the left tool bar is confusing at first. The icons are so similar with no labels. I had to look online at the manual to fully understand them. Others still don’t make sense to me (looking at you, Stroke Width).

  • The reMarkable defaults to the Pen, which makes sense.
  • The Pencil we can deduce because of the line in the middle.
  • I thought the Marker was a water color tool (to then find out it’s used to highlight items).
  • The Eraser is a bit harder to understand because of its sub-menu. There’s an Erase All button, which I knew only after I erased my entire page… undo being my savior. I do love the variety of options though.
My handwriting is a mess, but the fact the reMarkable can convey it with ease, is impressive. My favorite tool is the Pencil with medium stroke.

Friendly Suggestion
Add a startup page with instructions, and take a closer look at the icons.

Compact Mode Bug

I found a bug in compact mode. If you switch to the Pencil and press Eraser, the Pencil reverts back to the Pen. I basically don’t use the compact mode because of this. It should remember what I had selected before.

Those three buttons

I’ll be honest. I believe they can get rid of the buttons.

They’re not bad, but could be better.

When you’re in a notebook, you can switch between pages, create a new page (pressing the right button when you’re on the last page), or back to the home screen. This is useful, but I think it can be better.

The problem with the middle button is that it goes to the home screen, and nothing else. What’s strange is when I’m in a folder the button doesn’t do anything. I think it only navigates you to the home screen if you’re in a notebook.

Friendly Suggestion
The middle button should always take me to the home screen even if I’m in a folder. Maybe display the page selection screen if I double-click it. I still think you could be creative and get rid of them.

There’s just one app, and not even the Kindle has buttons. Accidentally clicking one when resting my arm on it shouldn’t be an option.


Conclusion

Should you get it? That’s up to you. I personally love it. I’m not blind to its shortcomings, but the good far outweighs the bad.

There’s nothing quite like it. It feels as close to paper as anything on the market, it allows me to write and show my personality without compromise, it doesn’t have any distractions, and I can finally get rid of all my notebooks. I truly feel it's the digital notebook of the future.

My attempt at drawing… it really does look like it came from a pencil though. Love it.
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