reMarks on the reMarkable Paper Tablet

After several months of subtle hinting (in the form of my liking their posts on Facebook with exclamation point-laden requests that someone get one for me), my family came together for the holidays and got me one. Now that I’ve been using it on a near daily basis for some time now, I think I have adequate time with it to form a final opinion on it (my device is on version 1.2.0.344). And my final opinion is that while I get a lot of use out of it, there are some significant issues that hinder the experience.

First, the good stuff; While the stylus and screen don’t result in a 100% recreation of the feeling on writing on paper, it is a more than adequate approximation. The refresh rate on the Canvas  e-ink display is definitely something they’re entitled to brag about, as there’s I found no perceptible lag when writing, and the variety of drawing/writing tools combined with the pressure and angle-sensitive stylus create some impressive results. Pressing the tip of the stylus to the screen while you have a marker selected, for example, results in ink bleeding just as it would with the genuine article. The replaceable tips of the stylus are satisfyingly long-lived, as I’m only my second after considerable use, including my five year old daughter wielding it like a blunt instrument for multiple dozens of pages of drawings.

My own personal editing style usually consists of my printing out hardcopies of anything I write and going over it with a pen before making the edits in the Word file. With the reMarkable, I no longer have to worry about the quantity of ink and paper such a process wastes, which makes it an absolute game changer for me in some respects. What the reMarkable does well, it does very well, and fosters within me a feeling of genuine adoration for it.

The problem, however, is all the things it does not do well.

Listing its sins in ascending order, let’s start with the form factor. While the brushed metal back of the unit is pleasing enough, the business side of the tablet looks more like a prototype than a released product. The bottom bezel has three unlabeled square buttons that function as the page turning and home button. They’re perfectly adequate for the task, but they are nothing if not inelegant, and I frequently find my wrist bumping the next page button while writing on the screen. It can function as an e-book reader for EPUB files, but it’s awkward size and shape, and the location of the buttons mean you’re constantly readjusting your grip to read.  It’s far from functionally optimized, but it’s not aesthetically pleasing to look at, nor is it offensive by any measure.

To say that the user interface is bare-boned is to undersell the functionality of a desiccated skeleton scoured by sandy desert winds. It does the job, but it does so at the absolute bare minimum possible and has room enough for improvement that it could serve as a convention hall. Take templates, for instance; the reMarkable comes with an impressive selection of possible page types built-in (more than not being able to think of anything its missing, it has ones I would have never considered), but there’s no search feature, no bookmark or favoriting, and no sorting them by most recently used. I make a great deal of use of the college-ruled template for the notebooks I create, but it’s in the last row of a considerable list. While the fresh rate while writing is practically realtime, everything else is about as snappy as a Kindle or any other e-ink device (which is to say, it’s not).

I was frankly more than a little surprised at the anemic battery life on this thing. The advantage of e-ink devices is that most of its power draw comes only when it’s updating the screen, but that is completely countermanded by a device where its chief selling point is that it updates the screen in realtime as you write on the surface. Active use of the stylus for only an hour or so will yield a staggering loss of battery charge; I haven’t yet used one from full charge to empty in one sitting, so I can’t speak to how long you can expect to actively use it before you run the battery out, but suffice to say it’s dramatically shorter than your Kindle or Nook or any other e-ink reader you might have. On the upside, it charges surprisingly fast, leaving me to speculate that perhaps this is an issue of the device’s battery not actually being that large.

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