The reMarkable

Regular readers know all about my obsession with e-ink devices. From my dreams about an e-ink typewriter, later realized in the Freewrite, to various e-ink readers, it should be fairly obvious that I find e-ink fascinating. It’s also no surprise that the reMarkable would catch my eye.

The reMarkable is an e-ink tablet with a stylus that’s meant for taking notes, drawing, marking up documents, and obviously reading. Some of these things work really well, while others are just bad. The device is roughly the size of an A4 paper, white and plastic. It’s not a super premium device or anything, but I don’t mind the feel of the plastic and the buttons feel okay. The €629 price tag is a bit steep though, but I’ll allow it since this device is one of a kind, so to speak. I’ll even accept the slowness of the screen when it needs to refresh, because that’s e-ink for you, and the lack of background lighting. Also, worth knowing, is that if your documents are getting big, undo/redo load times increase to the point where they can get annoying.

I’ve been using the reMarkable for a couple of months now, not just a quick test, and it’s found its way into my workflow. More on that later, but first, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way: If you want an e-ink tablet for reading, this isn’t it. Yes, it works, but it’s not a particularly good alternative. The format’s all wrong, it’s cumbersome, the interface is horrible, and I just plain hate it. If you want to mark up PDFs or paper scans, thus getting something from the larger device footprint, you should also forget about the reMarkable and get yourself an iPad.

To be fair, that exact advice can be offered for anything you can do with the reMarkable. An iPad Pro, like the 10” model I’m typing on at the moment, can – with a Pencil – do everything the reMarkable can. Better, even.

And yet, the reMarkable is on my desk and gets used a lot more for note-taking and scribbles than the iPad Pro. Why is that?

First of all, I have a soft spot for devices that do one thing well. That’s everything a smartphone or typical tablet isn’t. They’re multi-functional monster computers, entertainment machines, typewriters, books and magazines, and the whole bloody internet in your hand. Meanwhile, the reMarkable is digital paper.

I like the digital paper idea. Single purpose devices can be motivated if their existence adds something special. The texture when the stylus hits the e-ink screen might not be identical to paper – alas no – but it’s a lot closer than the hard glass of an iPad Pro. Add to the fact that the reMarkable is close to the iPad Pro when it comes to picking up whatever you choose to write or draw, and you’ve got a pretty nifty little thing right there. Feature-wise, the note taking and drawing alternatives on the reMarkable are laughable compared to the apps available for iOS and Android. That’s beside the point, because the reMarkable feels right. Despite the stylus, I must add, because it’s on the light and cheap side compared to Apple’s Pencil.

There’s something to be said about owning another gadget that performs worse than one you already got, just because it feels right. In general, I’d scoff at the notion, being a person who’d like to cut down on “stuff” rather than add to the pile. And yet, the reMarkable is a part of my workflow now. There are several reasons I could list for you:

  • Single purpose devices offer no distractions.
  • The feel of stylus on the screen is more akin to paper and thus I type and write better.
  • It’s something new and curious, a great ice-breaker in meetings.
  • The paper-sized screen is more suitable for taking notes.
  • It’s cheaper than getting an iPad Pro with a Pencil.

That’s all well and good, but not really relevant.

Truth be told, I just plain like the reMarkable. It’s the paper metaphor I’m sure, but it does unlock something in my mind. My notes in meetings are more vivid, I use it to barrel through logical problems when developing, and I like that it can just sit there on the desk, waiting for me to put stylus to screen. The iPad never did that for me, because I use it for so much more. It’s the same reason for having a notebook to scribble notes in, the difference is that the reMarkable won’t run out of paper, and my notes are synced. I had an extra iPad for a while but that was just too excessive.

This. This works for me. Remarkable, isn’t it?