First things first: The reMarkable 2 is an amazing piece of technology. It’s really great to read and especially to write on it. It has some downsides and small annoyances, yes. But in general I definitely love it and enjoy using it every time I pick it up.
Now the details…
I have my reMarkable since about two months now. I didn’t use it as much as I would have liked, but that’s my life’s problem and none of the device. From the beginning I wanted to write up a small review and took some notes about the usage and it’s flaws, so it’s just a list of things I took note of and not an in depth review.
Let me begin with the shipping experience.
The first impression of the device started already way before it arrived at home. The reMarkable company seems very positive, customer centric and thoughtful. A while after I placed my pre-order in August, I got an eMail telling me when the timeframe for delivery of the batch my device was in, so I knew I would have to wait quite a while. A couple of weeks before shipment I got notified that it’s about time and they provided a detailed roundup of what the next steps be and how the delivery process would look like. They got timed eMails with the DHL status right before the device was shipped and when it arrived. They link to the right help articles at just the right time. Get informed about the device before delivery, get setup help right when you hold the device in your hands. Really a great experience!
The packaging is up to the highest standards. The packages (device, marker, folio) perfectly line up, easy to unpack, everything’s made of paper, perfectly recyclable. Even Apple can still learn a bit here.
The build quality of the hardware itself is astonishing. Very much “Apple-like”. High quality materials and it feels amazing to hold. It’s a little heavier than I expected it to be. Holding it in one hand to read is a little exhausting, but then again… it’s a big thing and not a small e-reader. The folio feels great and is also very well made and designed.
Probably missing for a lot of people is the backlight. According to reMarkable it’s (not yet?) technically possible to have their screen technology as precise as it is when adding another layer for the light. So, reading in bed at night without the lights on is not possible, unlike with most other e-readers. But this is no sole e-Reader. In fact, most people will not use it to read novels at all I suppose. But it’s definitely a thing to consider and might be a showstopper for some people. Something like a Kindle Oasis is much better suited for that. I got myself a small USB reading light I can clip on to the device when I use it in bed. It works well enough for me, but: where the light is attached to the bezel, it’s impossible to write because the e-ink display gets disturbed by the pressure.
But back to using the device: I will never forget the first time I looked at it. It really looked like a piece of paper. I remember asking “is this the screen or is there a protection on it?”. This is not a professional review, but it really is that amazing, trust me. The software sometimes feels a little slow in general usage, just like any e-reader I ever had in my hands. It could be worse, but this is really something I wished the creators of these devices would reconsider. A little faster processor really would get 90% of the readers a long way. Some things really do take a lot of time, like opening the table of contents in a bigger eBook or a weekly newspaper. While changing the font in a book I didn’t know whether the device crashed or not (it didn’t).
The battery life is really good. I don’t have any numbers, but the two weeks that reMarkable tells you are in the device are a little overstated. I guess one week of normal usage is no problem at all. If and only if you remember to turn Wifi off every time you don’t need to sync anything. If WiFi is always on, the battery will be drained in a couple of days without using it. Also here, this might be a showstopper for some, but the way I use it – mainly for eBooks & taking notes – this is just fine.
The cloud sync works like a charm. Documents, articles and ebooks can be added in apps on the Mac or on iOS and they sync instantly with the device. This really works flawlessly. If you’re a Chrome user (I’m not) there’s an extension that lets you „print“ directly to your reMarkable. I didn’t make use of the syncing that much but I could already see that this will be extremely useful in the future when I will send articles or documents to the reMarkable to take notes and comments on it. The commented files can later be sent via eMail directly from the device.
Sharing via eMail sometimes feels a little odd. I don’t really use eMails and the eMail that gets send from the reMarkable is nothing I would want to share with someone to be honest. But since the sync is really great, I can easily drag the file out of the app on my Mac or share it via the iOS app. If you don’t want to use the cloud sync, you can also easily access the contents via a web browser when the device is attached via USB cable.
One thing I find a little strange is the fact that there is only a US and a Norwegian software keyboard available. What’s up with that? Is it that hard to include a different keyboard layout in software? Not that I type a lot on it, but it always bugs me a little.
Now, writing on the reMarkable really feels like writing on actual paper. I saw reviews and watched videos, but I wasn’t sure about it until I tried it out myself. This ruined note taking on the iPad for me. Whenever I open GoodNotes on the iPad and use the pencil on that piece of glass… it’s weird. It really feels unnatural again. I got used to that feeling really quickly and got comfortable. Only until now. The latency on the iPad might be a tad quicker, but I mostly can’t recognize anything being slow or behind. It is simply amazing what they’ve done with that screen and how it feels to use their marker. Because the marker tip is made of plastic and the display is textured, the tip will wear down after a while. I’m not there yet, but I might soon have to replace the first one. They ship a couple of marker tips with the device, and they can be ordered from the reMarkable store.
When writing, you can choose between a number of different pen styles like a ballpoint, pencil or fine liner. I’m not sure this is imagination or really a thing, but the different pen types actually feel a little different when writing. My guess is that it’s just the visual style on the screen that messes with my brain, but nevertheless this is something I felt was very interesting.
Another thing I learned is that less pressure produces a clearer result. I tend to use a lot of pressure when writing by hand and I feel my muscles get exhausted quickly when I write more than a couple of sentences. Using less pressure also helps me to be able to write longer before I need a break.
I ordered the Marker Plus which comes with a little rubber tip. This can be used to erase what you wrote, just like it was an actual pencil. This is really neat, although using it precisely needs some practice to get used to it. I think the upgrade to the Plus is worth it. It really does the trick for me; no need to switch between pen and eraser every time I made a mistake.
Initially I did not think I would use the text conversion at all. They heavily market this as a main feature of the reMarkable but I didn’t expect anything from it. Handwriting recognition exists on the iPad for several apps (and lately also in iOS itself), but no app really was able to work with my not so clear handwriting. It’s not that bad, but bad enough for software to mostly struggle with it.
After playing around with it I was surprised to say the least. It actually was able to convert my handwriting to text and I didn’t even need to adjust that much. I decided to really put it through its paces and wrote a whole blog post by hand and converted the text. It needed some editing, but mostly just for some special words and names, which is expected.
I got around to it and I have to say that it really is much better then the iPad. I will use it more in the future, that’s for sure.
There’s not much to say about reading on the device. It’s great! It looks like paper, feels like paper, it displays the text like a paper book. It can open any PDFs or EPUB files, without DRM. DRM on eBooks really is the worst. I got out of the Amazon ecosystem last year because I think it’s ridiculous to buy books and only be able to read them on Amazon devices. I buy it, I own it, I want to read it where I want. But also outside the Amazon world, DRM is a thing and some eBooks from independent stores for example have Adobe DRM and you need an e-reader that supports that system or you need to read the book in a really bad Adobe app on your computer. (There are ways to get around that DRM issue; searching the internet helps here)
One thing I would wish for would be a split screen like I can have on the iPad, so I could read on one side and take notes in a notebook on the other side of the screen. Sometimes I want to write into the book, sometimes it would be more helpful to have a sheet of paper next to it. The “problem” with the reMarkable is that export of notes only works as pdf or image files for the book. The notes are in the book, just like in a physical copy. External notes require switching back and forth between the book and the notebook, which becomes a little annoying when taking a lot of notes in a separate document.
This is probably nothing a lot of people would need, but I just came across this “feature” and wanted to include it here. It’s not officially supported (yet?) to include custom templates for notebooks, or adjust the idle screen of the reMarkable, so I searched whether there is some unofficial solution. As it turns out there is! When the device is connected via USB you can easily SSH into the device and fiddle around with the file system. I wouldn’t recommend to happily hack around in there, but adding templates is not that big of a change. There are some tools out there that help doing this. I didn’t try them out yet, but it looks like this script or this free Windows tool are good starters to play around.
This might easily be the best gadget I bought in recent years. I can feel there’s some return of investment here. Reading more and taking notes is something I wanted to do way more lately and I hope I can learn some new things faster this way. I’m using it to read technical books and to take notes in them. This really was the thing that got me to buy the reMarkable in the first place. On any other e-reader I know of, I can only type comments and if I’m lucky I get a text file I have to process afterwards if I get access to it. It’s cumbersome and probably lost. The reMarkable lets me write right into the eBook, just like it would be a real book. Handwriting is the kicker for me here. It will always help me to remember things better than typing things using a clunky on-screen keyboard.
Other reviews show some more downsides of the device, I also mentioned a few here. It mostly feels like they had to find something to pick on. For example one issue I saw in some reviews is the missing of an integrated store for eBooks. This is something I really don’t care about and actually do not want at all. Yes, it has it’s downsides or some lacking features. But the thing it’s there for it does exceptionally well. All the downsides are far outweighed by the exceptional reading and writing experience for me personally.
I’ll say it again: probably the best gadget I bought in a long time and I’m sure I will use the heck out of it!