Remarkable 2 - First Impressions

A new writing and reading experience

After all this years working with computers professionally, I am still a fond lover of handwriting. I consider writing by hand a cultural technique worth preserving and I admire people who do have a beautiful style of writing. Unfortunately my handwriting is sloppy and hard to read for others and sometimes even for myself. Nevertheless, investing the time to write a thought down manually allows me to retain the information longer. Although I use a simple mark down based text file for keeping notes at work, I also use a classic notebook and Tombow caligraphy pens for jotting down ideas and tasks. Obviously making little sketches and drawings is also more convenient using a regular pen and paper approach.

A friend of mine is using a remarkable 1 and is quite happy with it. It seemed lightweight and I liked the idea of having digitized notes with a proper look and feel of paper. I also have seen other friends using a tablet like the iPad for taking handwritten notes with a special pen. Using a tablet with its glossy surface did not seem to appealing to me, although an Android tablet would of course offer a completely different set of possibilities. However I noticed that writing on a tablet seems to involve a lot of navigating and selecting functions before the actual writing takes place. Also it is of course a permanent distraction, the same as a regular laptop would be in a meeting. It was the simplicity and the dedicated purpose of the reMarkable2 that I find intriguing. When the reMarkable2 was announced, I decided to give it a try. When it arrived I have had enough distance to reconsider my consumerist decision and I thought about selling it right away. My decision of keeping it or at least giving it a try was made during a call with friend Norbert, who owns a reMarkable 2 for a few weeks and was positive about it. I will now try if for the 30 day no questions asked period and see how it works for me.

The order process

remarkable

  • 1x Marker Plus: €40
  • 1x Book Folio – Polymer weave – Gray: €20
  • 1x reMarkable 2: €399

Including taxes and shipping I ended up paying 459 EUR upfront. The delivery date was moved two times, but I finally received the device on the 19th of November. The reMarkable web site still offers the same pre-sale option, the marker is more expensive now. However, I think the price might change again when the product is rolled out globally.

Screenshot from the reMarkable web site, taken on 19th Nov 2020

Screenshot from the reMarkable web site, taken on 19th Nov 2020

Unboxing

The product is very nicely packaged. I received the reMarkable2 device, the marker and the protective cover (book folio) in separate cardboard boxes. There is a USB Type C charging cable and some extra pen tips included.

The little boxes.

The little boxes.

The tablet it self is super thin and looks very well made. It is also light, but it does not feel fragile.

Setup

The setup is simple. One needs to add the wifi details on the device and register at my.remarkable.com. After entering a one time code the registration is complete. The settings are straight forward and clear. Basically one only needs to enter if you are left or right handed and select the language you are writing in the the text recognition.

No overwhelming settings.

No overwhelming settings.

Usage

There is only one hardware button to turn the device on and off. You can enter a pin code to protect the device and its content from others. The display is very sharp and the reading experience is exceptional. Writing is also very nice, the response time is super fast, almost without delay. One can select different pens and markers and alter the colors between black, grey and white. My pen also came with a eraser function at the end of the pen. Below is an example how the exported PDF looks like.

My beautiful handwriting.

My beautiful handwriting.

The text recognition works well, one has to concentrate on a nicer hand writing though. The text above would be just gibberish. Also it does not detect the language automatically, but you have to select a global setting. The text conversion functionality is rather primitive, but should be sufficient to make the text searchable.

There is also a plugin for the Chrome browser, which allows you to send any web site via the reMarkable coud to your device. This works extremely well and makes up for the fact that there is no browser on the device itself. It comes of course with a big privacy downside, because reMarkable will know very well what you are reading. There is also an App for Android, whichallows you to view and upload documents from the phone. Sharing articles does not seem to be supported.

Here is an example of an "quality journalism" article that worked well (from www.derstandard.at).

Nicely rendered web page

Nicely rendered web page

Compared to other eBook readers it offers more reading real estate and it is much thinner.

From left to right: Tolino Shine, Amazon Kindle, reMarkable2

From left to right: Tolino Shine, Amazon Kindle, reMarkable2

Pros and Cons

I will evaluate the device within the next weeks and update the list of pros and cons as I use it. It seems to be a great device and the list below should not leave the impression that it is not, just because the list of negatives is longer. The last update was on the 20.11.2020.

Pros

  • Very good look and feel
  • The writing process is great
  • It does feel almost like paper
  • Someone more artistic might even be able to draw on it
  • Super lightweight

Cons

The folio is not for left handers

Yes, we are a minority, but while the device supports the left handed folks, the protective sleeve is not. I am used to this problem and would turn around a classic notepad if needed, but this does not work with the folio. You can only mount it on the left side and it does incommode me. I love its hipsteresque appeal, but I probably will not be able to use it.

Lefties will relate

Lefties will relate

No backlight

I love reading in bed, next to my special someone who requires more sleep than I do. The reMarkable2 has no backlight at all. It really is likea book, you cannot read in the dark without a light source. This seems to be the trade off for the slim form factor. Other devices like the Amazon Kindle or the Tolino Shine do have backlights, but are much thicker and heavier.

Private cloud

The device only supports the private cloud of reMarkable. You cannot sync your documents from other clouds.

No browser

Even a simple browser for selecting articles would be nice.

Sharing options

The Chrome desktop app is great, but the Android variant does not allow sharing articles. I do not understand this.

Organization

Shared web sites will show up under ebooks. You can create folders, but you cannot do so in the Web interface. In the Android app you can only rename files, but not move them. This means you have to fiddle with each and every file on the device.

Rendering

When sending a Web page to the device via the Chrome plugin, the rendering can be weird. This also can happen with rather simple pages, below is an example from the Hibernate documentation. I would have expected to get such a simple page without problems.

Not a nicely rendered web page

Not a nicely rendered web page

Not detected as MTP device under Linux

This could have been simpler, why can’t I just drag and drop my ebooks over? The reMarkable registers as a new networking device, when you enable the web interface, at least there is some non-cloudbased access possible.

Nov 20 08:45:32 xps kernel: [ 5662.967832] usb 1-6.1.1.2: new high-speed USB device number 25 using xhci_hcd
Nov 20 08:45:32 xps kernel: [ 5663.085530] usb 1-6.1.1.2: New USB device found, idVendor=04b3, idProduct=4010, bcdDevice= 4.14
Nov 20 08:45:32 xps kernel: [ 5663.085537] usb 1-6.1.1.2: New USB device strings: Mfr=1, Product=2, SerialNumber=0
Nov 20 08:45:32 xps kernel: [ 5663.085540] usb 1-6.1.1.2: Product: RNDIS/Ethernet Gadget
Nov 20 08:45:32 xps kernel: [ 5663.085544] usb 1-6.1.1.2: Manufacturer: Linux 4.14.78 with 30b20000.usb
Nov 20 08:45:32 xps kernel: [ 5663.089960] cdc_ether 1-6.1.1.2:1.0 usb0: register 'cdc_ether' at usb-0000:00:14.0-6.1.1.2, CDC Ethernet Device, d2:dc:08:36:a6:a9
Nov 20 08:45:32 xps mtp-probe: checking bus 1, device 25: "/sys/devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:14.0/usb1/1-6/1-6.1/1-6.1.1/1-6.1.1.2"
Nov 20 08:45:32 xps mtp-probe: bus: 1, device: 25 was not an MTP device

When you enable the web interface, browsing to http://10.11.99.1/ shows a primitive tool where you can upload and download the documents. You cannot create folders for organizing the books and papers to your liking using this interface. There is no authentication, so better not activate this in an untrusted wifi. The web interface only works when the USB cable is connected. Maybe this is the security concept.