Despite being very much a citizen of the digital world, I am a long-time lover of hand-written notes. I read and annotate reports, and prefer doing so with pen in hand. As such, I suppose it was inevitable that I would find and try out the reMarkable. Their ad blurb says:
reMarkable – the only digital device that feels like paper. A tool for note-taking, reading and reviewing documents.
No social media, e-mail or notifications. No distractions, just you and your thoughts.
They tout a handwriting conversion feature compatible with twenty-eight languages (and several options for English, French, and German as one of the important features. I have had mine for a few weeks, and have done my best to put it through the wringer. Here are my thoughts:
When it comes to the unboxing experience, the reMarkable team seems to have take a page out of Apple’s playbook – not a bad thing at all. Setting the device up is quickly achieved. You can create your account using your email, your Google account, or your Facebook account, and companion apps are available for iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows.
Simply put, writing on the ReMarkable is very, very comfortable indeed. It is very nearly a paper-like experience. Depending on the pressure you use, you can vary the resulting writing and drawings. This becomes particularly apparent when using the pencil and brush settings. How comfortable it is to use becomes irrelevant if the display lags too much. Happily, the display dies update quickly enough for the latency not to be an issue.
It has been my experience that the display updates quickly enough that the latency is all but impossible to discern – unless you are really looking for it.
The handwriting to text conversion feature works fairly well, provided that your handwriting is reasonably legible in the first place. As I was accused of aspiring to become a doctor in third grade, writing so that the feature can reliably convert my chicken scratch means that I must reduce my writing speed appreciably.
If I slow down, and focus on ensuring that my hand-writing is neat (or at least neat-adjacent…), it works quite well. The feature isn’t good enough for me to use it much, but this isn’t a show-stopper for me; I’m used to having to transcribe my hand-written notes anyway, so doing so for these, too, is no problem. I will say, however, that I did my initial write-up for this review on the reMarkable, and was able to use that base line upon which to build the end product.
Above all, the reMarkable is intuitive in use. After playing around with it for about an hour, I was using it with the same level of ease that I would experience with, well, pen and paper.
Besides PDFs, the main work interface of the reMarkable is the notebook. You can choose between a large number of different templates, including a blank page, lines, a grid, and a grid of dots, all depending on what you want to use it for. Should you need to change the template, you can do so by going into the settings for the notebook and choosing a different one.
You can not rename individual pages in notebooks, which is a bit of a disappointment to me; if that feature was available, you could organise your notes so that you can effectively search based on at least that data.
The reMarkable does store the tool chosen for a specific notebook, which is nice. I would, however, have liked to be able to set the default tool. I’m sure many people enjoy the pencil tool, but I happen to prefer the pen tool, and would have liked to be able to change the default tool as a global setting.
As of this review, the reMarkable supports PDFs and ePUB. That is certainly a good start, and PDFs are particularly useful. I would have liked to see other options as well, such as .mobi, documents and presentations. Sadly, though it renders PDFs and ePUBs well enough, it does not support links in them, even when those links point to other parts of the document.
Something I really appreciate, is the fact that the reMarkable embeds hand-written notes in PDFs in layers. This means that you can send the annotated file to someone else, displaying annotations while maintaining copy/paste functionality – assuming that it is available in the original file.
The battery life has been adequate in my experience, though some uses (notably handwriting conversion) drains the battery more quickly than others. I can usually go as much as five days between charging, which is good enough for my use.
The reMarkable is not a perfect device, but it is a very good device for a few distinct use cases:
- Annotating PDFs
- Reading documents (as long as you don’t need to use links in the document)
While there are some features I would like to see on the software side, such as improved format support and link support, the reMarkable certainly has impressed me. It’s a good and intuitive device with which I have been very happy. It is very much a niche product; a little too large to use for leisure reading (where I happen to prefer either a Kindle, my cell phone or an actual book), it is perfect when it comes to reading reports and briefing papers.
For my use case, it has effectively replaced most of my needs when it comes to printing, while lightening my load going to and from work and studies significantly.
At the end of the day, however, the big question is whether the rather hefty price tag is worth it? ReMarkable certainly seems to be confident that it is, as they offer a 30-day, no questions asked refund if you’re not satisfied. As for me, I will not be returning it. It has quickly become a device I use daily, for a number of small and large tasks.