This digital notebook is remarkably cool
Editor’s Note: Sometimes we find products compelling, interesting, or curious enough that we like to get a second opinion about them. The ReMarkable 2 tablet is one of those products. In this piece, two of our contributors – Nick Caruso and Will Sabel Courtney – each share their impressions of this fascinating technology.
Nick Caruso: Have you ever wished you could write on a Kindle? If you’re the type of person who has, chances are you’ve seen it The ReMarkable tablet, perhaps through a targeted Instagram ad like I did. I had been vaguely aware of it for several years, but my interest was recently piqued with reviews of the new one ReMarkable 2 ($299)-or RM2, as the fans call it. And after a few weeks of testing, I can confidently say that while it’s not without its flaws, the RM2 isn’t the gimmick I was worried about.
Will Sable Courtney: After hearing Nick’s first report on ReMarkable 2, I found myself incredibly curious. I’ve long been interested in e-ink devices – any technology that allows me to read without the backlight appeals to my screen-weary eyes – and adding the ability to write and draw on it sounded like a potential game-changer for my day-to-day reading and editing routine.
What’s great about ReMarkable 2:
NC: Unlike so many modern gadgets, the RM2 is a happy device that asks. The main goal, simply put, is to replace a pile of paper – and not much else besides.
Like the original reMarkable before it, RM2 lets you create “notebooks” using dozens of templates (line lines, grid points, day planners, music staves, storyboards, blank), and is organized into folders. You write, annotate papers, highlight books, sketch, etc., using a wide variety of digital writing implements, each mimicking the look of their IRL versions, thanks to the RM2’s 4,000+ levels of pressure sensitivity. The pencil leaves an imperfect graphite line; the calligraphy pen makes everything you write look effortlessly fancy. All writing and drawing can be deleted, rotated, copied, pasted, moved and otherwise manipulated with a tap or two. Create layers, a la Photoshop, and manipulate them separately for more complex creations.
All these files and notebooks and pages can be organized, rearranged, deleted and shared between RM2 and an app on your phone and/or computer (everything is backed up in the cloud and displayed on all devices automatically). You can import pdfs and ePub ebooks (I know) to scribble all over, then email those documents to whoever you want. ONE just released Chrome browser extension sends text-only or pdf versions of web pages to your device for reading and tagging as well. And it’s a text conversion tool that works surprisingly well, especially considering that I have handwriting a friend recently described as “truly shocking.”
The first reMarkable tablet (still available, only on Amazon) was an impressive product debut, but in context, RM2 is a big step forward. It is “the thinnest tablet” available: at 0.19 inches, it is 30 percent thinner than its predecessor. It also has a battery that lasts three times as long, and the response to e-ink is greatly improved (latency is only 21ns, which means that it is basically non-existent). The case is aluminum, and the whole thing weighs less than a pound. It feels at once significant and silly; I often feel like snapping it in two, but have also accidentally dropped it once or twice with no ill effects. The RM2 charges via USB-C and has plenty of magnets to attach it to folios and to keep the stylus in place when not in use. The processor is fast and the storage space is plentiful – 8GB goes a long way with pdfs.
The result is a device that I literally can’t stop using. I read and highlight books and scripts, send drafts of my own documents to RM2 so I can tag them like a sadistic professor, and take notes in real time when I host Gear Patrol Podcast. I doodle when I’m on the phone with friends. I’ve even downloaded crossword PDFs to do while ignoring Netflix.
WSC: There is no disputing the fact that using ReMarkable 2 is absolutely delightful. Nick is not exaggerating: writing and drawing on the tablet feels as natural and organic as doing it on a real piece of paper. The different types of pseudo-writing tools produce different results – the line of the pencil is different from that of the ballpoint pen, which is different from the highlighter, which is different from the brush. Add to that the aforementioned low latency, and the result is a truly remarkable typing or drawing experience.
Likewise, the slim, lightweight nature of the tablet means it’s almost effortless to carry around. If your bag is big enough to carry a magazine, it can handle the ReMarkable, even with the extra leather case on. I’ve started tossing it in my backpack when I go on trips, whether I’m stocking up on briefings before driving new cars, making notes for future reviews and stories, or just reading out stories I’ve saved to check out later when I finally have time for it. My artistic partner, in turn, has started using it to sketch; it’s much easier just to grab ReMarkable than to get out the good drawing paper and pencils.
What’s not ideal about ReMarkable 2:
NC: First, this is an expensive device. A price of $299 is nothing to shake off, and several orders of magnitude more expensive than a pack of paper and a pencil. Even worse, it just gives you the tablet. To use the best part of this thing, the writing part, you have to pshell out another $49 for Marker, or $99 if you want Marker Plus with its back-end sensor for eraser emulation. There is also folios ($69+) .if you want to be able to protect your investment from scratches and scuffs. And if you include extra nibs (which are designed to gradually wear away to give you that tactile drawing feel), you’re in for about $530 — about the same as you’d pay for the new 10th-generation iPad and an Apple Pencil .
Beyond reading and some organization, the mobile and desktop apps lack functionality. On the device, you mostly organize and navigate using menus and submenus; there’s no drag and drop functionality, and only a few touch and swipe gestures at the moment. It’s kind of clumsy, but then there’s… I don’t know, get heavy books from the top shelf? There is no backlight, so reading in low light is very difficult. The Reddit community is arguing fiercely a lot about how well the brand serves and responds to customers, often citing a lack of specific features; in fact, many have hacked and modified their own devices.
WSC: Although the app makes it easy to sync PDF files between computer and tablet, it still requires a couple of extra steps to do so: for example, if you want to sign a contract, you have to drag it into the app, wait for it to sync with your tablet, do your business, wait for it to re-sync, then re-download it to your hard drive before uploading it wherever it’s going.
Want to read a book about ReMarkable 2? You better hope it’s in the public domain, and better be prepared to scour the Internet for a regular PDF copy of it, or you won’t be able to drop it on your tablet. Want to read a long-form article instead? Unless you happen to come across the aforementioned Chrome extension—which requires a) hunting around the ReMarkable website and b) using Chrome—it’s more complicated than just clicking “Save as PDF,” since all web page formatting has a tendency to shatter. the text into a narrow, barely legible column. Before I tried the Chrome plugin, I had to resort to copying all the text from stories, pasting it into a Word document, and then saving that as PDF before uploading to ReMarkable’s server. (The results were great – but it’s enough of a strain that I ended up just doing it for stories myself really wanted to read.) None of these tasks are individually labor-intensive, but they combine to make the barrier to daily use an unexpectedly high hurdle.
Perhaps the biggest danger to ReMarkable 2’s current success comes from within the ranks of the FAANG complex—not from Apple, but from Amazon. From the end of 2022, the Bezos brand now offers a Kindle that, like this tablet, allows you to write on it via an electronic pen: the Kindle Scribe. While we haven’t had the chance to test it yet, the fact that it’s priced at just $370 (including the pen) and allowing you to seamlessly read anything from your Kindle library arguably makes it a much more appealing proposition for buyers looking to maximize the value of their products.
The ReMarkable 2: The Verdict
NC: When I show people the RM2, most approach it as an iPad downgrade, which it’s not. It’s a massive upgrade for all reading materials, notebooks and papers. RM2 is the most new product I have experienced in a long time. Actually, it’s the most interesting and fun anything I have tested since I used to test McLarens. It’s just not as swoopy, and a little more affordable.
WSC: As much as I’ve enjoyed using ReMarkable 2, the small quibbles mean I keep coming back to the same question: who exactly is the ideal user for this product? Students, perhaps, if your textbooks and reading materials come in PDF form; on the flip side, teachers who receive assignments in digital form but still prefer to mark up with pen and paper are likely to appreciate it as well. No doubt others who often work with long documents will find it useful, even in ways I can’t imagine.
But none of this diminishes the joy of actually using ReMarkable 2 – even if it now faces more competition than it did when it first debuted. To stick with Nick’s car comparison, much like a McLaren probably isn’t the first, second or third car in the average owner’s garage, the ReMarkable 2 won’t be your primary, secondary or even tertiary technology. It’s not the most flexible gadget. But again, much like a Macca, it does what it does very well – and you’ll have a great time using it.