reMarkable 2: Review

Blurring the line between paper & digital

Disclaimer: This is not a paid review. I purchased the device with my own money, and I was not solicited to review this product.

Introduction

It is hard to think of a recent device that has so greatly affected my workflow as the reMarkable 2. That is not hyperbole. I use it all the time, from reading PDFs to note taking, jotting down ideas, and doing sermon development in a freeform / more organic way than on my computer.

I use it in the counseling room when shepherding my flock. I use it in meetings. I keep my prayer list on it. Often, I will throw it in a bag with just my Bible, and head out to work through a text away from my computer and other distractions.

What is it?

It is an e-ink based tablet with a digitizer and pen (“marker” in reMarkable parlance). As it uses e-ink, it feels more like reading on paper than the LCD based screens most tablets such as an iPad. In sunlight, it is still legible, though in dark rooms you will need to supply your own light (just like a book). Unlike some other e-ink devices there is no front-light.

However, without a backlit and constantly refreshing display, the battery life is outstanding. I can get a week of use from it before having to charge it. It is also much thinner and lighter than a typical iOS, Android, or Windows tablet. It weighs 0.89 lbs. (403.5 grams) and is only 0.19″ (4.7mm) thick.

But this is not a general computing device. There are no apps on it. All you can do on it is read and write (and manage your notebooks). But it far excels other tablets when it comes to that. Screen refreshes / page turns are a bit slow, think e-ink Kindles.

Taking notes on Beza’s biography of Calvin at the dealership

Writing feel

Writing on an iPad or Surface feels like writing on glass. A bit slippery and never feels quite right. Microsoft put a haptic engine in their newest Slim Pen 2 to try and replicate that feel but it still doesn’t feel like pencil on paper.

But the reMarkable DOES. It feels satisfying to write with. It is even a bit addictive. At the same time, you can also do things that regular paper cannot – like select a section of your notes and copy and paste it elsewhere or move the text around the page.

Distraction free

Reading a book pulled from Google and annotating it

I have a tablet (Surface Pro 9) and a phone (ZFold 3) that I read and takes notes on (both support a stylus and inking). Besides the fact that they are not as satisfying to write on, they also are filled with temptations and distractions. Notifications come in and I am tempted to open them. When I get distracted in my mind, I am tempted to open up the browser, and chase some sort of rabbit trail.

But with the reMarkable, assuming I keep my phone away, I am glued to reading and writing. This is a great boon to my productivity and is the best of both worlds – the best of paper notebooks with the best of digital technology (circa the 2020s).

Workflows

Meditations on a sermon text (Psalm 109)

A few of the workflows that I use:

  1. I upload PDFs to the reMarkable that I want to read. With Google Books this allows me to read a lot of older works for free almost as if they were printed, due to the e-ink screen and lightweight nature of the device. I can then markup the books as well and capture the notes without defiling a book!
  2. I can also export sections of my Logos library and then can read and also mark them up with annotations. The cover photo illustrates that kind of workflow.
  3. I often export the Biblical text that I am going to preach on and start to “doodle” on it, see above photo “Meditations on a sermon text”.
    • I meditate on the text and draw connections between it and other Scripture with my Bible open.
    • Using the reMarkable cloud service, I open those notes on my PC and start to put a sermon outline together and type up a sermon from it. There are integrations with DropBox, OneDrive, and Google Drive if you do not want to use reMarkable’s proprietary cloud.
  4. When I read an involved book (physical book) – especially one more research oriented – I will take notes as I read the book on the reMarkable. See photo below at the end of this section.
  5. Note taking is excellent in the counseling room or in a meeting. Given its paper like qualities, no one thinks you are playing a game on it while speaking with them.
  6. For Family Worship, I keep a PDF Bible on it. I mark where I am in the Bible to keep track of where we leave off (we do not do whole chapters, typically). I can erase any marks I make, and I don’t have to mark up a physical Bible.
  7. Recently it aided me in an emergency preaching situation. A guest minister took ill after the morning service and as he was unable to preach our afternoon service, I scrambled (while at church) to pull together a sermon in about an hour.
    • I found a sermon I had never preached to my congregation, edited it on my Surface Go 2 to update it for our context, and then uploaded it to the reMarkable.
    • I preached from the reMarkable – I had never preached from an electronic device before – and the Lord brought me through it. Would I do that again? No. Not unless it was a similar emergency. The contrast is not quite as good as real paper, and the page size is a bit smaller than the 8.5″x11″ I am used to preaching from. And, as with all electronic devices, it could have failed. But the Lord blessed it, and I was grateful. Members of the congregation told me they could not tell I was preaching from a device.
  8. You can convert your handwriting to text via OCR. But I have yet to use it for that. It is an offline process and is not done in real-time.
Freeform note taking. Note the small text that I could insert with the fineliner tool

Bad stuff

All of that said, the device is not perfect. To use their cloud functionality after a year, it will cost you a few dollars a month to subscribe. The device is not speedy and page turns can take some time with complex PDFs filled with images. The 3.0 update, which is its biggest update to date, is still buggy (I recommend that you stay on 2.x for a while). It is pretty pricey, as many niche products are. While it starts at around $299, you will need to buy a pen to use it ($80-100), and you will probably want a case of some kind. All told, you are looking at around $400+ for it. That puts it in iPad territory and this device is not nearly as useful as an iPad for general purpose computing. But that said, if you can use this device to its full potential because of your work, you will find that you use it more than an iPad.

You cannot open multiple notebooks or books at the same time for a split-screen view. This means I cannot read a book and put notes on it in another document. Other e-ink devices have gained this capability, but the reMarkable has not.

Competition

The market has grown since reMarkable 1 first came on the scene. Amazon has its Kindle Scribe which allows you to natively read Kindle books on it. It is not as good for doing actual note taking, but it is a Gen 1 device, and the software may greatly improve. Supernote is another device that better models the feel of ink on paper rather than pencil on paper as the reMarkable. Then there is the Onyx Note Air 2 – which is a full-on Android tablet with an e-ink display. This means you can use all of your normal apps like OneNote instead of the proprietary note taking applications. You can also use the Kindle app (though you cannot take handwritten notes on them). This is an intriguing device and many love it. Though for me, the minimalism of the reMarkable 2 is attractive.

Conclusion

I hope that the above review might give you a reason to consider an e-ink tablet to add to your workflow. With our current digital age, it is nice to have something minimalistic and distraction free to aid our productivity that melds the best of analog and digital technologies.

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