16 Dec 2021

reMarkable tablet

reMarkable 2 tablet

On a recent trip to Sweden, I spent some time with folks who edit Litteraturbanken, the national archive of literature. They raved about the reMarkable tablet, a product from neighboring Norway. (Rare indeed is a Swede recommending a Norwegian piece of technology, but that’s a story for another day.)

The reMarkable has been reviewed in the American tech press, but I had somehow missed the articles. This is the second generation product — the first was, by all accounts, a good deal clunkier.

Three concepts motivate the reMarkable 2: first, the clarity and energy-efficiency of e-ink displays (for reading ePubs and PDFs). For those of us whose first experience with e-ink screens was the first Kindle — and who have casually played around with low-cost e-readers in subsequent years — seeing a modern, HiDPI/Retina-quality screen is quite striking. And being e-ink, it’s naturally legible in bright outdoor conditions.

reMarkable 2 pdf

Second, a pressure-sensitive layer that supports annotation on top of these documents. Or, indeed, notetaking on blank or lined paper without any document underneath. It’s pretty impressive how well this pen input works — although e-ink still has some oddball screen refresh characteristics (generally surrounding whole-screen refresh cycles), the hybrid display in the reMarkable 2 is uncannily responsive to actual pen input: handwriting and note taking.

reMarkable 2 notetaking

And this brings us to the final aspect the second reMarkable brings to the table: an obsessive fixation on the tactility of drawing or writing. The surface of the e-ink screen itself, combined with the (consumable!) pen tips, conspires to produce a sensation uncannily similar to pencil on paper. The reMarkable 2 offers software interpretations of some common writing implements, such as ballpoint pens, pencils, highlighters and similar. Each behaves slightly differently, with unique pressure sensitivity settings and changing shapes depending on the angle of the pen against the screen.

reMarkable 2 drawing

reMarkable is a small company, with design in Norway and production naturally in China. There has been a bit of controversy in the user community recently with a move towards putting some advanced features behind a subscription — however even critics of the move admit some kind of software-as-a-service may be necessary when competing against the likes of Apple and Amazon. Whether you find the reMarkable 2 worth the cost will depend on whether you appreciate the crisp screen, pen-driven editing and annotation capabilities, and nuanced analog “writing feel” that accompany this unique combination of screen and pen.

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