No matter how many tablets and styli I've used, I always go back to the irreplaceable experience of writing on paper with a pen and pencil. The reMarkable ($599), a new E Ink-based tablet looks to retire my notebooks once and for all by re-creating traditional writing experiences down to the actual feel of putting pen to paper. With its unique, 10.3-inch Canvas display and felt-tipped stylus, this tablet somehow mirrors the physical sensation of analog writing. It even backs up your creations to the cloud and allows you to access them from apps.
Aside from its hefty price, the biggest thing holding the reMarkable back is the somewhat sluggish nature of its E Ink display, which pauses ever so slightly between pages and actions.
It can't do as much as other tablets, either, as it's made for writing, drawing and reading (epubs and PDFs). But when it comes to writing, the reMarkable is the best tablet on the market, and I want one for myself.
A simple-looking device, the reMarkable (the first product of a company by the same name) features a white plastic frame and bezel, an aluminum back panel and its 10.3-inch Canvas display, which consists of five proprietary technologies. The tablet's modest-looking Marker stylus, with eight replaceable tips, is included.
The reMarkable weighs 12.5 ounces and measures 10.1 x 6.9 x 0.3 inches, so it's large enough to give you a whole page to write on and light enough that you can hold it for a while. It's lighter and larger than the 10.5-inch Apple iPad Pro (17.3 ounces, 9.4 x 6.8 x 0.2 inches) and heavier and larger than the 6-inch E Ink Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (7.2 ounces, 6.7 x 4.6 x 0.4 inches).
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The reMarkable keeps things simple for its buttons and ports. It's got a power and wake button on the top with the Back, Home and Forward/New Page buttons on the bottom bezel. You'll use the micro USB port on the tablet's bottom edge to charge the reMarkable, but the company plans to add data-transfer capabilities in a future version.
Textured "Canvas" Display
The reMarkable's major weapon is its 10.3-inch Canvas display, a monochromatic digital-paper surface that incorporates the E Ink Carta technology. The first thing you'll notice about the display is its slightly granular texture, which makes it feel like cold paper. Don't expect to view photos clearly on this display, as they look like you used a carbon-copy sheet (ask your elders). While this panel's on-screen buttons are touch-sensitive, you'll need to use the slate's Marker stylus to do everything else.
Just like with actual paper, the reMarkable's viewing angles are nearly perfect, as I could see text clearly no matter how I looked at it, even when I placed the tablet at nearly 90-degree angles.
Writing and Drawing with the Marker
One of my favorite things about the reMarkable is letting other people use it. I got looks of shock and elation nearly every time someone wrote on the slate. That reaction is warranted because of how good the act of writing feels. The extremely natural sensation you feel while drawing comes from moving the pen's felt tip against the Canvas display. This is a much more comfortable feeling than writing with the Apple Pencil on an iPad's glass screen. Not only is the Marker's input sensitive to pressure and tilt, but the Pencil tool also features its own tilt mode, so you can write as if you're at an angle while not adjusting your input.
The reMarkable's most impressive trick is that it switches the feeling you get when writing for each of the different writing tools (Pen, Pencil and Brush). With each digital utensil, you get a different amount of friction. Pencil offers the most friction, while the pen gives a medium amount of resistance and the brush delivers the smoothest experience.
Because I'm more of a writer than an artist, I let our deputy photo director, Jef Castro, take the tablet for a spin to draw the beautiful images you see throughout this review. When he was finished, he told me the reMarkable was fun to draw with, specifically calling out the pencil's tilt mode and the pen's marker mode as feeling authentic. Castro said he appreciated having the option to create new layers, something that creative professionals expect thanks to Adobe's Photoshop and similar apps.
The one place where this stylus doesn't stand up to the iPad Pro's Pencil (or to Microsoft's Surface Pen) is latency. The Marker got a 55 millisecond delay, which is more than twice as long as the times from the Apple Pencil (20ms) and Surface Pen (21ms). And while I noticed this lag during testing, I didn't find it to be a deal breaker, especially considering how much better it felt to write on the reMarkable.
Interface and Software
Rather than running a variant of another operating system, the reMarkable uses Codex, its own OS. This is a custom version of Linux that's optimized for low-latency e-paper. This means you get a brand-new user interface to learn, one that mostly revolves around unfamiliar icons.
Before you get down to business, you should familiarize yourself with the icon indexes for navigation and for writing and drawing tools. While I love the select, move and copy options, the interface could give better visual cues of its progress. Instead of seeing a completion icon, you have to presume things are working as you move along.
The reMarkable includes 56 templates, such as lined, gridded and sheet music. My favorite is Perspective 2, which looks like the schematics that the rebels used to blow up the first Death Star in Star Wars: A New Hope. But, there's more to the reMarkable than just writing, as it supports PDF documents and DRM-free ePub books. Those files aren't static in the tablet, as its highlighter and writing tools can be used to mark up pages and take notes.
Apps and Sync
reMarkable's proprietary cloud sync means your documents stay backed up to the cloud, as each reMarkable comes with 8GB of cloud storage (mirroring the tablet's local storage). The desktop and mobile applications let you access your files from anywhere, with or without the slate. Third-party storage isn't available yet, but it's a planned feature for the end of 2017.
The reMarkable apps for Windows and macOS allow you to export notebooks and documents as PDF and PNG files, and the company plans to roll out vector objects as an export option in the future. Its mobile apps (currently in beta for Android and iOS) allow you to view your documents remotely.
The tablet also comes with a tool built for those who enjoy creating for a live audience. LiveView mirrors your current document to the macOS and Windows apps, so others can follow along without looking over your shoulder.
The reMarkable runs as fast as most E Ink devices (such as Amazon's Kindles), but it's certainly less snappy than an iPad. The reMarkable runs on an ARM A9 CPU with 512MB of RAM, which shows when pages pause between loading, and buttons take a second to respond to touch. I got used to it quickly, but I wish there were less lag.
Make sure you charge the reMarkable while you charge your own batteries at night. Though it's specced for five days of normal usage, we saw it lose 15 percent of its life after a couple of hours of usage. That means a long day could drain the whole thing. In comparison, the iPad lasted 13 hours and 55 minutes, and the Kindle Paperwhite is rated to last 21 hours.
A reMarkable representative told LaptopMag that the manufacturer is not satisfied with how long a single charge lasts. The company is currently working on firmware optimizations so the tablet will meet its full potential.
Pricing, Accessories and Warranty
The reMarkable costs $599 and includes the marker, extra tips and a wool-felt folio case that has a pocket for the Marker. An extra set of eight Marker tips costs $12. reMarkable says each tip should last at least three weeks, and that less pressure and usage could extend their life to six weeks.
We should note that buying a reMarkable, a brand-new product from a startup, is a placing bet that the company will be around for the long term. Without third-party sync or USB transfer, consumers are reliant on the company maintaining its cloud servers and producing Marker tips.
The reMarkable comes with a limited, one-year warranty in the U.S., but this period may be longer in other countries.
reMarkable made its product roadmap public, so we know that the models shipping to fulfill preorders will be getting more features over time.
So while the company is looking to make third-party cloud storage a feature for beta users by the end of 2017, it intends to bring handwriting recognition with transcription to the tablet by early 2018. Later that year, the reMarkable also plans to launch better sharing features, such as a web app for cloud access to files and live-sharing for notes via web links.
The reMarkable's amazing writing experience is a one-of-a-kind feature that when combined with its cloud-sync capabilities and Photoshop-esque editing, makes it a great tool for note takers and artists alike. Writing on the slate is one of the most realistic, comfortable experiences I've had on a tablet, rivaled only by using an actual pen and paper.
Of course, $599 may be a tough price to swallow for some, especially when the device is made just for writing, drawing and reading. For a more feature-rich tablet, consider the $649 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which supports Apple's $99 Pencil stylus. It's $149 more expensive, though, and writing on its glass doesn't feel as natural. However, the iPad has Apple's huge library of apps and games, while reMarkable has a much more limited offering. Still, the reMarkable has to be used to be truly believed, as writers and artists looking for the best marriage of digital and analogue won't find a better option.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag