You’ve seen the Very Important Businessperson at airports. While everyone else is in line at Jamba Juice or taking selfies in their bachelorette party hats, the VIB is seated at their designated gate. They’re working hard, either typing furiously on a laptop or yammering into their expensive noise-canceling headphones. Their luggage matches. Their shoes are shiny and scuff-free. You’d bet a million bucks they’re flying first class.
Using the reMarkable 2 tablet makes me feel like one of those people.
When you hear the word tablet, you probably think of something like the iPad Pro—apps, games, and so on. But unlike that type of tablet, reMarkable 2 isn’t meant to take the place of your computer. It can’t even browse the internet. Its sole purpose is to replace a paper notepad. You can use it to make handwritten notes, edit PDFs, sketch ideas, and read ebooks and articles on its E Ink display. That’s about all it does, for better and for worse.
I’m a lifelong dedicated pen-and-paper note taker. I’m always jotting down story outlines, headline ideas, to-do lists, and meeting memos. I struggle with electronic note-taking, and no method that I’ve ever tried has successfully converted me. I turned to Reddit to learn more about the first reMarkable tablet, and I saw all sorts of folks raving. College students, lawyers, artists, architects, and writers like myself waxed poetic about how innovative the E Ink tablet was.
When I got a review unit of the second iteration (it took a while; the device’s arrival has been delayed), I realized those redditors were right. The screen feels like paper. It looks like paper. When you write on it, the screen even sounds like paper. Writing is seamless, even joyous. Simply scrawl away with its dedicated stylus and your thoughts are recorded digitally, leaving you free to keep writing and never worry about running out of pages—or scribbling furiously in an attempt to get your pen to work.
The device is thin—remarkably so, measuring just 4.7 millimeters. That’s more than a millimeter thinner than the iPad Pro. It also weighs less than a pound and features a lovely, paperlike 10.3-inch display.
After you wake the device by pressing the single button on the top left corner (and entering your PIN), you’re met with a minimal home screen that allows you to choose between existing notebooks and files, or an evergreen, permanent Quick Notes section. Any notebooks and documents you start can be edited, rearranged, sorted into folders. New documents can be created from different templates: checklists, sheet music, ruled pages, or a grid of dots. A few quick taps brings you to a blank page that stands ready for you to fill it with your thoughts and ideas. On the left of the screen is a toolbar where you can select your brush shape and size, select text, fiddle with layers, or undo recent actions.
The $399 price is for the tablet alone, and doesn’t include the Marker stylus ($49) or the Folio ($69) case, though the company is currently bundling those two accessories with the reMarkable 2 tablet, so for a limited time, you can get all three items for $399.
The Marker is a hefty and textured stylus with replaceable high-friction tips. (Extra tips are included, and each one lasts about two months.) It doesn’t have a battery, so there’s no need to charge it. The Marker snaps onto the right side of the tablet via a magnet. You can also choose to upgrade to the Marker Plus ($99), which is nearly identical to the Marker, save for the sensor on the end that acts as an eraser. Simply flip the Marker Plus over like you would a pencil and rub the end over your mistake. Voilà, the text is gone, complete with a barely visible bit of faded text where your old work used to be. Just like paper, folks.
Your Marker strokes are digitized using 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, which makes the experience feel and appear natural, close to the feel of writing with a fine-point Sharpie. Brush options are too limited; I do wish there were options for things like a brush pen, stamps, or streamlining. (I’ve been spoiled by ProCreate.)
Just like the Marker, the simple Folio case can be upgraded to a Book Folio ($99 and up), which has a nicer flip-open cover. But annoyingly, the Book Folio doesn’t have a dedicated slot for Marker storage like the cheaper Folio does; the Marker is left vulnerable, secured to the device only by its magnet and not held in a strap or a pocket. (I use a sleeve like this one for my Apple Pencil that attaches to the iPad with adhesive; something similar might be a good idea for reMarkable’s Markers.)
You’re probably asking: Why not just use an iPad and an Apple Pencil? That’s a fine method for taking notes, but the iPad has some downsides. For one, the glass screen doesn’t provide the same type of paper-like friction. But also, it’s hard to stay focused when your favorite mobile game or Netflix show is just a few taps away. I think an iPad can be a great tool for note-taking, especially if you invest in a screen protector with a paperlike feel. But an iPad can be risky if, like me, you lack self-control.
When WIRED reviewed the first reMarkable tablet, we mentioned that the device didn’t offer great options for syncing your work to the cloud. Unfortunately, that hasn’t improved much on the reMarkable 2.
Once you turn on cloud sync, your notes are automatically backed up to reMarkable’s proprietary cloud service. You can access the files via dedicated desktop and mobile apps. That’s all fine, except that you don’t have another backup option. No Google Drive, no Evernote, no Dropbox. Just the addition of yet another ecosystem to your already scattered work life.
Given the price, I’d like to see more basic hardware considerations. There’s no waterproofing, for one. There’s also no way to find the tablet or the stylus if they get lost, meaning I highly, highly recommend that you attach a Tile to your device and never let the Marker out of your sight.
While writing and drawing are smooth, there are a few little annoyances that make the tablet less than perfect. The strokes aren’t always as clear as I’d like, despite the screen’s resolution of 226 dots per inch. The invisible margins on the page make it awkward to write near the edges of the screen if the toolbar is open. Sometimes, some lag is noticeable in my pen strokes, though the palm rejection works well. There’s also no quick-erase gesture, so to erase something, you have to open a toolbar and press “undo”—or physically erase it if you have a Marker Plus. There’s no pinch-to-zoom either, though you can use a Zoom Selection tool to greatly magnify any onscreen notes or drawings. Not infrequently, I noticed some lag when trying to swipe to a new blank page.
One intriguing thing about the reMarkable 2 is its handwriting-to-text conversion, which turns your written scribbles into digital letter forms that can be edited on the tablet and shared as an email. It works in left- or right-handed modes and supports 33 different languages. I regret to inform you that it is … not great. It does an OK job recognizing my hybrid cursive-print scribbles, but it fails often enough that my notes need significant editing before I can forward them along.
The worst part: Even though you can convert your handwritten notes to text and then edit that text on the fly before firing it off in an email, there is no way to search the text stored on the tablet, even after it’s been converted. If you emailed your notes to yourself, you could search for text there—provided the reMarkable 2 converted your handwriting perfectly. But there’s no way to search for a person’s name, a date, or even a page that says “Grocery List.” You’d have to manually flip through your notebooks to find that page, convert it, and then send it to yourself. Your organization skills had better be stellar.
There is the option to read articles and books on reMarkable 2. I don’t use it. The free Pocket-like Chrome plug-in allows you to save articles for later consumption. The process is quick, but once the article shows up on your tablet, the formatting can be wonky. Features like external links, images, and supplemental information are lacking in plain-text articles, so I kept finding myself turning back to my computer to gain further context or look up something related.
You can use the reMarkable 2 for ebooks, but only ePUB files without digital rights management restrictions. The device also lacks page-turn buttons. So even though you can write notes in the margins of books, reading books is clearly not the tablet’s primary function. The Kindle is still the better option for that.
There’s something charming, admirable even, about what reMarkable has created: a dedicated note-taking device for dedicated note-takers. I can see it now … me, at an airport, working Very Hard. Me, at a coffee shop, taking notes during a meeting, politely smiling at strangers that clearly want to ask me what device it is I’m using. Me, five years into the future, breaking out the tablet, showing my editor my notes as I’m working out the details of a book deal.
The only issue is, like so many other things, the pandemic has burst my dream bubble, and I find myself sitting here in my living room with a $400 device that doesn’t successfully address a specific need. If you’re looking for the best note-taking experience you’ve had since pen and paper, look no further. However, if you’re like me, and the thought of spending hundreds of dollars on an imperfect gadget makes your head spin, maybe it’s best to wait for the next version. Maybe that one will be able to do more.
More Great WIRED Stories