Swapping pen and paper for E Ink
The pen, as the saying goes, is mightier than the sword. And modern computers, apparently: despite the leaps and bounds of technology, with tablet styluses and Wacom digitizers, ordinary pen and paper has survived to this day. But the $399 reMarkable 2 — the company’s new second-generation E Ink tablet — looks to challenge that assumption, offering an updated design, improved specs, and a better pen to try and give the centuries-old technology of paper some new digital flair.
The original reMarkable was a unique device: a massive E Ink panel with a unique pen and the ambitious goal of killing traditional paper. It fell short in a few key respects, with the first-generation E Ink display unable to match the speed and reliability of paper.
The company has made some admirable progress in refining the design for the second-generation model. Almost every facet of the device has been improved on. The reMarkable 2 is 30 percent thinner than the original, with slimmer bezels — at 0.19 inches thick, it’s actually the thinnest tablet on the market.
It charges over a modernized for faster charging and file transfers USB-C port. There’s twice the RAM, a faster processor, and a battery that lasts nearly three times as long. And the design itself is just plain nicer, with the plastic frame replaced by aluminium and frosted glass — it’s much more befitting of the reMarkable’s premium price.
The new model is slightly heavier at 0.89 pounds (about twice as much as standard yellow legal pad), but it’s the good kind of weight, one that makes the new model feel sturdier in your hand and on your lap when you’re using it.
The reMarkable 2 also offers big improvements to the actual writing experience for the E Ink panel. While the second-generation 10.3-inch Canvas display is the same size and 226 DPI resolution as the original model, the panel itself is now layered with actual glass (instead of plexiglass), making it a stiffer writing surface that doesn’t flex as much under your pen.
Latency has also been reduced by nearly half: the reMarkable 2 offers a 21ms latency for writing — fixing the biggest issue on the original model. It’s a huge improvement, one that makes writing on the reMarkable feel nearly as fast as using a regular pen and paper. It’s not quite as low as Apple or Samsung reach with their stylus’ and tablets, but unless you compare them side by side, you won’t have an issue with the reMarkable’s latency.
The second-gen tablet also reduces the gap between the display and the E Ink layer underneath, which further helps support the illusion that you’re actually writing with real ink. There’s still no backlight, though, which feels like an odd miss.
The reMarkable 2 still maintains the best trick from its predecessor, though: a textured writing surface that works in combination with the custom-designed pens to replicate the tactile sensation of writing with an actual pen and paper. You can actually hear the pen scratching away as you write — a sort of dry, rasping sound that mimics using a Sharpie or fountain pen. (“Scratching away” is meant literally — as with the first-generation model, the pen tips will eventually wear down over time and have to be replaced.) The new pens are also twice as pressure sensitive as the original model, with 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity.
The software on the reMarkable 2 is virtually unchanged from the 2.0 software that the company released for the original tablet last year, although the improved specs help here, making loading ePubs and documents or sharing notes faster than on the original model. I still encountered several-second wait times when trying to load larger ebooks or convert handwriting heavy documents, though.
In addition to drawing and note-taking, reMarkable also supports reading and annotating both PDFs and ePub ebooks, which can be synced through a companion desktop or mobile application. Drawings (or annotated files) can then be shared from the tablet as a PDF, PNG, or SVG file through email. There’s also a Pocket-like Google Chrome extension that can send articles (either as purely text documents or “printed” PDFs) directly to your reMarkable for reading. Lastly, there’s a handwriting recognition service that can analyze your written notes and convert them to editable text, which managed to serviceably convert even my chicken-scratch handwriting.
But that short list of features encompasses the entirety of what the reMarkable can do: draw, write, read, and share.
According to reMarkable, that rather limited list of features is an intentional design choice. The company argues that the goal of the tablet is to offer a more advanced version of traditional paper — one that’s unbound by limits of physical space and more easily shared in a digital age — but without weighing down the experience with the distractions and temptations of a full-fledged tablet.
The reMarkable 2 wants to be for writing what a Kindle is for reading: a bespoke device that’s the master of its digitized domain, instead of a jack-of-all-trade device like an iPad or Android tablet.
Unfortunately, while the new model is $200 cheaper than the original, at $399 — plus $49 for the basic, eraser-less pen and $69 for a case — it’s still a hefty price to pay for a nicer writing surface and less distractions.
The reason that the Kindle works as a unitasking device is that it starts at about $80 (before factoring in Amazon’s frequent sales). It’s cheap enough to justify its more limited and focused featureset. The $399 reMarkable, on the other hand, is actually more expensive than a far more functional $329 iPad, which leaves it as a luxury device for the few who can justify spending more on a marginally nicer writing experience, rather than a true paper replacement for the digital age.
As a piece of hardware, the reMarkable 2 is a fantastic improvement over the original. The improvements to the pen and overall writing experience combined with the already excellent E Ink panel make writing with the reMarkable 2 the best digital replacement for paper yet. And fans of the first one — be it for the tactile writing, the distraction-free option, or the crisp E Ink display — will find a lot to like here.
But the high price tag and limited features still don’t make a case for why a digital version of paper should exist in a world where tablets have already long since surpassed their analogue counterparts. The reMarkable 2 is a convincing digital evolution of paper. But why be paper when you could be a whole computer instead?