When I was growing up, you simply weren’t a cool kid unless you had a Trapper Keeper. As the binder of the youths, the Trapper Keeper had folders aplenty for all your assignments, angsty song lyrics, and rad doodles you scribbled during math class. Basically, it was where everything school-related got lovingly filed or shoved away, ready to be grabbed at any moment.
That concept has sort of carried into our digital workstations, but something got lost along the way. In making our smartphones and tablets all-encompassing devices for work and play, it’s become increasingly difficult to maintain focus. What might start as a Google Docs, email, and Slack hub can quickly turn into a Super Mario Run machine or a tweetstorm factory.
Suddenly, you’re emailing your boss to ask for an extension on that already past-due project.
Sure, you could do a digital detox, but eventually you’ll have to get back on your devices and likely relapse. That’s what inspired the reMarkable Paper Tablet—it’s a tablet, but with a laser focus on a few essential features. It sounds like paradise for those who dread working in the digital age, but if reMarkable wants to deliver on its promises, it has some work to do.
reMarkable Paper Tablet
Giant e-Ink display is rad. Wacom pen feels more like writing on paper than any other tablet. Having notes, sketches, and books on one device keeps your bag light. Annotating your digital books can be useful. You look super important when you’re scribbling away on the train.
There’s no good justification for the messy syncing system. Reading experience doesn’t stack up to the competition. Company has an unproven track record for support. Battery life is disappointing. The price is too darn high.
A different kind of tablet
If you’ve ever seen a Kindle, you’ll immediately be familiar with the reMarkable, which looks like a cross between the comically large Kindle DX and the Kindle Voyage. The front is comprised of a 10.3-inch e-ink display wrapped in a white bezel, and has three buttons along the bottom for going home and turning pages. It’s only slightly heavier than the Kindle Paperwhite (a device less than half the reMarkable’s size), so it’s light enough to hold in one hand without feeling unwieldy. When you’re ready to slap it on a table and get to work, there are rubber feet on the back to keep the tablet from sliding around.
After you first boot reMarkable up, you’re presented with a utilitarian home screen that can show you all your files, or split them up into your notebooks, documents (only PDFs for now, but reMarkable says more support is coming), and eBooks (currently restricted to the ePub format). When you’re itching to sketch something up, or want update your handwritten todo list, just bounce into a notebook and get to work.
Okay, so you’re probably asking why you’d want this when an iPad Pro can do so much more. The reMarkable is geared towards people looking to replace their stack of paper notebooks with something more convenient, and there are an impressive number of features to meet those needs. You can have notebooks for meetings, sketches, or anything else your heart desires. When you want something more than just a blank canvas, the reMarkable has a bundle of page templates to give your work a bit more structure. There’s lined paper formats, grids, checklists, storyboards, weekly planners, and perspective grids to give your art a bit more depth. Basically, it can mimic any sheet of paper you’d need without killing a single tree.
Words and Scribbles
Even the best paper notebook needs a good pen—or in this case, a good stylus, to be worth using. The reMarkable comes with a Wacom stylus that works impressively well on the e-ink display, with hardly any latency. It’s tilt and pressure sensitive for better accuracy, but the results can be shaky, so don’t count on it replacing your sketchbook just yet. Those kinks aside, palm rejection works great, and the stylus doesn’t have a battery, so no need to awkwardly plug it into the bottom of your tablet.
When you’re done jotting down ideas for your screenplay or doodling away, you can bounce over to your eBooks tab and dive into The Jungle or Crash Override. Unfortunately, you won’t get as good a reading experience as you’d find on a Kindle due to a few shortcomings.
I found that text doesn’t look as crisp (limited font options don’t help things, either) and then there’s no bookstore so getting your digital library onto the reMarkable is a hassle. If those issues don’t bother you, there are some nice perks like a larger screen and the ability to write notes into a book’s margins, which you can’t do with a Kindle.
A Few Quibbles
Creating the perfect digital notebook is an ambitious pursuit, and the reMarkable has the right idea, but some issues hold it back from being worth purchasing. The most frustrating of these is getting files onto the device, which reMarkable gives you two ways to do: you can download a desktop app that syncs through the cloud, or plug your device in via USB and input its IP address in your web browser. Both options are cumbersome and make a chore out of what Amazon makes seamless. reMarkable says they did this to avoid technical issues and to make the feature accessible from more devices, which is fair, but it still felt hacky to me.
More worrisome than the reMarkable’s syncing, though, is the amount of trust you have to put into a product from a company that hasn’t proven itself yet. I applaud startups like reMarkable for their gumption, but I’ve heard too many Kickstarter horror stories to expect solid long-term support. Glitches I encountered with the reMarkable’s display could be fixed with software updates, but how many patches you’ll get is another question entirely.
Then there’s the battery. Part of the appeal of an e-ink display is noticeably better battery life compared to LCD and OLED-powered devices. Where a Kindle can last weeks on a single charge, reMarkable’s slate struggled to last more than two days on a single charge. That’s marginally better than an iPad, but reMarkable’s pared-down features and power-sipping screen seem like they’d net you more. reMarkable says an update is coming to improve battery life, but it’s troubling that it’s still not solved this late in production.
When I first picked up the reMarkable, I had high hopes. The tablet shows promise, but glitchy software, weird syncing methods, unreliable battery life, and the inherent risk of a company’s first product, hold the reMarkable back from providing the convenience that made the Trapper Keeper a classic.
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