Janis Erdmanis
Dec 26, 2018 | 1302 Words

The tool on my desk: ReMarkable tablet

I had spent countless hours making the reading and notetaking experience better with the tools I had, a laptop and Kindle eink reader, but the efforts I was investing made me unsatisfied with the result. I am easily disturbed by nuisances - eye irritation, unreadability, synchronisation and convenience - which stood before my goals and started forming a goal itself. If only there would have been A4 sized reader on which one could write at that time. Meet ReMarkable!

Initially, I was reluctant to give away 420 euro. The company was new and had yet to produce any product before. It needed to be clearer how well I could trust their marketing promises and even if the promise matched my technological abilities. Consumer protection was also floating since the product was produced and sent directly from Honk-Kong. To find that, I researched the internet. I found that one of the founders used to work on KDE, an open-source desktop environment. Then the company was created in a Norwegian incubator, and the tablet received a positive review from Harward (I also came across some awards then). And also, notably, they were collaborating with established companies like Wacom and EInk, who created a display with their given specifications. Together these facts are formed by a trust to believe their marketing promises of having an eink tablet which can replace paper.

But tablets had been produced for years. Why they did not accomplish that goal was my question. There are two reasons for that. First, tablets, like phones, are being designed (consciously or subconsciously) to take the user's attention - notifications, games, social networks and "productivity" applications. The fierce competition makes companies refrain from making things that users need; instead, they are participating in the game that can satisfy more wants (which marketers implant) of the user. The second reason is that LCD screens pay attention to everything around them, like the sun in the sky. Also, they produce more eyestrain and take a part of my creativity. Also, I feel that backlight makes me addicted to looking at LCD screens (a reflex produced by the engineering of the first). The glassy top of the LCD screens also does not help create a smooth writing experience, even for the newest iPad-pro. Thus eink strengths and weaknesses are well suited to make a different kind of product - a useful one.

The experience of the tablet and the company have been marvellous since I got my tablet exactly a year ago. The tablet is well-built with a minimalistic design. Light enough to hold it comfortably in one hand by its corner, two rubber strips behind its back to prevent it from slipping on the table, and three buttons in total. The marker coming with the tablet is lighter than most pens and is even lighter than the IPad markers. That gives flexibility and gentleness to my hands. The device perfectly fits my ancient desktop setting and simultaneously gives a feeling of a device from the past and the future.

The writing experience does not disappoint and constantly amazes me. It feels slippery, like writing with a marker on a smooth surface but still with gentle friction. Latency is below my expectations and only in exceptional cases noticeable (interestingly more noticeable when another person is writing). All strokes, independently of how fast they were made, are captured and all imperfections of my handwriting, to an incredible resolution. It is like writing with ink which reacts with paper producing the colour. It is pure magic!

Additionally to the features one would expect from the paper, the tablet allows one to revert strokes, erase, scale, zoom, move, rotate and layer the strokes and change the background templates. And after the drawing s finished, I can send it as a pdf directly from or as plain text given by their excellent handwriting recognition software from the tablet, which makes collaboration so much easier. When I am accustomed to the device and switch back to the paper, I look for the back button and moving functionality. I find these functions more than toys to play around with. Sometimes I use functions to scale larger formulas down, or I keep old derivations on the side of the page to remind me what I had previously attempted to do but is not part of the narrative anymore.

The ReMarkable had gone against the trend of adapting Android to their needs. Instead, they built it from open source technologies available and approached their software development from a humble point of view to make it excellent for performance and battery life. Power users gain significant power too. By default, given ssh access and publicly made API for the writing lowers the barrier to exploring their dreams into actual implementation. This ambitious goal also made many bugs, making it remarkable to crash unexpectedly and slow on some occasions. Now after six updates, almost no bugs crashed the tablet. It is so stable that I entirely forget my fears of losing the things I write down, which are also synchronised to a Cloud and the fears of being unable to present at a critical moment. It is now at the stage where I think they could develop features where my wish list would be: a single click tool change, synchronisation between two remarkable or single click/gesture switch between two locations or documents, dictionary, native Linux support (wine works pretty good), copy and paste between pages, etc.

What else is remarkable is their customer support. In April, six months since my mom received the device, after returning from a flight, I saw that a thin persistent line had appeared at the bottom of the screen. Although it did not affect functionality much, I contacted customer support to give the pictures. Shortly after, I received confirmation that they were ready to collect my device via DHL and send back a replacement after this was done and all that for free! The procedure took only a week, and I got a new device with new markers, a pencil and a cover. Another encounter I had very recently was when synchronisation with their cloud service started to fail at my university's network. Again I contacted them, and together we found what can I say to the IT department to fix the synchronisation (they had accidentally blaclicted a needed DNS), and that would not have been so easy to do if they had not committed themselves to open source software and empowering the users in this case with ssh access.

The ReMarkable tablet has been a truly remarkable companion for me this year. I have read an insane amount of books and articles and have made most of my scientific notes here. On some occasions, it even replaces LaTeX. (I still keep a paper notebook since switching between documents on the tablet takes too much time). It resolved my anxieties about improving my technology settings to improve my reading experience and capturing of my thoughts. Overall I put ReMarkable as a technology which, instead of adjusting people's goals to give a sense of productivity, helps people to achieve their genuine goals.

Would it be cheaper to buy the paper and books you need instead? Probably. For me, the paper makes a mess ;D.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Janis Erdmanis. Last modified: October 10, 2023. Website built with Franklin.jl and the Julia programming language.