This Giant E-Ink Tablet Is a Dream Device for Reading and Taking Notes
With no apps and no notifications, the reMarkable 2 helps me focus
I’ve been obsessed with e-ink since buying my first Kindle, but the technology has largely been relegated to reading books, despite its potential for so much more. The 10.3-inch reMarkable 2 ($399) takes e-ink and shows off its capabilities beyond e-books, as if someone finally took the shackles off.
The reMarkable e-ink tablet has no apps, no notifications, and few features, outside of trying to do one thing well: writing with a pen, as if it were on actual paper — no additional distractions. It’s the antithesis of every gadget on the market today, which are jam-packed with as many features as possible, and it’s a breath of fresh air.
I wanted to try the reMarkable 2 because I’ve found writing things down by hand helps me remember them, and it improves my focus. While paper has worked well enough for this throughout its long history, I often forget my notebook or don’t have it close when I need it.
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Over the years, I’ve tried switching to a digital alternative, like the iPad and Microsoft Surface, but nothing stuck. A computer is too distracting, particularly for someone with a short attention span like me. It’s too easy to get lost in a different app instead of actually taking notes.
The entire premise of the reMarkable tablet is that it’s optimized for using a pen to draw or write notes, rather than typing, with literally nothing else to distract you. It’s ultrathin at 4.7mm and beautifully designed, as if it were a high-end Moleskin, albeit with a digital twist. The tablet sports USB-C for charging and file transfer, along with Wi-Fi for syncing to the company’s desktop and mobile apps.
Out of the box, the reMarkable boots up and invites you to start by just drawing on it during setup, providing a hint at just how focused this device is. The e-ink display is coated in a satisfying texture, providing a paper-like feel while you draw or write, which creates an experience that’s eerily similar to writing in a physical notebook.
The notebook functionality takes up the entire home screen. When creating a new “notebook,” you can choose the type of “paper” from a range of templates, such as lined, dotted or a grid, then start taking notes or drawing. Swipe across the screen whenever you want a fresh page.
From there, you can choose from a marker, ballpoint pen, and so on. With the basic pen, you’ll need to manually tap the eraser icon to undo mistakes, but if you jump for the more expensive $99 “Marker Plus” version of the pen, you can erase by using the top of the pen, as if it were an actual pencil (it’s worth the upgrade over the normal pen, which costs $49 — the device does not come with one by default).
What surprised me most about writing on the reMarkable is how good the pressure sensitivity is on the pen, and how low the latency is as you draw and write — it’s good enough that it feels like writing with a physical pen, on real paper.
I’m not particularly good at drawing, but over the last few weeks I’ve been using the reMarkable for taking notes during meetings and to remember tasks throughout the day. It’s been delightful for my memory to force myself to write things down by hand rather than trying to tap things into the Notes app on my computer, and keeping this habit helped me pay more attention to what’s going on as people talk in meetings.
Because the tablet has Wi-Fi built in, you can hit a button after writing notes and have them transcribed into text, then sent via email, which is great for a quick recap or sharing with others. The transcription is serviceable, and did a good job of figuring out what I wrote despite my terrible handwriting — though I wish that the tablet transcribed everything automatically so it would be searchable, rather than requiring you to hit a button first.
Your notes also sync to the reMarkable desktop and mobile apps, which I found useful for quickly pulling up an insight or meeting note when the tablet wasn’t handy, though the app is limited to showing images of your writing, and doesn’t offer a way to search the contents or turn convert the writing into text; that needs to be done on the tablet itself.
On top of all the writing features, the reMarkable also supports reading PDFs and e-books, which is particularly useful for things like textbooks thanks to the large display. You can annotate pages with the pen directly as you read for quick reference later, which I found myself doing a lot as I read a puppy training book over the last few weeks. As with normal note-taking, these show up seamlessly in the apps as well.
It should be noted here, however, that the reMarkable doesn’t have a built-in backlight like a Kindle, so you need to use it in a well-lit room. I can understand why the company omitted this, given the focus on note-taking and reproducing writing on paper, but I found it disorienting at times — I simply expected it to have one, as has become common on e-ink readers.
What I really wanted to use the reMarkable for, however, was disconnecting from my phone to try and stop doom scrolling so much. The company has a Chrome extension that allows you to click a button in your browser and throw a page onto your tablet for reading later, which is useful, but I was hoping it would support a service I already use, such as Pocket.
On that note, the surprising news here is that the reMarkable is a refreshingly hackable device. It’s not locked down at all and runs a light version of the Linux operating system, which allows you to run whatever software you want on it by uploading via a SSH connection from a computer.
The hacking community has embraced the device as a result and built out an array of customizations, including, yes, a rough Pocket integration and even a way to set the “sleep” screen to the latest front page of the New York Times. This gives me optimism about the future of the reMarkable as a platform — though I’ll admit that it’s very early days still — and I’m excited to tinker with it to see what I can do. Being able to tinker, and get under the hood of the reMarkable is a fabulous and surprising change of pace from locked down devices like the iPad.
If you’re considering a reMarkable 2, you should know that it’s targeted at a very specific type of person that wants to take notes, by hand, but have them automatically digitized — without the burden of being distracted by a full-on tablet with notifications and tons of apps.
Unlike almost every other tablet on the market, the reMarkable isn’t packed with features or full of apps; after opening it and tapping around for a few minutes, you might realize it doesn’t have a ton of functionality. But, that’s the entire point of this tablet: It’s a focused device that does very few things, but tries to do them really well.
Occasionally, that focus left me wanting a little bit more integration with my existing workflows, be it syncing my notes into an app like Notion or playing nice with my saved articles in Pocket. Given the hackability of the device, however, it’s likely the community will come through on this front in time and build on top of the device where the company left off.
In my opinion, it succeeds at the goal of being focused, especially as a digital notebook for an age in which we’re assaulted by distractions constantly — I love my Kindle for the same reason I fell in love with reMarkable; it doesn’t try to slather on features, it just gets out of the way to do the task at hand. Sure, the reMarkable 2 isn’t cheap, but that’s a price to pay for a device this focused from an independent company, rather than a tech giant.
Now that I’ve used the reMarkable 2, my love for single-purpose devices has been rekindled. Instead of trying to be good at everything, reMarkable focused on being great at one thing: using a pen — and the tiny Norwegian company that built it knocked it out of the park.