Tech Review: Remarkable 2 mimics writing on paper. Is it better than an iPad for taking notes? |
Note takers, this review is aimed directly at you.
Handwriting seems to be on the decline, but if you’re someone who buys yellow notepads in bulk and can tell what kind of pen you’re using just by the feel of ink on paper, you’ll want to grab a look at an electronic writing tablet I tested called the Remarkable 2 ($399 at remarkable.com ).
This tablet looks like a Kindle and an iPad got together and had a very skinny baby. It has some of the best features of Kindles and iPads, but it’s unlike either.
It’s very limited in what it can do, and that’s by design.
The differences between other tablets and e-readers and the Remarkable 2 are key to understanding if it’s right for you.
There’s one big caveat: most of the features you’ll need are dependent on a monthly subscription. If you choose not to subscribe, you are limiting functionality, which I will discuss below.
What does it do?
The main function of the Remarkable 2 is to take handwritten notes.
Creating notebooks is a breeze, and you can use templates that display in the background on your pages. Want to write on grid paper, lined notebook paper or a weekly planner? There are templates for this. There are even templates for writing music or calligraphy and grids for perspective drawing.
Once you’ve filled out a page, just swipe your finger from right to left across the screen and you’ll get a new page.
Ratings can be changed. You can select sections of a page and move them around. You can add or remove pages or entire notebooks.
There’s eight gigabytes of built-in storage, and you can’t add more, but you can sync your laptops with phone, tablet, computer, and several cloud services, including Remarkable’s own cloud storage.
If you’ve enabled Wi-Fi and cloud syncing, you can email pages from your notebooks to any email address.
You can also import files to Remarkable 2.
You can transfer PDF files, unprotected e-book files, and JPG and PNG graphics.
You can also use Remarkable to read web pages, but not in the traditional way.
There’s a Google Chrome extension that lets you send a webpage to the tablet, but you don’t get the whole page, just the text with no graphics, links, photos, or ads.
It is ideal for reading long stories.
For long PDFs or e-books, there are no page forward or page back buttons. You swipe across the screen to change pages.
You can use the pencil to annotate PDFs for other files you have on the tablet.
What he can’t do
While the Remarkable 2 can connect to Wi-Fi or your computer via USB-C for the purpose of importing or exporting content, it doesn’t have a browser or apps.
It’s not trying to be an iPad or a Kindle.
You can’t check email, surf the web, load your Kindle books, listen to music, or watch videos.
This is a device that wants you to focus on creating or playing.
Everything on screen
The Remarkable’s 10.3-inch grayscale display has a resolution of 1,872 by 1,404 pixels.
This is an e-ink display (similar to a Kindle) with no backlight. It needs a light source shining on it to work. It also performs wonderfully in the brightest sunlight.
The glass screen isn’t smooth – it has a very light texture, which is key to giving you the feeling that you’re actually drawing on paper. It even feels a bit rough when writing, like pencil on paper.
I have an iPad with an Apple Pencil for comparison, and the Remarkable 2’s writing surface is superior.
The user can choose from eight different pens, pencils and brushes with three line weights. Whether you choose a brush or a calligraphy pen, the screen has 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity and tilt detection, so lines get thicker the harder you press.
The Remarkable 2 needs markers to work, and they are not included with the tablet.
There are two models, one with an eraser and one without. Both write the same and have replaceable nibs. Neither needs a battery. I tested both, and found the marker with the eraser useful enough to recommend buying it.
Battery life and other specifications
The Remarkable 2 has a 3,000 milliamp-hour battery that lasts about two weeks with moderate use. The tablet has a USB-C port for charging and syncing data.
It has 2.4 gigahertz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi for connecting to cloud services.
The tablet measures 7.3 x 9.68 x 0.18 inches and weighs 14.2 ounces.
This is the thinnest tablet I have ever used. It couldn’t be thinner and have a USB-C port.
Desktop and mobile apps
Once you’ve created notebooks, you’ll want to get the files to your computer or mobile device. There are notable apps for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. When you purchase the Remarkable tablet, you create an account used to sign in to the tablet and your desktop or mobile apps.
Once the notebooks are synced, you can print them, save them locally, or email them like any other file.
The Remarkable 2 sells a service called Connect with two subscription tiers.
Maps are a big part of the tablet’s functionality, so let’s go in-depth on what they offer.
Connect ($7.99 per month) is the full-service subscription that includes unlimited cloud storage and syncs all your laptops with any of the Remarkable desktop apps (phone, computer, web) through the Remarkable Cloud service.
You can also sync your notes with Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or Dropbox. My tablet syncs with OneDrive and the sync is perfect as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection.
Connect also offers handwriting to editable text conversion. If your handwriting can be deciphered (i.e. it’s not a scratch), you can choose to turn your handwritten notes into text. Unfortunately, the text is not searchable.
You can export any (or all) of your notebook pages via email. The messaging interface is a bit clunky, but it works. You enter the email address with an on-screen keyboard, then you can type any message, name the attachment, and choose which pages to send.
The Connect subscription also includes screen sharing, which allows you to see a notebook displayed on a computer screen and show yourself drawing on it in real time. This shared screen can be presented in videoconference from services like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. It reminds me of sharing a whiteboard.
The Connect subscription also extends the warranty of your tablet and its accessories to 36 months, as long as the subscription is active.
Connect Lite ($4.99 per month) includes unlimited Remarkable cloud synchronization between your tablet and all your devices.
It does not include third-party cloud services, handwriting conversion, screen sharing, email export, or warranty extension.
If you choose No Plan (which is an option), you can sync your laptops with desktop or mobile apps, but the storage isn’t unlimited. If you don’t open a laptop for more than 50 days, it’s purged of noteworthy cloud and desktop/mobile apps, but still stays on your tablet.
The ability to import unprotected PDF and e-pub files and the ability to export web pages from Chrome are available on all plans (including No Plan). You need to install the Chrome extension separately on your computer.
The tablet itself costs $399.
The plus marker with eraser is $129 and the regular marker is $79.
There are two protection sheets.
An envelope-style folio in a gray polymer weave costs $79 and has a dedicated storage pocket for markers.
A book folio is available in the Polymer Gray weave for $129. There are premium brown or black leather book folios for $169.
The book folios are beautiful, but they don’t have marker storage. The markers have magnets to attach to the side of the tablet, but I’d worry about losing one with no place to store it.
There’s a budget plan with the tablet and a three-month prepaid Connect subscription for $299, which is a $100 discount on the device. The bundle also includes a $50 accessory credit for accessories purchased at the same time.
Worth the price?
The Remarkable 2 with the folio and marker plus will cost you just over $600, plus an additional $96 per year for Connect.
You can certainly buy an iPad with an Apple Pencil for less, and no subscription is required.
Is the price difference worth it?
I love the Remarkable’s note-taking functionality and the feel of the on-screen marker. Sync works great, but other features like file import and Read on Remarkable seem a bit crude.
Remarkable wants to separate the note-taking experience from the distractions of other tablet features like web browsing, and it does a good job.
If you’re really into handwriting (like my wife) and can afford it, the Remarkable 2 is a great addition.
I’m not thrilled with the subscription cost, but hopefully there will be added features and improvements periodically that will justify the extra cost.
Pros: Fantastic writing experience, easy syncing, nice material, and very thin but solid.
Cons: Limited file formats can be imported, subscription to unlock best features, no stylus included.
Bottom line: A great tablet for note takers to replace legal notebooks, but other features need to be refined.
Jim Rossman writes for The Dallas Morning News. He can be reached at [email protected]
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