By Somrata Sarkar | on July 19, 2018
Price When Reviewed: £549
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The reMarkable tablet (£549/US$599) is a lightweight, minimalist crossbreed of an iPad and e-reader. It replicates the experience of using a pencil or pen paper, while removing the inconvenience of actually lugging paper around (whether that's a notebook, sketchbook, or book). There’s a lot to love with the reMarkable, but a £549/US$599 price tag does make us wonder if it’s worth it, when you could just use an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil without paying (that much) more.
To an artist or designer used to the broad capabilities of the iPad Pro, the reMarkable tablet seems like an oddity. It's grayscale, and you can't use it to watch Netflix or do email or Skype your mum – but it weighs next to nothing, its batteries last for days and drawing on it feels more like pen/pencil and paper than any tablet we've tried before. The lack of colour may seem like an instant put-off, but some of us only sketch in black-and-white anyway – whether that's character designs or UX flowcharts. It's of niche appeal for sure – but if you're in that niche, there's nothing better.
The tablet is currently available only through the company's website, but will be available soon through Amazon's Launchpad programme, which focussed on innovative products from startups including Sensible Object.
Using the reMarkable tablet
You will need to register your reMarkable tablet before you can use it – and to use it to its fullest you will need to install the reMarkable app, available for iOS, Android and desktop (you will need to create a My reMarkable account first). Your files are synced and backed up across devices, and the app is what allows you to add ebooks and PDF documents to your tablet.
As per storage, reMarkable includes 8GB internal storage, and 8GB of cloud storage (hosted via Google Cloud) to back up your files.
reMarkable's interface itself is straightforward, so there isn’t much of a learning curve for new users. There are three square buttons along the chin of the tablet: left and right buttons to turn pages, and a centre button to return to the home screen.
The home screen organizes all content into thumbnails, though you can switch to a list view if you prefer. You can filter the views by category: Notebooks (which are the files you create for sketches and notes), Documents (PDFs only), eBooks (epub files only) or Bookmarks (i.e. any file you need quick access to).
Drawing and writing on reMarkable
This is where reMarkable excels. The feel of the stylus, or “marker” has the same sense of resistance you would feel against real paper. The marker does not require any additional charging, nor does it need to be paired with the tablet.
It’s also supremely lightweight, and feels as though you’re holding a real pencil. It has a rubberised grip, and a hidden compartment in the top end to stow away an extra nib. The marker is included with tablet, though it can be bought separately for £79, only £10 less than the Apple Pencil.
In terms of actually drawing on the reMarkable, there are a few tools to choose from: pen, pencil, highlighter and paintbrush (the latter two are nested within the pencil option). There’s an eraser, zoom, and undo button too.
You can adjust certain tools as well. For instance, you can adjust the type of nib with the pen tool. You can go for a dry, ball-point pen effect, or an inkier fountain pen look; there are 3 options to choose from.
The pencil feature was particularly impressive. Note-takers can use a straight point pencil for a clean writing experience, while illustrators could use the tilted pencil option, which allows pressure-sensitive modulation in stroke weight and shading.
Some users may feel there is a slight lag, but it's so marginal it doesn't really interfere with the writing or drawing experience.
Whether you write or draw, the interface looks the same. What you can change however is what the notebook looks like. reMarkable offers a wide range of templates. There's the standard ruled sheet, grid and checklist. But if you go into the settings (or when you create a new notebook), you can opt for a dotted grid, grids of different densities, weekly planner templates, and even different perspective grids.
Though reMarkable has a palm rejecting feature, it only works when a book or notebook is in use – which is what we learnt quickly as files and menus opened unwarranted on the homepage when we used the marker to make selections (our wrists were in the way). The reMarkable tablet is touchscreen otherwise.
Exporting files from reMarkable
With so many drawing apps available for iPad and Android that allow exporting into multiple file formats, we were slightly surprised that reMarkable only exports to PNG and PDF. Taking a look at the exported file on desktop, we found the resolution was pixelated when zoomed in.
The subtlety of the pencil tool's texture that looked so authentic on the the tablet seemed to diminish when converted to an image file.
We tried exporting to PDF instead hoping this might preserve detail. Surprisingly, the final output files were blank, though this could have just been a glitch in our experience. If you do own a reMarkable, we would love to hear your experience when exporting to PDF.
The reMarkable tablet does support layers, but final files are flattened. We hope that exporting to Photoshop format (PSD) will be an option eventually, as this tablet is only in its first generation.
Reading on reMarkable
Unlike competing e-readers like the Kindle, Nook or Kobo, which connect users to eBook specific marketplaces, the reMarkable does not care where you source your ebooks from. It's priority is how you engage with the content.
It's aimed towards the active sense of reading that involves furious scribbling in the margins, heavy-handed underlining and excessive highlighting. The reMarkable only supports pdf and epub files, however, which means if you prefer one eBook format over another you may need a conversion tool.
The desktop or phone app also lets you use a feature called LiveView. Still in Beta, LiveView updates your annotations and markups and sketches in real time...almost. It’s somewhat glitchy and struggles to keep up, especially for large ebook files. There is a lag as well, so don’t expect you can watch your screen while you use the tablet like you would with a drawing tablet (here are the best ones for that). You need a Wi-Fi connection to use LiveView.
You can adjust the reading settings too, though the options are limited. You can change text size, justification, page margins and line spacing. You can also choose from six fonts (though only two options have serifs, which is easier on the eyes when reading).
Changing these settings took a couple of seconds to update across the ebook, which admittedly was a large file. You can also search for words and phrases within the book, which can be useful for students. The LiveView option is not available for marking up eBooks however.
There’s lots to love with reMarkable. The writing and drawing experience is as close as it comes to using real paper, and we can imagine spending endless hours drawing on this tablet. Additionally, it’s lightweight, automatically syncs and backs up your files, is easy to use, and works with a feather-light stylus that doesn’t need charging or pairing.
On the other hand, we were hoping to see better integration with typical user workflows. For artists, we hoped to see exporting options to PSD files, and a stronger resolution in image files. For writers and note-takers, we imagine OCR (optical character recognition) options would be especially useful, so that handwriting could be converted to searchable and editable text.
As an e-reader, we were surprised there wasn’t a dictionary, or swipe-based page turns either. Instead, you use the buttons at the bottom of the screen to turn pages left and right. We suspect this is to prevent unwarranted page flipping from palm interference when using the marker to make notes.
reMarkable’s minimalist approach makes its intentions clear: productivity. No colours, no browsers, no distracting apps – it’s a sensory deprivation tank in tablet form, which is ideal for introspective sessions of thinking, sketching and visual problem-solving creative professionals often find themselves in.
In fact, if they are able to afford it, we can see reMarkable being incredibly useful to students (in arts courses and otherwise), who are often immersed in note-taking and critical, active reading anyway – and not to mention drawing diagrams, charts and mind maps.
While the reMarkable tablet is an expensive investment, and is not perfect, we can see it being a productive, focussed tool for those who sketch and draw in black-and-white anyway. All in all, it's a remarkable convenience if you can afford it.