I am behind enemy lines. My hands are gripping a stylus. My face is bathed by blue light in the darkness. I know I’m not going to make it. With a flourish, I sign the signature line on a PDF on a Remarkable 2 to seal my fate.
My assignment was simple enough: Gather intelligence on the Remarkable 2 and determine its threat level to the analog way of life. A simple in-and-out job. Minimal casualties. Textbook work I can do in my sleep, except I broke the one rule you can never break. I fell in love.
And That’s How I Gave Up Paper Notebooks for a Paper Tablet
Not totally — that’s impossible. I have a small rainforest’s worth of unused notebooks on my bookshelf. I’m still analog. I still wear the uniform. But they got to me, man. They got into my head. Into my heart. I am one of them now. I take notes on an e-tablet.
It’s not my first time. A million years ago, I thought my brand-new PalmPilot would change my life. But all it did was beep all the time and make me learn a new alphabet, which turned out to be useless and dumb. All my real work has been done on paper in logbooks and planners. I’ve been a paper pusher for decades.
Now, I’m in a Thriving Relationship With My Remarkable2
When I wrote about paper tablets (also known as E Ink tablets) for note-taking a couple of years ago, I compared the three big players in the game: the iPad, the Stroke and the Remarkable 2. Since that time, the major players have received updates, and one of them, the Remarkable 2, has updated all the way into my ink-stained hands. We’re in a committed relationship and I couldn’t be happier.
There Are More Than Three Electronic Paper Tablets
You might not know it, since your feed is undoubtedly flooded with ads for the Remarkable 2. You might see an ad for the Supernote or maybe a Kindle Scribe. But unless you’re a notebook nerd (Hi, how are you? We meet on Thursdays) looking to transition, or a professional who wants to search your notes, you won’t. For the sake of transparency, here are the major players:
- Remarkable 2
- Supernote Nomad
- Onyx Notebook Air plus
- Kindle Scribe
You may be wondering why the iPad isn’t listed. That’s a good question, one that kind of defines this growing tech niche. The iPad is not a paper or E Ink tablet. It’s an iPad. It does everything and does not — not even a little — pretend to be paper. The other entries are all about pretending to be paper. Their existence is predicated on the idea that paper is an antiquated and unsustainable technology and pencil pushers like me will transition. Have transitioned.
My Transition Was Difficult and Messy
Because — surprise! — I’m a compositional curmudgeon who is allergic to gadgets. Unlike my friends, I’m not bedazzled by doohickeys. I even hate my phone. My desk could time travel to 1934 without changing anything except the calendar pad. So when [My Attorney] got me a Remarkable 2 for Christmas, I gave her a rueful smile and tried to pretend I was excited. I mean, it’s cool. It’s slick. It checks off all the boxes for a neophile. And I did play with hers a little when she got a Remarkable. I may have oohed and I may have aahed, and I might have let it slip that I wanted one. So now here it is, lying on my desk like it came from the future, and I am slowly, surely, irreversibly falling in love. Here’s why.
The Remarkable 2 Is the Clear Winner of the E Ink Tablet/Paper Tablet Wars
It does less.
You might think, “Well, hang on, surely that’s a bug and not a feature?” It is not a bug. It is, to be clear, the guiding principle of the design of Remarkable tablets. They identify as a legal pad. How many apps does your Ampad have? None. Same with the Remarkable 2. You can write on it. After that? Bupkus. And that’s what the team at Remarkable aimed for. A distraction-free experience. Just like a piece of paper.
Remarkable respects your attention and further respects your choice to use their E Ink tablet. They assumed you have chosen their tablet because it re-creates the paper experience. When you’re burning through a cheap paper notebook you’re focused on the experience of thinking on paper. You’re not worried about the battery life of a Baron Fig. You don’t switch over to YouTube. You don’t take a break and pop open your latest round of Wordle. You write. You think. The team at Remarkable set out to remain within that space. Fewer apps equals less distraction.
There will never be a hardware upgrade.
Unlike other tech products, Remarkable future-proofed its device. Its hardware is so sleek and so minimal that it’s hard to imagine it ever needing an upgrade. If you found an unused Mead Composition Notebook from 1983 you could flop it open and get to work. Hell, if you dug up a sheaf of papyrus from 2041 BCE you could roll it out on a table and draw hieroglyphics up one side and down the other because the usefulness of paper has endured without much of a change for 15,000 years. When you consider ink and paper as the workspace of writing by hand, E Ink tablets keep that tradition going.
Unlike an iPad, paper emulators belong on the same technological continuum as paper. A woman from 1143 a.d. could easily take notes on a Remarkable 2. She’d find all the instructions she needed contained in a glance. It is a stylus. It is a flat, impressionable surface. Writing on it is an action as old as drawing donkeys in the dirt.
There are continuous software upgrades.
Remarkable has been tweaking its software since day one, rolling out major and minor upgrades every year since it launched in May 2020. The most recent major change arrived in 2023 with the release of the 3.0 software upgrade, with the addition of integrated desktop and mobile apps that easily synch with the tablet over usbc or wifi. They also launched a new add-on keyboard, TypeFolio. The keyboard lands on top of new freedoms in using text on the Remarkable 2, and in how it converts written words to typed text. Finally, they’ve improved their experience for left-handed users, giving the machine better palm rejection while leaning on the screen to write. You can read all the updates and improvements in the release notes.
The takeaway is a feeling of being heard. Remarkable listens to their users and pays close attention to the experience. All of their updates are about fixing bugs and improving the experience in a way that never compromises their mission: be like paper.
You can (mostly) convert handwriting to text.
Remarkable’s recent update aims to make the handwriting-to-text function better, but it might not work perfectly for you — and it might not be Remarkable’s fault. First, let’s admit that converting handwriting to text is essentially witchcraft. Although it’s been very good for the last 15 years or so, it’s still turning what is essentially a very personal rune into Times New Roman with the click of a stylus. Maybe we should give it a second.
My experience so far with this function has not been great. But I think much of the problem is my own sloppy handwriting. I mean, look at this mess:
Also, there are technical issues with the haptical logistics of writing with a stylus on a screen. The angle of the pen can affect the stroke of the letter, which can affect how Remarkable’s software sees it. Which pen you’re using may pose a problem based on how it works on the device. The pencil is my favorite pen, but look at what a nightmare it becomes on the page — because of me. I write like I’m auditioning for Circe de Soleil, my hand twisted around, and at least half my arm resting on the Remarkable’s screen. When I ask it to convert my chicken scratches to text, I’m surprised it doesn’t just burst into flame.
But when I’m careful, and when I write in something like a straight line, conversion is OK. As long as I have good WiFi — and here’s a legitimate problem: The Remarkable 2’s WiFi is crap
Which is fine for the most part — since we’re emulating a legal pad and I don’t know about your legal pads, but the ones in my office have a terrible signal. However, the Remarkable 2 is designed to connect and the company promotes its connectivity.
At least two critical functions rely on a strong signal. Synching with your mobile and desktop needs all the bars. So does converting handwriting to typed text. So far, my Remarkable 2 has a real problem staying connected.
Here at Casa del Toro, we have a fiber optic connection and powerful WiFi with impressive upstreaming and downstreaming speeds. I know because I check it all the time. But my Remarkable 2 doesn’t seem to shake hands very well with my signal. I finally popped open a hotspot on my phone and the Remarkable 2 connected to it just fine and with all the bars. I was able to easily convert text and synch. When your signal is strong, this thing works perfectly. I sit in the exact same place and connect perfectly with my laptop, my phone, a gaming system, a smart TV, and a cranky Roomba. So maybe in the next update, Remarkable will figure this out.
You can read documents and books.
And sign them. Which is very, very good news for lawyers. Import a PDF or an epub into your desktop app, synch with your Remarkable 2 and boom, you’re reading. I imported an NDA and was able to sign it, no problem. (I can’t tell you what it was for.) I loaded several PDFs and a couple of epub books and the reading experience for all of them was top-shelf.
As an elite highlightist, I am impressed with the functionality of the highlighter pen choice. First, as you can see below, though they appear as monochromatic grays on the tablet, the highlighter’s colors are bright and clear when you export or email them. When highlighting an epub, the smart function straightens your shaky streak of color — a function I would love to see in real life.
Plus, homegrown templates for the Remarkable 2 are a thing.
The templates loaded into the Remarkable 2 are useful, but they’re certainly not extensive. This may be a strategic move by Remarkable, but I doubt it. It’s probably more of their hardline on distraction-free work. However, you can build your own, or buy them from various sources. Etsy shops offer 28 bajallion of them. They are typically static PDFs, but some are fully realized interactive PDFs with active links. If you are good at stuff, you can also make your own, in which ever program you might use that can export your work as a PDF or a .png.
But homegrown templates aren’t perfect. Unlike the Supernote (see below), the Remarkable 2 won’t let you load your carefully crafted templates into the template section/function, so you have to cheat by duplicating a notebook or by using layers.
This is a shame because some templates are downright beautiful, and the integrity of the documents after import is perfect. Designers figured this out quick. Template bundles for the Remarkable 2 are all over the internet.
It also opens the door to corporate branding, watermarks, and all the other cool stuff you can do with PDFs. I designed a couple of pages with my own logo and the PDFs looked fantastic. This might have a lot to do with why Remarkable doesn’t allow it. Yet. I strongly suspect this will be a new function in version 4.0. Stay tuned.
There are Reasons to Prefer Pen and Paper Over Stylus and Glass
Partially, it’s the feel of it. The scritchy scritch drag of a pen’s nib over the paper. I like cheap paper instead of expensive stationery. That disposability lets me be insanely creative without fearing I’m wasting expensive cotton rag on doodles. I know it’s a little hipster, a little extra to nerd out over luxurious writing implements and Baron Fig cloth-bound notebooks. But clearly, I’m no longer part of an emergent trend. “Paperists” are a market now.
But What If Cool Pencil and Paper Cred Is Bad for the Planet?
There’s no way around it. Paper comes from trees. Although there are some alternatives to wood pulp paper, they are a sliver of the global market. Most paper is paper, and when you use it to doodle a Douglas fir, you’re engaging in some dark irony.
Even if you work hard to use only paper salvaged from the enormous pile of discarded manuscripts mined out of Stephen King’s backyard. Doesn’t matter. Every page I tear off my recycled legal pad is the skin of a tree.
Which is Why a Digital Notebook Is Better
Or it’s not. It depends on your ethical position, or which science you’re reading. According to a 2020 life cycle assessment of an iPad, Remarkable and paper notebook, paper is better for the environment. More recent science says devices are better.
Think of it this way. Paper technology has reached its zenith — its bugs and glitches were ironed out centuries ago. Electronic tablets are still in the crib. The Remarkable 2 is only the second iteration of the device. By its sixth or seventh iteration, power usage, production of its motherboard, and internal system should improve a lot. Same with all devices: They get better, cost less, and have less impact on the environment. Using a E Ink tablet now grows the market, leading to greater advances in minimizing environmental footprint while maximizing its capabilities.
Trees aren’t going to get better. And, chopping them down is, perhaps, a bad idea for a planet that needs a whole lot of them to exhale to keep it from bursting into flames.
And Electronic Note-taking Tablets Are So Cool!
Undeniably so. The Remarkable 2 and Ratta’s Supernote Nomad are the serious notetaker’s dream. They feel like paper. Looking at them, reading from them, is just like reading from paper. They use electronic ink instead of backlighting (like the iPad), so they’re more pleasant and better on your eyes. They don’t have 16 million apps. They don’t have color displays. They are, experientially, the same as paper.
So, Let’s Compare the Top Three E Ink Tablets
As your analog-digital spy, I’ve secretly investigated three top devices. I peeked under their hood, looked at the fine print and kicked the tires (mixing metaphors is hard work) to see which ones were worth the money.
1. The Remarkable 2
It’s mostly because of their 3.0 updates (see above). In addition to subtle design upgrades, there was a not-so-subtle kick in their pen lag. Pen lag, or latency, is the time it takes ink to appear when the stylus is applied to the screen. The ideal lag for electronic penmanship is … in the eye of the beholder. The lowest latency appears to be 7 milliseconds. Amateur tests are all over the place, but a lag of 19-21 milliseconds is the current sweet spot.
Because our minds fill in spaces to complete patterns and pictures, a 20-millisecond lag on a digital writing surface is close enough to the zero lag one gets writing on actual paper. The Remarkable 2 delivers that consistently. Apple says the iPad and Apple pen latency is 9 milliseconds, but there is a perceptual quality that comes into play.
Even with haptic feedback, writing on the iPad feels like writing on glass. On the other hand, writing on the Remarkable 2 and the Supernote really does feel a lot like writing on paper. Once you get over the novelty threshold, you’ll probably forget you’re writing on a device and experience it as if you were using paper.
The Remarkable 2 still has the lowest pen latency of the table devices emulating paper — by a lot. Norwegian technology YouTuber Vojislav Dimitrjevic put various pens to the test and found the Remarkable 2 delivers a latency of 27.10 ms. The next fastest lag was the Papyr, with 42.40.
The Remarkable 2 lags behind other devices in one critical area: storage. With just over 6GB, it’s well behind the Supernote’s 32 GB and the iPad’s max of 128 GB.
Add the TypeFolio keyboard slipcover and the pen (which is extra), it’s a pricey device ($567*).
A note about Remarkable’s magnetic pen dock. I hate it.
The Marker Plus tablet stylus is not included with your Remarkable 2. While I think this is kind of a cheat on their part, it’s also pretty standard for tablets so I’m not surprised. I was surprised, however, by how easy it is to lose that $80 pen. It clicks into place magnetically on the right side of the tablet. It’s a nice, satisfying click. It’s got ASMR energy. But if you’re a fidgety person or a wildly gesticulating nutjob like yours truly, that pen is coming off eventually. The magnetic dock is not very strong. I knock mine off all the time. Here’s my pro tip: the Fisher Space Pen Matte Black Clip. It fits the Marker Plus perfectly. It even lets you use the magnetic dock. However, you won’t because clipping it to your pocket means you’ll never lose it.
For more on the Remarkable’s benefits, see “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things” by Andrea Cannavina.
2. The Supernote
I would have loved being in the meeting where someone at Supernote yelled out, “Make the surface soft!” Because that guy got thrown out a window. But they did it. The Supernote A5’s surface is coated with FeelWrite soft film developed from the “highly elastic automotive v-belt.” So when the nib of their stylus impresses their “page,” it actually impresses their page. Like paper.
The nib is ceramic, which means it never wears out. But there’s another cool thing about their pens. Where Remarkable 2 mimics the feel of writing with a pencil, Supernote mimics the feel of writing with a ballpoint pen. According to the company, “We choose the more difficult direction because most people use ballpoint pens/fountain pens more than pencils in their daily lives. We think, ‘This is the way.’”
The Supernote is like the Remarkable 2 in the interface and user experience. Both use electronic ink. Both chose to disregard illumination. Both are shooting for the undistracted writing experience. Supernote’s pen, however, is where this tablet stands out. The stylus is designed with the avid pen user in mind. It looks like a pen. It has a cap.
They offer a standard pen, which is a nicely designed, nicely weighted writing tool. Then there is the Heart of Metal series of pens, all wonderfully styled, looking like fat Pilot Metropolitans, in at least eight different styles. But the crown jewel of their accessories is the Lamy series stylus. Partnering with Lamy not only gives the user a classic, globally recognized fountain pen shape as their stylus, but it also lends the device all the street cred of the famous German pen. It’s a stroke of genius.
But like the Remarkable 2, the Supernote Nomad is pricey at around $600.
Update: You get what you pay for. The Supernote is expensive, but not everyone’s into the pure minimalist aesthetics of the Remarkable 2. Like the Remarkable 2, the Supernote allows you to upload your custom templates. Unlike on the Remarkable 2, you can keep them in the actual template folder. This is a small difference, but notable. It means using your custom templates is exactly the same experience as choosing a factory-installed template.
Shopping for both these devices is exciting. The Remarkable 2’s video is mesmerizing, and the Supernote’s details and design are pure clickbait for compromised analogs (ahem). The writing experience is stripped down to the bones of what writing is: dragging the tip of a pen across paper and nothing else. I mean, file storage, a little monochromatic web surfing, Wi-Fi, and email exchange — sure. They have that. But they’ve aimed to achieve the perfect digital version of paper and they come remarkably close.
3. The Onyx Boox 3C
The Onyx Boox 3C is like an iPad and Remarkable 2 had a baby. First off, it’s in color. Secondly, it is not distraction-free — a lot is happening on an Onyx Boox 3C. Finally, good luck making a decision on which Onyx to buy. They make 15 tablets in as many sizes and with eye-watering variations from their phone-sized Palma, to their 13-inch Tab X. They even make an ePaper monitor, the Mira.
Not every Onyx product supports handwriting. The Palma doesn’t have a stylus and is essentially just a very nice reader, like a Kindle. That’s disappointing since a true “pocket notebook” would change the game for those of us who rely on them to capture ideas but don’t want to lug around a giant tablet.
4. Honorable Mention: The iPad
The iPad can do anything. I can run my entire business off an iPad. I can run Photoshop, listen to North Mississippi blues, watch a slideshow, and take notes by hand. Simultaneously. For $329 bucks. Will I be distracted? I like to think of it as multitasking (see above). Sure, you’re writing on glass, but I can slap a Paperlike screen protector on it and the feel is close to paper. It’s not bad.
The Winner Is: The Remarkable 2
The Remarkable 2 is miles ahead in every department — especially in the department of a distraction-free workspace. We all suffer a little from screen fatigue. We’re all scrolling to nowhere. Maybe trimming functionality to zero is the way to mitigate the abundance of apps that’s driving us all nuts.
|Onyx Boox Note Air 3
|Both (sort of)
|Battery Life per Charge:
|Kindle Store access
Image © iStockPhoto.com
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