reMarkable 2: digital notebook or versatile e-reader?

  • by

The reMarkable 1 had been appreciated by a strong community, and while it was clearly not an e-reader (it could only open PDF and ePub documents), some users (mainly large PDF readers) adopted it as their main digital reading tool. With the reMarkable 2 release, did the lines move? Would reMarkable be able to replace an e-reader, or even be considered the ideal e-reader for certain uses? My opinion!

reMarkable 1 vs reMarkable 2 – what are the differences?

The reMarkable 2 is quite similar to the reMarkable 1, both in terms of software and hardware (even if it is a bit more powerful). The big differences are, according to the manufacturer:

Autonomy : up to two weeks of autonomy (three times more than the reMarkable 1) 
 Thickness: with its 4.7 mm thickness, the reMarkable 2 is 30% thinner than the reMarkable 1 
 Writing latency: second generation CANVAS screen, reducing writing latency to21ms, up to twice as fast as the reMarkable 1. 
 Accessories: the reMarkable 2 benefits from various accessories that can be magnetically attached to the device. 
 USB-C for fast loading and data transfer.

The new SoC is a slightly old (2015) i.MX 7 Dual SoC based on two ARM A9 cores but actually less power-hungry than the rM1, an i.MX 6 Solo Lite. A priori we should expect a slightly lower single core performance but a better multithreaded performance and much better performance per watt, which would explain the possibility of tripling the autonomy as announced by the manufacturer, while the battery is still 3000mA. The screen is similar (Mobius base) but the “Canvas” system evolves which allows to lower the power consumption, but also to reduce the writing latency (already very good with the rM1). Note however the disappearance of the physical buttons, well appreciated by some users. Everything will now be done with gestures, via the tactile layer.

In use, the main difference between the reMarkable 1 and the reMarkable 2 is the longer battery life of version 2 and an improved design: the other differences are in my opinion minor.

General information

The reMarkable is really specific, and the Norwegian company is aiming with this product at a very specific market segment. The reMarkable is not yet another e-reader. It is something else. What? It’s hard to say! It’s clearly not a simple notebook, even if the company’s objective seems to be to produce the notebook of the future, a digital notebook, without paper but with the spirit of paper. Nor is it a tablet (even though the company uses this term to evoke this object, which is clearly not an e-reader). It is rather a digital notebook that can be used as an e-reader, with limitations compared to a “real e-reader” (but also positive points!) as we will see.

The operating system (Codex) is developed internally by the company and is light and relatively opened: you can easily connect to it as root via SSH, no need for a jailbreak to play with your device and adapt it to your tastes. Because of its “hack friendly” side, there are hacks on different GitHub repositories to add (limited) functionalities to your device, and unofficial clients to import or export your files, for example remt. The follow-up is quite good; see the release notes related to the different updates of the internal software of the tablet. Regarding the construction quality, reMarkable really gives the impression to be on a top-of-the-range product, the finishes are fine, the contact with the materials is pleasant, and the device is extremely thin.

ReMarkable 2 and ePub reading

The reMarkable 2, like the reMarkable 1 can by default only read ePub and PDF files. Reading ePub files is less comfortable than on an e-reader, the reading application being too minimalist. PDF reading is much better, however, and it is possible to annotate PDF documents, which makes it one of the most interesting e-readers for those looking for a dedicated PDF e-reader.

reMarkable and PDF reading

On the PDF reading side, while some researchers have quickly tamed the reMarkable, the PDF e-reader is not without flaws: without installing a “hack”, the default experience if fairly minimalist. Nevertheless, even large documents can be opened easily and the minimalist approach of the reMarkable in PDF e-reader mode is very appealing: it is closer to a printed paper document than to a digital one, and provides a distraction-free experience.

PDF and annotations.

It is possible to annotate PDFs with the stylus. This is the positive point of this device. But this annotation adds an image-like layer to the PDF, which can then be exported to PDF format and processed by another program. It is not possible, however, to highlight the PDF and add notes to it, as with some PDF reader software, which would then automatically export all the notes or underlined passages, for example. So we talk about an approach close to paper, which if it has its pleasant side, also has some limitations.

Nevertheless, for those who are used to annotating paper documents (articles, books, texts in progress…) and have therefore developed specific codes, it is possible to maintain theirs habits. This stylus-based system allows certain flexibility, inaccessible to software with which one can only highlight extracts. It is not possible to export on Evernote or any other similar service its highlighted passages, we talk here about an experience closer to a printed copy of the document…

Internal links in a PDF document do not work, there is no easy way to bookmark pages but the PDF reading experience can be greatly improved installing “remarkable-hacks“. When annotating a PDF, however, it is possible to move (cut and paste) or copy the annotations, to group them into a single document, once each chapter is finished, for example. This is a manual procedure: for each note, select it and paste it into another document (unless you do it afterwards, from the exported file, on a computer with the appropriate software).

Installing another reading app?

It is possible and relatively easy to install Koreader on your reMarkable gen 1 (see here), and even Plato (another alternative e-reader available on github). Koreader is a really nice reading app, mainly used on Kobo or jailbroken Kindle e-readers. On reMarkable, no jailbreak is needed, the e-reader being open by default (a very good point for this machine!). The installation is therefore quite easy for those who handle the command line for a short time or are ready to learn; you can then launch it by pressing one of the physical buttons on the rM1, on an rM2 you’ll probably have to go through an application launcher, but it is not compatible with the reMarkable 2 yet.

Once Koreader is installed, the reMarkable can stop being a digital notebook that can read PDFs and more or less ePub, to become a real 10″ large format e-reader. Indeed, Koreader can open many formats: EPUB, PDF, DjVu, XPS, CBT, CBZ, FB2, PDB, TXT, HTML, RTF, CHM, DOC, MOBI… It becomes possible to read any type of document with a reMarkable, to integrate dictionaries and to benefit from all the Koreader’s features to avoid the limitations of the default reader. In the case of PDF reading, on the other hand, while using Koreader can allow you to benefit from links within the PDF, you do not benefit from the main advantage of the reMarkable compared to an e-reader: the ability to take notes and annotate your PDF with the stylus, right in the document…

ReMarkable 2 and note-taking or drawing

The main goal of the reMarkable is not to allow reading texts (even if it is possible and not bad if you consider that it is possible to install Koreader!) but to take notes, as close as possible to the paper.

Regarding this, the result seems quite good to me: the note-taking application is powerful, and you can draw quite finely on it, even if great drawers or professionals will not be convinced and will probably prefer the fineness of the paper coupled with the adequate tools.

But when it comes to note-taking, the low latency and great finesse of the tablet make the experience pleasant, much more than on an iPad anyway! You don’t end up with paper, but there are advantages. A leuchtturm1917 notebook will be nice, but to carry a lot of pages you’ll need a thick notebook, or you’ll have to favor several notebooks. With a “digital notebook” it becomes possible to carry many documents in a small space.

Text conversion (handwriting to digital text)

An interesting option for those who want to take notes with this device is the text conversion, which allows you to convert your handwritten text into a digital document. The function works quite well, even if sometimes the spaces between words are not respected; it all depends on the individual’s handwriting.

Nevertheless it is necessary to take into account that the conversion is not carried out on the device itself, but on external servers (no certainty on this subject, but the reMarkable probably uses the services of the French company MyScript): your data are therefore sent elsewhere to be processed, which has its limits in terms of privacy and anonymity.

reMarkable 1 vs reMarkable 2: is the evolution interesting?

In my opinion, the differences between the reMarkable 1 and the reMarkable 2 are minor: if the new processor will be dual-core and more powerful, the difference between the two should is light, the performance of a core of the reMarkable 1 CPU being better than that of a core of the new processor. If the software is highly optimized for multi-threaded operation, this may be a plus, but the perceived difference is likely to be minimal: the RM1 processor was not fundamentally lacking in power. The addition of 512MB of RAM is a plus, but not necessarily a necessity: the reMarkable 1 rarely uses more than 150MB of RAM! On the other hand, the greater autonomy is welcome, especially since the battery was not easy to change on these devices, this should guarantee a long life.

The arrival of an eraser on the stylus (option that costs 40 euros more) is interesting, but it is without counting the possibility to use the button of a Lamy stylus to erase, on a reMarkable 1.

The aesthetics is improved, the eInk tablet is thinner, but in terms of software, we find the same limitations on both versions. In my opinion, the arrival of the reMarkable 2 allows you to benefit from good prices on the purchase of a second-hand reMarkable 1, for example on eBay where you can find it for less than 300 bucks. At the presale price (USD 400 + 40 for the stylus with eraser) it remains nevertheless interesting, for those looking for a more minimalist alternative to a Boox Note 2.

Conclusion

The reMarkable 2 is high-performance, extremely thin and well-finished. It is a good device for academics or large PDF readers. Because of its 10.3-inch format, it can read A4 documents. Note the absence of light (front-light type, which is now found on most e-readers) and the difficulty to open any type of documents without installing a complementary e-reader. Nevertheless for note-taking – for those who are looking for that – the reMarkable 2 is among the most pleasant devices on the market. Available for 399 euros in pre-order on the manufacturer’s website, it’s not a bad price. With a visibly aluminum body and a torsion-resistant Mobius screen, the reMarkable2 should be durable. So far, the company has been quite “developer friendly” which has allowed the emergence of an ecosystem of free applications and scripts to improve the experience with the device, and promises to provide updates for its devices, even older ones, over a long period of time.

It’s more expensive than the Boox Note 2, which is much more powerful, but we’re not talking about the same type of device. The reMarkable is more minimalist, which is an advantage for those who want to stay focused on their notes and PDF documents, when the Boox Note is more like an e-Ink tablet (although oriented towards reading digital documents). Both devices nevertheless allow to comfortably read and annotate PDFs, although in my opinion the reMarkable is closer to paper, and its minimalist approach is interesting. The seriousness and the investment of the company seems important to me in the long term: with internally developed software, updates should be available over time, and if the reMarkable is much less powerful than the Onyx Boox Note 2, the software being much more minimalist, it is not necessarily a problem…

The reMarkable 1 and 2 are on the other hand, thanks to their relative opening, good devices for those who want to hack their e-reader and put their hands in the dirt to adapt their experience to their tastes or habits, especially since the reMarkable 1 is now available at a low price on eBay. If the reMarkable 1 and 2 come with their limits, it is quite easy to find solutions to make the device do what you want, while remaining in a minimalist logic. For those who are looking for an all-purpose e-reader, without having to type command lines or hack with some scripts, this is clearly not the right device, the Onyx Boox Note 2 being more adapted. For those who are looking for the best “digital notebook” of the moment to take notes, this is a very good device, as for those who are fond of free software and wish to be able to adapt the reMarkable to their use, or who are looking for a 10-inch device at a lower cost and accept to buy their second hand device.

The reMarkable 2 is therefore not an e-reader, but can be used as such, with certain limitations. On the other hand, it is a digital notebook – just like the reMarkable 1 was – that can be used to read and annotate PDF documents comfortably.

Full technical specifications

Dimensions and weight:

  • 187 x 246 x 4.7 mm
  • Approx. 403.5 g

Processor

  • CPU ARM 1.2 GHz (dual core)

RAM and internal storage

  • 1 GB LPDDR3 SDRAM
  • 8 GB of internal storage (approx. 100,000 pages)

Second generation CANVAS screen

  • 10.3” digital paper screen (monochrome)
  • 1872 x 1404 resolution (226 DPI)
  • Partly based on E Ink Carta technology
  • Multi-point touch screen

Marker

  • No need to load, pair or install it, it works directly.
  • Special high friction tip
  • Tilt detection
  • 4096 pressure levels.

Connectivity/Network

  • Wi-Fi 2.4 GHz and 5GHz
  • USB-C
  • For accessories

Battery

  • Rechargeable battery (li-ion)
  • Recharging via USB-C
  • 3000 mAh

Operating System (OS)

  • Codex, a system developed by reMarkable, based on Linux and optimized for low-latency digital paper.

Supported formats

  • PDF and ePUB (only!)

Other

  • Menu language: English only
  • Ability to synchronize notes and files between the remarkable tablet, the reMarkable application for MacOS, Windows 7 and +, iOS and Android

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.