A few years ago, I tried a demo of an e-ink sketching tablet that surprised me. Thehad a low-latency stylus and realistic-looking e-ink, which made for a tactile drawing experience that ended up feeling significantly different, if not necessarily better, than my time with iPads and Apple Pencils, or Microsoft Surface pens.
The new Remarkable 2 is a thinner revision of the original made by the same Norwegian startup, available to order for $399 with a marker and slip-cover included. That’s expensive for a specific-use device intended mostly for sketching, drawing and as a note-taking digital companion. But I’ve tried one out for a week or so and it has some really clever touches that should carry over to other devices. Why isn’t there a sketchable e-ink Kindle, for example? I have no idea.
I tried the tablet with its sold-separately leather folio, which is fancy, but costs extra. Here are my key takeaways:
My kids instantly loved it
I was shocked that both my kids just picked the tablet up and started doodling for a good hour or so (before losing interest and doing other things). The tablet’s interface is dead simple: There are sketch pages, templates, a few extra tools like adding layers to sketches and an in-beta way of casting your sketch live to the mobile/desktop app.
The eraser is cool
The back of the Remarkable’s step-up version of its Marker ($99, sold separately) doubles as an eraser: just press on the tablet and use like a normal eraser. It works. It’s great. You could also erase through an onscreen tool and use the stylus tip, too.
The sketch and handwriting feel of Remarkable 2 really does feel great, particularly for handwriting
The matte finish of the display gives a friction that I find missing from iPad Pencil work and made my bad handwriting feel a little more normal. I love how tactile it feels. But also, the resolution of the marker/pen markers can sometimes be a little more digitized-looking up close than I’d prefer. I can get more subtle results from Apple Pencil work in pressure-sensitive sketch apps.
There’s no backlight
An odd move on this tablet: I can’t use it in the dark. No backlight seems to work fine for most everyday uses, like a piece of paper, and the display is big and crisp (10.3 inches). But it’s also limiting. And that display is sometimes not quite as large as I’d like for storyboarding or larger sketch work.
There’s handwriting recognition, but not in real time
I was hoping for a way for my handwriting to just transform into clean text, so I could create a document and zap it off to someone. Handwriting can be exported as font-based text, but it doesn’t happen right away in notes or sketches.
You can import and mark up ebooks and PDFs, but only through Remarkable’s desktop app… and it’s very limited
I had to drag and drop files which cloud-synced to the tablet and I wasn’t able to do any instant sharing of files in-tablet. Anything I do in the tablet instantly syncs to the mobile or desktop app, but it’s an odd handoff. I’m used to marking up and sharing and sending things seamlessly on iPads or Chromebooks or whatever else I’m using, so the almost-disconnected feel of Remarkable 2 was off-putting.
I’d love more low-latency e-ink sketch stuff
I wouldn’t want to buy one of these unless I was craving a digital sketchpad for handwriting and really wanted to use e-ink, but the much more natural sketch feel of this tablet made me wonder when Kindles and other e-ink readers could adopt ideas like this. Also, the battery life on Remarkable 2 is rated for two weeks… I haven’t had to recharge yet. I’d love it if the Remarkable were more of an e-reader with sketching benefits, or something I could use for more tasks. It’s a pretty single-purpose device right now and may not even be useful for artists used to much richer toolsets on tablets, but it’s the closest thing to replicating the physical feel of pencil and paper on a digital device that I’ve ever tried.