Review– reMarkable 2

For a programmer, I'm not too big on gadgets. I've never owned wearable or "smart speaker" devices, and view my phone more as a necessary evil than anything. There is one category of gadgetry that I've eyed longingly for many years though– large-format EInk reading devices with stylus/touch and reasonable page refresh rates. This year I finally gave in and purchased a reMarkable 2, hoping it would be a productivity boon and lessen my regrettable dependence on glowing rectangles. This post is a review of how I'm finding it after about two months of use.

If you look solely at the spec sheet, the reMarkable 2 (aka RM2) is a pretty underwhelming product. Monochromatic screen. Meagre feature set. Underpowered CPU. No third-party apps, audio, backlight, or Bluetooth. As a distraction-free reading/writing/organization niche device, some of those are anti-features, but others would improve the product, depending on what your primary use case is. I would be remiss if I didn't mention another important downside– the RM2 is freaking expensive! I preordered the RM2, which knocked a few hundred bucks off the current list price, but if I was considering the purchase today, I would have a hard time justifying it.

I've been using the RM2 primarily as an notetaking device (its raison d'étre) and e-reader. Anyone who's worked with me in an office can probably remember messy piles of post-it notes on my desk; I've always found notetaking and sketching to be extremely helpful as thinking aids, and being able to mix digital organization with analog-style tactile immediacy with the RM2 has been a big win. The writing experience on the device is very good, and that's undoubtedly what most people are going to be purchasing it for.

As an e-reader, the RM2 is more of a mixed bag. The e-ink screen is gentle on the eyes, and the 10.3” screen is a near-perfect size for the technical books (nicely formatted PDFs) that I've been accumulating over the years. The refresh rate is good enough, though noticeable, and it's great to have all of the same annotation tools for books that are available for notetaking. The flip side is that the reading software is inexcusably limited. There's no way to see a list of pages with annotations, bookmark a page for later (!), or follow pdf links. It's mindboggling that after several years of developing the reMarkable software, these features are absent, but they update the software semi-regularly so I hold out hopes that they might get added later.

The hardware design of the reMarkable2 is undoubtedly it's strongest point. Not only is the RM2 svelte and solid, both the tablet and the pen have wonderful physical textures, which make handling and using the device a really pleasing tactile experience. The magnets that keep the pen and folio connected to the tablet are strong and give a satisfying "click" as the pieces snap together.

For the technically inclined, the RM2 is also surprisingly open. It runs Linux and you can ssh in as root to modify files and install (not officially supported) software and hacks. I have yet to try the "hacks" but it appears to paper over some of the more frustrating limitations of the stock UI.

Overall, I haven't been this smitten with a piece of hardware since the iPhone 3G (my first smartphone, over a decade ago). Despite its warts, the reMarkable 2 is now an essential part of my workflow and I would dearly miss it if something happened to it.

Misc thoughts