I’m writing this review — well, the first draft of it — by hand, on one of the coolest writing devices it has ever been my pleasure to use. How much pleasure? Let’s just say that I’ve scribbled my way through 21 pages so far, in under a day, just for the heck of it. If this prolific sensation isn’t hypergraphia, a curious condition where you can’t stop writing, it is at least somewhere in the same neurological neighborhood.
The device in question is the $399 Remarkable 2, a long-anticipated sequel to the world’s first e-ink tablet. If you’ve encountered an e-ink screen before, it was probably on the Amazon Kindle. They are monochrome and much easier on the eye than a bright LED screen. You can use them in direct sunlight. E-ink is the closest thing the tech world has given us to regular pens on paper.
The first ReMarkable tablet, which launched in 2017 for $599, was widely praised for this paperlike quality. Yet it also came with a handful of flaws baked in. Its stylus (known as a “marker”) was a little on the slow side, with a perceptible 40-millisecond delay between the marker touching the screen and its E-ink appearing. The bezel contained page-forward and page-back buttons, which were unfortunately placed at the bottom of the screen. Your wrist would have a hard time resting without accidentally pressing them.
On the ReMarkable 2, both flaws have been swept away. There is now a mere 20-millisecond wait for the ink to appear, a crucial threshold; to the human eye, it is immediate. The processor is twice as fast. Drawing on the tablet can be much more precise. Writing is more of a joy. (You can also do it for longer, given that the battery now reportedly lasts for two weeks instead of three days — I didn’t get close to exhausting it — and recharges via USB-C rather than the slower Mini USB.)
As for the buttons on the bezel, they’re gone. Now, you move between pages by swiping left or right. A single on-off button sits atop a thin silver stripe on the left side of the tablet, a cool design that beats the cheaper, more plastic feel of the original. Combined with the world-record thinness of the ReMarkable 2, which is a mere 0.19 inches deep (versus 0.27 inches for its predecessor), the overall impression is of a magic legal pad from the 23rd century.
Indeed, even though the Remarkable 2 is a shade heavier than its predecessor (405 grams versus 350 grams), the thinner, shorter design somehow helps it feel lighter. I was fond of writing on my lap while propping the top of the device up with a single finger. That’s not something I could ever do with my iPad.
Speaking of the iPad, the ReMarkable 2 has taken a leaf out of Apple’s book and filled up with magnets. The Remarkable stylus now clicks satisfyingly onto the side of the tablet — well, not quite as satisfyingly as the Apple Pencil sticks to the iPad Pro, but close. There’s a key difference between the two markers that ReMarkable sells. The free one felt much more magnetic and reassuringly solid than the Marker Plus, which has an end that acts like an eraser.
The silver strip, meanwhile, magnetically attaches to a $69 folio case. However, I found the case useful only for storage; when writing, the cover was too stiff to bend back all the way, while the back added unnecessary bulk. Something like Apple’s iPad smart cover, which folds back into a highly graspable triangular shape, would work wonders here.
ReMarkable’s software, meanwhile, continues to improve by leaps and bounds. It now offers a variety of templates for each page, including storyboards, comics panels, and day planners. You can still upload PDF and EPUB files, mark them up, and save them to the ReMarkable cloud, which is accessible via an app on smartphones and computers. Document sync (via WiFi) was a little on the slow side, in my experience, but never failed altogether.
The device’s handwriting recognition is fast and fairly impressive, and I was surprised to find it could even read my cursive script — I grew up learning a fancy style known as copperplate, and it’s still in my muscle memory — with relatively few errors. I had to make a dozen or so corrections to this article after converting it, and the errors were at least amusing: “text” became “teat,” “feel” became “feet.” This I can work with.
Annoyingly, there is only one thing you can do with your words once they’ve converted, and that is to email them. Sure, it’s pretty cool to be able to dash off emails on a magic legal pad, but it would be nicer to be able to store the text, or at least edit it before sending. Given that everything else you write is automatically uploaded to the cloud, the lack of converted text storage is a strange omission.
I had a few other minor gripes. There isn’t as much customization of the pen stroke as you’d expect. You only get the option of thin, medium, or thick lines, and it’s Goldilocks’ choice: thin is too fine for legibility, while thick is too bulky. The only medium is just about right. There’s a greater selection of pen style, from mechanical pencil to ballpoint pen and paintbrush. Sometimes the brush strokes came out a little too jagged. Artists may love the ReMarkable 2 for its quick sketching utility but become frustrated if they try to use it as a fine art tool along the lines of an iPad.
But in the end, comparing this device to its far more expensive Apple brethren is a little like, well, apples and oranges. The ReMarkable 2 is the little e-ink tablet that would, from a small Norwegian company with big ambitions. The pandemic may have slowed its arrival — originally due to ship mid-summer, pre-orders have been delayed several times and are now expected to ship in September. Still, it is truly remarkable that this device exists at all. If you’re looking to rediscover the joys of distraction-free writing by hand in a notebook that is practically infinite, there is nothing else like it on the market.
Hypergraphia, here we come.