Notes on the reMarkable v1

The reMarkable is really freaking amazing. I use mine primarily as a replacement for graph paper, after I considered how much I spent on pads of graph paper, pens, binders, reinforcement rings, time spent punching holes, rewriting, and rewdrawing to fix mistakes. It's a life saver. Did I mention it runs Linux, and you get root?

But let's be clear: this is writing-first device. If you're looking for a general purpose tablet, a web browser, an ebook reader—anything not focused on writing or drawing as the primary activity—you're in the wrong market, and you can stop reading now.

The onboard storage is very tight, and the way they partition it, you have about 5 MB on the root partition to add your own code. You can, and someone has, populate the SD card pins with a microSD slot, and it works fine. But, you'd better be fancy with an iron, and it's mostly glued shut. Although, once you're in, it looks pretty serviceable.

reMarkable makes a toolchain available, and there's a ton of people hacking on them.

Weight Savings

SteveSgt said,

Let's see. How many sketch notebooks can I buy for that price AFTER I've bought a sheet-feed scanner?

Brother - DS-620 Mobile Color Page Scanner $90 Pro-Art® Spiral Bound Sketch Book, 8 1/2" x 11" 80 sheets $15

So $399 -90 =309/15=20*80=1,600

So I guess it might be worth it if you would draw-on or otherwise create 1,600 pages of content before the tablet either failed or was no longer supported in software.

But then you have to carry around 1,600 notebookspages worth of paper mass...

I love my notebooks, but I don't want to carry all of that. Buuut... I still want the notes and the ability to write on a paper-like surface. That's what this offers. And, anecdotally, it works very well.

A Quick Rundown on the Pens

The big draw of this device is that the screen and pen tips have have a high friction, and the result is that it feels very much like writing on an actual sheet on paper. The illusion is not perfect, but it is very good, and a world of difference apart from drawing on a glass screen. If you're already a Wacom tablet user (I own a Bamboo Fun as well), you'll appreciate the familiar feel, but without the disconnect between the screen and tablet. This also isn't going to replace your Cintiq. It has an effective drawing area about the size of an A5 sheet of paper.

Pencil, looks very much like a pencil at high angles, but too much of the pressure range is dedicated to the high pressure/high tilt angles, so there's a fairly noticeable jump into the wider shading brushes at low angle, and there's not as much pressure range as you'd like for shading.

Mechanical pencil is like the pencil, but no tilt modification to the brush width.

Ballpoint pen gives a very smooth, fine line, with a small amount of tilt and pressure.

The fineliner is my favorite, it has 3 fixed stroke widths and no tilt. Feels like an inking pen. Nailed it.

Highlighter, pressure for opacity, no tilt.

Paintbrush, tilt and pressure for width, no shade change.

Marker, tilt for width, no pressure change.

In general, there are 3 levels of colorshades: black, white, and grey. The stippling pattern for the pencil brushes is crap at the larger sizes, it looks like single pixels from the 80s. Otherwise it's actually quite a good sketching platform. It suffers from misdetection of tip location due to tip wear (especially the buildup of an annular ridge), tip not fully inserted, tip frayed on the inner end, or physical deformation of the digitizer's grid at the very edges.

The latency is noticeable, but so low (20ms) that your sense of correlation between touch and vision doesn't suffer. The tips wear out a little faster than I'd like, but that's presumably for screen life.

The Other Stuff

Selection (both eraser selection and selecting/translating/scaling/rotating text is very nice. Needs side handles (instead of just corner handles) to do anisotropic scaling. Also, it's very hard to work with small selections because they put the handles over the selection. I wind up spinning things instead of moving them frequently. Pro-tip: put a dot out to the side, and add that to your selection to get a bigger selection box. Tip 2: Work big, scale down. It's stored as vector strokes anyway. It also needs basic shape tools: sometimes I just want a ruler straight line without the ruler.

I bought a Creative Grids 1.5"x6.5" quilting ruler (CGR1565), which is sturdy, and has the markings printed on the back. It also has a textured border on the rear which is a bit too rough, so I sanded it smoother with 320 grit sandpaper and cleaned it off with isopropanol. This reduces the coarseness and the chance of it scratching the reMarkable's screen (using tools other than the supplied pen is done at your own risk). Since the textured layer is done over the printing, the sanding and cleaning only removes the central portions of the markings, but leaves the ones around the edge untouched. It's quite grippy on the screen, and you could use the smooth reverse side if you were concerned about scratching the surface, as the acrylic of the ruler is harder than the plastic of the reMarkable's screen. As it turns out, you can also draw on top of the ruler itself (and the line will appear underneath, which is conveniently about the same plane as the ruler markings).

Copy and paste: There's supposedly support for copy and paste in the newest software, but I don't have that yet (staged rollout). You can duplicate something within the same page, but until I get the latest software, I can't copy something to another page. Major pain point. Update: I've received the 2.1.1.3 update, and along with it, copy and paste support. This works as you'd expect, and removes a major obstacle in using the device.

Undo and redo are very handy and a natural complement to handwriting. No more moments of trying to draw over something and make a digit look different because you used a pen and not a pencil (not a big pencil fan for regular paper, I mostly use an inking pen on paper and the fineliner on this). Didn't leave enough space, just lasso it and move it or scale it, rotate it to re-align things, and even grab and reorganize things. It's pretty good about having intuitive selection behavior for when it will pick up a stroke or not as part of the selection (get it completely, or it won't be included, which can be handy for extracting bits of text and/or drawing).

Search is non-existent, and handwriting recognition isn't good enough that I'd want to use it, because it would take too much cleanup--and I have exceptionally neat handwriting. It needs better support for more traditional PDF viewer features, but should probably keep it pretty minimal, because it works really well in its role as a writing/sketching-first device.

The sidebar button is a special annoyance. They're doing collision detection on the large square image bounds around the box, instead of the central circle, which takes up a small, but valuable chunk of screen real estate. This is particularly noticeable if you write a title in the top left of your documents and try to underline them, or if you want to start a pen stroke in that corner.

Palm rejection is particularly good, but not so much where it comes to clicking on the exit button. As long as you avoid that, I've found that I can put my hands all over it, unlike most tablets, and it won't interfere with the drawing. Also, the physical buttons seem to disable themselves during a stroke, which is useful, because I do accidentally brush over them while writing and drawing.

The Cloud, or, Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax

Export, import, and sync are the real sore spots--see my other comments. If you can convert them to PDF or ePUB, then you can view them. It doesn't directly support the Kindle formats. The normal method of importing and exporting PDFs and notebooks is via their cloud service, which their desktop and mobile applications also use.

You can transfer PDFs entirely over the network device it presents (USB ethernet adapter) without ever turning on WiFi or hitting their servers. You can work over the WiFi too, I just wanted to point out that you don't need anything more than a cable for direct access.

Notebooks and annotations are trickier, as they're stored in a binary format with page references, layers, lines, and points separately, and there are tools to handle them. Still, there's a need for an open sync solution. You can change its /etc/hosts file to use your own servers , and then after doing a MiTM to see what it's doing over their REST API/slapping a debugger on it, you, you can write your own daemon. ReMarkable's own cloud service will let you email (the primary mode of export) PDF, PNG, or SVG.

You can also customize all the various splash and sleep screens by copying images to the device via SFTP. They're just PNG images stored on the filesystem.

Conclusions

I'm being quite critical, but it really is a very good device for version 1. This is already really, really good, and has the potential to be flat out amazing. I'm already finding it a natural replacement for paper, reading more because (out of the box) it pretty much only does readin' and writin' and SSH'n.

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