I’m two weeks into owning a Remarkable 2. I spent at least a year, maybe two, circling around whether to get one or not and finally took the plunge at the end of July. Key to the whole project to me was spending less time staring at the glare. I wanted something to read and scribble on but without the distraction that comes with All The Things.
I’ve had a couple of weeks for it to bed in. Overall I bloody love it and have used it daily (multiple times per day…) since I got it. I don’t at this point in time see it relegated into the “gadgets gathering dust” pile – but let’s maybe revisit in a year and see how things stand then…
- The writing experience is exceptional. Something about the texture of the screen against the marker – it really does feel like paper, and this makes a huge difference, for reasons I can’t quite figure out. It’s maybe because it’s sort of organic and not clinical? I have an Apple Pencil with my old iPad and although the experiences are different in other ways, writing and sketching on the Remarkable is just lovely in comparison.
- The lack of internet is incredibly refreshing (more on this below) and as a relaxing writing and reading experience, it really is superb.
- Handwriting recognition is on the whole pretty great.
- Dead simple interface. This is all well thought out and it works really well on desktop too.
- Really well made hardware. This feels like a solid product, very well made. I cheaped out on buying a case and instead got a dirt cheap one online rather than the official one but I lucked out with that – for a tenner I got a nice cloth feel one (which even smells kind of nice and notebooky too!)
- The mobile app is pretty pointless, as far as I can tell. I have a very small phone (an iphone SE) and I’m of an age where really small stuff on a screen is problematic – and anyway, my notes workflow is already established – so there’s just no point in having yet another app for taking notes.
- There’s an irritating thing going on whereby I can’t just add web articles to my Remarkable by browsing to them and “sending to” the Remarkable app (yes, there is a workaround, but it’s fiddly for reasons I won’t go into here and doesn’t get to the same end result). You can do it from the web browser extension (which is really seamless), so why not from mobile?
- I’d love it if there was a more open ecosystem. I can see that there is lots of experimentation around reverse engineering the API and stuff but I don’t want to make any scary changes to the firmware and risk bricking my device. Why don’t Remarkable just make the API’s available to developers?
- Taking notes on documents: at the moment if you want to take notes on a document, you either have to inline it (ie scribble over your notes, or write in the margin) OR you can insert a notes page which does at it says on the tin – adds a new page in your document on which you can add notes. This is a counter intuitive approach to me: it’d make way more sense if you could add a notes “overlay” (a bit more like on Kindle where you can highlight a section) which would popup over your document, could be filled in with notes and so had some context but could also be viewed / downloaded / converted to text separately – ie “here’s a list of all the notes you’ve made on this document”. This would keep the context of notes but also add to the utility of note taking within documents.
Fitting into an existing workflow
One of the things I’ve thought about really hard is how this fits into my notes / daily workflow. I’m basically an Obsidian user through and through – over the years I have tried pretty much all the notes apps, but Obsidian has stuck for me in a way that no other tool ever has done. I use it for what some people grandly call a Knowledge Graph but I also have a separate journal vault, a vault for keeping track of the music I’m writing, a vault for an online course I’m collaborating on, and so on.
Long and short, I’m in Obsidian in a big way, and see very little indication that I’m going to be moving away from it any time soon…so: I wanted to make sure that Remarkable can work for me and my workflow.
I have a lovely workflow for meetings using Obsidian already (which involves the Calendar / Daily Notes option) – I didn’t want to disrupt this but I do find that I like to use the Remarkable sometimes to scribble meeting notes rather than type. There’s no problem here, I just convert to text and add to an Obsidian file after my meeting (which keeps links and actions lined up).
For long form writing I do similar – I’m writing blog posts (such as this one!) as well as ideas on the Remarkable and just make sure I move stuff over to Obsidian when it’s ready to be moved. This is nice because I maintain my less glare motivation and feel better able to makes notes about ideas on an evening when I typically want to avoid laptop / desktop use, but I also want to maintain my “Obsidian is my canonical source of knowledge” mantra, with its exceptional searchability, backup, integration with Synology NAS, etc.
When it comes to reading stuff on the web – because of the slightly irritating “can’t send stuff to Remarkable from mobile” thing outlined above, I am making full use of Omnivore (thanks for the recommendation, Marc!) as the “first point of capture” – and that does have exceptional mobile support, so works well with web articles, Reeder (which I use daily), wherever else. So I send things to Omnivore first, then from there stuff either gets read, sent to Remarkable from my desktop if it’s long form and I want to read away from a screen / take notes on it, deleted, or passed into Raindrop if I want to save a bookmark for future lookup.
Less truly is more
I’ve been interested at all the times I’ve been reading on the Remarkable and might normally have disappeared down a link rabbit hole and haven ‘t – because I can’t! Unlike the Kindle, it doesn’t have any dictionary, Wikipedia lookup, translations or web browser. This feels like a constraint, and it is – but actually for me it is an incredibly welcome one.
When I was researching alternatives to the Remarkable, many sites were recommending gadgets like those made by Onyx (the Onyx Boox range), and much of the indignation in the reviews against the Remarkable were about capability: along the lines of “why the hell would you spend this money when for the same money you could get All These Other Things?”.
My answer is: what is quite often needed is less. We don’t any of us struggle to find more capability, more reading material, more links, more stuff – but the true value here is that this is a device which removes a huge chunk of noise in a reading and creative space. It does a set of things extremely, extremely well – and to me it is a huge plus point that it doesn’t have games, a web browser, notifications, apps. It is instead a very quiet, gentle place to consume and create long form content. It is this which makes the Remarkable very different.
To those who might respond to this with “yeh, but in that case, why not just get a notebook?” the answer is clearly because it does offer some capability (just enough!) to make it a useful contender in the digital space (sharing of notes is slick and easy, text recognition is really pretty great, exporting images as multiple formats including PND, SVG etc is exactly what you need) – so for that it does “do things a notebook can’t” but at the same time in a nice, quiet, solid form that eschews noise and distraction.
I like it.