The not so remarkable e-paper tablet

If you want a device with an e-paper display that is capable of taking notes with a stylus, your choices are very limited. In fact there is currently only one device available on the market: The Remarkable Tablet. Launched as a crowd funding project in 2017, the Remarkable was first shipped in September of the same year and is now available on regular order for the main market.

The advantages of such a device are obvious: Not only can you have tons of “papers” on it but also you can take notes and have them with you all the time in a very structured manner. All this with – IN THEORY – very long battery battery thanks to the low power consumption of the electronic paper screen. Such a screen only consumes energy when its content changes. The device was available for 400$ including a cover and the stylus on kickstarter and now ships for $ 636.

The developer have done a good job on the hard and firmware of the tablet with one small exception. But merits first: The device reacts very quickly on the stylus input. This means that there is very little delay between the stylus movement on screen and the trajectory being traced on the screen. The screen is matte, looks very nice and is very easy to read, just like paper. The stylus’s tips have a limited durability. This means that the tip gets worn during use. This is a design choice which is supposed to assure a pencil-paper like feeling on the matte screen, which actually holds true. The only problem is: the pencil tip is way too soft. It wears off too quickly. Remarkable claims that the tips have a durability between 3 and seven weeks. This is not true. For me a tip is worn after only two weeks. The Remarkable comes with 9 spare tips. The price for 8 extra spare tips is ridiculously high with 8 tips at € 12 plus € 15 DHL express delivery from China as the sole shipping option. Luckily a normal Wacom stylus for “normal screens” which has no intention of mimicking pencil-paper-haptics does work on the remarkable, too. I only have to test wether using such a durable pencil scratches the screen or not.

A lack of pioneering spirit is the reason why the screen is only black and white. There are already e-paper screens that are completely in color. These are prototypes and are too expensive and shaky for the mass markets. The German MediaMarktSaturn Retail Group has implemented black-white and red e-paper price tags in almost all their stores realizing the wet dreams of economists to have perfect price discrimination in stores without even having to send an employee to change the price tag but just having an algorithm change the prices in store on a very well calculated basis. This means that red-black-and-white e-paper-screens are available for mass market production at cheap prices, raising the question why Remarkable did not implement this screen and thereby missing the pioneer role of being the first E-book reader with red black white screens. Only having a grey and black pencil option signficantly reduces the usability of the tablet for note-taking. Having scales of red added would ncrease the usability enormously.

The software of the tablet is sometimes outstandingly bad. The system is a closed access GNU/Linux distrubtion. That means allthough you run a free and open base system, they don’t release the source code of the user interface or instructions on how to unlock the bootloader to be able to modifiy the system as you like. This wouldn’t be too bad if anybody at the company had at least a minimum of interest in the improvement of the software and there were updates available which add new necessary features or remove bugs. But no. There has not been a single update for the system since the first release, 2 months ago. The Remarkable has an integrated WiFi-antenna. You can connect the tablet to a WiFi network to sync it with the proprietary network storage of the company (which of course doesn’t work properly, almost rendering the tablet useless) and to get updates (which don’t exist). Unfortunately you can only connect to WPA2 PSK and WEP networks (those networks setup by individuals for private usage with a pre-shared key) but not with WPA2 enterprise networks, because the poorly designed user interface only allows the input of a password but not a username + password as required for the latter.

Another problem is the sleep mode of the remarkable. When you press the power button briefly, the remarkable goes into sleep mode but here again bad design: It wakes up from sleep mode by pressing any button, making sleeping mode completely useless because it is also deactivated by pressing the buttons on the front screen which is easily done during transportation, meaning that your Remarkable will be woken up randomly thus draining the battery. Because of the poor implementation of the sleep mode you must always shut your remarkable down when you stop using it and boot it up if you need it, otherwise you’ll find yourself out of battery very quickliy. Luckily the booting process is very quick (10s) and allows you to use your tablet almost instantly.

Update May 2018: The problem with the sleep mode is now fixed. The tablet wakes its middle deep sleep mode only when you push the power button. The sleep mode implementation is much better and the battery lasts much longer (no it’s really only every 2 – 3 weeks that I have to charge the tablet, when using it seldomly).

Summary

Would I buy it again? No I would probably not. The still closed system and the way the tips wear out are two factors which make the tablet a pain in the ass, even though I think it is a very necessary tool to keep my papers structured and always available.

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