Imagine an iPad Pro and a Kindle meet in a bar, they enjoy a few drinks, they get along, and an inevitable night of unbridled passion ensues - what would their baby look like?
Congratulations, mum, you've given birth to a healthy 350g ReMarkable Tablet.
We all want the best for our kids, but is this newborn destined to be pretty unReMarkable in the eyes of the aspiring pencil artist, or will you cut off your left ear to get your hands on one?
The ReMarkable borrows features from the iPad Pro and Kindle to bring you a device that's brilliant to write on, but is it any good to draw on? You know what? It is! At £549, I know some of you are shouting at me to just go down to PC World and buy a 10.5 inch iPad Pro for precisely the same money - and yes I know that the iPad Pro is a better product in just about every way, but this newborn has some cute features, so it's worth taking a closer look.
I'm not going to focus too much on the note-taking or e-reader functions; that's not why you're here. On boot up it could be a little quicker, taking 25 seconds, which isn't the end of the world, but I rebooted the tablet several times when it began to run slowly. Switching between ebooks could also be faster.
Let's start with the basics. There's no dictionary for checking words you don't know. There is a bookmark function, but you can't use it via the tablet, you have to add them through the Windows, Mac or mobile apps. Why? I have no idea? Only EPUB and PDF formats work at the moment. That's splendid if you have a sizeable DRM-free ebook library, but not if your ebooks are saved in any other format or from Amazon's colossal Kindle store. There's also no PIN or password protection. This is a big deal if you want to use the ReMarkable for sensitive work.
There's a more advanced feature that I'm surprised is missing. There's no optical character recognition (OCR). You can't convert your handwriting to text automatically; if you take copious notes in a meeting, you'll find yourself typing them up.
Is it any good for drawing?
It benefits from the fastest response time of any drawing tablet that I've used, although the sensor in the stylus can feel a little off at some angles. On the whole, it's nice and responsive. The stylus is lightweight and enjoys the feel of a real pencil. It has a comfortable rubberised grip and a hidden compartment in the top for your extra nib. The stylus requires no additional charging and doesn't need to be paired with the tablet. The stylus is included with the tablet, although you can purchase it separately for £79, only £10 less than the Apple Pencil.
This is as authentic a pencil-on-paper sensation as I've experienced without whipping out my sketchbook and a half-chewed HB pencil. I don't enjoy the sensation of drawing on glass which is the experience you suffer when drawing on most other tablets. The gap you can see between the nib and the display feels unnatural and distracts me from the drawing experience. To that end, I guess there isn't a drawing experience that feels natural on any tablet, except perhaps for this one.
When it comes to drawing on the ReMarkable, you have a few options: pen, pencil, highlighter and paintbrush. There's a zoom, an eraser, and an undo button too, although when I used the undo button it made the tablet freeze for about 2 seconds which became irritating.
ReMarkable, as a drawing tool, is a mixed bag. The texture of the screen and low-latency means sketching is a pleasure, particularly when you go full-screen. Your choice of pencils is limited to three sizes. A more serious pencil artist than I would probably rather have the familiar ratings for hardness and darkness – 2H, HB, 4B.
You can zoom quickly into a sketch by up to 500%, but zooming back out seems to take forever. Adding layers isn't fast either, and it typically made the screen freeze for around 5 seconds.
All this adds up to a basic sketching tool to jot down ideas, and for that, it's spot on, but you shouldn't expect to create finished masterpieces. If you're looking for a device that you can create digital art on, then you may want to consider a Wacom Mobilestudio Pro, an iPad Pro or Microsoft Surface Pro 4.
Let's talk about the monochrome e-ink display. The display's 226ppi density is lower than the Kindle Paperwhite's 300ppi count, but it's still great for reading. The display does have some first generation issues. It refreshes frequently, and even if the stylus isn't lagging, you still experience strange after images.
This is a reliable product, but it doesn't look that impressive at first glance. The thick white plastic and decent sized bezel do make it easy to grip without covering the screen. The three buttons on the front will allow you to flick your pages back and forward, with the centre button taking you to the home screen.
You'll find a micro USB port at the bottom for both data transfer and charging. A cable is provided in the box, but the manufacturer doesn't include a plug.
A 1GHz ARM A9 processor powers the ReMarkable with 512MB of RAM. That's a lot less powerful than the multi-core chipsets you'll see on high-end phones like the Galaxy S8 or iPhone X, but the ReMarkable doesn't need that much oomph. It runs a straightforward Linux-based operating system that doesn't require much computational or graphical power.
There's 8GB of storage for notes, drawings and ebooks, with 7GB available to the user. With hundreds of handwritten pages and dozens of ebooks on the tablet, I've still used less than 10% of that.
The ReMarkable has a stripped down, simple to use interface. You can access your notes, your ebook library and create new 'Notebooks' from the home screen. You can name Notebooks by topic, and add as many pages as you like. The home screen also lists your most used notebooks and ebooks.
Other than that there's not much to it. There are a few settings you can tweak, crucially switching sides for left and right-handed users. If you are left-handed, then the ReMarkable is even better. There's no ink to smear so if you like writing by hand rather than typing it's perfect.
Disappointingly, there's no integration with cloud services like Google Drive or Dropbox. This is a significant omission for anyone who wants to use the ReMarkable as a serious productivity tool.
The good news is the ReMarkable team aren't finished with the user-interface and features for the tablet. Liveview, for example, is in beta testing and allows you to view your drawing instantly on a big screen via the app. If this could work with Adobe Photoshop, then the ReMarkable could also be used as a graphics tablet. So while a lot is missing, there's still a lot that has been promised to come.
It's not complete by a long shot, there are too many features missing, but when it comes to its core reason for existing – writing – then you've got to love it. When it comes to using it as an artist, I don't think this youngster has grown up enough to warrant your investment just yet.
SPECS AT A GLANCE: REMARKABLE TABLET
|Screen||10.3” 1872x1404 resolution (226 DPI) monochrome digital paper touch display|
|OS||Codex, a custom Linux-based OS optimized for low-latency e-paper|
|CPU||1 GHz ARM A9 CPU|
|RAM||512 MB DDR3L|
|Ports||One Micro USB port|
|Size||177 x 256 x 6.7mm (6.9 x 10.1 x .26 inches)|
|Weight||.77 pounds (350 grams)|
|Supported files||.pdf, .epub|
|Other perks||Included stylus|
By Michael Lonty :)