Review: the reMarkable TabletComments
Last updated 2017-11-08 11:03:11 SGT
Back in March, I purchased the reMarkable tablet, in a bid to upgrade my ageing (but well-beloved) Kindle DX. After some teething issues, it has finally arrived, and I think I've put it through its paces sufficiently to review it properly.
The Old and the New
I bought my Kindle DX back in 2011, when I was in the army seeking a source of intellectual nourishment in an otherwise hostile environment. Actually I sprang for the DX instead of the (considerably cheaper) standard model because I wanted to be able to read manga on it (behold, conformity), but the larger screen has served me well since (many, many pages saved when doing readings for arts classes in university). Unfortunately, journal articles tend to be laid out for A4/letter paper, yielding very much denser text than I imagine the DX was designed for, and an overall quite unpleasant reading experience. PDF zooming on the DX also leaves very much to be desired (especially given the slow processor speed).
In this context, the reMarkable has been a definite upgrade: thanks to Moore's Law I now get a 1 GHz processor (up from 400 MHz). The display could stand to be larger, though (10.3 inches vs 9.7 inches). Shortly before the reMarkable shipped, Sony released an upgraded version of their Digital Paper system (with a huge 13 inch display), and I would probably have bought that if I hadn't already spent the money on the reMarkable — the e-ink display for that appears to be of higher quality as well (closer to the DX than the reMarkable, actually).
Software-wise, the reMarkable is a joy to play with compared to Amazon's firmware — I almost bricked my DX when attempting to flash the Kindle 3.0 firmware onto it, and it's never quite worked right since (e.g. I've never been able to boot Duokan OS on it). On the other hand, the reMarkable runs Linux, and you can SSH into it (the settings page actually gives you the root password). I found this reddit post to be extremely helpful as well. GPLv3 for the win!
Unfortunately, that brings us to one of the lower points of the software design. The reMarkable requires a WiFi connection, because content is moved to and from the device via cloud sync. This sucks, because
- There's no official Linux sync client yet (although there's an unsupported one that's linked against Qt 5.9, which won't run on my Fedora laptop because 5.9 is still in rawhide). Fortunately, there exists a web interface (that is exposed via WiFi and Ethernet-over-USB).
- More importantly for me, WPA and WPA2 Enterprise logins are not enabled (even though
wpa_supplicantis available) — this is likely a UI issue. I'm able to connect to
sshing in and calling
wpa_supplicantmanually, but this doesn't persist between reboots.
- Apparently an
mtpimplementation is also available, but again has to be activated over
ssh. I've not tried this yet.
The Tactile Reality
The main distinguishing characteristic of the reMarkable, vs both the Kindle and the Sony DPT, is the stylus input (both tilt and pressure sensitive, with
$bignum levels of sensitivity which my fingers have not yet been calibrated to take advantage of properly). I have nothing but praise for that; it's an incredible experience to use. Perhaps the only (tangentially related) complaint I have is that the stylus tips are perishable, and tend to wear out more quickly than advertised (and also that my first tip somehow disappeared within 4 days, which wasn't very encouraging), and replacements are expensive.
Also unlike the DX, the UI is almost entirely touch-based. I have mixed feelings about this (since I would appreciate the ability to disable the touch screen to save battery, but the device does not have enough physical buttons to function otherwise). Interestingly, it appears that the touch surfaces update with much less latency than does the screen (so if you double-tap, the UI usually treats it as two distinct actions, although the screen will not have had enough time to react). Increasing the interaction latency seems to be a good way to optimise the battery life.
Speaking of which, the battery life is absolutely abysmal compared to the DX. I've been able to use the DX for literally days on end (quite memorably, I read Words of Radiance from start to end on a single charge). By way of contrast, so far the reMarkable has exhibited a battery life that is best measured on a timescale of several tens of hours with light use.
- Long overdue clock speed upgrade over my DX. Finally I can turn and seek PDF pages in less than a second!
- Manual crop functionality (reminiscent of BRISS) is sorely missing from the Kindle DX PDF experience, and very much appreciated
- Stylus input is beautifully engineered
- GPLv3 ftw — company will give you root access upfront instead of assuming that you are an idiot that will brick your device at the first opportunity
- I got the early bird price and I am very happy with it
- Somehow manages to be lighter than the DX despite containing more technology and a larger screen (I suspect the battery was compromised)
- White level is not as good as the DX. Exacerbated by contrast effects (DX has a black frame to make the whites look whiter, while the reMarkable has a white frame and the whites look quite gray), but a side-by-side comparison bears this out in absolute terms.
- No GUI access to WPA2 Enterprise configurations (i.e.
- Battery life sucks (although I don't see what could be done to improve that,
powertopseems to think everything is fine)
- Stylus tips are finite scarce resource and a replacement pack costs $12
- Sole reliance on cloud sync in GUI is quite stupid (fortunately workarounds exist to get things in, but not to get things out)
- No way to rotate notebooks
- If you didn't get the early bird price, you could get the Sony DPT for just $100 more
I think I very much got my money's worth out of this. I'm pleasantly surprised by the fact that the machine comes rooted out of the box: I think this shows that the company respects the intelligence of its clientele, and probably bodes well for its general attitude towards both engineering the device, and the nature of (and my confidence in) its plans for further development in the near future.
That being said, I'm also filled with appreciation for the fact that my Kindle DX is now 6 years old and still able to hold its own (particularly for non-PDF books; the reading experience still can't be beat and I won't be getting rid of it anytime soon). The DX is one of those things that they literally don't make like they used to, and I'm very grateful to my 20-year-old self for making such a farsighted decision (which in retrospect has been spectacularly good value for money).