The reMarkable tablet is a 10" e-paper tablet on which you can read PDF and ePub files, and write on with the stylus that comes with the device. It has fundamentally changed how I read textbooks.

I used to collect books, and was proud of my library. I have a custom-made book case, with about 20 shelf meters of space. Not huge, but I curated my dead trees carefully.

I have for years not liked having paper books. They're expensive to store (need a larger home, and thus higher rent), and become quite heavy to carry (I've moved home more than twenty times in my life). For a decade now I've preferred e-books. However, Kindle devices, or their competitors, tend to be small, paperback size. That's no good for texts that have graphs, diagrams, tables. Worse, most e-book formats are reflowable, which is great for novels and straight prose, but not so good for textbooks or other works that need layout.

I have, over the years, bought a number of textbooks as PDFs. PDF is in many ways an excellent format for textbooks. However, I've lacked a convenient way to read them. Reading on a laptop screen is awkward, due to the small screen. Reading on an external monitor is uncomfortable, since it ties me to my desk. Also, it's very easy to be distracted when at my computer (IRC, the Fediverse, email, RSS, ... and if nothing else, there's a web browser and Wikipedia).

I bought the reMarkable tablet almost a year ago, after starting a new job, and getting my first couple of salaries. It's a little expensive, but I felt like splurging, and was in a privileged position to do so. I've not regretted it.

Things I especially like:

  • The screen is big enough for most books, and big enough for me to read A4 (or letter) sized documents without problems.

  • Writing is natural and smooth, almost exactly like writing on paper. The tablet seems to not have any trouble keeping up with the pen.

  • Did you know it's fun to scribble notes on books? It wasn't allowed when I was in school, since books were shared and often borrowed from the school. So much fun! Also, seems to make comprehension better for me.

  • There are no distractions on the device, except all the other books you've put there.

There are some things I don't much like, of course. They're not big enough to prevent me from using the device, and finding it a pleasure, but I feel I should mention them in case someone reading this is considering to buy one.

  • While the tablet keeps up with writing just fine, it's a little slow when jumping around a long document. It feels like it only caches a few pages in full, and thumbnails of the rest, if that, and has to re-render pages often. This makes jumping around a little tedious. I'm not sure why it doesn't cache more, since I have gigabytes of free space.

  • The software isn't free, and the APIs, file formats, and data structures are not documented. This makes it harder to, say, sync any new documents to the device automatically. I bet the company would get an enthusiastic developer community in no time, if they opened up the software. That seems like it would be a no-brainer, given they make their money from hardware sales and better software support would result in more hardware sold.

  • The way it renders PDF tables of content is ugly, hard to read, a little slow, and a little too easy to misnavigate.

  • The tablet does not follow intra-document links in PDFs. In some books this is annoying.

  • There's a bug in the firmware when exporting annotations you've made to a PDF with different sized pages. It turns out a lot of the books I've bought as PDF have a cover page that's of a different size to the interior pages, and the tablet exports annotations relative to the top left of the cover page, rather than the page where the annotations are.

Verdict: I like the tablet, and would buy a new one if I lost mine.