Remarkable 2 Review
When something different comes along it’s exciting for the art community. New tools mean new possibilities, new ways of creating and new ways to express yourself. Today I will be looking at the Remarkable 2, and considering its potential as a digital sketchbook.
What is the Remarkable 2?
On their website the Remarkable 2 is described as a “digital notebook.” It is a portable e-ink display and stylus that you might use to replace your regular notebook. Sometimes tech becomes available that does jobs where analogue solutions (like a pen and paper) will suffice. I’m not always a pro tech guy, but I was really intrigued to see what this can do and consider its potential as a digital sketchbook.
I understand that this concept might be pretty new to some readers (as it was to me fairly recently), so I’ve linked a video from their site below to give a quick overview of what it is and to introduce some of its features.
Here is a basic overview of the devices features.
Plan for this review
There is a lot to consider in relation to the Remarkable 2. What it does, what it doesn’t do, and so on. As your interest in it is likely to be primarily its artistic capabilities, I will focus on that initially. I do however also manage a business and have been impressed by its potential to be a super-organized, limitless notebook that benefits me professionally. If you carry on to the end I will touch on some of those benefits in less detail.
Below is a selection of images showcasing the product. It is very nice! It has a kind of executive vibe, is light (without feeling at all cheap), is very thin, and is clearly a beautifully designed and produced item.
A photo dump showing that it is a very desirable and attractive product
iPad vs Remarkable 2
Let’s cut to the chase on this one. The Remarkable 2 is not an iPad pro and does not run dynamic software like Procreate. If you want a portable device to paint full color illustrations you cannot use this tool and should buy an iPad.
These devices should not be compared as their purposes are very different
What can it do then?
The Remarkable 2 is limited to function with 3 tones. Black (which is basically very dark grey), grey (which is a lighter grey) and white (which is really an absence of the 2 grey options). Also the selection of tools (or brushes as you might think of them if you are familiar with other software), is very limited. These tools cannot be edited or adjusted and are not especially versatile.
Surprisingly though, there are some pretty cool features that make this very usable in an artistic context. There is an undo and redo button. Anyone who works digitally knows the value of these. You can create selection areas and rotate and resize elements (retaining ratio), which is actually really cool on a device that feels so close to traditional sketching. There is some basic layer functionality too, which will work more or less exactly as you would expect, but without the blend modes you may be familiar with.
You can see some of the basic features to aid sketching in the video below.
It is quite surreal being able to edit digitally something that feels very traditional
So why would you get one?
It’s a fair question. Considering its short list of features, why spend money on this and not an iPad? I’ll be frank, when I started using it, I couldn’t see beyond this question.
However, there are a few very special and uniquely interesting design features which to be honest have completely won me over.
1. The Display
Software like Procreate was created to mimic traditional art tools digitally. However, it went well beyond that, and made something that is undeniably fantastic and industry leading, but which feels removed from traditional media.
Sketching on the Remarkable 2 feels and looks like you are sketching on paper. I’ve used textured screen covers on the iPad before and although I like them, sketching on the Remarkable 2 feels just like drawing on nice card stock. You could honestly trick yourself into thinking you were sketching on paper – particularly when using the pencil tool. It’s like a nice traditional sketchbook, but somehow you can magically undo, use layers and create selections. This type of screen wasn’t designed for this purpose, but has amazing potential to mimic traditional sketching.
A close up of the screen and some images done on the Remarkable 2
2 - Responsive
It is probably the most responsive pen I’ve ever used on a digital display. It responds very marginally faster than my iPad. That may sound like a very small difference, but when combined with the paper feel display; it all aids to trick you into feeling this is actually a traditional sketchbook.
I was using it with a friend watching and they were shocked when I opened a menu, as they had just assumed I was using a fancy sketchbook.
Now, some balance to that. Some things are a bit slower, like when it works out your adjustments when you make a selection for example. That is a bit clunkier, but I didn’t find it frustrating or distracting.
The pen is instantly responsive
3 - Limitations
This will sound like an odd one, and maybe you won’t even buy into it when I explain it, but to me the limitations in regards to the tools can be a benefit.
When you have a limitless array of digital tools you can find ways to create illustrations that help you avoid tackling/developing fundamental skills like basic drawing ability. Additionally, everything turns into a polished illustration, because the tools are present to do that with. In my experience, using Procreate on an iPad encourages less sketching and more illustrating.
I’ve been using an iPad for years, but since I’ve been using this it feels like I’m sketching again, which isn’t a feeling I get using the iPad.
With this limited tool kit you will be forced to work on the basics of drawing. It will be more of a sketchbook, than a digital painting tool. It makes you find new solutions to creative problems which helps unlock style, diverse results, and explorations that are more unique. After all that is what a sketchbook is for, and the limitation of this device will aid that.
Doing limited things well can sometimes be better than doing a lot of things
4 - Basic Functions
When I used this for the first time it genuinely brought a smile to my face. I was sitting there sketching and realized I’d put something in an unnatural position that needed to be changed. No lie, I reached for a nearby pencil case for a rubber (eraser for our American friends). My brain was so convinced it was a traditional sketchbook that I’d forgotten I could undo or adjust an element with the selection tool. Imagine having those features on a traditional sketchbook, it’s very satisfying.
There are some basic common digital art tools that give a traditional feeling device a digital edge
5 – Frustrating sketchbooks
Maybe you are like me. I start a sketchbook with a nice drawing; I turn the page and create something monstrous. Then I move on the next page, and create an equally diabolical drawing. Eventually you decide the sketchbook can no longer be used, because you’ve created too many bad drawings in it.
When it goes wrong on this device, I just delete the page and carry on. This functionality all works together to boost my enthusiasm for sketching, and feel more confident about the collection of images.
My first five complete sketches using the Remarkable 2
Some of you will be thinking about what you can do with the sketch after you have made it on the device. I should stress this is more of a sketchbook, so its export capacities are a bit limited. For example you can make a layered file, but can’t export one. However you can export a PNG which will look a bit like the image below.
A page from the Remarkable 2 sketchbook exported as a PNG
So before I move on and talk about other features, I want to give you a conclusion or summary of my thoughts on the Remarkable 2 as a digital sketchbook. This isn’t an iPad and shouldn’t be compared to one. This can be considered as a traditional notebook/sketchbook replacement, where you benefit from some of the advantages of digital art tools, like the undo tool and layers , but you will still feel like you are using a traditional tool.
There are some clunky elements like making selections and adjustments; this takes a moment to be computed (sometimes 3 or 4 seconds). Occasionally the screen refresh rate is a bit slow due to the fact it is an e-ink display, and you can almost see the image you were drawing previously as a remnant on the screen. That is all a bit strange.
But after over a month of sketching on it, I am happy to use this as a realistic alternative to a traditional sketchbook that still feels very traditional. It genuinely feels like using a pencil on paper in a way I have never experienced on another device. It makes you find solutions for creating unique art in the same way as you would do in a normal sketchbook, without the distraction of complex brushes and tools.
As a digital alternative to a traditional sketchbook, I haven’t used anything that feels this real. For that reason I really love it.
Here is a sped up video showing a 20-minute sketch using the Remarkable 2
I genuinely would feel reluctant to encourage Remarkable to add more features to this device, as I am fully taken by the benefits of the simplicity of the tool. However a couple of suggestions I would make are –
- Add another grey – having 1 additional tone of grey will allow much greater versatility and aid your ability to create unique sketches.
- Pen holder – on the Folio book cover the pen attaches to the side of the device by a magnet which looks great. However it falls off very easily. I do however believe that on the Folio cover there is a more practical pen holder.
- Stroke thickness – a little more control over the thickness of your brush would help sketching be a bit more efficient.
Okay, so if you’re only interested in using this as a sketch tool, you can probably stop reading now. But actually there are some really helpful tools on this device that go beyond its wonderful sketchbook capability. I’ll cover them quickly below.
It is a super versatile notebook. You can create limitless notebooks and back them up to the cloud so nothing is lost. As someone who makes a lot of notes at work and has filled hundreds of books, this is so helpful.
Convert to text
If you are connected to the internet it can read your handwriting and turn it to text which can be exported as a PDF. That means you can hand-write meeting notes and send them without needing to type anything up. Really helpful.
You can create unique tags which you can then use to navigate your notebooks. For example I could tag the notebook with the tag “book idea.” I can then select that tag and find all the pages in my books that contain book ideas. It’s a great way to remain organized.
PDF mark up
If you need to review a document quickly you can open a PDF on the Remarkable 2, hand write notes on it and export it as a new PDF. That is so helpful and much faster than doing it on a PC or printing it and doing it by hand.
Just a little thing, you can connect your Google Drive to it to transfer, move, and review documents.
Notebook page templates
When you create a new page in your notebook you can adjust its format. It can be a simple blank page, a bullet journal or to do list. That is pretty handy for someone who has a lot of notes to organize.
I’ve reviewed devices that I like before, but I continue to use almost none of them. This one has been fully absorbed into my professional life and creative practices. I love its fantastic simplicity. With a limited set of tools its potential is huge, but it isn’t riddled with distractions and features you find on your phone, PC, or tablet.
In the UK these retail at £299, plus £50 for the basic pen tool (£100 if you use the plus tool with eraser function). If you were using it just as a sketch tool you might feel that is too much. When you start to see its further potential as a notebook/organizer, that price begins to look more and more like good value.
It isn’t a variation on something you’ve used before, it’s something new. It isn’t a jack of all trades; it’s a master of one. You will love sketching on this.