E-Ink Tablet Update

Three months ago, I did a review of the original ReMarkable Tablet. To say I was impressed is probably putting it mildly. To be honest, even though this was the original tablet, I was pretty much blown away. I wasn’t looking for something with all the bells and whistles you get with a iPad or even a Fire. I wanted something that gave me the feel of writing on paper and that reliably converted my handwriting to text. For that purpose, the ReMarkable lives up to its name. It is remarkable. However, as time has progressed and I’ve worked with the tablet more, I realized there are a few problems with it (and with the ReMarkable 2) that keep it from being the tablet it could be.

First and foremost, this is very much like the original Kindle e-readers. It is a true e-ink device but with a better processor and the ability to do more than read on it. The developers made it as a note taker. It is good, probably the best I’ve used for that. But it has one serious flaw. Like the original Kindles, it doesn’t have a light source. That means you have to be under a light once it starts getting dark. That’s not always feasible. For those with a partner or spouse, it means no working in bed at night unless you turn on a lamp or get a detachable light for the tablet.

What surprised me was how the tablet renders e-books. Unlike the Kindle, the ReMarkable reads only PDFs or e-pubs. The PDF capability is decent, not the best I’ve used before but certainly far from the worst. The files are easy to notate. However, your handwritten notes on a pdf cannot be converted to text.

But the e-pubs. That is where the tablet falls down hard. There are no paragraph indents on imported books. The spacing between paragraphs isn’t necessarily enough to automatically make it easy to tell one paragraph ended and another began.

Again, neither of these is a reason not to get the ReMarkable. It isn’t billed as an e-reader. It is a productivity device meant to replace pen and paper. And, for that, it is excellent.

Over the last week or so, I’ve had the opportunity to check out the Boox Note Air. This is another e-ink device like the ReMarkable but with more bells and whistles, too many in my opinion. But it does some things much better than the ReMarkable and others not as well.

When considering the size of the Note Air vs the ReMarkable, think about the difference between the Kindle Oasis and the Kindle. Both have basically the same size screen. The Note Air is a bit smaller. But the screen is oriented differently when you compare one to the other. The ReMarkable looks like a sheet of paper. The Note Air is shorter and wider. The Note Air also has one side panel that makes it easier to hold than the ReMarkable.

One thing I like about the Note Air is it runs on the Android 10 OS. That means you can run some apps available in the Google Play store or in the Boox store. The web browser, if you want to call it that, is much better than the download and read a webpage you have to do with the ReMarkable. And, by being able to download certain apps, you can download Word or similar word processing apps and run them on the Note Air. That makes editing a manuscript easier because you can do it right there on your tablet and input your changes as you make them instead of making notes on an e-pub or pdf.

The feel of the Boox is better than the ReMarkable as well. The metal body gives it a feeling of substance even though it is billed as the thinnest e-ink tablet on the market. The downside of the construction is its glass screen. Not only are those much too easy to break but the glass prevents the native feel of pen or pencil on paper you get with the ReMarkable.

My biggest knock on the Note Air is its handwriting conversion. It isn’t as good at reading my hen-scratching as the ReMarkable. More importantly, it doesn’t recognize line or paragraph breaks. You have to go in and add those in after converting and, if you have a large file, why would you want to spend that much time doing something that should have been programmed in? Add onto that the fact that I haven’t found a way to export something written in the note-taking app the tablet comes with in any format except png or pdf. Sorry, but as a writer, if I’m taking notes, most of the time I want to be able to export them as a txt document at the very least, preferably as a doc or docx.

That is why I was pleased to see I could use Word with the tablet. At least using word, I can open a document stored in the cloud–or start a new document on the Note Air–and either type (fair warning here, it is like typing on the original Kindles. Slow, very slow) or use the handwriting recognition window and use the conversion capability which is really good. It reminds me of Note 7 (iirc) that I used on a Galaxy Tab tablet I used to have.

The Note Air also has voice recognition which I haven’t tried out yet. You can sync it to use with a bluetooth keyboard.

As an e-reader, it’s pretty damned good. I haven’t seen much difference between it and my Kindle Oasis when it comes to reading.

And, yes, it does have a front light so you can read in low light and no light situations.

So, what’s the verdict between the two tablets?

For brainstorming and for those times when I’ve got a block on a project that only handwriting the scene will fix, my hands-down recommendation is the ReMarkable. That is the sort of thing it was specifically designed for.

For reading, e-books or pdfs, or editing I have to give the nod to the Boox Note Air.

What I’d like is a combination of the two: a tablet that’s main function is to replace paper, that has exceptional handwriting-to-text capability and that converts showing paragraph breaks, indents, etc. It should also accurately display e-books, have front light capabilities, a well-built body with a screen that feels like you are writing on paper, not sliding over glass. Having web browsing capability is fine, but not necessary. Nor are a lot of the bells and whistles on the Book Air.

So what’s the final recommendation between the two? Try them for yourself and see which you like most. That’s the best I can tell you.

Final thoughts, both tablets are excellent if you want something that will cut down on the distractions our laptops and iPad and similar devices offer. The ReMarkable is best for that, but its functionality is very limited. The Note Air does much better about it than the iPads and similar tablets but the temptation is still there. You can check email or go online. So figure out what you want more, figure out if you are willing the pay the price for either (or for something similar) and try them out. Then make an informed decision.

For me? I’d love to have both. I have times when the ReMarkable is exactly what I need and other times when the Note Air serves me best. Sigh. The problems you have when you are a writer and when you love tech.

Featured Image by DarkmoonArt_de from Pixabay

4 comments

  1. I got my Remarkable a couple months ago. And it is perfect for notetaking, so that’s what I use it for. (My Dragonette uses it as scratch paper for her Algebra II work when she can steal it away from me).

    I was disturbed by how light and thin the tablet is, so I purchased a cover for it to give it some bulk. (I’m always convinced I’m going to break something by setting it down too hard.) Now that I have a cover, I have plans for making one myself that has the upgrades *I* want.

    1. I bought a sleeve to carry my ReMarkable in. That works for me since I tend to use the tablet on a flat surface. I just need something to protect it when I carry it with me. But that is one thing I love about the Boox Note Air. It has a metal body and feels more solid or substantial in my hand without it being too heavy.

  2. I got my ReMarkable to replace the paper notebooks I’ve been carrying around for years. I’ve had it less than a month, but so far I’m really pleased. I only wish I could copy & paste from one notebook to another because I can’t have them both open at the same time. Oh, and it would be nice if I could add space in–like an extra line–when I need it, but I couldn’t do that with paper either so I can’t really complain about that.

    1. The one thing I want is the ability to add a page in front of (or between) other pages. My process with it is still evolving, and I just realized that a task list under each client would be useful.

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