Posts Tagged 'workflow'

One month with the reMarkable tablet

A month has passed. Time for an update on my experience with the reMarkable tablet. Here’s what’s happened since my last blog post on its use, plus a few comments about workflow, feature use, and improvements that I hope the company will consider.

I replaced the first nib. For several days my writing experience was strange, the tablet seemingly more fidgety and sensitive. I finally had another look at the new nib and found it had not been inserted it all the way. Problem solved.

I rsync the tablet every few days to my desktop. Eventually that will be a daily process, with weekly new full backups and daily incremental updates. Cleanup work on the forked script for conversion of notebooks to pdfs is ongoing.

reMarkable tablet with custom sleep screen

I leave WiFi off except during rsyncs; I haven’t yet attempted to convert any pdfs to text. I’d be using an out of band means to do that in any case, since I don’t want to save data on the company’s servers.

The problem with pages in the thumbnail view being cropped on top has still not been resolved. I make allowances by writing a title lower down in the page. It’s not great. (Where’s that open issue tracker, folks?)

I’m getting into the routine of things with my daily todo lists. At some point I’ll probably have notebook blanks with dates already filled in, in big bold text that appears clearly on the thumbnails, and with standard todo items above the date, to be duplicated for each half of every month.

I’ve not yet played with using layers to display titles in large text and free up the virtual lined paper for notes.

I have a thingiverse 3-d printed stylus clip (see https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2950560) which fits well and prevents the pen from rolling around on the smooth table surface. No folio yet, as I’ve not needed to travel with the tablet and have not seen a solution I like. I’d prefer a book-style cover that is both slim and does not require the tablet to be glued into the cover. Anybody have suggestions? DIY acceptable!

I take scratch notes on various topics while working through items in my todo lists. These eventually get cleaned up and exported into separate notebooks or added to existing ones. Moving out multiple pages is a bit tedious; that’s another feature that would be nice to have.

At some point it will be ok to move non-agenda notebooks off to the laptop; these should be converted to pdfs. That’s more incentive to get the conversion script working properly. I need to investigate the various pdf conversion tools and see what produces clean output as well as

pdfs of a reasonable size.

If I could add the pen switcher menu to the pen/pencil/marker in the small menu display, as well as the thumb view on top, I could stay in small or no menu view almost all of the time, instead of switching to large menu view to get these items and then closing that again. Consider it a step closer to the ‘no clutter’ intended design of the device.

A couple of times I have touched something in passing while holding the tablet with a notebook page displayed and the full menu open, that wiped the page. A couple of undos restored it, but it would be nice to know what cleared the page in the first place.

Sometimes the previous page and next page buttons at the bottom of the tablet don’t respond on first try and I need to press them again. Perhaps this is a sensitivity issue. It’s not a huge drawback, more of a small annoyance, but something that should be ironed out for future shipments of the device.

At this point, I don’t have any desire for other apps on the device except for rsync and some way to manage custom templates, splash screens and so on. Sure, everyone can roll their own but that’s a waste of hours of fiddling around by a lot of users. These items should be easy enough for the company to fold into the firmware.

I’m a little bit anxious about what will happen when the battery starts to fail to hold a charge in a couple of years, because it’s not intended to be replaceable. I’m not one of those folks that gets a new phone every couple of years; devices should be built to last and to be repaired and used as long as possible, rather than regularly added to the landfill. Maybe by then, a third party battery will be available and we’ll be able to manage replacements ourselves, even if completely unauthorized.

I have not once used the tablet to read a pdf or epub; that happens on the laptop. I don’t have commute time that gets filled by reading, and coffee shops are for socializing. We’ll see if that’s changed by the 6 month mark.

I still haven’t cracked open the paper notebooks even once. Maybe when I go somewhere without power for longer than a few days 🙂

One week with the reMarkable tablet

Spoiler: I like it a lot because it fits my workflow.

Why get an e-paper tablet?

I used to keep a small spiral notebook next to my laptop. In this I wrote notes on everything: todo lists for each day, notes from team meetings, notes while debugging some issue, notes from phone calls from friends or family with things to follow up; notes about travel or short story ideas or anything else. It all went into this notebook, in the order of arrival, with no indexing system other than “this probably was a couple weeks ago, let me search about 10 pages back”.

I have about 15 or 20 of these notebooks filled right now, with no dates and no way to retrieve the information once it’s been added and the notebook put away.

What finally pushed me over the edge was the pile of carefully cut pages I kept from the last notebook on unit testing, which I needed to refer to for current work. Inconvenient, if I dropped the pile they would be in random order (because of course not only do I not date the pages in these paper notebooks, I don’t number them either because that would be far too much work). And then I saw a reference to a tablet for writing things down, and reading ebooks. Only for that. Not that I cared
about reading ebooks, I have a laptop for that. But, hey, maybe that added feature would come in handy. And being able to scribble notes on some paper I was reading, that seemed useful, if not my primary use case.

Internet investigations, review scourings and repo perusals followed, and finally one day in a pique of fed-upness I placed the order.

First impressions

It ws quick to arrive, save for passing through customs in my country. I had expected a long delay after seeing a notice about a backlog on their web site. But here was the box, in my hands, several days early. Nice!

The packaging of some products annoys me; it comes off as ostentatious, or wasteful, or bulky for no good reason. The reMarkable’s packaging is low-key, with a tab and ribbon-style opener that reminds one of old hardbound books and slower more thoughtful times. I like it; I kept the box.

There was neither a CD nor a full-fledged user’s guide inside; it took a little time for me to find one online for the current version of the firmware (1.8.1.1). I decided to charge the tablet fully before playing, and set it aside. It felt light in the hand, the cable fit snugly, and the pen looked and felt like any stylus pen, a tool for the work and
nothing more. I did notice approvingly the hidden spare nib under the cap.

First use

Of course I didn’t really read the user’s guide right away, are you kidding? Instead I checked for the basics: how to create a folder, how to create a notebook, how to create a page. Then I created a few folders to organize my work; never again all my notes in order in one giant blob! and I started writing.

The writing experience really is superb, not at all the slick uncontrollable gliding all over the surface that so many tablets provide.

For whatever reason, I found that my grip on the stylus caused discomfort and hand cramping after a time. That’s no longer true after a week; my hand must have naturally adjusted to a proper position.

I found that the pencil without tilt and a medium tip, on the narrow-lined template, works very well for my style of note-taking. My style is basically “fit in as much as you can on one page, writing all the way up to the margins, and with bullets or indentation for lists, while keeping it legible.”

That last part about keeping it legible is a lie; often in my paper notebooks I would refer back to some scribbled note later only to discover that I had no idea what it said. I write just a bit slower on the tablet, whether due to the stylus-screen interaction or because I’m kinder to expensive electronic devices than paper. In either case,
my notes remain legible when I go back to review them, and I find I cheerfully erase if the letters turn into a blob from hurried scribbling.

I did not make a cloud account, since I don’t really want to be dependent on a third party cloud to store and retrieve my backups.

Discoveries

In page overview mode, the top part of the page is not visible, and my handwriting is much too small and uniform to be a guide to which content is where. I needed headers, a few inches down in the page. The brush, with a medium tip, was perfect for this.

I discovered the partial and full toolbar hide buttons. Now I almost exclusively work with all toolbar buttons hidden. I’d like the page overview and move buttons to be visible in the partial toolbar, but other than that I have no complaints.

I discovered that if you are at the last page of a notebook, pressing the right button on the bottom of the tablet to take you to the (non-existent) next page creates a new page for you, saving the trouble of unhiding the toolbar, pressing the new page button, and hiding it again.

I discovered that the last page you viewed is the page you see during light sleep mode. Most of the time I make sure that’s my todo list for the day.

Hardware functionality

The battery drains pretty quickly the way I use the tablet. I’ve turned off WiFi, since I don’t need it on for regular use, and that helps.

After a week, the stylus nib has “mushroomed“, i.e. the tip has squashed flat and the edges hang over the sides like a mushroom cap. It doesn’t (yet) seem to affect ease and feel of writing on the screen, so I’ll keep using the nib as is for now.

During the first several days I found I needed to press harder on the stylus than I would with pencil on paper. That too seems to have improved over time; whether wearing down the nib or unconscious adjustment of the hand position made the difference, writing now takes a relatively light touch, without the slipping and sliding on smooth glass so common on most tablets.

The previous and next buttons don’t always work; sometimes I have to press very firmly and deliberately in the center of the button after the first slapdash push fails to elicit a response. Dunno if that’s hardware or software but I can shrug it off for now.

Workflow

I have a todo list for each day; I have two notebooks per month of these, one for the first half and one for the second half. (The reason I don’t keep one per month is that I’ve read that at around 30 pages, page turning gets slow. This could be true only for pdfs; I haven’t tested it yet.)

If I need notes from some todo item that I know are temporary, I’ll create a page after the day’s todo list and work there. When I’m done with the work, I’ll either summarize it and put it in a separate file in the right folder, or more often, delete the scratch page(s).

For entertainment I follow political developments, and these notes go in pages with separate headings in the QuickSheets file. At the end of a day or a few days, when speculation about a pending event has resolved, I delete a bunch of stuff and write a summary of the event, deleting any now unneeded
pages.

Notes for work that I know I’ll need to reference again get put in a notebook in a subfolder somewhere under my work folder. We’ll see how effective this is after 6 months or a year; a week is not nearly enough time to see how the retrieval system will hold up.

My paper notebook is sitting on the shelf and I’ve not touched it at all save to copy over those unit testing notes into the tablet.

Customization

I used to run a bleeding edge kernel on my laptop, with a custom build. I used to maintain my own xterminal key mappings for my editor. I used to customize anything and everything. Years go by and one gets bored of constant tweaking, so I had planned not to mess with anything that couldn’t be done in the
tablet configuration settings via the UI.

Heh. The best-laid plans, etc.

I now have a custom full sleep screen, a custom power off screen, rsync on my tablet (built via the official toolchain from a clone of the rsync repo at samba), a script to rsync all of /home/root to the laptop, and I’m working on extending it to be able to upload pdfs to the tablet from my laptop.

Oh and of course I don’t use the annoying generated password to ssh into the tablet, I have a public key over there, which makes the rsync script nicer.

I have been looking at available templates shared by tablet users and thinking about what might be handy to have. No new templates uploaded yet, however.

I plan a script that will copy back in all custom files after any software update, runnable from the home directory. A one line command after each firmware update is pretty painless, and I’m happy to live with that for the huge gain in functionality with rsync on the device, and the smile that seeing one of my photos as the sleep image brings.

Proposed improvements

Copy-paste of a selected area from one page to another would be a huge win. I often want this when cleaning up temporary notes and distilling out of them the few pieces of information I want to save permanently.

Move and Page Overview icons on the partial menu view, so I don’t have to open the full menu to get to them.

A stylus with an eraser on the back end. I might get the MobiScribe stylus (I hear it takes the reMarkable nibs) just for this reason. I like to be able to stop and erase that e that I just wrote that looks like an ink blot, without having to open up the partial menu to get to the eraser.

Cheaper or longer-lasting nibs, without sacrificing one iota of the writing experience.

A much cheaper price for the tablet when it goes truly mass market. That would be a game-changer.

A public site to submit and follow bug reports, with user comments permitted. Right now there’s the reddit group where some issues are discussed (and sometimes solved!) but it would be nice to have an official site.

A published spec for the .rm files. Folks have reverse engineered them, but a published spec means a commitment to updating that spec when and if the format of these files changes. This would be encouraging to the third party app developer community, a group of people that not only add functionality to the device, but help to publicize it as well. That’s free marketing, always a good thing!

Warning

This tablet is like paper, in that if someone has access, they can read whatever you wrote. Oh sure, I put a pin code on there, but it feels like a very flimsy chain on one’s front door that someone really determined can just shoulder their way through.

So, no sensitive data on the tablet. No notes about vendor contracts, no notes about personal matters that I wouldn’t mind being leaked to the world, etc. This is fine; for those limited instances there’s always editing files on the laptop.

Final verdict

This tablet doesn’t play video and I don’t want it to. Ditto for web surfing, reading email, having a calculator app, and so on. All those things are activities for my laptop. The tablet is for taking and reading notes. It does that very well, so far. It is pricey as a device, but if your workflow is like mine, and you are not too tight on funds, it’s worth it.

Disclaimer

I don’t have any affiliation with any company that produces any tablets or phones or any of that. I’ve never gotten a review copy of any such thing. No one paid me, gave me chocolate or did anything else for me so that I would write a positive (or negative!) review.

If you get the device after reading this review, and it doesn’t meet your expectations, I’m sorry. BUT I am also not responsible in any way. Happy writing!