I’ve been trying to go paper-free for a long time. I even wrote a couple of posts about getting existing paper digitised on the TwinkleBob blog.
Recently I turned my attention to reducing the amount of new paper I need to use, particularly in printing things out, but it’s still hard because I’m a bit of a scribbler.
It all started with a bunch of adverts on Instagram for a device called reMarkable. Once I’d made the mistake of clicking the link I was followed perpetually with adverts, and the adverts started to work.
The reMarkable tablet is an e-ink tablet, like those black and white ebook readers we saw a lot of a few years ago, except with two key differences (and some others): it has a stylus and it is almost the size of an A4 piece of paper!
The claim is that writing on it is like writing on paper. Anything you might do on paper, you should be able to do on one of these - except anything including colour!!
As I looked into it more, it turned out that there are a few tablets in this category. That means that they all have a larger screen (suitable for viewing A4 size PDFs reasonably clearly), ability to read ebooks and ability to take notes. After that the different devices have different additional abilities and specialities.
I was interested in a couple of things: firstly I wanted to be able to scribble and take notes, something I often do on the back of envelopes etc, secondly I wanted to be able to make notes on PDFs (particularly useful when processing a bank statement at the end of the month and being able to tick things off without printing it out) and thirdly I wanted to be able to synchronise with Evernote.
Looking at my requirements I decided that the Onyx Boox Note Pro was the best match. It’s running Android, has a dual warm/cool front light on it’s 10.3” screen, has pretty good note-taking abilities and allows you to write directly onto a PDF and for those annotations to be portable. It’s not cheap, it was €524.98+VAT (about £452.50) when I bought it from eReader Store - depending on your needs you could get an iPad cheaper (and the latest ones support the Apple Pencil too), but I still wanted to see if it was worth it.
The first key thing I have learnt is that this is probably as close to pen on paper that you can get. Comparative reviews tend to agree that the reMarkable tablet feels even better, which must be amazing! This is much better than other passive styluses I’ve used on Android and probably as good as any active (powered) stylus that I’ve ever tried, with the advantage that the screen surface/texture and behaviour is much closer to paper than a shiny glass screen. There is just a little lag when writing notes, but not something you notice when you’re in full flow. Writing/drawing can sometimes appear a little grainy or pixellated, but it seems that is mostly due to the screen technology, once you export the note and view it elsewhere it is much smoother!
The tablet is also a great reader. I’ve used it to read full A4 PDFs, which has always been a pain in the past. It’s a much nicer reading experience than reading on a laptop or a full tablet, as it causes much less strain on the eyes. The ability to balance the warm and cool lights is also nice for the eyes. However it’s just a little heavier and clumsier than the normal handheld ebook readers (390g, 249.5 x 177.8 x 6.8mm, without a case), so I’d probably still take a little reader with me on holiday, as well as this device.
As it’s an Android tablet you can install pretty much any app you’d use anywhere else, which is really useful. Given the limited colour depth, however, not every app will work well. The Boox can overcome some of this by having special colour filters applied, and these can be set per app. Some apps have default configurations available too, so that can help you get going quicker. Add the bluetooth, wifi and speakers this becomes an even more useful tool. I’ve even written some of this blog on the Note Pro in a cafe using a bluetooth keyboard! (I used the DroidEdit app, if you’re interested)
OK, so far a glowing review. I’m really happy with the tablet, I’m able to use even less paper and my notes sync with Evernote most of the time - it can be a little glitchy but it always gets there eventually. However, unless you’re going to use it a lot, it is almost certainly too expensive - but Onyx do have some smaller devices with pens that might be a good compromise for some people (they also have some larger devices if you need to read A4 pages more).
The only real issue I’ve found so far is synchronising with Calibre, my eBook library, as the tablet uses MTP which doesn’t work so well with Linux. However it will sync fine with Calibre under Windows. I’m not doing a lot of reading with the tablet, however, so I’m getting by using an app called Calibre Companion.
I’ve now been keeping a bullet journal for about eight months, which is probably the most pen on paper writing I’ve done for years, certainly the most that has been kept and not just thrown in the recycling. Will I start using the Note Pro for that? I think I could, but at the moment I’m enjoying the physical nature of that journal, so I’ll probably keep going with real paper for a while. After all, it’s still easier to thumb through a real book!
Photo credit: Lucy Lumm