Moving away from paper: I tried to get an IPAD Pro with Apple Pencil (an obnoxious post), but ended up with something reMarkable

My office is full of paper.  I don’t read scholarly articles very well unless I have a pen or pencil in hand and can write on them.  Paper is heavy.  Paper takes up space.  Paper is difficult to organize and difficult to find.

Properly labeled pdfs are easy to find!  You can put them in folders and search for them.  They alphabetize easily.

My problem has always been that the pdfs don’t have my notes on them; the paper does.

So… the phd students in my department have been taking notes with ipads and ipad pencils.  They take notes on their assigned pdfs using their ipads.  Instead of carrying a bag full of paper, they bring a slim tablet with one of these electronic pencils.  They protect their documents from theft or loss by backing their pdfs up on the cloud.  The technology is so much better than when the tablet/stylus idea first came out.

I decided I must have one.  I hope to better organize my service load and literature reviews.  I hope to better be able to carry my reading on planes without breaking my back.  (Imagine– referee reports, reading for external letters, particularly interesting conference papers, and so on.)  I’d like to have my notes in one place!

My first attempt was a total failure.  I bought the wrong size– for some reason I thought an 11 inch ipad Pro would be 8.5×11, but no, 11 is the diagonal.  So I had to send it back.

My second attempt resulted in a pencil that was amazing when it worked (it writes like a good quality smooth pen!), but customer support on the phone decided it had bluetooth problems and had to be replaced.  Fortunately we went through apple service on the last day before it had to be returned because they were going to send me a refurbished pencil without my name on it rather than a new one with my name on it.  Instead we returned it and ordered a new one with my name.

My replacement pencil also didn’t work.  Luckily one of my conference locations this summer had a genius bar nearby.  The Genius Bar determined that it was indeed something wrong with the Ipad’s bluetooth and not the pencil that was the problem.  They didn’t have any in stock, so we had to return and, in theory, buy a new one.  Thankfully this was also before the warranty ran out.

I disappointingly bought the apple recommended portfolio which has no place for the pencil– it just kind of dangles there on the side of the ipad and easily slides off.  Instead, I should have bought the otterbox (we get no kickback for this one) which is the same price as the crappy one apple makes but covers the pencil.  But, I decided instead of returning the disappointing apple portfolio, I would get a really nice case and leave the portfolio on.  So I went to Etsy and got this beautiful wool case from Germany (no kickback here either).  It is lovely and makes me feel a little guilty with how nice it is while at the same time feeling like I am middle aged and can afford to occasionally have nice things that make me look like a grownup.

I planned to do NOTHING with this ipad pro except email, google hangouts (which is how I communicate with RAs), texts (I don’t have a good reason for this, but I don’t text very many people), pdfs, editor stuff, and notes.  My vows:  I will not search the internet.  I will not play games.  I will not read novels.  I will not update the blog.  I will not do anything except treat it like a kindle that I can write on and communicate with.  It will be a work machine and nothing else.  (The reason for this is that I have a heavy addiction to DH’s ipad and I need to not succumb to temptation, which is easy for me to fall into the habit of.)  So I installed adobe reader and planed to use “notes” to take notes and safari for nothing but email, downloading pdfs, and editing duties.

While I was having problems with the ipad Pro, I sat next to a gentleman who had what looked like an oversized kindle.  He was taking notes on it with a stylus.  He was able to move around text and turn his printing into typing and just do all sorts of neat things.  At a break I asked him about it.  He said it’s a tablet from a European company named reMarkable (no kickbacks, just think this is a cool product).  It only has internet access for pdf uploads and downloads, which are done using an app on your desktop or mobile device, and for emailing your text.  It is optimized for note taking and marking up pdfs.  It handles deleting and remembering mark-ups better than the notes or adobe reader on the ipad pro (which can accidentally delete everything far too easily, and can make it difficult to delete earlier things once things have been saved once).  He told me it also functions as an e-reader for books, but doesn’t do as good a job (I have not verified).  Best of all, it’s less than $600 including the stylus, unlike the ipad Pro.  The case they sell is more like a pocket, so do not recommend, but the reMarkable doesn’t really need a case.  It is exactly what I wanted, except a little smaller.

In the end, I bought both.  I decided that I would use the iPad Pro for trips because it’s a lot lighter than my laptop and more functional than my phone.  I used it on a recent trip to read and mark-up the readings for a tenure letter I had to write and it worked well for that purpose (though after using the remarkable, Adobe Reader is a bit clunky in terms of switching between scrolling and annotating, and it would be nice if they made better use of layers to make erasing after the fact easier).  The reMarkable will be my go-to at home and work as I transition from paper to electricity.  If we were cash poor, I definitely would have returned the Apple Pencil when I returned the broken iPad Pro instead of buying a new one and just stuck with the reMarkable, which really does do everything I wanted.  If I weren’t prey to loss aversion, I might have looked into getting a slim laptop instead of the iPad Pro for more functionality after sending back the broken iPad Pro.

How do you mark things up?  Do you still use paper?  If you use electronics, what do you use?

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