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?

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

  1. Michael N Nitabach Says:

    I use paper to markup documents I’m working on with collaborators, students, post-docs. I don’t markup anything else at all, TBH. BTW, that wool case is gorgeous!!

  2. gwinne Says:

    OOOH. I might need to check this out. I too am a paper girl. I grade papers only as hard copy. ( Part of this is my generation. Part of this is that typing too much physically hurts.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I hadn’t thought about how this might work for grading, but you’re right! I can use either one of these on pdfs that students send for review and then email back. I will pilot that in the Spring with my elective.

  3. Lisa Says:

    I’m still addicted to paper. I should consider something like this but probably won’t get around to it for a while. On a similar note as your lovely wool case, I’ve decided I need to get a “big girl bag” instead of carrying my stuff to work in an old backpack. Does anybody have a good suggestion? I’m thinking maybe a leather backpack or something like that to look stylish but still be functional and ergonomically friendly? It has to have good pockets.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      ooh ooh, DH has a Tom Binh backpack that is ergonomically amazing (they even thought about where to put a full water bottle to optimize ergonomics), full of compartments and hooks, and looks stylish. (I have a canvas Tom Binh messenger bag that I love.)

      (No kickbacks, just love the company.)
      Their backpack line: https://www.tombihn.com/collections/backpacks DH has the synapse 19 which fits more than my away bag so I take it on trips sometimes. You could likely get away with something smaller.

  4. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    “turn his printing into typing” — this would be SUCH a draw for me. I mainly work on a laptop because I need my mark-ups to be typed and I just can’t do that on my old iPad.

  5. bogart Says:

    Hunh. Interesting. I mostly mark things up either in Word (working on shared documents) or pdfs (I have whatever the more expensive version of Adobe is that lets me highlight, add comments, and such). What you describe seems … vaguely tempting? But I have a very light Chromebook that I love that cost less than that and that works pretty well for me, for portability. If I bought the additional new device, then I’d just have another device to choose from and/or cart around.

    I don’t really use paper anymore, for much of anything. Though I have gone back to reading traditional books at bedtime. And I do try to make DS do (or draft/review) schoolwork on paper, which is an increasingly uphill battle (with him, but also with the school).

    Do you touch-type? I’m assuming so, but I guess if one doesn’t, writing might be faster. And I do get that even if it’s not, writing things out might be preferred!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Maybe a stylus for the Chromebook? https://platypusplatypus.com/reviews/best-stylus-chromebook/

      I do touchtype but I also need to underline and occasionally make drawings or write out equations. (And my attempts at keeping an up-to-date to-do list on drive have failed repeatedly.)

      DC1 has the opposite problem with school— zie has all this group work which is so much easier to do via google docs or drive because they can easily collaborate from home, but that doesn’t show evidence of prewriting and drafts and they’re not allowed to use it in class when they work there. So we’ve been doing a lot of printing in triplicate for hit group and as proof of drafting.

      • bogart Says:

        I don’t think I’d want or use a stylus.

        Fair point, I rarely need to write equations.

        On DS … yes, I suspect if we had NO google docs (etc.) assignments, I’d be bemoaning that part. I find that their generous (IMO) use creates irritations; it’s not always obvious/apparent which teachers are using which systems, what’s due when, or which kid (on a team) is supposed to be working on what. And DS is not exactly a paragon of responsibility when it comes to schoolwork. Which creates further problems, i.e., he’s supposed to be doing homework and is instead surfing Youtube, or he’s googling to find the answers to questions and then cutting and pasting the text into worksheets, or …

        Obviously these problems are preventable, but the amount of time and energy involved in preventing them is an irritation, to say the least.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We just stayed up until 10pm making sure that DC1 and hir group members had everything they needed printed and in the appropriate order for a group assignment due today… I feel pretty complainy. (This English teacher wants: 1. proof of collaborative brainstorming/prewriting, 2. proof of a collaborative rough draft, 3. proof of collaborative edits on several drafts, 4. final draft, 5. rubric, all stapled together… since hir group member has 1, we had to dig up a small stapler. Fortunately, anticipating 2-3, DC1 printed out several versions of the drive doc they had been working on collaboratively.)

      • bogart Says:

        Aiyiyiyiyi, yes, I can see where that would be aggravating!

  6. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    In terms of taking notes: With the remarkable it’s a little less obvious who to do basic stuff (like rename folders or erase– I had to google the former and play around a bunch before getting the latter right), but it’s a little more obvious how to do harder stuff (like move text around, add layers, convert to text etc.). I think I might have to purchase a new app other than just notes to do those kinds of things on the ipad pro.

  7. monsterzero Says:

    > a kindle that I can write on
    I want this, or more specifically an E-ink Kindle that I can use to read my Kindle books but also edit Google Docs.

    (I actually tried using the Experimental Browser on my Paperwhite to access Google Docs, but of course that didn’t work.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t think the remarkable can do google docs, though I’m pretty sure the ipad pro can. Remarkable does have its own cloud thing, but while I have been having zero trouble getting it running at home, it has not been connecting to its cloud at work, despite being logged in. (I also can’t get it to login to my work account, just the visitor account at work.)

  8. We bought all the things: Will I run out of ways to be obnoxious? | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] and we’re going on an anniversary trip (to Portland!) next summer.  I also bought an iPad pro and a Remarkable for quasi-work purposes (the iPad pro seems to be the winner so far for editing other […]


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