02 Jun 2017

Meet a new Digital Notepad that mimics the feel of paper, and it’s good enough to fool you

Most tablets make terrible notepad stand-ins, but the ReMarkable’s E Ink display makes it feel like you’re writing on paper.

A stylus and tablet make pretty poor stand-ins for pencil and paper. The smooth, friction-less glass feels unnatural against your palm; the bright screens can strain your eyes over time; and incessant notifications compete for your attention. But as good as paper feels, it’s not a convenient way to collaborate.

Those shortcomings are what ReMarkable, the startup behind an E Ink drawing tablet, set out to reconcile more than five years ago.

“We wanted a gadget that felt like the pen and paper we used through school,” Magnus Wanber, ReMarkable’s chief executive officer, told Digital Trends. “We fell in love with the idea of a paper experience.”

The team settled on a one-two punch of a solution: An E Ink with a pencil-like stylus.

E Ink screens, unlike the color LCD screen in Apple’s iPad and Microsoft’s Surface Pro, are made up of millions of microscopic capsules that contain positively charged white particles and negatively charged black particles. When a positive or negative electric field is applied, the corresponding particles move to the screen’s surface, making it appear as though they’ve been printed.

But the product isn’t quite finished — the team’s testing the seventh generation prototype, with plans to ship the tablet in August. The design has been finalized, and the hardware’s fully functional. It’s lightweight and thin, with a 10.3-inch 226ppi (pixels per inch) touchscreen and physical buttons that handle navigation. It’s dust resistant and durable — Wanberg said it can withstand drops without cracking.

The ReMarkable’s stylus is just as impressive. It supports more than 2,000 levels of pressure and tilt detection, and uses electromagnetic resonance to register taps and touches on the tablet’s surface. Unlike most drawing styluses, it’s passive — it doesn’t require batteries or need to be recharged.


There’s more to the stylus than meets the eye. The tip — a combination of felt and plastic that took the team nine months to formulate — approximates the feel of notebook paper. Just like graphite in a pencil, the stylus’ material wears down after a while — about nine months. You’ll have to buy replacements for the tip, though no price has been announced yet.

The ReMarkable team’s paid no less attention to the tablet’s software. An extensive brush library boasts includes a tilt-sensitive pencil tool that broadens your strokes as the stylus is laid flat against the tablet’s screen. A background editor lets you upload and switch between graphs, lined notepaper, and even staff paper.

Saved sketches sync to ReMarkable’s suite of smartphone and desktop apps, and a “digital whiteboard” option lets collaborators see (and contribute) changes in real time.

Eventually, the ReMarkable team plans to add optical character recognition (OCR) in a future software update — it converts handwriting to text. Wanberg said it’s already up and running on internal prototypes, but the team wants to ensure it’ll work in “all drawing scenerios.” The team’s also planning on integrating Microsoft’s OneNote, Dropbox, Evernote, and other cloud storage platforms down the line.

“We’re very open,” Wanberg said. “Whatever the users want, we’ll try to add it.”

The ReMarkable tablet, which ships with a stylus and protective folio cover, will start at $530 when it goes on sale later this year.

Credits: Kyle Wiggers

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02 Jun 2017

The Essential Phone is the Android founder’s new baby

Creating Android wasn’t enough for Andy Rubin. He needed the right phone to go with it.

That’s why, on Tuesday, he brought us the Essential Phone. It’s a high-end Android device that could keep alive the hopes for modular phones — an idea that failed to take off with Google’s Project Ara and has yet to really click into high gear with various Motorola projects.

It could also help Rubin become a force in hardware the same way he swept across the world of mobile software. Around the globe, more than 2 billion devices run on Android.

The specs

Starting at $699, the Essential Phone boasts 4GB of RAM with 128GB of storage and a Snapdragon 835 chip. The 5.71′-inch display spreads across the entire screen, even seeping into where the front facing camera is placed, with a 2,560×1,312-pixel resolution.

Both its front and back cameras can shoot in 4K video, with a 13-megapixel dual camera on the rear and an 8-megapixel camera on the screen. The Essential Phone also comes with Bluetooth 5.0, and there’s no headphone jack. It will be able to run on all major carriers.

Its most prominent feature might be the magnetic connector on the back of the phone, near the camera. The connector allows for modular attachments to the Essential Phone, using wireless data transfers on the port. All accessories will be able to snap magnetically onto the phone, according to Essential.

The company showed off this feature with a snap-on 360-degree camera that works with the magnetic connector. The add-on comes for an additional $50, with dual 12-megapixel fish-eye lens.

Essential also released a phone dock that takes advantage of the magnetic connector, allowing the device to charge wirelessly.

The Essential Phone comes with a titanium build, which the company said makes it more durable than the majority of high-end phones. It will come in black, gray, white and blue, without any logos showing.

“Unlike aluminum, which is what most phones are made of, titanium doesn’t scratch, dent, or bend,” the company wrote. “That’s why you won’t find an area for phone cases on our site.”

Samsung’s and Apple’s phones are made from aluminum, if you needed the context behind the shade Essential’s throwing there.

Home coming

Essential isn’t just launching with a phone.

Rubin is also releasing a home assistant, a field where Amazon and Google have been doing battle. While both companies have made their voice assistant programs open-sourced, leading to many clones, Essential is moving with its own Ambient operating system. The Essential home assistant is a small circle with a screen, that can be activated by voice, touch or look, the company said.

It will be able to play music, set timers, answer questions and control your smart home — most features a voice assistant already offers, but with the additional touch screen.

When and why

The Essential Phone will be the first to launch, and only in the US, for now. It is expected to release in the next few months, but a specific launch date has not been set. There’s no details on when the Home will be available.

Rubin had been teasing Essential’s launch for the last five days, with a photo hiding the phone tweeted on May 25.

On Tuesday, he explained that he disliked the lack of choices in technology’s current state, unnecessary features and products that didn’t work with each other. Don’t worry, he takes the blame for that, too.

“Just when I was about drop another criticism it hit me: I am partly responsible for all of this,” Rubin wrote. “For all the good Android has done to help bring technology to nearly everyone it has also helped create this weird new world where people are forced to fight with the very technology that was supposed to simplify their lives.”

Rubin said he was frustrated with current technology, and vowed to create a simple phone that wouldn’t have forced bloatware, become outdated or live in a closed ecosystem.

Credits: CNET

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