When the iPad came out, more than a decade ago, I tweeted that I didn’t especially want an iPad but would really love an e-ink tablet, one on which I could read books and magazines and PDFs, and then make annotations on them. That didn’t seem very likely at the time, but now some of those devices have been produced, and I recently tried a couple of them.

The first device I bought was a reMarkable tablet, which features

  • excellent build quality
  • responsive software, especially its handwriting recognition
  • very good OCR of handwriting
  • reliable syncing 

The one problem I had with it turned out to be an insurmountable one. The device has no light of any kind, and the color of the screen is a disconcertingly dark gray; I found the contrast between black type and the gray screen so limited that I couldn’t read anything on the device without strain, except in the very brightest light. It was perfect outdoors, but usable indoors only at my desk, where I could point my desk lamp directly at the screen. So I had to return the reMarkable – with regrets, because it’s a cool device in other respects. I’m sure people with younger eyes than mine can enjoy it.

So after returning the reMarkable, I bought the Kobo Elipsa, which seemed more promising largely because it does have a so-called ComfortLight, which works well. However, that was the only good thing about the device. The build quality is mediocre at best – it feels flimsy – and the software is so unresponsive that I just couldn’t use it. I would tap something on the screen, the software keyboard would either not respond at all or respond only after a delay of several seconds. Writing with the included stylus was painful, so long was the delay between the movement of the stylus and the appearance of text on the screen.

If the reMarkable tablet featured the same lighting that the Elipsa does, I would’ve kept it and been very happy with it. It’s better-designed and better-built.

Finally: both companies make it hard to return their devices. You really have to hunt on the reMarkable website to find the page that tells you how to initiate a return, though once you do find that page the process is relatively straightforward. Kobo, though, doesn’t let you initiate a return without engaging a representative in chat or on the phone. And that’s a very slow process – they seem to be hoping that you will get tired of the delays, give up, and keep the device you don’t really want. When you obscure and complicate the process of returning devices, you make me disinclined to buy anything else from your company.