Tech Review: reMarkable 2 vs. Bamboo Slate
Product: reMarkable 2
Cost: $599 + $149 for Marker Plus
Learning to write is an important literacy milestone, but in an increasingly digital world learning to write means learning to type. Writing and typing share a number of the same base skills: letter identification, spelling, grammar and syntax; but for individuals with developmental disabilities, the method is just as important as the message. ReMarkable 2 and Bamboo Slate are both tablet alternatives that aim to give the user a pen to paper experience while supporting automatic digitization. Digitization of written text or images can give individuals with developing computer literacy, access to word processing tools, digital art programs, and even sending emails without needing to touch a keyboard.
ReMarkable 2 is marketed as “a tablet that feels like paper”, using a textured surface that gives the user sensory feedback and a backlight-free, eye-friendly display similar to that of other e-reading devices. Documents can be saved, sorted into folders and transferred via a wifi connection to both Apple and Windows devices. ReMarkable 2 additionally supports reading and annotation of PDF and ePUB documents. Bamboo Slate is primarily a digitization tool using a paper notebook and ballpoint pen on top of a pressure-sensitive slate that automatically converts handwritten notes or drawings into digital documents. Pages can be synced via USB connection or Bluetooth to both Apple and Windows devices. Bamboo Slate is advertised as a “smartpad” which allows for quick and accurate digitization while maintaining the ease and familiarity of pen to paper note-taking.
Ease of Use: Easy with Practice ★★★★☆
- Set-up requires the user to download the reMarkable app to their computer or device and create an account; once created the tablet can be paired via wifi to transfer documents;
- Tablet uses a familiar format with the ability to sort files into folders and create new documents using a number of templates;
- Tablet can be navigated by touch or using the device-specific stylus (Marker Plus), but written inputs can only be performed using the stylus
Adaptability: Some Personalization Available ★★★☆☆
- Limited accessibility features offering small or large font and the ability to optimize screen layout for either right or left-handed users;
- Screen brightness is limited to prevent eye strain which can be a useful feature for users who may be hypersensitive to light, but not ideal for individuals with visual impairments or those needing high contrast text/images;
- The menu uses text and symbol icons, though the sub-menu layout can be a bit confusing to navigate and most users would benefit from additional time spent to prepare several blank documents in advance using the most useful templates for that individual.
Accessibility: Suitable For Almost All Users ★★☆☆☆
- Use of the device requires an intermediate to a high level of reading fluency, and sufficient digital navigation skills to move through the various menus; this device would not be appropriate for individuals relying on spatial memorization of icons for use;
- As the icons are quite small this device may not be appropriate for those with fine motor impairments, though accuracy is improved when using the stylus to navigate which could easily be fitted with adaptive grip supports;
- The screen is textured giving the user a high level of sensory feedback which may aid users who have difficulty maintaining consistent pressure or those with hypersensitive tactile processing impairments.
- Text recognition has a much lower accuracy rate than other automated digitization tools, though each document can be stored and shared as a PDF if text transcription is not required.
Cost vs. Value: Expense Greater Than Return ★★☆☆☆
- For the right demographic this device performs as advertised, but for use as an assistive device there are significant user limitations;
- The textured screen is a unique feature that may work well as a transitionary tool for individuals moving from paper to tablet, but unless being used exclusively for that purpose (such as within a clinical setting), the expense exceeds the benefits which could be accessed through alternative supports.
Product: Bamboo Slate
Ease of Use: Simple Instructions Helpful ★★★☆☆
- Set-up requires the user to create an Inkspace account and either: download the Inkspace app to their mobile device, or install the desktop program on their computer/laptop;
- Once set-up, the user can choose to write in live-mode – giving real-time updates to the paired device – or push data manually using the one-tap button after each page of writing;
- Though instructions for set-up and use are clear, using both text and images to guide the user through the process, where to find this information initially was not readily apparent.
Adaptability: Some Personalization Available ★★★☆☆
- Available in large and small sizes;
- Compatible with any paper up to 80 pages thick with pre-made notepads also available for purchase;
- Requires user to use a device-specific pen, though could easily be modified by adding adaptive writing supports such as pen/pencil grips.
Accessibility: Suitable For Almost All Users ★★★★★
- Seamless transition for users with developing written literacy;
- High level of text recognition from written words, able to detect both printing and cursive, autocorrect for spelling errors, and draw text information from pages that contain both text and images; this high level of capture accuracy supports a wide range of literacy levels;
- A simple write-share-send process that can be easily performed without needing to navigate lengthy menus or move between apps.
Cost vs. Value: Worthwhile Expense ★★★★☆
- High accuracy, ease of use, and the tactile writing experience make this a worthwhile expense for those seeking an automatic digitization tool.
Adaptive technology is highly personalized by nature – what works for one may work for some, but a universally adaptable tool does not exist. When the limited market of assistive technology fails to meet the needs of the consumer, often those supporting individuals with developmental disabilities need to creatively repurpose technology designed for use by the neurotypical population. Both reMarkable 2 and Bamboo Slate perform as advertised and would be useful tools for the primary demographic they were designed for; but as an adaptive device that reaches beyond the boundaries of the neurotypical world, Bamboo Slate is the clear winner. Wacom has designed a device that gives the user the familiarity of pen-to-paper, reduces barriers faced by individuals navigating the leap from the analog world to the digital one, and maintains a level of simplicity that supports a broad range of users being able to access information, engage in communication, and connect with others in an increasingly virtual world.