Distraction Free Writing with a reMarkable Keyboard 

 December 25, 2020

By  Nick Temple

reMarkable Keyboard Hardware

It's been years since I've been able to fully get into my writing zone on a computer. Constantly connected, wired, with popups and notifications and little red underlined "you mispelled this" reminders, the creative juices have just not been able to flow. Not to mention the eyestrain of constantly looking at LCD's all day ... creative writing has just not been happening the way I'd like.

Recently, I've decided that I'll be buckling down on the writing I do. The world is just too fucked up to continue to pretend that much of the work that I did in the past actually matters.  But I digress ... the point is that writing about real shit is more important to me now than ever - and I need the tools to make it happen.

A few years ago, I purchased a reMarkable paper tablet. I struggled long before the purchase, but finally decided to spend the $600 for the device, and it's been amazing. I was able to continue writing, freehand, with the "pen".  You can learn more about my reMarkable journey here.

In that article, I said it was done - no more features needed. 

Well, I was wrong.

Today I am going to show you how to hack the device in order to add a keyboard (part I) and the keywriter software (part II) to the system. In addition to writing freehand, you can also type on the machine. This is now how I do many of my drafts, transferring the documents to my laptop for further editing and markup before pulbication.

The Hardware

For this to work, you need two things hardware wise;

* A USB adapter - these two have worked for me:
Micro USB 2.0 OTG Adapter (recommended)
Ultra Mini Micro USB Adpater

I don't recommend the the Ultra Mini adapter because of its fragility ... while I had no problems with the Ultra Mini, the small size and fragility allow me to see a situation where a bad fall or other mishap could break the adapter, leaving the micro lip "jammed" into the reMarkable USB charging port, destroying the device.  

Again ... either work. Totally your preference.

* (optional, not recommended) a Bluetooth adapter
If you really want to go the bluetooth route, I've made that work using TechKey Bluetooth Dongle 4.0 EDR receiver (page not currently available from Amazon). I don't recommend going the bluetooth route because the software is a PITA to setup, and I have yet to find a good way to automate the connection of the device without having to ssh into the tablet each time I want to use it. While it's certainly possible to get this to work, it requires far more setup and expertise than I can easily share in a post.

* A compatible keyboard
Pretty much any USB keyboard that does not draw much power (you want to save your tablet's power for writing things, not powering your keyboard), and it must be JUST a keyboard and not a "hub".

The following two devices have been tested successfully:
* Macally wireless keyboard
* Mechanical Keyboard 

Either keyboard - and most others - work well. Note that a typical Mac external keyboard that is also a USB hub DOES NOT work per my testing.

Personally, I love the mechanical keyboard for writing .. though it does weigh about 2-3x what the tablet itself does.  A "gaming" keyboard, you can turn off the annoying backlights by holding the FN key down and pressing the "down" arrow a couple of times.  A solid low-end mechanical keyboard.

Tha Macally just works, and I pack it to use with my laptop and my reMarkable when I'm on the road.

To setup, plug the USB adapter into the charging port, the keyboard or keyboard dongle into the port .. and you are ready to rock.

Using Your Keyboard

For those wanting to leave your reMarkable pristine and unhacked, here is a simple workflow that gets you "typing" in no time by using the built-in handwriting recognition and editing mode of the reMarkable.

1. Create a new notebook, open it and handwrite a few sentences. Many times, I create my outline or even a rough draft with the pen right here.

2. Go to the notebook icon and select a few pages, then "convert to text". A few moments later, the on-screen keyboard pops up and you can edit the text ... using the onscreen keyboard or the one you just plugged in.

3. When you're done, simply select the "send" icon to email your draft.

That's it! the best of handwritten and keyboard edited documents on your reMarkable.

There are some downsides to this method, including being able to edit on the remarkable exactly once, and the fact the onscreen keyboard never disappears.  

There is another way.

The reMarkable is full blown ARM-based Linux tablet.  What this means, is that it's incredibly easy to hack ... and many people have done so.

reMarkable Keyboard Software

The easiest way I have found to run an editor on the remarkable is through the ddvk/remarkable-autoinstall package. This slick auto-installer gives you pretty much everything you need to turn the reMarkable into a typewriter.

draft, a program launcher - ( dixonary/draft-reMarkable)

keyedit, a full-screen typewriter that works nicely with a keyboard (dps/remarkable-keywriter)

- fingerterm, a terminal so you can open a terminal on the reMarkable (dixonary/fingerterm-reMarkable)

touchinjector, to tie the pieces together in the UI (ddvk/remarkable-touchgestures

To get the software installed you need to ssh into the reMarkable. You can find the IP address and password of your machine by selecting Menu | Settings | Help. Then click on the "Copyrights and licenses" button.

Under the GPLv3 Compliance section, you can find the IP address and password you need.  

Warning: Don't make the SSH connection if you don't know what you are doing. You can easily brick your device if you start messing around with it with root access. 

To login as root, "ssh root@IP" - then enter your password.

Tip: I use key-based authentication for all ssh/scp access. To do so, simply create the file .ssh/authorized-keys, chmod to 0600 and add your public key. 

Then, to install the software, run this script:

Reboot, and you're ready to go.

Using the New Software

Touch the reMarkable with two fingers, near the bottom of the tablet, about 2 inches from each side and 2 inches from the bottom. Keep playing until you get it right, you'll see "gestures enabled" text at the bottom of the screen when the gestures are enabled. This touch is a toggle; repeat the process to disable gestures.

You now have four swipe gestures: swipe down to show the current time, left and right to change pages just as if you've pressed the keyboard buttons. Swipe up runs a user-supplied script (and is connected to the launcher).

Once gestures are enabled, swipe up to run the launcher - this kills the reMarkable UI and enables draft, a program launcher for the reMarkable. By default, you have edit and fingerterm available. 

Using the Editor (typewriter)

The edit program has only two command keys: escape and ctrl-k. Touch the menu item to launch it.

Use Ctrl-k to open the file dialog box. Type a file name to create a new file or use the up / down keys to select a file to open. Hit enter to execute.

Once in the editor, you have two modes - edit and preview. Use escape to move between them. Changing to preview mode automatically saves your changes. Preview mode renders your file using MarkdownHit escape to edit the file.

Swiping up exits the editor and restores the reMarkable UI.

Don't forget to hit escape one final time to preview your changes before exiting, as this saves your file.

Getting your Work

There are many ways to copy the files from the remarkable. The easiest way I've found is to use scp from my laptop to copy the files over:

Copy files down: scp -r root@ .
(remember to use your own IP)

The entire edit folder is copied down, and you can now use your .md files as you will.

That's it ... enjoy your creative writing on the reMarkable, whether you prefer stylus or keyboard.

Remember that all reMarkable updates wipe out everything outside of /home/root. While the software (and your files) remain, you may need to reinstall the touch app to access the launcher after each update.

One frequent question I'm getting is whether this works on the reMarkable 2. I don't know yet, as I don't have one. If you have experience getting the keywriter working on the reMarkable 2, please feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line!

Notes: Amazon links in this article are affiliate links.

Filed Under: reMarkable

Nick Temple

Nick Temple is an international bestselling author, serial entrepreneur and badass technologist. He started writing software and prose before high school and published both before college. Nick now works with evolved entrepreneurs to help them grow their business & lifestyle through capturing, identifying and executing on their best ideas.

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