One year ago, Wacom came up with the Bamboo Spark, a device that can digitally record what you write on a normal notepad with the included Wacom ballpoint pen. This year, they have released a new model called the Bamboo Slate. The functionality of Bamboo Spark and Bamboo Slate is essentially the same.
The target users for this sort of device would be those who take a lot of notes and want a quick way to turn them into digital notes. The paramount question you should ask yourself before buying is whether you have time to scan. The second question is whether you prefer taking notes with actual pen and paper vs a stylus on tablet. I'll address these issues and more in this review.
For some reason, Amazon shipped my purchase without the typical brown cardboard boxes, opting to paste the delivery information all over the box's packaging. I wonder if they do that for USA customers too, and whether if it's going to be a problem when the item has to be returned.
The different models
The Slates are basically clipboard style without the clip. They come with a slot where you can insert a notepad.
The folio is like a folder with cover, extra slots and a large side pocket for you to put stuff. It probably cannot fit the iPad Pro because that's larger than A4 size. For anything smaller, you can slot it into the large side pocket.
The items included are the device itself, a ballpoint pen, extra pen refill, the refill remover and micro-USB cable for charging.
The ballpoint pen uses those 6.7cm ballpoint refills.
The particular model of the ballpoint refill is ISO 12757-2 (MiniStar D). I tried a Zebra refill of same shape and size but it does not work for some reason. The Zebra refill has a silver coloured metallic body.
To replace the ballpoint refill. One just has to pull it out. It's slippery so the clip has to be pressed hard.
The pen clip is nice. Overall, the pen looks better compared to the one from Bamboo Spark.
The cross section is not exactly circular but triangular with bevel edges.
I've a problem with the pen. To get the ballpoint out, you twist the pen's back. When I'm using the pen, sometimes the side of my index finger knuckle area will accidentally twist the pen's back causing the ballpoint to retract. It has happened several times. So when holding, I have to make a conscious effort to hold the pen in a way to avoid contact with the pen's back.
Overall build quality is great. The back of the Slate is cloth with the orange letters BAMBOO sewed on. I'm not a fan of cloth surface because they get dirty easily and it's diffcult to clean. I use cloth bound sketchbooks and they have the same problems.
On the front, the material use is some sort of faux leather with grid of tiny crosses. It's nice to touch and it goes around the edges of the Bamboo Slate.
That's the microUSB port. It's the same port used by most Android phones.
At the top left corner is a recessed area for slotting the pen clip.
The A5 sized dotted notepad comes with 40 perforated pages. The device is said to support notepads up to 8mm thick (approximately 80 pages). I've tried really thick notepads and not all strokes can be captured. So when getting new notepads, get one under 80 pages.
Here for example, I've used my own notepad that's attached with big clips. With notepads that have hard cardboard backing, you can just slide in the cardboard into the horizontal orange slot on the Bamboo Slate.
So how you actually use this thing?
Before you can use it, you need to pair it with your mobile device, either Android or iOS. And you need to download the Inkspace app from the app store.
Pairing of the Bamboo Slate and your mobile device is done inside Inkspace. There aren't a lot of buttons in Inkspace app so it's easy to find out where to get into the pairing process. Next is to press and hold the round button on the Bamboo Slate to get a blue light which will indicate that it's in the pairing process. Bluetooth is needed. Pairing process is quite fast and after it's done, the indicator light turns green.
Usage is straightforward and I've experienced no issues. Write when there's green light, and the light will turn blue indicating there's content, press button to save and the light turns green. Flip a page. Repeat.
Below are six features of the Bamboo Slate and Inkspace as marketed by Wacom:
1) Organize, edit, and share your notes on your iOS or Android Bluetooth enabled devices
You can send your files from Bamboo Slate to your computer, and do whatever you want with it.
2) Enhance notes and sketches by adding strokes, color or highlights with editable digital ink
This requires you to have software that enables you to do all those things.
3) Use live mode to collaborate and share notes and ideas with others.
This is interesting. In Live Mode, when you draw on paper, the strokes will appear simultaneously on the Inkscape app on your mobile device.
4) Export notes as JPG, PNG, PDF or SVG file formats.
When you export as a PDF file from the Inkscape app, the strokes are in vector format, basically outlined paths. You can open the file in Adobe Illustrator to work on it further.
You only get vector PDF if you export from Inkscape app, not when you export the file from Wacom cloud.
Strange thing is, there are two layers of same content. So in Illustrator, I have to use the Pathfinder to flatten the duplicates by combining the top and bottom layers.
JPG and PNG files are 1748 by 2551 resolution, or 14.8 by 21.6cm at 300dpi. PNG has transparency.
5) Sync to existing cloud services: Inkspace, Dropbox, Evernote, and OneNote.
This allows you to download your files from your favourite apps.
6) Store up to 100 pages on your Bamboo Slate and sync later when reconnected.
You don't have to sync immediately whenever you write something. If you forget to bring your mobile device out, you can still store the pages inside Bamboo Slate, and sync to Inkscape when you're able to later.
For drawing purposes
It's quite accurate.
Here's the original scan.
And here's what was captured and overlayed onto the the original scan. I've changed the colour to green so that you can differentiate it from the scan (in black).
Bamboo Slate actually detects pressure. When you press hard, you get thicker strokes. When pressure is light, strokes are thinner.
Inkspace is the basic version of the app. There's Inkspace Plus with additional features that Wacom's trying to promote. That's a monthly subscription service that cost, currently, at USD $3 per month. These are the features:
- Convert handwriting to rich text
- Search your handwritten notes
- Export in scalable vector file format (SVG)
- Store up to 50 GB of data (60,000+ pages of notes)
The Bamboo Slate is just the Bamboo Spark with a different look. Functionality is the same. Bambook Spark is cheaper so it might be more worth the money, but they are only available in folio style. It's good to have clipboard style too because there might be people who don't want the folio or extra bulk.
As mentioned earlier, I feel that this device is for people who takes lots of notes and don't have time to scan. If you need that functionality, then should serve your need. It works without flaws.
For drawing purposes, personally for me, I have time to scan my work, so I don't see myself using the Bamboo Slate much. While the ability to digitize and export vector strokes is good, I can do that by like the Live Trace feature inside Adobe Illustrator.
Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Here are the pros and cons at a glance
+ Captures strokes rather accurately
+ Good build quality
+ Feels durable
+ Simple to use
+ Pairing the device with iOS or Android is easy and fast
+ Supports syncing to backup your work
+ Works with Evernote, Dropbox, Wacom Cloud
+ Can save your pages into multi-page PDFs
+ Battery life is good
+ It can sync in the background when your mobile device is in standby mode
- When saving the page, the 'downloading' dialog box does not appear instantly and makes you wonder if it's really working
- Ballpoint refill is short compared to standard ballpoint refill
- You cannot use other pens, e.g. fountain pens
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