I was approached by Wacom a few weeks ago to see if I wanted to test our their Bamboo Spark digital notebook in a fun Father’s Day project. I’m a bit of a fan of Wacom products – the geekdaddy has had a couple of their graphics tablets, and I love my Bamboo stylus – so I was very keen to get involved and see what the Bamboo Spark could offer.
Wacom describe the Bamboo Spark as “The World’s Greatest Smart Notebook”, and it’s designed to make it really easy to digitise notes and drawings that you create on the notebook. It comprises a rigid folio folder, the special “smart pen” and a notepad that tucks nicely into the folio. Provided you have it switched on as you write with the pen on the notebook, it digitally captures all your pen strokes and enables you to send your creations via Bluetooth to your smartphone or tablet once they’ve been created.
There are three different styles of folio available, so you can choose whichever best suits your needs. We were sent the Smart Folio with Gadget Pocket, which is probably the most “all round” folio – it has a large pocket inside the cover which you could tuck a smartphone in, or just use to hold a spare notebook. There is also a Smart Folio with Tablet Sleeve, which comes with a flexible sleeve designed to hold tablets up to 9.7″, and the Smart Folio with Snap-Fit for iPad Air 2 which is specifically designed to fit that particular tablet perfectly.
We were challenged to use the Wacom Bamboo Spark for the kids to create Father’s Day cards, imaging their Dad as a superhero. The kids had no problem with this activity, because using the Bamboo Spark is nearly as simple as using a pen and paper. We set up the Bluetooth connection beforehand, and then I let them loose with the pen and paper. Once each of them finished their design we simply pressed the button on the Spark and they watched in awe as their picture appeared on my iPad screen.
I say the Bamboo Spark is “nearly” as simple as using a pen and paper because there are a couple of gotchas. The brains of the operation is actually a notepad-sized Wacom tablet that sits under the paper and connects to the pen to track its movements. So if you move the paper slightly whilst writing, it will move relative to the tablet, and your picture won’t come out the same as it appears on the paper. And if you forget to press the button to “save” your notes or picture before turning the page on the notebook, you’ll end up with both pages merged together into a single page when you transmit it to your device (but don’t panic, there is a rather neat way to recover from this).
There are a few features of the Bamboo Spark that I really like. First of all, it doesn’t have to have your smart device connected to it for it to work. Provided you switch it on, and press the button on it after you complete each page, it has enough internal storage to keep up to 100 pages of notes before sending them across to your device. And you also don’t have to use the provided notebook – it has quite happily worked with any of my own notebooks that I have tried it with, including ones with hardback covers. So you could easily take it out with you somewhere to take notes, and then download them all to your device when you get home.
The most impressive feature of the Bamboo Spark is that it doesn’t simply “scan” your finished picture. It tracks each pen stroke that you use, and that is what gets sent to your device. So once you have your picture in digital form, the Bamboo Spark app allows you to move through a timeline where you can see your picture appear and disappear before your eyes. The kids thought this was really magical! This is also the way you can fix the problem of having two pictures come through on the same page – the Bamboo Spark allows you to scroll through the timeline to the end of the first page and then split out the second page into a separate image. More magic! You can see this in action in the Wacom promotional video below:
Another neat feature of the Bamboo Spark is that if you use it to write handwritten notes the app has a handwriting recognition function and can convert your handwriting into printed text. This feature is apparently still in beta testing, and may not be 100% reliable, although it coped fine with my sample. I haven’t tested this in earnest yet, but I certainly intend to!
As a surprise the Wacom team took the pictures that my kids created and turned them into actual printed cards which arrived in time for them to be presented to the geekdaddy on Father’s Day. They looked great. The geekdaughter had drawn her father as “Super Electro Dad”, whereas the geekson took a rather more traditional route and drew him as the Incredible Hulk.
I have to say that I love the Wacom Bamboo Spark. In fact I’ve already had a bit of a disagreement with the geekdaddy over it, because he felt as it was a Father’s Day promotion, he should have had it as a Father’s Day present. I’m hanging on to it because I can see how much I’ll use it! I’ve always preferred writing notes to typing, and this smart notebook gives me the familiarity of hand writing with the convenience of digital notes. The kids got on really well creating drawings with it, better than they have with a standard graphics tablet because they can see their lines appearing on the paper as it’s all done with a normal pen.
The Wacom Bamboo Spark retails for about £100, but as always I recommend shopping around with your favourite electronics suppliers to find the best price. For your convenience the latest price on Amazon for each of the three models is shown below (affiliate links):
Disclosure: I was sent a Wacom Bamboo Spark for review purposes. All words and opinions are my own. The Amazon links within this review contain my affiliate ID – if you make a purchase after clicking I will receive a small commission payment at no additional cost to you.