What’s this, have I come to the point of reviewing writing pads and folders? Not at all. The Wacom Bamboo range of products implement a fascinating system by which one can enter text and images into a digital system simply by writing them on paper. Think of it as a smart notepad.
Wacom is well known for its graphics tablets. These have long been an alternative way of controlling a computer and entering content into it. They replace a mouse with a pen and a tablet. The Bamboo products move that from the graphic artist’s work bench to pretty much anywhere. The Bamboo connects to your smart phone, and what you write on the writing pad inside the folder is sent off to the “Cloud”.
There are four variations on this theme in the Bamboo range. There are two “Slate” models and two “Folio” models. Small and Large in both cases. The “Folio” models have a cover that folds over the writing pad while the “Slate” models are open at the front. The review unit was the Large Folio model. This sells for $289. The large Slate and the small Folio are $219, while the small Slate is $189.
Clearly it’s the back part that does the smart work. They come with a pen along with a spare ink cartridge. This just seems to be a standard ball point arrangement, albeit a small one. It measures only a couple of millimetres thick and 60mm long, so I don’t imagine it would have a hugely long life.
This does not appear to be an “active” pen in the sense of having electronics inside. It doesn’t need a battery.
The folio felt like quality stuff to my fingers. It didn’t feel unduly heavy, although it actually weighs a touch over 800 grams – around 50 grams more than my Microsoft Surface Pro 4. It’s also physically larger than that. The inside front cover has some slots for storage of additional papers and cards and so on.
There’s a Micro-B USB on the bottom for charging, along with a power LED. To the left of the writing pad, near its bottom, is a status LED and a button. You use this button for switching on and off, pairing and sending a page.
To use the device productively, rather than just as a very expensive notepad and folder, you need a couple of things. First, the Wacom Inkspace App. Second, an account with Wacom. There’s a free Inkspace option available with 5GB of space, which is room for 6000 or more pages of notes according to Wacom. Or you can try a free three month trial of Inkspace Plus, which bumps the space up to 50GB and allows conversion of your handwriting to “rich text”, along with the ability to export in SVG format. After the free period the Plus version costs $2.95 per month.
Signing up to the service turned out to be a pain, thanks to false instructions. According to them the password had to “contain at least 9 characters and 3 of … [an] uppercase letter, a lowercase letter, a number, a special symbol.” No, it has to contain all four of those types of characters. I tried four different passwords with upper and lower case and numbers, and it failed each time. It needed a symbol too, but didn’t make that clear.
But with that minor impediment behind me, use was smooth and easy. The app paired instantly to the Folio and then use was simple. You write something on the pad. Draw something. Whatever. When you’re ready, you press the button and it syncs to the phone, where your drawing and writing appears within the app. The phone then uploads it to the cloud. You can have multiple devices synced. Indeed, I have the Bamboo Folio paired with my Samsung Android phone, but also have an iPad Mini 4 logged into the Wacom Inkspace account. When I press the sync button on the Folio the page appears within a couple of seconds in the app on the phone, and then a few seconds later on the iPad. I can delete or share from either device.
The supplied pad had nice thick paper. It was smooth and the pleasure to write on. The pen itself wasn’t quite as smooth as the Parker pens I normally use, but good enough. The system does not require the use of a Wacom pad or paper. Anything will do.