Wacom Bamboo Spark
Capture handwritten notes on any paper and with a push of a button your handwritten content is saved digitally for organizing, editing or sharing.
Works seamlessly with cloud-based services, including Evernote or Dropbox
Shape your notes in Bamboo Paper with Wacom Ink Layer Language (WILL), which allows the ink to stay dynamic within the Wacom ecosystem
Wacom has introduced a new way to digitize your thoughts and notes with the Bamboo Spark. I got the chance to mess around with the new gadget and am here to tell you all about it. Come inside for the full review.
Uses and Purpose
It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Wacom's tools. I've used them exclusively for all my artistic needs, and continue to enjoy their new Intuos line of drawing tablets. So when they asked me about trying out their Bamboo Spark I had to give it a whirl. The Spark has appealed to me for one specific reason...I love sketching.
While so much of my work these days is finalized and presented digitally, I start everything off with sketches on paper. Then I scan my sketches into the computer and then having to mess with them digitally. With the Spark, however, whatever you put on the pad is magically digitized and sent to your awaiting smartphone (or other paired device). It's a neat idea that saves me several steps, while also letting me do some other cool things.
The Bamboo Spark comes in a few different sizes, but all boil down to the same thing: a portfolio style case with pockets and a pad of paper. A couple of the models are large enough to hold your iPad tablets, while the medium sized version (the one I'm using for review) has a pocket that can hold your phone or other little things you need to. It works as nice holder that's easy to cary and move around, while also holding anything you might need for 'business' purposes. When you open the box, here's all the comes with it:
Bamboo Spark holder
Bamboo Spark pen
A 30-page A5-sized notepad
USB charging cable
2 extra ballpoint nibs
Product info booklet
It's a solid package altogether and feels very sturdy. The portfolio/case isn't flimsy and will hold together throughout travel and a lot of use. I can see a number of uses for this gadget that goes well beyond artistic purposes (though that's primarily what I'M going to use it for).
Imagine you're working on a group project, like a film or video game production. Even if you're working on the smaller/indie scale of things, projects like that require a lot of collusion and coordination. Say you're developing ideas for characters, and inspiration hits you randomly. Using the Spark, you can jot down your ideas, sketch out costumes or designs, and share them almost instantly with the rest of your team, wherever they might be.
It's a great way to collaborate and share ideas with one another. Rather than having to jot something down on a random piece of paper and waiting to share with others whenever you meet up, you can do everything in moments, letting others quickly offer opinions on your ideas so you can adjust your notes and make something even better. Then you can share your NEW notes/sketches based off with the whole team in a snap. Look at that, you just had a "meeting" and developed important ideas, all from writing on paper in a coffee shop or the comfort of your own home.
How it Operates
I don't know exactly how it works (sorcery has been my best guess so far), but this is basically how it boils down. Within the folio, under the paper pad, is a receiver and within the pen is the transmitter. The pen transmits every stroke you put down on the paper, making the pen the most vital aspect of all this. You can swap out just about any pad of paper, as long as it's not too think (about 50 pages thick is the max), but you HAVE to use the pen that you're given.
It's a solid pen (after all, Wacom knows their stuff when it comes to pens) and feels great in your hand. It's hefty without being bulky, and writes smoothly. It's not exactly a great pen for drawing purposes, as you can't alter the stroke length, but it does exactly what you need it to.
Where it gets really cool, is how you use the app that goes with it. Setting everything up is a breeze, and it doesn't take but a few minutes to be up and running with the device. You can save multiple images at a time, so you're able to 'batch upload' your drawings/notes if you need to. The app allows you to save your notes, export them for uses in other programs (like Photoshop or Illustrator), and comes with some rudimentary tools to edit within the app itself (though you'll likely need a stylus for that). By far, the app's coolest feature has to be the 'replay' option. The Spark captures every pen stroke perfectly and you can replay each line that you put down. That means you can play through your drawing (sort of like a video), and stop it at any point you want. Then you can save that image separately. It's a neat feature, especially since it's PEN, that allows you to eliminate errant strokes or notes you didn't intend to.
There are some niggling issues with the spark, that seem kind of frustrating. For one, you HAVE to use the included Wacom pen. While it comes packaged with a couple of refills, once you're out, you have no choice but to buy more from them. You can't use just any other pen that you like. It's not a huge issue, sure, but is a little annoying. [Update: Apparently there IS a good reason why you can't use just any pen or stylus. Wacom reached out with this information:
"Bamboo Spark works on Wacom's famous EMR technology, the same tech used on our Intuos and Cintiq products. Battery-free and cordless. That's also the reason you cannot use just any stylus. The stylus actually has quite a bit of technology in it. Finding 3rd party ink cartridges that will work in conjunction with the styluses C-switch is not as easy as it sounds."
So there you go. Still can be a little annoying, but at least there's good reason for it.]
The device does a phenomenal job of tracking your pen movements and strokes, but that also requires the paper to remain still. The Spark can't tell when/if a paper is moved, so if the pad shifts while you're drawing it will keep drawing lines where it REMEMBERS the paper is supposed to be. While it would look fine on the paper, when you hit the digitize button, it'll show a jumbled mess on top of one another. If you're working on something important, you might want to secure your paper pad with a rubber band or clips. It's not a hard thing to do by any means, but looks a little funny and is an extra step that seems wholly unnecessary. It's great for sketching out quick ideas and notes, but not as refined for full on artistic purposes.
Lastly, the battery life on the Spark is really impressive. If can last for weeks at a time in one charge. However, if you're in the middle of a drawing and the battery dies...well, good luck.
Again, all of these seem to be more minor issues, that don't necessarily detract from the overall appeal of the device, but they could potentially cause some frustration.