Take note, with the Bamboo Slate from Wacom
Tech Review: neat handwriting essential but special paper not required
The Wacom Bamboo Slate comes in an A4 and an A5 size.
Product name: Wacom Bamboo Slate
Where to buy: eu-store.wacom.com
There are many good reasons to digitise your notes. Maybe you’re a multiple notebook user and perpetual notebook loser, like me, always on the hunt for those important notes that you’ve inevitably left in the wrong location. Maybe you still need the handwritten notes, but you need a digital back-up, and you need an easy way to create pdfs and other digital files. Or maybe you just want a way to make your drawings digital because you can.
Whatever the reason, there are plenty of ways to do it. However, with pen systems like LiveScribe or Neo, there’s usually a catch: you have to use their own brand of special paper. It’s not a euphemism; the paper is usually covered in dots that help the pen “see” the pen strokes and translate that into something an accompanying app can read.
The problem is that the special paper can be expensive and difficult to get.
Wacom’s Bamboo Slate dispenses with that nonsense. It uses normal paper to capture your notes; the important technology is built into the Slate and the pen. Once you are writing, drawing or scribbling inside the correct area, the system will record your notes and allow you to transfer them straight to your phone.
How big that area is depends on the size of the Slate you have. There is an A4 and A5 size to choose from; the A4 was the one reviewed here.
The Bamboo Slate looks like a large fabric-covered slab. It’s reasonably thin, and is slightly bigger than an A4 pad, with a slot for the back of your A4 pad to slide into to keep it in place. There’s also a holder for the pen to slot into – an important consideration because if you lose it, the Slate is worthless – and a button to press that transfers your notes wirelessly to the Inkspace app. On the bottom is a micro USB charging point. Lookswise, it’s on the minimalist side of things.
Setting it up is simple. You need to download the Inkspace app to your smartphone or tablet, connect the Slate to your chosen smart device with a couple of button presses, and you are ready to go. Once you start writing, it’s important to remember two things: you need to transfer your notes as you finish writing each page, and you need to keep the paper in the same position as you’re writing, ensuring it’s not moving around.
This is because the Slate does one page at a time. That sounds like a bit of a pain, but transferring the notes takes a matter of seconds, so you press the button as you are flipping the physical page and you are ready to go again. If you forget, your digital notes become a mess of overwritten pages, so it’s worth developing the habit. Once you put the pen to paper on the Slate, the status LED beside the transfer button turns from green to blue, alerting you to the fact that there has been activity.
Your notes appear, as if by magic, exactly as you wrote them. You can combine several pages together in the app and then share them in their handwritten format, or convert them to text and use it in an email.
To convert ink to text used to cost you extra. You still need to activate the Inkspace Plus subscription, but these days it’s free. Inkspace Plus also covers exporting your notes to Photoshop files, vectors and documents.
Converting to text, as you’d imagine, does require your handwriting to be reasonably clear however. It will struggle if things deteriorate due to speed – as it did several times in my case or if you have particularly hard-to-read handwriting.
If you are looking for an easier way to digitise your notes, the Bamboo Slate doesn’t lock you in to buying expensive paper. And while the Slate needs to be charged, it is a regular micro USB connection rather than proprietary cradles, and the pen itself feels and acts just like a regular ballpoint.
It also works as a way to digitise your child’s drawings, once they use the Slate as the backing for their artwork.
The not so good
You need to be disciplined about transferring your notes with the sync button, and having your smartphone or tablet nearby is a must unless you are planning on capturing a single page of notes. If you move the paper while notetaking, you can also end up accidentally overwriting some of your notes.
There are two sizes of Slate to choose from: one that takes an A4 pad, and one for A5. The A4 size was slightly too large for my work bag, which was a pain, but the A5 notebook would work well.
Does what it says on the tin, and without the need for special paper, which is a real advantage.