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Wacom Bamboo smart notepads review: Wacom's smart notepads slowly bridge the digital note-taking divide

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The Good Wacom's Bamboo Slate and Folio are easy to use and a seamless way to get your written notes into the cloud without sacrificing pen and paper.

The Bad You may not like the feel of the pen for writing in long stretches.

The Bottom Line The Wacom Bamboo Slate and Bamboo Folio provide a practical bridge between handwritten notes on paper and making them available in the cloud.

In September 2015, Wacom launched a new line of note-taking products with the Bamboo Spark, a "smart" folio that allows you to take notes on a normal pad of paper with a special ballpoint pen; when you press the button, it sends the notes to your account in the cloud. The Spark has done well enough that Wacom introduced two new versions, the clipboard-like Bamboo Slate and the larger portfolio design, Bamboo Folio. Along with the new hardware and some operational tweaks, Wacom has rebranded its Wacom cloud service and apps as Inkspace.

The Slate comes in two sizes, small (A5/half letter) and large (A4/letter) which cost $130 (£91) and $150 (£105), respectively. The Folio only comes in the large, for $200 (£140). I don't have Australian prices yet, but those convert to roughly AU$172, AU$200 and AU$265. The basic Inkspace service is free with registration, but Inkspace Plus is only free for three months, after which it's $3 per month. (No UK or Australian pricing, but that's about £2.30 and AU$4.) The subscription buys you an upgrade from 5GB to 50GB storage, supports handwriting conversion as formatted instead of plain text, allows SVG export and provides full-text search. Wacom will also introduce a collaboration mode that will only be available via subscription.

How it works

You charge the folio via a standard Micro-USB cable and charger, and pair the folio with your phone or tablet via Bluetooth. When you're ready to send your notes to Inkspace, you press the button on the folio, and it communicates with the Inkspace app running on your device, saving a picture of the page locally and uploading it. From Inkspace you can convert the page to a JPEG, PNG, PDF or the native WILL file, or SVG if you pay for it, as well as convert it to a plain text file via the website. There's also a live mode in which the device mirrors the page as you write, suited to sharing during in-person meetings.

The key to the system is Wacom's EMR (electromagnetic resistive) technology; the specially formulated ink in the pen communicates with the electronics in the folio, which records your strokes in Wacom's WILL (writing ink layer language) format. It works with regular paper, as long as the pad isn't too thick. Because of the custom ink, you have to buy refills from Wacom. One comes in the box.

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