Is the pen mightier than the stylus?

| Updated on: Jun 22, 2016
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The Wacom Bamboo Spark attempts to replace the stylus and screen combo with pen and paper, ending up with mixed results

After experimenting with digitising pen and paper through the Inkling, top Japanese tablet manufacturer Wacom seem to have correctly deduced that technology which can wow or even moderately aid varied artists is rather far away in the horizon.

So their newest offering, Bamboo spark sets its sights lower, ostensibly aiming at professionals who want to record visual explorations and ideation easily in a digital format that can be quickly and easily accessed through tablets and smartphones. Yes, a stylus can provide similar functionality, but the Spark allows you the advantage of using an actual pen, on a perfectly normal piece of paper, and that's more organic... apparently.

Perhaps they hoped they would inadvertently stumble onto a device for artists. Several doodle-artists and others with specific requirements might certainly agree.

Hardware The Bamboo Spark comes with a folio and a pen. The left side of the folio has a slot on which a tablet can be placed while the right side holds a stack of paper. The folio also has a locking mechanism which can hold the paper and tablet in place when it is closed. On the inside spine of the folio is a groove to attach the pen. Beside it are the circular button and indicators. Pressing the button transfers the drawing on to the connected device each time and saves it in the library of the application.

The folio is quite clunky and is incapable of folding in against itself like notebooks do. This means that you will always need a desk in order to use it, especially if you intend to place a tablet inside. It can accommodate only A5 sheets which is one size smaller than the smallest pads most artists are likely to use - A4.

But visualisers are an adaptable bunch and the issue here is only one of getting used to a new paper size.

However, the fact that the device requires your paper to be completely still while you draw is bound to test the patience of many a user.

Note-taker’s dream The convert to text option (which is still in Beta) is a killer feature that could easily be the reason why many people would purchase it. Cursive scribbled sentences at quick note-taking speed – even when riddled with deliberate illegibility – are smartly corrected and can be saved as text documents or PDFs. This becomes a blessing where notes in meetings can be recorded without having to retype it. A feature that artists might appreciate is that drawings and ideation scribbles are automatically saved as vector PDFs where the lines convert to brush strokes on Illustrator.

The Spark is unable to capture the drawing live on a paired device. The whole drawing is exported en-masse after completion by pressing the circular button on the folio. However, it does also have the ability to capture each stroke seperately on a timeline, thus enabling your work to be saved as documents at different stages of completion. The ability to record this as a video would have been an added bonus and will count as a missed opportunity for Wacom. Hopefully the app will include this feature soon as the makers have exposed API services to app developers.

Not for serious artists For all the impressive features it does offer, the Bamboo Spark also has a number of limitations. The most crucial one is that the product only works with an app and cannot be connected to more powerful platforms such as a laptop or a desktop. It isn’t even compatible with devices like the Microsoft Surface and Wacom Cintiqs because they run a full-blown version of Windows. The Spark is clearly tailor-made for iPads and iPad Pros, though, including the slot size in the folio.

As for the choice of input device, we have to question the decision to use a ball pen.

Why not a marker? The ball pen strokes are recorded without pressure sensitivity and do not mimic the ball pen effect at all.

As a result any scribbly drawing – which is what artists primarily use a ball pen for – is recorded as a dark mesh of lines that have uniform weight and darkness. Additionally, ball pens typically run out after about 25 pages of heavy duty scribbling.

The Spark loses out here by introducing refills that are half the size of regular refills. And of course, they can only be ordered from Wacom.

Verdict The Bamboo Spark is ultimately one clunky untenable species in the long evolution of products that will seek to digitise ink on paper.

It will lose out soon in the battle for survival, but it might just roam the earth proud and free for a short while due to the several possibilities the Spark app might throw up if they manage to attract enough good developers but only while we impatiently wait for technological evolution to work its magic.

Buy it only if you take a lot of notes which you need to digitise on the fly. If you’re an artist, stick to actual pen and paper for now.

Price: ₹10,975

Love: Text recognition

Hate: Lack of PC support, pressure sensitivity

Published on January 20, 2018

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