Tech Review: Wacom Bamboo Spark

With more and more tablet devices trying to pin down a level of versatility between an artist’s tablet and a professional ultra book, the Wacom Bamboo Spark is something of a curve ball. Understanding that plenty of artists still prefer the feel of a pencil on paper when drawing or sketching, Wacom’s latest gadget may inhabit a niche all its own.

The Bamboo Spark will set you about about AU$250 and straddles the line between actual paper sketchbook and digital sketchpad. The device tracks each pen stroke on the paper notebook inside before transferring the drawing to your connected device.

The unit itself comes in three parts. There is a folio case that contains a receiver for your work. There is a small ballpoint pen that contains a transmitter and a regular, every day paper notepad. There are a number of devices on the market that do exactly what the Bamboo Spark does, but not many that do it quite this well.

You pair your device — be it an iPhone, iPad or Android device — to the Spark via bluetooth and the transfer of your drawings from pad-to-device takes only a couple of seconds. The app also allows you to “replay” every stroke of the pen in your work which means you can stop the evolving drawing at any point and export it then and there. The case itself can hold a pad of up to 100 pages and, thankfully, you can also sync your work across in batches if required.

Cloud storage is also offered by Wacom for pages exported from the Bamboo Spark and every file it produces can be shared quickly and easily to Dropbox, Evernote or simply exported as a PDF. The pen, also, feels quite nice in the hand and has a solid weight and girth to it that keeps it feeling very comfortable — certainly better than your average, cheap and nasty ballpoint. Further, the time you can get out of the battery is preposterously long. I had the Bamboo Touch in my possession for two weeks and it didn’t need recharging once.

Bamboo Spark

So that’s the good. What about the downsides? While drawing, the Spark can track your strokes with precision — right up until the moment you bump the pad or the table underneath you moves. Such errant movements will throw the tablet right off and your drawing won’t look quite right when exported. After a few abortive first attempts to use the device, I found that I apparently haven’t got a stable surface in my entire house. Securing the pad with a rubber band worked wonders in this regard, despite occluding some of the page space.

If you’re not a fan of the pen then … well, you’re out of luck unfortunately. Wacom is really pushing for this device to be something not just an artist but business customers who tend to think quite visually will find value in. Essentially, while the pen is great for doodling with and sketching out with mindmaps, if you’re looking for something more refined and accurate, you’re probably going to be left frustrated.

A similar fate awaits those who’d prefer to draw on something bigger than the supplied notepad. While the folio has a slot in the back where you can insert a backing board for something about the size of an A5 pad, you can’t go any larger than that. Another consideration, though I didn’t run into it, I’m sure what you’re supposed to do if your tablet runs out of juice while you’re in the middle of a drawing.

The Wacom Bamboo Spark is an interesting little device. Those who can best take advantage of its many positive aspects will find a lot to like here, and I can see it being a dream come true for a certain cross-section of its userbase. But you very much have to play by its rules, and that may rankle some users who are used to greater level of customisation.

Review Score: 7.5 out of 10
Highlights: Works like magic; pen feels great;
Lowlights: Larger paper sizes not supported; Pen customisation also not supported
Manufacturer: Wacom
Platform: iOS, Android