Wacom is a brand that has been around since the 1980’s but really seems to have its stride in the last decade or so. As more people move to a digital workspace, we find different reasons to use some of its product offerings. Be it a stylus for your tablet or something more unique, the company’s portfolio continues to grow in appeal. You no longer have to be a cutting-edge nerd working on a major motion picture to leverage its products.
One product we’ve recently had the privilege of testing is the Bamboo Folio. As a smartpad, it essentially lets users write on any physical paper and then back it up digitally, mark it up, share, and more.
At first we expected that it would be a simple case of simply taking pen-and-paper notes and converting them into digital files. And, while that would be great, there’s a lot more that can be done with them once created.
Sounds pretty simple and cool, right? It is. It’s one of the neatest products that we’ve connected to our phones in some time.
Design and Setup
Although the Bamboo Folio comes in a Large (A4 / letter) size, we reviewed the Small (A5/half letter) paper edition. The outside of the pad offers up a nylon fabric cover with dark stitching; the inside is a dimpled polyurethane material with a large pocket and two slots for business cards.
Inside you find a notepad from Wacom that has tiny dots which can be used for grid drawing or to help keep straight lines. Note that you do not have to use this pad and that you can put any type of paper or pad in place and still get the same effect. With that said, Wacom does offer replacement pads should you like the one that comes with it.
Next to the pad, and close to the fold is where you’d locate or place your smart pen. It’s here’s where you’ll have to go through Bamboo for replacements. The ink-equipped ballpoint works just like any other pen, however you won’t want to get in the habit of using for on non-Folio purposes. It’s roughly half the size of a standard pen and you do get a replacement in the box. A three-pack runs about $10 through Bamboo.
You’ll need to install the Wacom Inkspace app on your phone or tablet; both Android and iOS editions are available. It’s here where you’ll back up your files and notes. There’s also a short setup process that has you synchronize the Folio to your device via Bluetooth. All in, you’re looking at a few minutes of time and you are ready to go.
For additional functionality, check out the Bamboo Paper app which lets you draw, highlight, mark up, and more on your phone. Those files can then be shared to your Inkspace account. By default, you get 5GB storage in the Basic account, which breaks down to around 6,000 pages of notes.
Using the Folio is just like you might expect for a pen and paper setup. Simply open it up and start drawing, sketching, or taking notes. Once you are ready to back the sheet up, press the little button found next to the pad. The light switches from blue to green to indicate that it has been backed up. Press the pen to a piece of paper and it goes back to blue, meaning you have something ready to go — even if it’s just a dot or few lines.
As long as you place your paper, note card, Post-It, or sheet on top of the board itself, you can track your pen’s movements. Whereas a small notepad works best, you can drop an index card on it for a one-off writing and synchronization. The secret to the whole thing working is placing paper on top of the pad and using the right pen. Beyond that, it’s up to you as to how you use it.
By default, the Folio will give you the ability to push notes to the app as they appear. But, you can switch to a Live Mode which operates as a screen mirror of your pad. As you draw and take notes on the pad, the app follows along in real-time. Once done, push the circle button and you can back the finished product up.
Inside of Inkspace you can draw on top of the files with a basic tool or use an eraser. Moreover, you can also grab sections of the paper and move them. It’s also here where you can essentially slide a timeline and save the document at a certain point. Let’s say you wrote down a bunch of items to get from the store but then also started doodling on it afterward. Slide the timeline back to before the doodles and save it.
Once your note is saved to the device, you can do a number of things with the file. Export options include JPEG, PNG, PDF, and Wacom’s proprietary WILL format. From there you can hand off to Android’s sharing intent and push the file wherever you want, including other apps like Slack, Todoist, Google Drive, Gmail, and more.
There is a handwriting-to-text option; however, it’s behind a paywall. Additionally, the Plus plan, which runs $2.95 per month, gives you the ability to search notes, export as SVG vector file, and gives you 50GB of storage. For what it’s worth, you get three months of Inkspace Plus for free with the purchase of the Folio.
The aforementioned Bamboo Paper lets you play around with the WILL files, allowing for more editing options. Here you’ll find colors, pen types, and widths. This is handy in cases where you might turn over a draft sketch that was done in black and white. Once inside of Bamboo Paper you can highlight and color, creating various end results. There are a variety of tools available in the default setting, but you can/will pay for more extensive stuff.
For about $150, this is a somewhat expensive item to consider, especially if you just want to make digital backups of notes. There are other options available at lower prices so do a little research to see where you might end up. However, we were impressed with the ease of which the Bamboo Folio let us write and back up.
We’re simply in love with the battery life of the unit, too. We have only had to charge this up once in the weeks that we’ve had it. It came with about a quarter charge out of the box and topping up off to 100 has given us nearly two weeks of usage since. Sure, we’ve had days where we don’t use the Folio, but that’s the whole peace of mind thing that we enjoy. The last thing we want is to plug it in just to take notes.
The default app and account settings are a good start for people to get a sense of what the Folio can do. After spending a couple of weeks with the item we can see how coughing up a couple of dollars here and there might be worth it. Your mileage will certainly vary, but we envision this as being a great tool for graphic artists, students, and professionals. You might have to hop into a different app such as Bamboo Paper to get the best results, but think it’s worth it.
We’ve found that the more we use the Folio the more we see a reason to carry it with us everywhere. It’s light, professional looking, and downright handy. There are plenty of instances in the past where we’ve jotted down notes only to wish we had not thrown them away. That’s no longer an issue for us. Factor in the ability to sketch up, annotate, or add color, and it’s fast become a daily staple for our bag.
It’s certainly worth noting that Bamboo offers another, less expensive form factor called Bamboo Slate, which retails for $129.95-$149.95 (small and large). The features are the same across the board; however, the overall design is different. Instead of a folio, this one is essentially the pad by itself.