The Bamboo Spark is billed as a 'smart folio' for handwritten note-taking and sketching with pen and paper. 'Smart' refers to the device's built-in electromagnetic resonance sensor, which enables it to digitise doodles and sync them to the cloud for online storage/sharing via the Bamboo iOS/Android app.
The Spark comes in three variations. The Cover, which doubles as an iPad Air case; the Sleeve, which holds any tablet with a screen up to 9.7 diagonal inches wide; and the Pocket, which has an inline smartphone stowaway and is reviewed here.
All three versions have an internal memory capable of storing 100 digitised pages, which are queued until you next sync with the app.
Each version also comes with a 30-page A5 paper notepad, which can be replaced with a stationery shop equivalent, and a pressure-sensitive Wacom ballpoint pen, which can't.
The case itself feels well built. An on/off switch sits at the bottom of the spine and a separate push button sits at the centre for pairing/syncing your device to the Bamboo app (a quick and simple process), as well as for capturing pages of notes.
An LED above the button lights up green when the Spark is on and turns blue the moment pen touches paper, to indicate that capture has begun. The pen comes with two cartridge refills and is weighted like a typical ballpoint. It's smooth to touch, has a comfortable grip and lays ink neatly.
But while its pressure sensitivity works fine for note-taking and simple sketching, more detailed work fails to convert to digital so well and the result doesn't hold a candle to a dedicated stylus/tablet combo.
Digital 'smudging' can also occur if you accidentally move or crease the notepaper when drawing, since it's the pen strokes that are captured rather than the final sketch.
The upshot, though, is that the app's Split Image feature enables you replay a timeline of your strokes and save two images either side of any point in your drawing process.
Words: Tim Hardwick