Some say Wacom new smart pad can digitize scribblings on a piece of paper. Other say it can scramble eggs. All I know is, it’s called the Slate. Let’s review Wacom’s latest offering.
- As close as one can get to a true pen on paper note taking experience
- Internal storage capable of saving 100 pages
- Very simple to use
- Key functions not available in the Inkspace app (tags, folder organization, editing functions)
- Subscription required for written script to ASCII conversion
- Flimsy pen construction
Many products strive to appear transparent to users and let them focus on their work. The Wacom Slate achieves this. The writing experience on the Slate is no different than writing on any normal A4 pad but it comes with the advantage that with a single push of a button, your notes are captured electronically. If you need such a tool, then the Wacom could fulfill that role but with a couple of minor downsides, subscription based model for script to text conversion and unfortunately a flimsy proprietary pen.
The Wacom Slate is a clipboard that enables any handwritten notes to be digitized and saved as an electronic picture. Unveiled at the IFA 2016, it supplements the existing Wacom smartpads, the Folio and the Spark. The difference between the Slate and the existing smartpads is primarily the form factor. While the Folio and the Spark are a folio form factor with a cover, the Slate is more like an open clipboard. The intention of the Wacom Slate is to provide a very natural note taking experience but with the ability to seamlessly capture that information electronically for referencing and distribution. Let’s review the design and features in how it achieves this.
Wacom Slate Design
The Slate is reminiscent of my office cubicle. The upper surface is a bit like a drafting board and the back of the Slate is like a cubicle wall. This may explain the compulsion I feel to stick thumb tacks in it. The slate itself has a clipboardy feel to it in terms of size and rigidity. If you are wondering if I just made up the word clipboardy, well, yes I did. Blogger’s prerogative.
The board itself comes in at a reasonable 472 grams and as can be seen in the pictures below is quite a bit bigger than an iPad Air at 330 x 254 x 7 mm. If you are looking for something nimble to sling below your arm you may want to consider the smaller version at 249 x 186 x 7 mm.
- Backside of the Slate
The pen is reassuringly pen like. The plastic body of the pen is a little chubbier than a ball point but comfortable to use. But, I have to make a complaint at this point. I found the pen clip to be extremely flimsy and actually it broke off during the review. Apologies Wacom for breaking your stuff but this is not robust enough for the rough and tumble of office life. Since the pen fastens to the Slate by way of this clip it should really be a bit more robust.
Wacom Slate Pen (Before….)
Wacom Slate Pen (After….)
Wacom Slate Features and Functions
The raison d’etre of the Slate is to enable the user to have a natural writing experience but to capture that information electronically. Everything about the Slate stays true to that. There are few extra appendages to this core competency. To use it,
- Hit the power button
- Write notes on the normal A4 refill pad that slips onto the Slate
- When you want to transfer your notes to a paired tablet or phone hit the power button once more. That’s it! The notes get transferred via Bluetooth and show up on the Inkspace app moments later.
So, given its one trick nature (and that’s not a bad thing) of the Slate one need only look at those key functions. Let’s begin with the hardware side.
Wacom Slate Hardware
This is going to be a pretty short section owing to the simplicity of the device. There is but one button to push and this fulfills several roles,
- Bluetooth pairing
- Registering a page for saving or uploading
If a paired phone or tablet is not available, fear not the Slate has sufficient internal memory to save up to 100 pages. A single micro usb serves as a charging port and each full charge will provide about 8 hours battery life.
The slate can use any normal paper but it is advantageous to have something like an A4 refill pad with a hard cardboard back. This is because the paper is secured to the slate by slipping the back cover into a slit on the front of the slate.
The other consumable is of course ink. The Slate uses a proprietary stylus and the ink for this must be purchased from Wacom.
The Inkspace app that comes with the Slate is devoid of clutter and for that matter, functionality. The feature set can be summarized as,
- Read notes from the slate
- Sync the notes with the Wacom cloud storage
- Export notes as PDF, JPEG, PNG or WILL format
- Have a basic library of the notes
- Append and edit the notes
Some basic functions in the app are lacking such as the ability to tag images or to organize them into folders. Both are available in the Wacom cloud storage but such core functions should be available in the native App where one would wish to retrieve and view notes.
One pretty cool function is to be able to split the notes created on a single page. This is achieved by indicating the split point in the note taking timeline. As an example, check out the animation below which shows the creation of a little masterpiece by my daughter. It would be possible to select any point during the creation of this picture, hit the split button and you would end up with two pictures of the notes taken before and after the split point.
The Inkspace Split function timeline
The limited Inkspace functionality is bolstered somewhat by the Cloud storage web app, accessible via any web browser. The Inkspace app will sync with this and upload all of the pictures stored on the iPad. When the pictures have been uploaded to Cloud storage, they can be appended with Tags and organized into folders. The pictures can also be exported and shared via the Web app. One other important feature that the Slate supports is written script to computer text conversion. I had mixed experiences with this. For block capitals, the conversion was ineffective. Cursive writing in contrast was remarkably accurate. Refer to the example below. Of this paragraph, only one error and even that was admittedly my poor handwriting. So, at this point I would rate it excellent for cursive hand writing which is the kind of challenge the Slate would have to deal with for study notes and such things.
The price of the Slate is threefold. First up, there is the price of the Slate itself – $150. Then there is the cost of the pen refills, which is about $10 for a pack of three. Finally, if you wish to utilize the written script to rich text conversion you will need a subscription. That subscription is priced at $2.99 per month. It also increases the amount of cloud storage space to 50GB, compared to 5GB which comes with the free plan. Given 5GB is sufficient to store 6000 pages, 50GB may be overkill for most people.
I find myself in a quandary in trying to draw a conclusion on the Wacom Slate. Hardware wise, everything works as it should and it really provides a natural way to take notes. For people who often have to take notes in meetings or for study it is certainly an option, especially with the scrip to text conversion capability. So, these are all points in its favour.
The difficulty comes when deciding to go for the Slate in preference to other solutions that also provide a way to go from hand writing to an electronic image. Examples include,
- Taking a picture of hand written notes with a hand phone or scanner. These can then be uploaded to Evernote or Google Keep for referencing.
- Typing the notes directly into an electronic device, perhaps as bullet points or mindmap
- Using a tablet with a reasonable stylus such as the iPad Pro which cuts out paper completely
So, there are other technical solutions to skin this particular cat and therein lies the competition for the Slate. To select the Slate over the alternatives one would likely be…..a person who routinely takes wand written notes, who wants the gadgetry behind the capture to be invisible and would like to share those notes to others with minimal hassle. If you fulfill those, then certainly the Slate is worth consideration.
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