Why I didn’t buy an iPad Pro Note taking needs physical pen and paper, with a twist (and a spark)

I have been lusting after the new iPad Pro since it was announced. Could it be? Did Apple finally crack the code on pen and paper style note taking with a hyper-accurate digital stylus (um, pencil)? Would this mythical device unlock all the features I wish were in Evernote and pined over since the Newton 130? Handwriting recognition, note style freedom, shapes, my hope was strong as was the hype from the early testers and reports. I ventured out to my local Apple Store only to find what I feared – the Pro + Pencil combination was close, but not what I wanted.

As I type this, I am looking at 7 full Moleskine notebooks that recorded almost every meeting, idea, concept and day in the life of my nearly three years at Target. These notes are my record, a hard copy historical proof that the work and the time were applied to the best of my abilities. The Moleskin was part of my workflow, taking notes that were dated and timed, referenced with people’s names and small color coded tags specifying any future action needed. At the end of the day, these were scanned or photographed and added to Evernote with additional tasks or notes created in the note itself, as reminders or in my favorite ToDo application The Hit List. It was tedious and I have tried multiple styli to try to make the process digital, but if it wasn’t the accuracy of the stylus it was the limitations of the tablet, application or something else that continued to just “get in the way” of the work – and that frustration was palpable. When I realized that Apple also couldn’t get my quest closer to perfection with their latest mega-tablet and slick white stylus, I felt defeated.

I ordered a few new Moleskine notebooks from Amazon and a few pens that I love (Sharpie Fine Point Pens) to get ready to start to record my thoughts, ideas and sketch concepts for my next adventure (more on that soon) when I noticed a small callout for a Wacom tablet. Again, I thought, maybe a Bluetooth connected tablet might make this process easier? Maybe I would give it a shot… Maybe it would be better than… no. I was hunting again, trying to once and for all get a better workflow for my incessant note-taking that fuels my work. As a last ditch effort, I searched for other solutions from people familiar with my predicament – ones that used a Wacom for some other purpose than drawing. I was presented with a product that looked to be made for the note-takers of the world, for people like me.  The product? The Wacom Bamboo Spark.

spark-sleeve
The sleeve model holds the iPad Mini perfectly in the side pocket, quietly synching when needed.

 

I quickly added it to my Amazon order, along with some Rhodia DotPads (recommended from some of the product reviews) and thought “if it doesn’t work, I’ll just return it and keep the Moleskine notebooks and continue with the devil that I know”. Well, I received the Spark two days ago and after a quick set-up and charge, I can tell you that this is it. This is the product that I have been searching for. It’s slick, accurately records my thoughts of both text and sketches, transfers them to a device (in this case an iPad mini), and shares them seamlessly in Evernote with the ability to quickly add notes, tag and organize the image when exporting. Did I reach note taking Nirvana? Not totally, but pretty damn close. I’d say 95% close. There are some things it could do better, both with the pen and the software, but all in all, as a version 1 product it hits it out of the park.

Would I recommend this for drawing / art purposes… No. The Bamboo spark doesn’t offer changing pen or pressure sensitivity and it only records in black ink. I am sure there will be other pen makers out there that will support this to add features in the future – but for now, it is the perfect, digital, pen and paper note taking device that I have been searching for. My workflow has been reduced to almost automated, my notes are always available in a hard-copy format and digitized in real-time as they are taken (they can even be played back as they were taken), shared and stored in Evernote with the added details and organization that I need.

I can already see how this has saved me time and added to my abilities to easily jot down an idea, sketch, org chart or other thought and know that it is saved, both physically and digitally, where I want it.

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