Despite the popularity of another tablet device, ImprovElectronics have unleashed a similarly ingenious, yet wholly different tablet: The Boogie Board LCD writing tablet.
Read on for our review of this clever paper replacement tool.
In essence, the Boogie Board is single colour, touch sensitive LCD screen. This screen can be marked with various tools to create images which are retained on the board until an erase button is pressed.
The board itself measures 22 x 14cm with a thickness of 0.3cm - except for the top of the board where a small header extends its thickness to 0.6cm. Even considering the header, the Boogie board looks - and is - incredibly thin. While the unit only weighs 120g, the unit feels sturdy and can be easily held in one hand.
The build quality is good with the textured plastic featuring neat and even seams. The 12.5 x 18.2 LCD writing face is enclosed within an even 0.8cm border resulting in a markable area which is a little smaller than the included A5 user guide.
Along with the product labelling, the Boogie Board's header features a small erase button. While the consumer Boogie Board labelling is standard, ImprovElectronics is able to customise the boards for suitably large orders.
Despite its size and weight, the Boogie Board feels as though it would survive both short drops and the odd fling across a table as long as the LCD face itself isn't struck directly.
In the retail package supplied, the board comes with a telescoping stainless steel stylus, a 17.5 x 14.5cm cleaning cloth and a (single A5 sheet) user guide. The included stylus is about as thick as an average pen and in its contracted form measures 11.5cm. When fully extended to 17cm, the stylus maintains a pen like rigidity and feels suitably pen-like.
While the board is often touted as a modern Etch-a-Sketch, the reality is that the Boogie Board utilises quite different and altogether new technology. When the Boogie Board's pressure-sensitive LCD display is pressed/touched, the LCD screen creates a corresponding image on the screen. Via some Improv Technology voodoo, this image is retained on the screen without the need for any power until it is erased. When the erase button is pressed, an "electric field" is applied to the LCD, erasing the image. We don't fully understand how the Boogie Board does what it does, but it works and it is incredibly efficient. ImprovElectronics claims the non-replaceable coin cell watch battery will last approximately 50,000 erases before running out of charge.
Within minutes of unboxing the board we were writing, doodling and otherwise marking the Boogie Board. While the stylus was first billing, we quickly moved on to using our finger nails, Lego pieces and pretty much whatever else we found lying around. More than useful, our initial response to the unit was one of aimless creativity and perhaps more honestly, a throwback to plain old fun.
To this end, using the Boogie Board is quite literally child's play: Practically any blunt object can be used to create an image. When pressure is applied to the screen, the LCD responds by creating a mark relative to the pressure applied. It's that simple.
The screen itself is a dull black with marks drawn appearing on the Boogie Board as a dull grey/green colour. By varying the pressure (and tool), different marks can be made: A gentle brush of a finger nail produces a faint line while the use of the included stylus produces a solid line around 0.1cm thick.
Once you have finished your drawing, the image can either be retained or be erased by pressing the "erase" button located on the header. As mentioned previously, retaining an image on the Boogie Board does not draw power from the internal battery. Pressing the erase button results in two quick flashes within about a second, after which the Boogie Board returns to its dull blackness and again begs to be marked.
It is worth mentioning that while the marks produced on the board looked good, the images on the packaging and My Boogie Board website are markedly brighter than the reality. More than a fluro yellow/green, the images produced on the Boogie Board are more dull yellow/grey as our photos hopefully convey.
While the touch sensitivity of the Boogie Board was great for producing lines of varying thickness, it did have some drawbacks. Accidentally marking the screen - either by misplaced fingers gripping passed the border or by resting your palm too lazily resulted in unwanted marks on the screen. While we quickly worked out that holding the board from the header - both in landscape and in portrait orientation - removed finger grip marks, avoiding palm smudges was more up to an individual's method of using the stylus/writing tool.
While it theoretically can do so, it is important to note that the Boogie Board is not designed to keep or permanently store images. In all our doodling we never really created a work of art, but if we did we would've had no way to save or otherwise transfer the images. This limitation is compounded if drawn images require transportation: A Boogie Board kept loose in a bag will inevitably receive pressure sensitive marks on it from knocks and bumps. These bumps are erasable of course, but the current image will be marred in the meantime.
The practical volatility of the image appears to be inherent to the way the Boogie Board works and while it limits its uses to some extent, the Boogie Board is still useful for a myriad of other applications. In our time with the unit, we found the Boogie Board most useful for leaving short messages, doodling, creating lists and for leaving general reminders. While we certainly won't suggest the ability to save images is unwanted, we will say that for many practical uses, the ability would be quite unnecessary.
As ImprovElectronics were kind enough to supply two Boogie boards, we were able to place one of the boards into a Primary school for some student and teacher feedback.
Many suggestions were made by teachers regarding the possible uses, but as a replacement for larger and more cumbersome personal black/whiteboards was the foremost choice. The Boogie Board also proved useful as a general scratch pad for students with children predictably excited to use the tablet irrespective of the task at hand.
In fact, as a scratch pad, the Boogie Board was near perfect. Young children could use the device easily to practice letters or draw, while older children tended to use it as they would a notepad, for solving mathematical computations or trialling word spellings.
Teachers also enjoyed using the device and while its most popular use was as a paperless doodling pad during meetings, classroom uses included using it as a visual aid for one to one explanations; recording group lists; class reminders; reward/house points; meeting agendas and daily routine listings to name a few.
Overall, the potential of this device to replace paper both in and out of the classroom is - bar the saving and storage limitations - virtually limitless.
As we have touched on, despite the Boogie Board's many uses, it is the things that are missing which beg mentioning most:
The three obvious improvements we could think of are:
1. A way to save images: While we aren't intimately in touch with the technology, being able to save the current screen image to some kind of (micro) SD card would be great. Of course with such an improvement, there would come obvious price increases as well as some additional limitations on the battery size/life.
2. Stylus compartment: A more basic improvement would be an internal slot or clip to house the stylus. Taking a cue from the Nintendo DS line, a thinner stylus could slot in seamlessly into the Boogie Board's already thicker top edge.
3. Larger writing area: While the (near) A5 form factor is good for short messages and idle doodling, we'd love to see a full A4/Letter sized Boogie Board and as counter intuitive as it may sound, a larger border area to assist in avoiding finger print marks on the LCD screen.
Of course, as is, the Boogie Board doesn't really need any of these improvements and it is likely that the Boogie Board's current simplicity is where its charm (and pricing) lies.
ImprovElectronics have essentially done what it says on the box and more: The Boogie Board not only replaces paper for many incidental tasks, but using it is genuinely fun too.
The Boogie Board isn't perfect and it can't replace paper for everything, but in its current incarnation, it is useful, fun to use and really, quite cool.
And at $29.97US, the Boogie board might just be the magical and revolutionary product at an unbelievable price the world has really been waiting for.
Boogie Board's are currently available from the My Boogieboard store for $29.97US with shipping to Australia in the vicinity of $15US.