I was super glad to find Wacom's detour from all digital to hybrid in the world of penmanship. Today I snatched an Inkling engineering sample from Wacom for a test drive and the result is amazing (with a few disappointments perhaps only pertaining to my preference in certain looks and styles)
Engadget already covered the basics here, they will probably write a full review when they get a sample. I just want to give you a quick preview of my experience here. It will be sold in city'super/LOG-ON stores around early October 2011 for about HK$1,490.
(video above shows a comparison of exported digital vector and my analog sketch, also how pen strokes are replayed in the accompanying software. I wish there were ways to export the animation but there is no such feature from the software.)
The built-in 2GB memory serves as a storage for hundreds of drawings and software for Mac and PC. It works through ultrasonic and infrared technologies with 1024 pressure levels on the pen, which means your pen strokes are recorded with good enough data for smooth vector export. Great for initial sketches of ideas and shapes, good for artistic drawings. However it is not recommended if you need to use rulers or other drawing aids because these tools may block the infrared sensor when used.
My version of the software which came with the engineering sample only has Illustrator and Photoshop exports, but the final one will include export to Sketchbook Pro. Saving to formats like JPG, BMP, TIFF, PNG, SVG and PDF is not a problem at all.
Inkling is tailored for paper size no bigger than A4, the further away from the sensor, the more possible distortion may result (as seen from the bottom of the man's long beard comparing the digital export and the paper sketch). Technically speaking a +/- 2.5mm accuracy in the main drawing area vs. +/- 5.0mm near the edge. It is best for you to sketch on smooth flat surface if you aim for accuracy, but that's probably not the reason why you would buy this product I guess.
What works for me is that it saves time and trouble to scan and trace sketches. There is a button on the sensor to add layers, such cool feature helps you to prepare the eventual digital file in a way more useful while you are working on a pen/paper based medium. One example is to do a draft sketch on the first layer, press a button to create a new layer to add detail strokes. Another would be to separate elements in your sketches for later manipulation, e.g. eyes, mouth, hair in different layers. Well, you professionals and artists don't need me to explain this anyway.
One thing to be careful is the usable area of your paper. The sensor doesn't record anything within 2cm from it. In my case, I used a large size Moleskine to draw the bearded man, adding to the 2cm no-draw zone, the sensor uses 2cm of space to clip onto the paper, effectively 4cm from top of the page is useless. That's 19% space wasted on a typical Moleskine page, less obvious in larger paper of course.
I would say Inkling is great for casual recording, let your creativity flow without limit, but you suddenly find your work worth for the next step, you can jump right into expert mode by creating usable vector layers. I guess this simple solution has a huge advantage over other digital pens, they are either too complicated to operate (Logitech), trying to achieve too much (Staedtler), or with a very small memory (of 2MB in Pentel's Airpen case). Each has their own merits of course, but simple is king when it comes to hybrids IMHO.
Now it's time for me to ask for more. Wouldn't it be great if a digital pen doesn't look like a piece of gadget at all? I mean most of them including the Inkling look pretty ugly to me. The case is like a box of cable and battery, that's ugly too. I like how they treat the look of the packaging though, it is definitely a Moleskine. Finally, I wish there were an option to use roller balls.