Review – Flex By Filofax Pocket

This review has been a long time coming. I first picked up the Flex by FiloFax pocket book a year ago from a surplus store as they were being discontinued in America (though I can find them on Amazon again now). I’ve never really been the organizer type and I didn’t know what I would use the item for, but it was cheap, and black goes with anything so I picked it up. How could I resist another notebook?

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So I have settled on a use for it, and it goes with me (almost) every day as my wallet (second wallet: my first one isn’t large enough to carry much cash and business cards as it’s attached to my phone). So this will be a review of the product as a wallet, and not the myriad of other things it could be used for.

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The book comes with two notebooks that I’ll cover first. One is a small, journal-type book, and the other is a tear-able (not a pun) pad. Both are good quality paper that’s fairly smooth, and can stand up to some fountain pens even, but they’re a bit stiff. They fit snugly into the slots on the cover and never seem too intrusive or fattening. Replacement books and other styles can be bought individually, and they are still good even if not protected in the cover.

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The cover has a leatherette feel to it (I don’t know the material) but it’s pretty strong and the spine is designed to be flexible so it doesn’t look bad or get destroyed by being opened and closed a lot. On the outside there’s nothing but stitching and a subdued logo, which I like. On the inside there are two panels, each has an inside-facing, and outside-facing pocket that are about business card size and can hold the notebook covers. One panel then has three card slots for business/credit cards or the pad, and the other side has only one slot for either the pad or any other item that FiloFax made to be put in there (I suppose cards would work there too, but there is only one slot). Finally, it comes with a thin piece of cardboard with a pen loop attached that can be inserted into the back pockets, allowing for one to easily take their pen with them.

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I personally have: business cards, cash, a small pen (Monteverde Poquito stylus), and all of the included items stored inside. The cover has held up well, with no signs of wear yet, and while I rarely use the books because I have so many other ones (and I’m not a fan of jot-pads) they do come in handy and can take inks that many cheaper papers can’t. I’ve had no problems with the spine or the pockets, and the stitching is still all there. I wish it was a little more customizable, but I wish that about everything.

The Flex is a quality product, as a wallet, organizer, or notebook. It is very customizable and very hardy. If one’s needs change, the Flex can change with them, and it seems to be built well enough to last through those changes. I really like it, and wish it was more widely available here (it might be now: I need to check up on it). It is on the bulky side, so it’s not for the minimalist, and more customizable options would be nice. But unless I see something great I’m not on the hunt for another wallet.

Review – Monsieur Notebook A5 Blank “Fountain Pen” Paper

One way to make your notebook stand out in this new notebook market is to have high-quality components that are durable and look good. Monsieur Notebook has tried to do that, with their new leather notebook competitor to Moleskine.

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First a little story. Monsieur Notebook has been available in Europe for a little while now, using production from India, if I’m not mistaken. They recently had an Indiegogo campaign to distribute in the U.S. and get more local production (for them in the U.K.). I pledged (purchased) on Indiegogo for two notebooks and got laser engraving thrown in to review.  My notebooks were however caught up somewhere in the delivery process and ended up taking quite some time to get here. During this process I discovered that the customer service is very nice and expedient for being across an ocean from me. Anyway, some time later I have an extra notebook for my troubles and am getting on the review track. I should note that these books were sent to me directly and not through a distributor, so they did get a bit damaged in the post because they were not in a box, this will not happen if you simply order a book from them.

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The notebooks are a nice A5 size, a bit wider than a Moleskine. With 100 sheets of “royal executive bond” (100gsm) paper (that’s what the watermark says anyway). The cover is leather, and comes quite dry, so it will need some maintenance to make it more supple. The cover is completely plain (unless laser engraved) save for a tiny logo on the back in the right bottom corner. The cover sticks out from the pages just a bit to provide them some protection. There is an elastic band on the back that is loose when not in use like a Moleskine but tightly closes the book when necessary. The cover is glued to some heavy cardstock and opening the front reveals another logo with a website and a contents page with a place for a name and other information. There are no other features, this includes the conspicuous absence of a back pocket common to these types of books.

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Now to the paper, which in mine is blank, and meant for fountain pens. The promise of being fountain pen-friendly is a bold one, and one that is almost thoroughly lived up to. The paper is a very stark, almost perfect, white (with a watermark as previously mentioned). It has a bit of a grain to it, so it provides some feedback when writing, but it isn’t unpleasant. It is a bonded paper, so some paper fibers may come up and clog nibs on fountain pens after extended use, but that is only a fountain pen concern. As for writing, it’s smooth, with some feedback. There are very few inconsistant places that would cause hang ups, or strange ink behaviors. Bleed-through for liquid inks is minimal, but it is there, the paper seems to take wide spaces of ink in stride (like calligraphy) and has little to no bleed-through. But a pen that is quite wet with a finer line will make points of bleed-through. A similar phenomenon can be noted with feathering, as finer lines tend to feather more on this paper than broader lines. Which is a strange property indeed. But the overall experience is pleasant. The ink dries friarly fast, with some notable exceptions (Noodler’s red)

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So a few more things to note. The spine is good leather and doesn’t seem to take structural damage but does easily take cosmetic. The Laser engraving is awesome but it really depends on your image. The elastic strap could cosmetically damage the cover by pulling it. And occasionally the signatures seem to be pulling away from each other, but not the spine.

So overall I think this is a great notebook. It is made of high quality materials, if not high production quality. The materials seem to be good enough to make up for the shoddy construction and make a stable book that will work quite well for an extended amount of time. It is one of the best fountain pen paper notebooks, but not the best. I’d say the paper is worse, but the book itself is better than a Rhodia book. So it all depends on what you want. This book might not look very good, but it should last at least as long if not longer than any other notebook on the market. And it’s the same price as a Moleskine. So If you want a good “beat-up notebook”, try one of these.

Review – Layflat Dot Grid Composition

Sometimes lines don’t look right on drawings and grids are too intrusive. Dots can be easier to draw around and can give the general guidance that is necessary. If you want the added bonus of having a book that lays flat on your table or lap you might want to try out the Layflat Sketchbook Dot Grid Composition notebook.

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The cover has a static looking black and white style and and a black spine. There is a space to write a name and subject as well. The cover is very thin cardboard, the inside being plain white with a plastic coating on the outside. It is rather thin, and has a problem with the pointy corners getting dinged up easily. The spine does lay flat with a little prodding, though not as flat as a saddle-stitched binding, but flatter than any other types of composition books, and most other note books.

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The pages are thin as well, white with tiny grey dots at regular intervals. There are quite a few of the dots on a single page, though I don’t know how many. The paper shows through with almost every ink, though it does take a heavy amount to bleed through. Even a few fountain pens work. The corners get dinged up like the cover, and the individual pages are a lot easier to damage. The grid they form is easier to write with than many others and is fairly straight. Though many of the pages are not printed the same, so the dots are inconsistent. Each dot is made of several small dots so they are un-intrusive.

Overall it’s a good notebook for designs and sketches requiring general guidance. It doesn’t work well with larger fountain or brush pens, or heavier liquid ink pens. It can get dinged up easily, but it does lay flat. In the end it is a cheap and nice notebook. Though it has faults, it is reliable and of good quality. It’s good for students or casual designers.

Ultimate Pocket Notebook Showdown – Moleskine, Rhodia, Leuchtturm, Gibson, Wal Mart

Okay, enough with separate reviews, they have their place, but it’s time for an ultimate black pocket-sized notebook show down. We’ve got a couple slots for easy comparisons and five different books to do today.

Rhodia Webnotebook

Paper: Great, smooth, thick, fountain pen resistant, archival quality.

Cover: Faux leather, smooth, easily damaged but solid.

Spine: Hardy, doesn’t crease, folds tightly.

Other: Bookmark and back pocket, well put together. Elastic strap.

Size: 3.5 X 5.5

Notes: Has some minor bleed though issues, really dark yellow papers.

Price: $20

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Moleskine pocket 

Paper: Thin, bleeds easily, archival quality.

Cover: Pleather, hard cover, like a rock.

Spine: Nice, creaseable, starts to wear near the end of the books life.

Other: Book mark and back pocket. Elastic strap.

Size: 3.5 X 5.5

Notes: Yellowed pages.

Price: $15

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Leuchtturm 1917

Paper: Medium thickness, bleed resistant, but shows through a lot, rough paper.

Cover: Thin, a little flexible, but sturdy.

Spine: Creases easily, but is sturdy, paper could peel off.

Other: Back pocket, bookmark, elastic strap.

Size: 3.5 X 6

Notes: Numbered pages, table of contents, perforated pages.

Price: $12

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Gibson Markings

Paper: Dark yellow, little bleeding, some show through.

Cover: Thick, damageable, bends easily, has stitches around the sides.

Spine: Works well, but creases, is fragile, and can break.

Other: Back pocket, elastic strap, bookmark.

Size: 3.5 X 5.5

Notes: Not very smooth paper.

Price: $5

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Wal Mart Leatherette Journal 

Paper: White, shows through really badly, but doesn’t bleed easily. Not the smoothest.

Cover: Thick, ridged, but flexible, with stitching around the outside.

Spine: Alright, but could crack and fall off.

Other: Back pocket, elastic strap, bookmark.

Size: 3.5 X 5.5

Notes: Elastic strap came off after limited use. Cheap construction. Ink for lines was run off on some pages.

Price: $3

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Review – Clairefontaine Staple Bound Pocket 3.5″ x 5.5″

There is a new contender in the pocket notebook category. Well, not new, but new to me. The Clairefontaine staple bound 9 X 14 cm pocket book. This is not really very comparable to the other two pocket books I’ve reviewed as it is much thicker, but it is still around the same size, so here we go. The book is twice as thick as a Field Notes book and about a millimeter wider, and the rounding on the corners is about the same.

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The cover is a fairly thick but flimsy card stock. There is a website URL, paper weight, dimensions, and page count listed on the back cover, and no other information save the logo. The inside cover is a simple white, while the outside is the standard Clairefontaine cover, which I consider to be fairly ugly. The cover also has a blank space which I assume is a subject line or a name space.

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Inside is 48 sheets of 90 gram Clairefontaine paper, which is superb. This is one of the few notebooks where the page count, rather than the sheet count, matters, as you can write on both sides, even with a fountain pen. The paper is lined with a 7mm ruling, a small margin at the top, and an infinitesimal margin at the bottom. The lines are a very pale purple and not at all intrusive. As far as I know they only come in a lined version at this size. Writing-wise, the paper is buttery smooth. Very easy to write on, but ink resistant enough to have little to no bleed through, except for the nano-liner which can bleed through tables it seems. The paper is also heavy, it takes effort to bend it along the spine to write with it, and once you have bent it, it stays there.

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Finally the binding: it’s bent over and squared with two staples each about a quarter of the way in. It seems far from the sturdiest binding, but it can take a fair amount of flex before buckling. Though with no support at the edges they do tend to get a little banged up. Because of its interesting folding style and large page count, the binding does seem a bit weak, in mine the staples aren’t even fully stapled, so pulling this book apart intentionally would be easy. But unintentionally it seems to hold up fine, more due to the paper than the binding. It will buckle and get bunged up at the edges, though. I’m skeptical about it’s ability to take some hard wear and tear for all 96 of its pages to be used.

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Overall this is a great little pocket book. I personally won’t use them as much as some other books because of the terrible, intrusive cover designs and its thickness. But for writing or drawing with fountain pens, dip pens, or ink brushes, this thing can’t be beat. It’s a great, sturdy little notebook with especially good paper.

 

Notebook Showdown – Moleskine Cahier Vs Field Notes

So another notebook competition today, huh? This time I’ll be comparing the higher end of the pocket book spectrum. It’s time for Field Notes to go head to head with Moleskine Cahiers.

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Starting with the covers the Moleskine is a very heavy, single color, piece of cardboard with an imprinted logo on the back. It’s got a flap on the back that folds in and serves as the famous Moleskine pocket. This pocket is not very well secured by the glue and tears out easily, it also causes the back to be prone to creasing rather than flexing. The Field Notes book has a thin “packing brown wrap” cover with a logo on the front and some identifiers. It also has a little on the back, but on the inside is where it really shines. It’s got name, coordinents, date, and return to blanks right in the front, and the back contains may useful reference items, including a list of uses, and all the materials used in the book. It’s still fairly flimsy, though, and when it bends it stays bent rather than easily popping back into place.

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Size-wise, both books are almost identical, despite the Moleskine having 12 more sheets. The rounding on the corners is also a bit less on the Moleskine. The paper inside the Moleskine is the standard archival quality, but fairly weak, off-white paper the comes with all Moleskines. In the Field Notes is a smooth, bright white paper. The actual type of paper is listed both on the website and in the book for easy reference. Both books come in: blank, ruled, and squared or graphed paper. But some special edition Field Notes have all sorts of different rulings. There is little variation in the ruling size wise, the only major ones being the Field Notes have a wide top margin and slightly lighter lines for the ruling. They’re brownish compared to Moleskine’s grey. One feature of the Moleskine that the Field Notes lack is that the latter half of the pages are perforated for easy removal, meaning you can tear them out without destroying the binding.

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Speaking of the binding, that’s where the really major difference between these books kicks in. The Field Notes are saddle stitched with three staples. The Moleskines however are stitched with 21 signatures. I believe they are also hand bound though I could be wrong on that. The Moleskine binding and cover makes it (like other Moleskines) like a rock. It is much harder to bend, but bends and creases terribly when it does so. The Field notes is a bit more lenient, bending more, but the staples provide great pivot points for bending and creasing as well. The Field Notes binding, while sturdy, can have the book come apart on it, though this rarely happens because of their limited page count. The binding on the Moleskine is much more likely to come undone itself and leave the book behind, though again this rarely happens.

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Really it all depends on what you want. They’re both about the same price so do you want: a better cover, more pages, perforation, and a pocket, or: better paper, better binding, and some useful information? In the end that’s what it comes done to. Also the looks a little bit. Personally I prefer the look of the Moleskine, but the quality of the Field Notes, so I use both. Try ’em and find out for yourself, it’s only like twenty dollars for three of each (at the time of writing).

Review – Clairefontaine Spiral Classic wire bound French Ruled Notebook

Do you have trouble with making your handwriting look good? Do you feel that many of the lined notebooks are ruled just to small for you? Then the Clairefontaine Classic Wire Bound French Ruled Notebook may be for you.

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The notebook’s size is about 6¾” X 8½”. It comes with 60 sheets of 90 gram paper. The paper is a nice, crisp white. And it really is white, it’s brighter than the white in a composition notebook, and is a very stark contrast to most of the higher quality off-white, moleskine-type notebooks.

The quality of the paper is superb. It is buttery smooth and provides a great writing surface. There is no feedback to speak of; so if you like feed back you should be looking elsewhere. The thickness and smoothness of the paper means it handles ink very well. Pencils, ballpoint pens, technical pens, and even fountain pens are handled with ease; though there is a prolonged drying time. Some very wet writing implements, like heavier fountain pens or the Nano-liner, do ghost and occasionally bleed through, but for the most part you can use both sides of the sheet if you so desire.

The ruling on the particular book I have is French ruling, or Seyès if you will. It is designed to make one’s handwriting better. It has five thin lines between each pair of thick lines, which allows for the various heights of minuscule and majuscule letters (upper and lower case). It also has lines running vertically that act as indentation guides for paragraphs and the like. It is great for practicing handwriting or for easy spacing of lines, though it can seem overwhelming at times.

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The binding is a simple spiral that is heavy duty and will allow the book to lie flat easily. The cover is a simple piece of card stock that has nothing special about it. It is covered in a design that I frankly find ugly, but then again I like plain black books so what do I know? It serves its purpose well.

Over all this is a superb book. The paper is incredible, both to write on and to look at. The French ruling is very helpful in writing and can also serve as a general (stress that) guide while drawing little sketches and the like. The binding is nice and simple, doing its job well. It’s not particularly an art book, but it’s a very good writing/note book.