Review – Exceed 5×8.25 Hardcover Dotted Notebook

I’ve previously talked about the Exceed brand and the increase in quality from generic Walmart notebooks, so when I saw a standard sized notebook from them in hardcover (my favorite style) with dot-grid (my favorite ruling), I had to pick one up. From a distance the book is almost indistinguishable from a Moleskine (in their standard size), but comes at a much lower price-point. Are the two comparable? And which is a better value?

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The size listed on the packaging is 5×8.25 inches, dimensions which reality bears out with the addition of a 5/8 inch spine (slightly thicker than that of the standard Moleskine). I chose the black cover, which is a nice “matte” pleather with a very fine grain, though it feels a bit rubbery and the cardboard structure is noticeably flexible. On the back there is a simple embossed “Exceed” logo which is nicely subtle, and the attachment points for the secure-but-dangly elastic closure band. Inside, there is an ugly page with several lines to write down your information and another “Exceed” logo at the bottom. This is followed by the 120 sheets of dot-ruled paper. Bound to the spine somewhere along the way is a flimsy, thin, black ribbon bookmark that nevertheless doesn’t have a propensity to unravel. Attached to the back cover of the book is your standard (at this point) pocket which… works, fine.

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The paper inside has a classic 5mm dot layout with no additional formatting, and a pale-grey printing that moves into the background even under pencil lines, while still providing a neat and versatile guiding structure. The paper is a noticeably yellow-ish off-white and is thicker than your average notebook of this size (which accounts for the differences with a Moleskine book while having the same number of sheets). The increase in quality that this little bit of thickness allows (at least, that is my assumption), is well worth it, though. While it might not be the best for fine-writing instruments (the texture can best be described as “toothy”), it is opaque enough to allow for writing on both sides with basic utensils such as ballpoints and pencils. Furthermore, technical pens, brush pens, fountain pens, rollerballs, and even practice calligraphy pens all usually result in only minor show-through (at the cost of some feathering). However, alcohol-based Copic markers, Sharpies, and many felt-tip markers are too much for the paper, sometimes bleeding through entire pages. And there’s no guarantee of archival quality.

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One could easily go out and find notebooks that are worse than this one. When compared to a Moleskine the paper and binding are superior, but it feels a little cheaper and there’s an increase in thickness. This isn’t an artist’s main book, it’s not archival and the paper feel isn’t inspiring. But it is a durable, inexpensive and widely available option that accommodates a wide variety of writing utensils. If you’re looking for a budget alternative in the “black-book genre”, these are definitely ones to check out.

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Review – Muji Bunkobon Notebooks (Thin/Regular)

I’ve had a couple Muji notebooks in the queue to review for quite some time now, and ironically it’s the product that I have most recently purchased that’s making its way to my metaphorical “review table” first. Muji has a reputation of being both minimalist and high quality, and Japan in general is often seen as being more focused on a good writing experience, but do Muji’s inexpensive Bunkobon notebooks live up to the expectations?

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When looking at aesthetics, the exterior is about as minimal as one can get: a brown “craft” paper cover with a smooth (not glossy, but definitely coated) finish wraps the whole book, only interrupted by a barcode sticker on the back. Inside, the pages are blank with no additional features (no name page or back pocket) save a red ribbon bookmark.

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The paper is a pleasant off-white with a very smooth texture. For how thin it is, it does a very good job of holding up. Almost any mark you make has “show through” where it can be seen from the other side of the paper, and with pens this quickly renders the reverse side unusable (I never use it anyway), but in most cases this doesn’t result in “bleedthrough” where marks appear on the next page. Gel and fountain pens work fine, but Sharpies and calligraphic pens are too much for it to bear (though only barely, it seems). The actual experience of writing on the paper is also quite pleasant, it’s got just a little bit of tooth to remind you that you are indeed writing, but most pens just glide across. For me personally, it sometimes feels a bit slippy or like I’m losing control, however, I have the same problem with the gel pens that everyone else in the world loves.

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The book comes in two (very reasonably {but not proportionally} priced) sizes, regular with 144 sheets, and slim with 50. And the larger size would excite me more if I didn’t have a few issues with durability. These 4 1/8 x 5 ¾ book’s covers are only a piece of slightly thicker paper, and on the top this overhangs a sixteenth of an inch beyond the one side of the book with a deckled edge. This quickly creates bent corners and a curled-in top area (I unsuccessfully tried cutting this excess off my slim, and it now looks like I’d imagine it would after a little while of constant use), which might be overlooked if the cover itself wasn’t so fragile and easily bent. Even I, a man who is very careful with all of his possessions (because he doesn’t like them to look worn) bent and tore the cover while the bookmark unraveled itself. While the binding is very solid I don’t feel like the cover of this book will adequately protect it over a longer period of time or through rigorous use (so it’s out for frequent traveling), and I think that this problem will get worse with the larger size.

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For the price of a couple dollars this is a very good notebook to write in. While there are some problems with cover and bookmark it makes a fine office or school notebook, or, if you aren’t a stickler for aesthetics, it’s a nice convenient size to carry around (though larger than that average pocket). If you’re looking for an inexpensive notebook upgrade or are just tired of people putting words or logos on your writing area these are nice, minimal and well crafted books.

Review – HŌM (Home Essence) Black Linen Journal (Pocket book)

Sometimes, my weakness for inexpensive notebooks does actually lead me to a bad one. In this case, I was aware starting off that the HŌM Linen Pocket Notebook was only a serviceable notebook, and just barely above the many unusable notebooks that one can find on the shelves at Wal-Mart. But maybe I’m a little harsh sometimes. How bad could it be?

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It’s a standard little black book: 3½ x5½, with 100 sheets. Most of the “luxurious” features are omitted (no pocket), but there is an elastic band attached via a grommet on the back cover. The cover has a slick “linen” finish that is easy to scratch but hides it well. It’s a soft cover with straight corners that get dinged easily. The whole thing is nice and springy, but the finish quickly starts separating from its cardstock backing with use. The whole edge is “gilded” in a neon color (mine’s green) that matches the elastic band.photo 2-66

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The paper is an off white and ruled at close to ⅓rd inch (which is way too big). The ruling doesn’t go all the way to the edge of the page (which I really dislike), and the margin is wider at the top and less wide at the bottom (which I don’t really care about). The paper feels quite thick, and the grain is pretty boring (it’s not slick, it’s not rough, it’s just… weird feeling). It performs fine with ballpoints and pencils (minimal showthrough), and it does better with fountain pens than one might expect, but bleedthrough is still present. Smaller felt-tip pens do fine, but, not surprising to anyone, it can’t handle Sharpies.

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This notebook strikes a few bad chords with me: poor (neon) color choice, easy to damage softcover binding, and wide ruling (I didn’t expect it to play nice with fountain pens, but it didn’t impress me). And the rest of the features don’t really make up any ground. It’s far from the worst notebook you can find on the shelves of your local department store, but it’s not really worth looking at.

Review – Moleskine Softcover Pocket Book

Perhaps I lose a little bit of “reviewer credibility” when I say that my main notebooks for years have been Moleskine ones (specifically hardcover pocket and large). I know they’re not the best notebooks in the world, and I am phasing them out of my routine (since I’ve mostly stopped with specific daily uses, and uniformity is less of an issue for a while) but they are widely available, simple, and consistent books of decent quality. That being said, the ones I use have always been hardcover, and at this (192 page) size I prefer the rigidity of a hard-back, but am I being unfair to the softcover books?

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First off, all Moleskines come with a wrap-around paper “package”, and I’ll admit, my book is old enough I don’t know where it went, but I assume now they have updated it to the same useless “reusable” packaging that has vague blanks about travel to fill in if that floats your boat. The cover itself is a nice, flexible (black) pleather wrapped around the book in a single piece. On the back “Moleskine®” is stylishly stamped near the bottom and the elastic band is attached at two points. The cover has a pleasant texture that is relatively even and doesn’t scratch easily, but does show the binding and attachment points underneath and impressions from the elastic closure. It also easily divots and is structurally weak at the corners.

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Inside is the same-old Moleskine stuff: a “belongs to” page at the front, a cheap ribbon bookmark (mine unravel more and more often these days), and a sturdy pocket in the back that I’ve never personally found a use for. The paper is a pleasant off-white with a nice smooth (but not slick) texture that takes ballpoints and pencil very well (if you’re using it one sided {so no 192 pages, as advertised}). With anything more significant you get a lot of show-through, and with fountain pens or markers you’ll get bleed-through. I find it pleasant to write or sketch on, and the fact that it’s acid-free means your work is safe over time, but it is fairly fragile stuff (I wouldn’t erase too much).

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In the end it’s what I expected, the same Moleskine quality with a cover that is more easily bent and damaged (I do care about how my books look). It will probably hold up to most types of use, but it won’t look pretty at the end (the pocket at the back does mean it maintains support for off-the-table use, though). It’s a fine notebook, with decentness all-around, from page feel to binding, but it seems like less and less of a deal as things progress. One can find books at WalMart (potentially of dubious archival-quality) that do the same things cheaper these days, and they might not have the same quality control, but they are so much cheaper. I like the Moleskines for their ubiquity and uniformity, but they’ve always been overpriced, and this cover just doesn’t do it for me.

Review – Field Notes Pitch Black (Focused on Large)

Field Notes are pretty much my go-to notebook brand. I carry an Expedition Edition with me every day (throughout my life that constantly reaffirms I don’t need a notebook that hardcore), and I have many of their regular books set up for individual projects. But I always find pocket books slightly too small for really working with, and “full-sized” books are just a bit large and cumbersome. When Field Notes announced they were making a larger book with their “Arts and Sciences” edition I snatched a set up, but I’m always reluctant to use limited editions, and I was a bit late to the party when they released an updated version of their “Pitch Black” book in the same larger size. Does it fill the position I was hoping for?

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The book is a nicely hand-sized 4¾ x 7½, with a simple black cover containing the minimum of necessary information. Inside that cover they improved on their previous Pitch Black design by adding a craft-paper layer to print on so the user can actually read it. As always, this inside cover has space for one to put their contact information, and a lot of interesting and/or funny information (mostly related to black or nighttime in this case).

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64 pages are saddle stitched inside with a single signature (as is typically the case when one staples something together). Both the paper and the cover are quite durable, and I haven’t had any problem with wear (on the spine or at the {thankfully rounded} corners), but they are just paper and cardstock, so you can’t be too rough with it. It’s all thick enough to feel like a “proper” notebook (and maybe provide some support when in the field) while still being super thin (less than a quarter inch). It’ll fit in almost any bag and still provide ample writing real estate. I always felt like it was hard to do more than write a list in pocket-sized notebook, but with the room to stretch out here I can get almost 300 words on a page, and with the dot-grid (which is the version I chose and what I believe to be the superior page-ruling) I can easily incorporate diagrams or sketches. The paper is a stark white and the dots an un-intrusive grey. Standard pencils, ballpoints, and highlighters all work great on the fairly smooth but mildly toothy paper and the it’s thick enough that I use both sides (which is rare for me {it also has something to do with the book’s thickness}); wetter pens like markers, rollerballs, and fountain pens do start to show/bleed-through though.

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For someone like me this book is basically all I could ask for, and I plan to use them more frequently in the future as I change around my main notebooks. It’s a little bit harder to carry around than a pocket book, yet the added space more than makes up for it in my mind, and it stops just short of being bulky (and it just shy of the page-count where the cardstock cover would start looking ratty before one finished it). Even the paper’s a little bit of an upgrade. It’s just a winner all-round for me, and if you’re feeling a little cramped by your pocket book, or that sketchbook is weighing you down, it might be a winner for you too.

Review – Exceed Notebook (7⅜x9½ {7½x9¾})

Once again I was foolishly tempted by the stationery shelf at my local Wal-Mart. But the quality of such notebooks can be all over the place, and in general tends to be trending upwards. I believe this is the case with this “Exceed” brand notebook I picked up several months ago (notebook reviews take so long, these books might not even be available anymore). This ruled, soft-cover notebook looks and feels almost as if it was manufactured in the Moleskine factory, for a relatively inexpensive price.

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The entire notebook is bound in a black faux-leather that is slightly less shiny than a soft-cover Moleskine. This material is slightly warped by the black elastic band that wraps around it from the back cover to keep everything closed. On the back, very tiny and near the bottom, is stamped the EXCEED logo, and the area of the back inner pocket leaves visible indentions in the black material.

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Inside there is a thicker page with space for a name, 96 sheets of (“college” ruled {36 lines per-page}) paper, and an expandable pocket in the Moleskine style that takes up the entire inner back-cover.

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The paper itself is off-white and of “decent” quality. With standard ballpoints and pencils there are no significant problems. There is enough show-through that one can tell there is writing on the previous page, but using both sides of a sheet wouldn’t be too much of a challenge. With more liquid ink pens (rollerballs, Sharpies, porous points, and fountain pens) there is a considerable amount of show-through with even some bleed-through, though, with standard implements (no calligraphic or broad tips), I didn’t get any bleed onto the next page. The mostly-smooth paper is still pulpy enough that it quickly absorbs ink, preventing bleed on the next page and drying quickly, but exacerbating feathering (to an almost unbearable level with a fountain pen).

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For the time that I’ve used it (with a regular ballpoint) I’ve encountered no problems. The cover looks nice (despite the elastic indents), the binding has held up, and the light-grey lines are un-intrusive and thin enough for my writing style. I’m not a particularly harsh user of notebooks, but I suspect this one could take much more punishment that I’ve dished out (however the nice plain-ness of the cover might suffer, it dents easily, especially when exposed to spiral binding, and even though it does pop back, I don’t know where the cutoff is). If you’re looking for something similar to a Moleskine soft-cover but at a reduced price, I would certainly consider tracking one of these down.

Review – Cross Jotzone Notebook and Pen

Notebooks are quite handy things, but most of the common ones look a little unprofessional. If the standard spiral and composition books won’t work for you, and Moleskine just seems a little cliché, maybe Cross has the answer for you with its Jotzone series of notebooks.

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I feel I need to put a bit of a disclaimer here at the front. I usually carry a notebook around with me and try to get through about a quarter of the pages before I do a review on it (that’s why I’ve done so few notebook reviews: it takes time), but on this one I certainly didn’t get anywhere close to that, for reasons that will be explained in a moment.

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The cover of the book is a nice, smooth faux-leather, black save for a triangle on the lower right of the front where the color varies (mine’s blue). It covers the full 5.5” x 7” paper part of the book, with a ½” extra bit around the spine, which is hollow, creating a “tube” where pens can be stored (it also helpfully says “Cross Jotzone™” on the spine) . “Cross” is nicely but subtly stamped both on the back and the triangle in the corner. An elastic band is attached to the back in a novel way, so that when it is being used to hold the book closed it lines up with edge of the colored triangle. Inside there is nothing special behind the front cover, but inside the back is a small, simple cardboard and paper pocket. It is attached so it is accessed from the top, a decision that with its small size seems to have been made only to avoid comparisons with Moleskine.

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The paper is very good, a nice 100gsm (70lb) that is smooth, but not too smooth in my opinion (it certainly isn’t as smooth as the Clairefontaine paper fountain pen people love). It handles fountain pens and liquid roller balls quite well; with minimal feathering and show-through under normal usage conditions (I’ve done no test with flex pens or triple broads) and the dry time isn’t that bad, though far from instant. The pages themselves are nice and white with a ¼” grey ruling that stops before the page ends, and a stupid grey triangle in the corners right under where the triangle is on the cover. This area helpfully says “Cross Jotzone™” on every page, and it’s supposed to be where you put your quick summary notes or something so you can easily riffle through the pages and find what you’re looking for. I think this is dumb (and I hate pre-printed words on the pages of my notebooks) but nobody asked me and the paper is good enough that I could easily ignore that (and the ruling that is far too large for me).

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But now for the reason I haven’t used the book that much, and wouldn’t buy another one. I admit it’s quite petty but I use my notebooks a lot, and I want them to look good. That’s why I still use Moleskine classic hardbacks, it’s very hard to find a notebook that resists damage (page corners bending, cover denting/ripping/bending etc) better than those books. And this one is, cosmetically speaking (it feels easily strong enough to not fall apart structurally before being used up) is the worst I have encountered. After sitting for a day or two in my bag, with the only other items in the bag being non-spiral notebooks the cover became covered (no pun intended) with irreversible scratches and scrapes that are quite noticeable. Basically, if you want to maintain the “Cross” professional look, it’s a desk notebook, and I have reviewed it like a desk notebook. It’s a pretty good if gimmicky one, but I personally couldn’t stand to look at the satin faux-leather cover getting so beat up over time (and I wouldn’t recommend using the spine pen holder, as its made out of the same, easily damaged material). I feel like it wasn’t really thought out, and is more of an “executive gift” that no one is expected to really use, and that’s a shame because it comes with a great pen.

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The pen is a very simple chromed metal pen (I would say steel from the weight, it’s quite heavy for a pen of its size) with a smooth cylindrical non-tapering barrel. There is pointed-ish cap finial at the back and a cone at the front leading to the point. It’s retractable, with a twist action, and there is a clear mark and band signifying where the pieces come together (and it is the smoothest action I have ever felt in a pen). The adornment and the clip are minimal, probably to be inexpensive, and while it’s a little ugly, the simplicity makes it easy to overlook. The cartridge is a short version of the standard Cross cartridge in a medium point. It, like most Cross pens, is very smooth, in this case especially when writing cursive. It does have some startup problems, especially when left unused for a time, but that problem can be solved by using it more or getting a new cartridge.

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In the end it’s an alright notebook, and a good pen. I wouldn’t purchase them for myself, but it does make a very nice looking gift, and it’s functional, with good paper and a nice writing pen. It’s a desk notebook, and a heavy desk pen (but I like the weight) made of good quality materials, but essentially with a disregard for useabilty. I can recommend them as desk materials, but not as daily users.