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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


Review – Field Notes Bic Pen

Field Notes is a company that makes great notebooks, and they’ve always added a bit of a more personal touch to things. One of the ways they did that was by having branded pens and rubber bands readily available (I believe at some point in their orders, single pens and rubber bands were thrown in for free, but they can be purchased in larger packs easily.) The pens aren’t very expensive and fit very well with the brand’s style just on looks, but do they perform as well as the paper?


The pen is actually just a branded Bic Clic pen, which isn’t a bad thing really. The entire design is a pleasant taper from the middle, where a ring separates the two halves of the pen. On the top there is a chrome-ish simple clip with Bic’s information on it, and a similarly-colored thin clicking mechanism (which give a very satisfying “click” when used). On the front of the pen, the ballpoint protrudes when the mechanism is depressed and the Field Notes information is printed on the barrel. The only colors of the pen are black, silver, and white, making the whole thing quite understated but also very nice.


The writing is standard Bic writing. It is smooth enough, black enough, and steady enough to be serviceable in the vast majority of scenarios. It is a medium point, which is usually too broad for me, but definitely is unspectacular and fits with what most people are comfortable with. The ink is, of course, essentially waterproof once dry, with minimal skipping or blotting. I’m not particularly impressed by the writing, but I’m certainly not disappointed.

I’m sure the Field Notes Company did a bunch of research to find both a good enough and inexpensive enough pen for their brand that they wouldn’t have to try to make in-house. And I think they succeeded. The pens are dependable enough, sturdy enough, and simple enough to be almost entirely unremarkable (in both a good and a bad way). They fit the utilitarian image of the company, and are worth having at least as a backup pen.


Review – Bull & Stash Notebook Travel Stash

Bull & Stash was a kickstarter for a notebook company that I only found out about because my brother was excited about it. The particular product he was looking at still hasn’t entered regular production, but I figured I’d test out one and see if they were any good in general.


The basic idea is that the notebooks have removable pages. This way, different types of paper can be used, and notes can be organized after they’re written, both inside and outside the notebook. This is accomplished by having two posts on the back of the notebook that have removable screws to allow paper to be put in an out.


The cover is a simple slab of supple leather with two holes in the back, and a logo stamped on the front. I’ve seen some complaints that the logo is stamped unevenly, and while it is on mine this doesn’t bother me. The cover did have an unsightly curl when I first received it (the back and front didn’t match up) but this has gone away with use. On the inside, the hardware is simple, and it screws down a flimsy cardboard piece with a place for basic lost and found information. Inside this is the paper. Around 40-45 pages can fit in at a time, but I’d recommend fewer. The cardboard and leather cover do provide enough stability to write on in most situations, but I wouldn’t be taking long notes or more than a few without a stable writing surface. The cardboard is also prone to bending, decreasing the stability over time.


The paper is all right. It is fairly bleed resistant, but prone to feathering inks. The graph and lined refills are only printed on one side, which is fine by me because I only use one, but others might find it annoying. It would be difficult to use both sides in this book, though, because the hardware makes flipping through pages difficult. I’d remove the first few pages regularly to prevent them from being destroyed, and I can say that writing on the back of a page is almost impossible. The hardware also cramps the writing space. If things were a little smaller I’d be more happy.


In the end, it’s a solid first attempt. It seems more like a portfolio builder, though, and I don’t know how supported the books will be. There are little inconsistencies and design problems that make me shy away from recommending the books. It’s not worth the current asking price to me if the cardboard and stamp quality aren’t fixed. And the edges of the notebook aren’t finished very well, leading to a very strange appearance. It definitely will last a long time: the leather and steel hardware aren’t going anywhere. But it just seems like the designers dropped the ball a little bit. It’s almost too simple and feels like it’s slapped together from existing items. Maybe my problems with the hardware are solved in the larger version, but I doubt it. Until a more usable and better finished version is released, I’d hold off.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.