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.

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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.

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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 – Moleskine Pocket Softcover Notebook

I’ve already reviewed the Moleskine pocket notebook in hardback, but I’ve also used the softback version, and since there are a few key differences besides the obvious, I though I’d highlight them. So this is only half a review, if you want to know about the paper you can look up my other Moleskine pocket review.

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So the cover is obviously soft. It is a lot thinner and as such you can see the binding through it, especially on the back where you can see the attachment points for the elastic band. They are a bit intrusive and noticeable. The cover is blank aside from the name Moleskine stamped rather deeply into the back cover. The look is a bit like the regular Moleskine, but the pages are cut the the same length as the cover, and it looks a bit more shiny. The front cover can roll up on itself and then bounce back, but it never fully regains its former shape. The back is much less flexible due to the back pocket that comes Moleskine standard. The cover also feels almost moist and rubbery, and any minor scratches and such simply bounce out unlike the Rhodia Webnotebook. The softness does mean that the elastic band leaves very noticeable marks on the cover and sometimes the paper. The spine in contrast to the hardcover feels much more durable and able to stand up to long, continued use.

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Which style of cover is better is a decision you have to make. This one is flexible, easily fits in a pocket, and is harder the permanently damage than the hard cover, but it offers less page protection and stability for writing, so it’s give and take.