Posts filed under Notebook Reviews

Etranger di Costarica Memo Book Review

I'm always on the lookout for good pocket memo books that play nicely with fountain pens and foutain pen inks, so it's no surprise that this post at The Well-Appointed Desk about the Etranger memo book caught my eye. Ana did a great job of showing the pros and cons of the book, so I ordered one right away from JetPens. I even chose the same color, because green is awesome.

Overall, this is a great little notebook, but this is one main reason why it hasn't become my number one memo book. For me, the lines are just too close together. By my measurement, the lines are 5 mm apart. I prefer something like 7 mm. That said, let's talk about the many things that make this notebook great.

The size

The size is comparable to the standard Field Notes size. It's just a bit smaller on both ends at 3.3" x 5.4". For reference, the Field Notes books are 3.5" x 5.5". The Etranger books pack in quite a few more pages than the Field Notes, however. 32 versus the Field Notes 24. Even though the books has more pages, it's still quite thin and I can barely feel it in my pocket.

The size is great and I can't really tell a difference between the size of this book and a Field Notes unless I have them side-by-side.

Paper quality

The paper quality is where the Etranger book beats out the generic Field Notes books for me. The paper doesn't handle foundtain pens like Rhodia or Clairefontaine, but it does a really good job. This is something that I've never been able to say about any Field Notes book I've used, and everyone knows that the Field Notes paper doesn't typically do well with fountain pens. That doesn't change the fact that I really would like to enjoy both the pocketable form factor and high-quality paper in a notebook.

I've used several different pens in this book so far, and it handles them all adequately. Obviously, it does better with finer nibs. Wetter nibs and inks tend to show through quite a bit, but dry inks and fine nibs do well. The paper is a nice white color, which is something I prefer.

Some inks also tend to feather a bit on this paper, but you have to look closely to notice it. If this was expensive paper, I'd complain, but for under $4, this is pretty impressive.

Now, for the reason that I can't use this book as my #1 pocket memo book: the lines. The lines! They're so close together. I normally prefer lined paper, but this is just too small. I have a Kokuyo notebook with 6 mm spacing, and it's manageable. I really like 7 mm spacing, honestly. But 5 mm is just too much for me. And my OCD won't allow me to use two lines for writing, so I'm stuck trying to fit my words into the tiny space allotted. If they had other options for lines, grids, plain, etc., I'd be extremely happy.

The outside

These books have a cover that is similar to other pocket memo books in that it's a medium-weight craft paper. What's different about the Etranger books is that they also come with a semi-transparent vinyl cover that slips onto each cover of the notebook. I wasn't sure if I'd like this when I ordered it, but after using it for a while, I've really grown to like it.

It feels good in hand, offers much more protection, and gives the plain white notebook a bit of personality. There are many colors to choose from, but I still think Apple Green is the right choice.

The book has no trouble mostly laying flat, and it closes nicely as well.

Overall

This is a fantastic notebook. For the price of a single Field Notes, you get a comparable notebook that has more pages, a vinyl cover, and is more friendly with fountain pens and inks. It's not for everyone due to the small spaced lines, but that doesn't stop me from using it every week. Even with the small line spacing, this notebook is far from a disappointment.

(You can find more from Jeff online at Draft Evolution, Twitter, and App.net.)

Posted on July 30, 2014 and filed under Notebook Reviews, Etranger di Costarica.

Baron Fig Confidant Review

It's safe to say that if you haven't yet heard of the Baron Fig Confidant notebook, you've been living under a rock for most of the year. A lot has been said about these new notebooks in that time, but I've held off on talking about the book for a while because I wasn't really sure. Now, halfway through the book, I have more solidified opinions.

Baron Fig started on Kickstarter, was massively successful, and launched a store shortly after. A heartwarming success story to say the least. But, since this is a notebook meant to be written/drawn/sketched/painted(?) in, how does it hold up? Not so bad. It's a great middle-of-the-road notebook.

Briefly, let's go over the specs. The Confidant is available in one color: light gray. You have one option, and that's the paper type: plain, grid, or dot grid. One notebook will cost $16, but you get a small discount for buying more than one at a time. The size is a bit smaller than A5 at 5.4 x 7.7 inches. The notebook is wrapped with fabric, which gives it a unique and pleasing appearance and touch. 192 thick pages (12 of which are perforated), and, of course, a yellow ribbon marker.

Design and Build

For a notebook, it's fairly unique. The cloth wrapped cover is something I don't see very often, and I wasn't really sure if I'd like it in practice. So far, it's held up fantastically. No noticeable stains or wear, but I'm sure your mileage will vary. Mine has been carried around in a bag 99% of the time. I would imagine that harsher conditions would take a toll on this exterior.

The cover is attached nicely to the inside of the book and doesn't look like it will come undone. The spine of the book is a little lumpy, and I'm not sure why. The stitching isn't perfect or symmetrical, but it holds the book together.

True to their claims, the notebook does an excellent job of laying flat. There's a tiny tendancy for pages to stand up a bit when you're using the first or last page of a register, but other than that it does great.

But, you should know that the notebook only closes flat when it's brand new. Once you crack the book open and begin writing, the book will never close flat again under its own weight. In this case, an elastic closure would be perfect. This little annoyance used to bother me, but now I've gotten used to it. I just have to be careful about laying pens on top of the book, as they'll roll off from the angle.

And, the ribbon marker. I really like this notebook, but I hate the ribbon. Several reasons why. First, it frays like crazy at the bottom. It started this immediately out of the box, and it's not the kind of material that can be melted off to prevent further fraying. I wonder if I'll finish the book before the ribbon becomes several dozen independent ribbons. Also, the way it's attached to the spine of the book combined with the fact that it's fairly wide means it is folded and creased every time you close the book. In my OCD attempts to make the ribbon lay flat while closing the book, I wasn't very successful.

Infernal ribbon. Moving on to more interesting things.

Paper

The paper is really the only important part of a notebook – the rest is just details. In the case of this notebook, the paper is pretty good.

I've only used the notebook for writing, and mostly with fountain pens. For fountain pens, the paper is good. It doesn't compare to Clairefontaine, Rhodia, or many other Japanese premium papers. It just doesn't have the smoothness that those papers offer. However, it handles inks and nibs very well.

There's a noticeable tooth on the paper that took me a few pages to get used to. Pens that you think you know and understand suddenly feel different in this notebook. That's the main reason I took so long to formulate my thoughts. I wasn't sure if I liked the way the paper felt under the nib. After a lot of writing, I've decided I like it and I would even purchase another notebook or two after this one is done.

I chose the dot grid pattern in my notebook, and it's a subtle pattern. The ink is a bit lighter than what's in my Rhodia dotpad, but it's not an issue. I think I'll try a lined version next.

The paper is thick. 100 gsm is heavy paper, and this usually means that there isn't much bleeding and almost no show-through on the pages. This is completely false for certain pens, like Sharpies. Testing with a Sharpie meant the next page was unusable opposite the Sharpie ink. As far as fountain pens, ballpoints, gels, and liquid based pens go, it does great.

The odd dimensions of the book (5.4 x 7.7") are actually really great. It's wider and shorter than conventional notebook dimensions, and I prefer this format.

Changes

One of the things that Baron Fig mention on their site is that the Confidant is not a finished design. To me, that means they might listen to feedback and make changes in order to sell a better version of the product. This is great, and I wish more companies would do something similar.

Here's my wishlist: - Offer a paper that has less tooth. Making a notebook that does well with many, many mediums means that there are tradeoffs. Offer papers that fit niche purposes. - Serviceable ribbon. Seriously. - Numbered pages. - Different cover colors and patterns. With fabrics, there are so many creative possibilities.

Conclusion

The Baron Fig Confidant costs $16. How many 192-page notebooks with 100 gsm paper and a dot grid option can you find? As far as I know, that's rare. And that's why the Confidant is a good recommendation. The quality is not as good as other notebooks you can buy, but those other notebooks cost much more. It definitely kills the Moleskine notebooks.

There's something about this notebook that makes it easy to use and toss around. You can treat it like the tool that it is without worrying about messing it up. Maybe it's the cloth cover, the marketing, or the lightweight feel. Whatever it is, I like that quality in a notebook. Because at the end of the day, notebooks are meant to be used.

Try one out for yourself. It's a good notebook made by good people. I look forward to seeing what they have up their sleeves next.

(You can find more from Jeff online at Draft Evolution, Twitter, and App.net.)

Posted on June 18, 2014 and filed under Notebook Reviews, Baron Fig.

Pilot Letter Pad for Fountain Pens Review

I was smitten with the Pilot Letter Pad for Fountain Pens from the moment I took it out of my banged up package from JetPens (thanks USPS!). The blue cover with the white and gold writing gives off a classic, sophisticated look, and that logo - wow. I don't know what it is about that logo that gets to me, but it is funky and I love it. The real story here is the paper though, so let's get to it.

In the grand scheme of things, the paper quality is elite. It is as smooth as any paper I have used with no bleed and no feathering at all. It is incredible to write on. It gives the same nib-to-paper feel as something like Tomoe River or Rhodia R but with the added durability of a thicker page. In my written review I used a Pilot Custom Heritage 912 Stub nib loaded with Akkerman #8 Diep-Duinwaterblauw and it performed wonderfully.

Where the rub lies with the Pilot Letter Pad is the value. If you consider that this is a special occasion pad used for written correspondance (it has envelopes to match even) then I'm somewhat ok with the 30 cents per sheet cost. Even then, you are going to need to mind the exceptionally wide line ruling (front side only) to not end up with a 10 page letter. I think this pad would be better suited with blank pages personally, or else try to fit two or three written lines between the ruling, which is easily doable.

To sum it up, this is a high quality pad that performs exceptionally well and is a pleasure to use. Is it worth the high price of admission? It depends on how much you like your friends. I wouldn't use this as a desk pad but rather to impress a pen pal halfway around the world. Maybe I should write Myke a letter.

(JetPens is an advertiser on The Pen Addict and I received this product at no charge.)

Posted on May 22, 2014 and filed under Notebook Reviews, Pilot.

Kokuyo Systemic Refillable Notebook Cover Review

In the endless search for the perfect notebook, I've acquired several softcover notebooks that don't hold up very well to every-day abuse and carry. While the soft cover usually makes the notebook more affordable (not always), they just don't seem to hold up for very long in my bag.

Turns out, Kokuyo has a product to solve my problem, plus a few more. The Kokuyo Systemic refillable notebook cover is a durable canvas cover that can hold two notebooks of your choice. Finally, a way to protect the various soft cover notebooks that I have. This means I'm much less picky about which notebooks I choose to carry about, because this cover essentially transforms the soft covers into a durable folio.

I ordered a semi-B5 cover from JetPens because I really enjoy the semi-B5 size that Kokuyo, Apica, and others sell. It's not huge, but it's still spacious. Of course, Kokuyo also sell a A5 and A6 size, and they all have two colors to choose from. The A5 and semi-B5 come in either Gray/Black or Gray/Red, and the A6 is available in Khaki/Brown or Khaki/Navy. Each cover includes one notebook, which is a nice bonus.

So, how does it work in practice? Awesomely.

The build

The cover is built well and should take years of abuse. The stitching is tight and accurate, and the transparent plastic sleeve that holds the notebook cover is thick enough to last a long time, but still pliable enough to make switching out notebooks a breeze.

It's difficult to tell in the product photos, but the two-tone color scheme is actually more than just an aesthetic touch – The top color (in my case, the gray) is a pocket on the front and back of the notebook cover. A deep pocket that has plenty of room for a smaller notebook, paper, or a couple of pens. I've really enjoyed have the outside pockets. This has been an awesome meeting companion.

A major downside for me is the elastic closure. Elastic closures are a big plus in my book for notebooks (ahem), but this one is weak. If you've ever used a Moleskine or a Rhodia, or any other notebook that has an elastic band to keep the book closed, I doubt any of them were as weak and wobbly as this one. I hoped that I might be able to tighten it if it were just tied to itself on the inside of the cover, but the ends are actually sewn into the outer seam. Bummer.

Apart from being weak, it still manages to hold the notebook shut – mostly. Don't put any loose papers inside thinking they will stay as you transport it.

Apart from that negative, I've been really pleased with the build of the cover. It also has a twin bookmark ribbon at the top so you can bookmark each book. Unlike a lot of notebooks that I've seen lately with ribbons, this one is nicely trimmed at an angle and finished (slightly burned, melted, singed, etc.) to keep from unraveling.

In use

From a practicality standpoint, the cover operates just like a folio. It lays flat on the desk or table (your lap works, but it's a little awkward since it doesn't have a stiff backing) and allows you open one of the two books. I've found it a bit awkward when first opening the cover because it always turns to the first page of the first notebook, and it takes a moment or two to open the second notebook. Not a big deal, and probably an error on my part due to clumsy fingers.

Unfortunately, the cover does not do well when turned back on itself. I've tried to do this a few times in the interest of saving space, but it just isn't comfortable to write on. The spine is thick and stiff and doesn't lay flat when it's folded back, so the writing service isn't level or steady. For some writers, this isn't a problem, but others I imagine it's a deal-breaker.

Like I said earlier, each cover comes with one notebook. In the semi-B5, it's a plain, black notebook that looks and feels like the standard Kokuyo bound notebook–like the Campus notebook.

It's a great paper. It isn't as great as Kokuyo's premium papers, like the MIO paper, but it's still a well-behaved and smooth paper for writing. Of course, it's also lined, so there's also that to consider.

Overall, this notebook cover is a home run for my use. If you're interesting in a sturdy cover for your soft notebooks, bound or spiral, check out the Systemic system.

(You can find more from Jeff online at Draft Evolution, Twitter, and App.net.)

Posted on May 21, 2014 and filed under Kokuyo, Notebook Reviews.

Ogami Professional Stone Paper Notebook Review

I have yet to find the perfect paper. There are sacrifices to be made, even with brands and styles many consider to be the best on the market. It all comes down to what sacrifices you are willing to make when choosing paper. Ogami Stone Paper is asking me to make too many.

Stone paper has become all the rage across the blogosphere, even spawning a Kickstarter project. It's a great idea in principle: A paper made from a natural byproduct of water and limestone that is tear-resistant, waterproof, and fully recyclable. It is the ultimate paper, right?

Wrong.

To have any stone paper product become a regular part or your writing arsenal you will need to limit the types of writing instruments you use. Ballpoints work well, and pencils are fine. Anything else is going to take some thought and consideration. Plastic and fiber tip pens are ok, but something like the Montblanc Fineliner is terrible. Gel ink pens are passable, but any fine tip that breaks the top layer of the page will bleed, and the paper is so pliable that your letter shapes are transferred to the page behind the one you are writing on. It's like the spy letter game you played as a kid. Run the pencil lead over the blank page lightly and you will see every letter you wrote on the previous page.

Fountain pens are a non-starter. The ink bleeds profusely and takes a long time to dry. I could barely finish my sample sentences in some cases. And the feel of the paper is just weird. It's marketed as "rich, creamy, and luxurious" but read further: "super fine nibs / points may "grab" the paper a little." It's more like writing on a cushion, which is not as neat as it sounds.

Another devil in the details is a big issue in my mind. Stone paper is far from archival. In fact, "Repap is photo-biodegradable. It will break down after 14-18 months exposure to UV light." I don't store my paper directly in sunlight or necessarily concern myself with archival paper qualities, but some people do. Keep these things in mind where considering stone paper.

The Ogami brand makes some of the best looking notebooks on the market, stone paper or not. The covers are beautiful, the size and layout are nice, and the attention to detail is top notch. The usability is not there for me though, and that's what it is all about. There are too many sacrifices I need to make to use stone paper on a regular basis.

(JetPens is an advertiser on The Pen Addict and I received this product at no charge.)

Posted on May 5, 2014 and filed under Notebook Reviews, Stone Paper, Ogami.