I consider myself a connoisseur of pocket notebooks (I give some background to my experiences in my review of the Whitelines notebooks). I have high expectations in terms of design, execution, and price, but most of all in terms of paper quality.
For me, a pocket notebook must be fountain pen friendly, in that it must not feather or bleed through. And although I’m a huge Tomoe River fan, I admit that even though it’s exceptional paper, its long dry times aren’t best suited to on-the-go scribbles in a pocket notebook. Unless you like creating accidental Rorschach tests in your notebook (It’s a killer clown! No, a butterfly! Oh wait, it’s my shopping list!).
Very few notebooks get an unequivocal thumbs-up from me. I’m pleasantly surprised to say that the new FlipFlop pocket notebooks from Say Nice Things come within a hair’s breadth of perfection.
Here’s the bullet-point lowdown on the concept, specs and how well they work.
These books are slightly larger page size than the usual Field Notes, in both dimensions. This is a bummer if you use FN-sized cases and sleeves, and I went in with a very cynical outlook as a result. But actually I really appreciated the extra real estate on each page. Writing felt much less cramped.
Awesome 90gsm paper
It’s the usual 48 pages, but performs much, much better than the usual pocket notebook. I tried it with six different pens and inks. There is no feathering, no bleed through, precious little showthrough, and the dry times are exceptional too. You don’t get much sheen or shading, but I’ll sacrifice that for dry times in a pocket notebook. The paper is a delicate cream colour that is just right in my eyes. The only quirk of the paper to note is that it’s got a noticeable texture. It causes some drag when writing, which could cause fatigue. And with very fine nibs it can cause the line to wander, making your writing look a little shaky.
Half of each book is lined paper; flip it over and you get crosshair dot grid. I thought this would feel like a gimmick, but actually I can see it working for students, meeting notes, lists, what have you. The lined paper is quite narrow, which addresses my usual complaint about lined paper, where the lines are so widely spaced as to be almost unusable for someone with small handwriting.
The dot-grid paper is nicely executed for lists, graphs, maps, diagrams, etc. Both sets of printing are in light grey and don’t overwhelm the writing. My only complaint is that, without page numbers, hopping from lined to grid mid-writing is not as easy as it could be.
Lay-flat thread binding
Each notebook is bound with coloured thread (blue, purple and orange), not the usual staples. Amazingly, each page spread lays completely flat, without any encouragement. This is something you never get with pocket notebooks, and it’s quite wonderful what a difference it makes to the writing experience.
My only complaint is that there is some loose thread hanging, inside and out. It appears cosmetic only.
Kraft card covers
The covers are very similar to original Field Notes, but with printed coloured accents to match the thread. You can write on the covers with no trouble at all, if you want to add labels, contact details, dates, or tables of contents. I’ve not yet abused these notebooks in my pockets, but I feel they’ll wear much like other kraft-covered books: that is, they’ll fray and crease and eventually fall apart after a couple of months.
Worth noting that both covers and pages have slightly rounded corners, but these are pretty poorly executed.
UK made by a small business, at a competitive price
UK-made matters to me. Amazingly, it hasn’t translated through into the price. These notebooks retail from SNT direct at £6.99 per three-pack, which is considerably less than Field Notes and less than other niche competitors like Dark Star. I have no idea how they do it.
Put these notebooks on your shortlist
Given the combination of lay-flat binding, exceptional fountain-pen friendly paper, and extra space versus the competition, at a lower price, these notebooks are a clear home run. Unless you’re wedded to the Field Notes dimensions — and actually, even if you are — definitely consider Say Nice Things for your next pocket notebook. Also on your shortlist should be Calepino and something with Tomoe River (Taroko or Goulet, for example). But these new books will definitely give the leaders a run for their money.
A note on ethics: Say Nice Things sent me these notebooks for free. Good thing, too: I would have missed out on them otherwise, because I probably would have discounted them for being A6 size. Anyway, at last count I have something like 30 unused notebooks of varying sizes piled up next to my desk, so I’m not short of paper. And I hope it would cost more than £6.99 to buy a favourable review from me in any case. Check out my ethics page for more details.