Review of Tops Idea Collective Notebooks.

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Also in our box of review samples from Shoplet and Tops, we have some of the new Idea Collective Notebooks. These are moleskin (no e) style notebooks (we have the pocket sized version to review) and also softcover large notebooks that come in a pack of two.

The hardcover book has the features with which Comrades who have used Moleskines will be familiar. From Tops:

Inspiration is a personal thing. Where its recorded matters. Idea Collective notebooks and journals are great for capturing thoughts, quick notes or anything that inspires you. Designed with the creative person in mind, these products feature all of the premium details you’d expect in a high-end notebook. The durable covers feel luxurious and the smooth writing paper makes it easy to get carried away. Includes an expanding envelope with attractive yellow gusset to hold odds and ends. Wide ruled acid-free cream paper. Pad Type: Notebook Sheet Size: 5 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ Ruling: Wide.

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The elastic is grey and snappy, and the bookmark and cloth on the pocket are yellow. And there is a subtly debossed pattern on the cover. All combine to make these very attractive notebooks, without making them…loud. With the size, page-count, features and cream paper of a Moleskine, are these notebooks worthy of the Revolution?

These books have everything I’ve liked about Moleskines in the past: all of the above. What I don’t like about Moleskines the most relates to their paper and the company who makes/sells Moleskines. The latter is irrelevant to the review of this book. But where I think these books improve upon Moleskines, INSOFAR AS GRAPHITE IS CONCERNED is the paper.

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The paper is thin, like Moleskines. It is smooth and cream-colored, with grey lines. The lines run a little dark, like recent Moleskines (not my favorite thing).  Ghosting/graphite transfer is pretty bad, honestly, though I don’t think that’s avoidable with paper that’s this thin. When I get concerned, I put a piece of paper between the pages as I go. I have always found Moleskine paper TOO smooth for pencil. Graphite shows up too lightly, and it smears like crazy. This paper has just a little more tooth than Moleskine paper, and it resists smearing very very well. I like the width of the lines, too, for using fat pocket pencils. At $5.83 a piece, these are a good buy.

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The larger, softer cover versions are pretty nice books for big projects. They lack pockets or a page marker, though the Moleskine Volants I assume they are meant to resemble don’t have these, either. I can certainly imagine using these for “work” and/or longhand projects, with the generous acreage and page count. They seem a little expensive, running about the same price as a 2-pack of XL Volants — especially given the modest price of the other book we have to review. They have little to distinguish them from every other softcover black notebook, though: not the yellow trim, grey elastic, or debossing. They also don’t have the DATE stamp on every “odd” page that the pocket hardcover notebook has. I think the design between these two collection mates is a little mismatched.

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That said, a new entry into moleskin (no e) territory by another brand is not a bad thing, if, like me, you enjoy many things about a moleskin but have grown weary of Moleskines (or never liked them at all). The hardcover books are, frankly, a steal at the asking price, and mine seems made as well as Moleskines from 8-9 years ago. My review sample is already being filled up.

Review of Tops Focus Notes Notepads.

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We received a review package of Tops products from the folks at Shoplet and Tops (thanks!). We have two of their newish Focus Notes books to try, the letter-sized and small top-glued style.

The Focus Notes pads are designed for meeting and project notes. There is a top margin for “Date” and “Purpose.” The page is split into two main columns. The “Notes” column takes up the majority of the page, with lines that approximate “college ruled” paper. The left column has no lines and is the “Cue Column.” The bottom margin is for the “Summary”.
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The funny thing is that this format was very handy when I filled up a few paged with different kinds of pencil for review purposes, for a graphite assessment, and for a general review. I can imagine these columns coming in handy in the kinds of community outreach and higher ed meetings I used to attend at my last regular job and when I was in AmeriCorps. The lines are a nice, light grey that is easy on the eyes. The lines are even light enough to not interfere with graphite marks, provided Comrades use something darker than a Faber-Castell 9000 HB.
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The paper is thin and not enormously opaque; I can see the lines from the page under the one I’m writing on a bit. But the paper is very smooth and takes pencil very well. It lacks the roughness and fragility of typical legal pad paper, in my opinion. I’d much rather use one of these for taking furious meeting notes than a cheap legal pad (or the back of the printed meeting agenda). If it makes sense to say, this paper reveals graphite shades/hues to be pretty true. Some papers make cores look darker, while others make them appear more lightly. This paper does a good job of running to what I feel is the true darkness of a pencil’s core. Smear resistance is shockingly good, and ghosting is no issue, since the pages are only printed on one side.
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The printing quality various from good to Okay. Some of the lines have breaks, and the lines on different pages don’t exactly line up. But these aren’t premium-priced French notebooks or pseudo-European books, either. The quality is actually quite good for the price and purpose of these books.
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I like the design, but I think it could be a little better with a few changes:

1) The top margin just takes up too much space.
2) The “Cue Column” has the word “column” in it, while the “Notes” section does not. I’m not sure why.
3) Graph paper or a dot grid would be very nice. But the line spacing is nice for meeting notes, as they are.

In all, I think these pads will be useful for pencil reviews, since they help to organize thoughts about them (to be turned into a blogged review) and since the graphite’s core will reveal its true…darkness.