You know how the old story goes - if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it's a duck, right? In this case, it looks like a Moleskine, feels like a Moleskine, but it's not a Moleskine, it's better!
There I was, avoiding the grocery shopping and hiding in the stationery aisle at Asda (well, it's more fun than waiting in the car!) when I stumbled across part of their new stationery range. Initially I thought Asda had started selling Moleskines but no, this is an own-brand offering, and I think I'm in love...with a notebook!
Billed as an 'Executive Notebook,' this new addition is available with the familiar black cover, plain or squared paper, and in both Large-Moleskine and A4 sizes. I've had a fair amount of experience of Asda's paper over the years and IMHO quality has been lacking of late, so I wasn't expecting too much from my new purchase, considering it retails for £3 for the smaller size and £4 for the A4 version.
How wrong can this pen-thusiast be?!
It's excellent, truly excellent! Let's start with the paper - there is no indication on the packaging to suggest the weight but it's thick, comparing it to other similar notebooks in my collection I would estimate it to be 90gsm; it's certainly not 80gsm.
The paper itself is a lovely pale shade of cream and, on the squared notebook at any rate, the 5mm squares are printed in a contrasting pale grey. The markings go right to the edges of the page, which isn't an issue for me, though some may not like how this makes the book look when closed. A wonderfully smooth writing surface is provided by this paper obviously having had size applied - it passes this pen-thusiast's standard 'Mk1 Finger Quality Test*' with flying colours.
* I usually make an initial test of unknown papers by gently rubbing the pad of my index finger over a page to get an impression of the smoothness (highly scientific, eh?!). I have found the smoother the paper, the nicer it will be to write on and more recently, the more likely it is to be fountain pen friendly. I've been doing this for years so I'm usually pretty accurate, of course YMMV.
Whilst smooth and a pleasure to write on, the ink of my test fountain pen dries quickly, so smudging hasn't been an issue; thankfully. I tested the paper with a variety of fountain pens, a couple of gel pens and a Sharpie Twin-Tip marker (whatever I had to hand basically) - there was no evidence of feathering at all and only the thick tip of the Sharpie showed any bleeding, and that was minimal.
Each of the 80 pages, which are stitched rather than glued into the book, features perforations approximately 3mm in from the spine allowing pages to be detached neatly should that be required; a great improvement over the Moleskine for mistake-prone me. The perforations, along with the soft spine, also have the advantage of allowing the book to lie flat, a feature I really like.
Now for some dimensions of the smaller sized Asda Exec notebook:
Height: 212mm inc. cover (209mm just the paper)
Width: 139mm inc. cover (135mm just the paper)
Thickness: 25mm inc. cover.
It's a bit of a 'brick' compared to a standard Moleskine!
The cover is finished in a similar fashion to the standard Moleskine with rounded corners, though the patterning of the faux black leather is finer, making for a slightly smoother overall texture. The cover itself is about twice the thickness of a Moleskine cover, and should lend itself well to embossing and other such arty customisations folks with much more talent than I possess often emark upon.
In keeping with the book its emulating, the Asda Exec has a pocket at the rear though, unlike the competition, this is a concertina affair with 3 separate sections to the Moleskine's one. The only downside is that the manufacture of the pockets could be improved and the dividers need to be made of heavier weight material - indeed on this review sample I managed to tear one of the dividers (bother!) whilst trying to loosen the excess glue sticking the dividers together.
Also in keeping with the competition, the Exec features a black ribbon bookmark and an elastic strap closure. The latter is of what is usually termed here in the UK, 'knicker elastic' and on the Exec seems much stronger than that on my current Moleskine, pressure marking the Exec's cover at the top and bottom. This is no bad thing to my mind as the resulting grooves provide a secure anchorage for the elastic when the book is closed; nor does it come adrift in my bag like my Moleskine's elastic strap sometimes does.
I am pleased that I have no hesitation in recommending the Asda Executive, not only as a fountain pen friendly notebook, but as a serious contender for the position of Moleskine replacement.
There are niggles of course (this is me after all!), the rear pocket dividers could do with strengthening and the pages occasionally don't seem to line up correctly when folded over to write on them (diagonally out by approximately 1.5mm), but for a mass-produced supermarket own-brand that retails for between £3 and £4, it's nothing short of a masterpiece!
At a Glance:
Model: Asda Executive Notebook
Fountain Pen friendly: Yes
Paper: 90gsm (estimated); perforated; stitched
Pages: 80 sheets
Colour: cover - black; paper - cream
Type: plain or squared; endpapers - plain
Closure: black elastic
Pockets: 3-part rear pocket
Bookmark: 1 ribbon bookmark (black)
Price: Small £3; A4 £4
Available from: Asda (Wal-Mart) in the UK (not available online)
Overall: 5 out of 5