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Monday, 13 July 2009

Review: Asda Executive Notebook


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!

Asda Exec Notebook seen here on top of standard large Moleskine.

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.

Open notebook showing the lovely cream paper and black ribbon bookmark.

Close up of perforated pages.

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.

Ink test with a variety of fountain pens, gel pens and a Sharpie marker.

Reverse of ink test sheet showing lack of bleeding.

Close up of Sharpie bleed-through.

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.

Detail of the notebook's collapsing spine which allows it to lie flat for writing.

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.
Weight: 450g

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.

Rear pocket detail - spot the tear (stunt finger courtesy of my darling daughter).

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.

Elastic closure markings to front cover of the notebook.

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



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23 comments:

Brian Scott Richardson said...

Very nice review. I need to see if I can find these in the US.

Notebook Stories said...

Sounds like a great notebook! I wish they made one in the same size as a Pocket Moleskine.

Passion said...

Looks like a great notebook!
Too bad I live in the US...
Oh well, I recently picked up a Noted notebook and I'm pretty happy with it.

Sam said...

Brian - Thanks for those kind words. If you get really stuck, let me know - I'm sure we could work something out. ;)

Notebook Stories - Oh, it is! :) I've checked but no luck with a pocket sized version, yet. If Asda release one I'll let you know.

Passion - Thanks! Don't think I've come across 'Noted' as a brand over here, are you planning to review it?

Thanks for all the kind comments, I do have wonderful readers! :)

Lefty said...

Do you really want perforated pages? Won't they eventually loosen and come out? I would think that would contributed to the notebook coming apart.

Sam said...

Oh yes, perforations are a definite bonus IMO. Perforated pages mean you can remove a page neatly should you wish to, something you can't do easily with a Moleskine.

The Asda Exec's perforations seem particularly robust - to remove a page it's best to fold along the perforated line first, then fold back the other way before removing.

I've used several brands with this feature over the years and have never had a notebook fall apart on me yet, or had pages come loose, so you can rest easy on that score.

Kew said...

how heavy is the entire book? I would like to get a friend from Manchester to buy and Royal Mail it to me...

Sam said...

As I said in the review, the Asda Exec notebook weighs in at 450g. Royal Mail Airmail service should costs somewhere in the region of £6.51, or around £11.01 if you go for the expedited Royal Mail Airsure service. Hope you like the notebook when you get it. :)

sircram said...

man, I wish I could get one of these in the US, I really need a Moleskine replacement with good, FP friendly ink.

Superpooky said...

I bought one the minute I saw it. Like you idly walking in the stationery isle in Asda. I mean 3 quid, why wouldn't you buy it?
It is bigger and heavier than a Moleskine but then isn't overpriced with overrated paper inside (lights blue touch paper).

Great buy.

My pocket Moleskine alternative is from Blackwells. Half price at £5. Not quite as good but not 50% worse than a Moleskine if you follow.

Great review, thanks

Sam said...

sircram - Hopefully Walmart will pick the Exec up for sale in the US. In the meantime you could try the new 90gsm Rhodia Webnotebook or a Clairefontaine Basics notebook, both of which are fountain pen friendly.

Superpooky - great minds, eh?! No worries about lighting the blue touch paper here, there's no love lost between me and Moleskine. ;) I'm glad you seem to like the Exec as much as I do. Thanks for tipping me off about the Blackwells notebook, I'll have to see if I can get hold of one.

Thanks folks for your kind comments. :)

Damion said...

Sounds like a notebook, I could really love, but there is no walmart in reach for me here in Germany...
Would you send me one?

Sam said...

Yes, it is a really nice notebook, or at least I think it is. If you want to use my Kontactr button I'm sure we could work something out. ;)

Sidders said...

I came across these when my brother got one accidentally, thinking it was lined when it wasn't. Ever the buzzard I am I jumped on the chance to get a free sketchbook (I'm a constant doodler).

I think I'm in love with these. Not only do they hold up to fountain pen, they take my brush and drawing pens with no feathering and I've also managed to use watercolours in them too!

I'm stupidly happy that I can get something like this in A4 for £4 as opposed to the expensive, smaller moleskines. I liked it so much I went back and got another big one and a littler one too.

The perforated pages were a nice bonus too, I didn't notice them until I accidentally tore one at the line.

I hope they don't stop making them or make changes, they're going to become a staple part of my must-draw-something-every-day diet.

Sam said...

Thanks for such a great comment! Yes, I totally agree with you, the Asda Exec is a wonderful notebook, though knowing Asda as I do, I've stocked up just in case they decide to alter the design/quality. This is one item that deserves to be left as it is for us all to enjoy for a long time to come.

hilary said...

Many thanks for this recommendation.
I to have stocked up just in case there is a rush on stock.
I have tried many Noodler's bulletproof inks on this paper and I am pleased to see none of the dreaded bleed-through.

Sam said...

Hilary - You're welcome, glad you found my review useful. I can't get over just how good the paper is in these notebooks, especially for the price. Thanks for confirming my suspicions regarding Noodler's bulletproof inks, I hadn't got round to trying them with it yet.

John Johnston said...

Found the link to this review over on Notebook Stories. Excellent, comprehensive and well-written! My only gripe is that you've tempted me with a notebook unavailable on this side of the pond. ;-)

Sam said...

John - I would hope that Wal-Mart might pick these up for the US market. If not, drop me a line and I'm sure we can work something out. :)

Anonymous said...

Just got myself a couple of these notebooks. One squared and one plain. Paper quality seems amazing for the price. Compared to £12 to £15 for a moleskin of similar size (with worse paper for ink pens) it seems like an incredible bargain.

Tim the Executive said...

I have been using the A4 version of this for some months having bought two of them when I first saw them. Many people at work have commented favourably on them and I would dearly like to carry on using them. However, I can't find the A4 version any more! I have been into at least 6 ASDA's of late and the A5 version is freely available but not the A4....am beside myself with misery

Steve Speck said...

Asda seem to have adapted the design, or more likely changed the manufacturer, so that the cover overlaps the pages by some margin [all puns intended] and is much more cushioned than before. They also seem to have removed the perforations from the A5 model and the paper is slightly lighter - no bad thing to my mind as catching the paper accidentally on the original design typically resulted in slowly detaching leaves. I too haven't seen any A4 models recently but given Asda's unpredictable stock management approach - I would just keep looking from time to time and you may be pleasantly surprised...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip on the Asda executive notepad, cant find the A5 in "executive" on their website though, but will go to the store and have a good rummage

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