Smart Notebooks – Moleskine Versus Whilelines

Paper is back baby! – but with a twist. With the emergence of the computer and most recently the tablet people are moving away from the trusty old notebook in droves. I must admit I am one of these people that just can’t move on.

For us purists it seems that some companies are listening and are trying to combine the best of the Analogue (pencil and paper) and the Digital (documents and text). The two leading products at the moment are the Moleskine Evernote and WhiteLines Link notebooks.

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I am interested to see how the rocketbook is going to stack up as well but since it is yet to be released I only have the two above to work with.

To gauge how the two products stack up I’m going to break my thoughts down based on the normal criteria:

  1. Cost
  2. Quality; and
  3.  Usability.

But I’m also going to add in two other categories (I won’t rate these though) to see if these products firstly, meet the spirit of notebook keeping (basically the best things about paper) and secondly account for the shortcomings of notebook keeping. To expand on what I am talking about I have added a bit of a blurb on each below.

The Best Things about Paper

I love the feeling of writing – it just feels organic and permeant. Moving to a computer or tablet and typing everything just seems so impersonal and robotic. There is nothing unique about text – it all looks the same no matter who has written it. There just seems to be no love in it. You can tell so much from handwriting – you can tell if you were rushed, or bored, or if you were feeling particularly artistic that day because you decided to use as many different coloured pens as you could find.

In the digital world you just can’t capture the fulfilment of filling a notebook or the joy of starting a new crisp notebook. You don’t get the same excitement as you do when using a new pen or the disappointment of when you lose your favourite pen. These are feelings that computers and tablets just don’t seem to endear onto any of their users – but paper and pen does.

The Paper Drawbacks

As many people will tell you – keeping notebooks do have drawbacks. Firstly you can never find the right page or note you are looking for straight away. I don’t know how many times I have been flicking through a notebook trying to find where I jotted something down.

Secondly, notebooks never last. You drop them, spill coffee on them, lose them (I do this pretty regularly) and they just seen to pile up as you keep filling them taking up precious room.

WhiteLines LINK

Cost    stars_4

For my review of the WhiteLines Link products I purchase a soft wire A5 ruled notebook. This cost me a total of $13.60AUD which, let’s face it won’t break the bank that’s for sure. So cost wise the WhiteLines notebook is great value.

Quality    stars_2andhalf

The quality of the WhiteLines notebook is not exceptional but it is passable.  The notebook is presentable but definitely doesn’t give the impression of being refined.  I like the orange and off white colour scheme and the easy to follow instructions on how to use the notebook are well thought out.

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The actual pages are of not bad quality.  While not as thick as those in the Moleskine they are still thicker than usual and feel smooth to write on.  Writing in the notebook was pleasant enough.  I had no issues using a fine tip gel ballpoint pen.  There was no bleeding through the notebook onto the next page and no smudging on the page.

I’m not thrilled with the spiral binding as I find that with a bit of use they start to unravel and ruin the bottom  and top of the notebooks pages.  I’m also a bit wary of how durable the notebook will be as it doesn’t give you the impression of being robust.  If you are going to purchase this notebook I recommend that you treat it with a bit of care.

Usability    stars_3

Lets be Frank – we all know that the usability of these notebooks hinge on how well they integrate into the digital world.  Both utilise Evernote as their digital note taking workhorse.  If you have read my post on digital notebooks (you can find it here once I upload it :-)) you’ll know that I’m not the biggest fan of Evernote – but for this review I will make an exception.

The premise of the WhiteLine Link notebook is pretty basic.  You write in the notebook and then use your phone (android or iPhone) to take a picture of the page.  This can then be uploaded to the following places depending of what options you choose in the note: Email, Dropbox or Evernote.  For the WhileLine Link to work you do have to download and use their proprietary app to take the images – but its free and pretty easy to use.

When you first open the app you see what I’ve come to call the notes page – see the first of the two screenshots below.  Once you have photographed a few notes these will show up here.  From here you can review old notes, shoot new notes and access the apps menu (upper lefthand corner).  If you use the orange camera button at the bottom of the notes page your able to record more notes (see second screenshot below).

Recording notes is an easy process – all you need to do is position the camera correctly.  Once the app detects that the page is positioned, it will automatically photograph and record the note.  The key to the apps positioning system is the four distinct squares found in each corner of the pages in the notebook.

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There are two other things to notice on the note capture screen.  The first is the flashlight on the bottom right  – as you have probably guessed this turns on the off your cameras flash.  The second is the label selector menu found in the bottom middle (set at “Blog ideas” in my screenshot above).  This is great for organising your notes – the only downside is that this dosen’t translate straight into you Evernote notebooks unfortunately.

Once the note is recorded its then processed and presented as a preview – similar to the first screenshot below.  From here you can determine if you want to re-take the note, where you want to send it (email, dropbox, Evernote – if you haven’t selected it already) or if you are happy to continue and save the note.  If you continue and save the note you’ll see it in your notes page and thats it in regards to making notes.

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Don’t think a note is set in stone once its completed though.  You can edit the notes label, delete it, send it to various locations again and look at the notes properties if you want.

I don’t mind the WhiteLines app itself but its a bit of a pain that you have to use it as an interim step to get your noted into Evernote.  Also the integration with Evernote is not fantastic so I’m not too keen on that.

Lastly the way that the WhiteLines tries to remove the notebooks lines in the image means that, in less than ideal lighting, the note ends up with bits of shading around the edges of the note.  I found that this makes it harder to search notes in Evernote and also it just looks crap.

The Best Things about Paper

Does the WhiteLines notebook embody the best things about paper? Well yes it does – but is it the best notebook and is it a nice notebook to carry around.  That I’m not too sure about.

The Paper Drawbacks

Now does the WhiteLines notebook make up for a normal notebooks drawbacks? Well again it does – but again not very well.  The labelling system works really well in the native WhiteLines app but because it doesn’t integrate with Evernote that well the usability here is lost.

Also, due to the shading which occurs when the app tries to remove the lines from the note, the Evernote search function is not as effective as it could be.  These function of the app definitely needs work.

Moleskine Evernote

Cost    stars_2andhalf

For my review of the Moleskine Evernote offering I chose a hardcover A5 dot grid notebook. This notebook cost me $36.35AUD.  To me this notebook sites on the opposite side of the cost scale from the WhiteLines Link. It’s pricey. I know I’m not comparing apples with apples here as the Moleskine is a hardcover and the WhiteLines isn’t – but it’s the cheapest I could find to suit my purpose.

Quality    stars_4andhalf

The quality of the Moleskine notebook is exceptionable.  It feels nice and solid in the hand and is well presented.  The way its is bound makes it feel more like a journal than a notebook.  There is a green elastic strap that is seamlessly integrated into the rear of the back cover and holds the notebook together well.  It ensures that the notebook works as an integrated unit.

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The pages are crisp and and nice and thick.  They hold ink well with no bleeding and the feel of the pen across the page is nice and smooth.  I was using the same gel fine tip ballpoint pen I used with the WhiteLines notebook.

The Moleskine is also equipped with a pouch located within the back cover of the notebook.  This houses your smart stickers (more on those later) as well as your premium Evernote code (you get 3 months premium Evernote membership free).  As with everything else with this note book and pouch is nicely engineered into the notebook and is a nice little hidey hole to put other bits of paper such as receipts for example you find yourself wanting to keep with the notebook.

The Moleskine gives the impression that it will survive a fair amount of punishment. It also  gives you the belief that it will still look just like it did the day you bought it a few years down the track.  There are not many products that give you that impression these days.

If you are going to purchase a Moleskine do yourself a favour and also purchase a Moleskine pen.  The way it is engineered to attach to the notebook is beautiful.  It makes the whole package a nice compact unit which is easy to travel with in hand or in bag.

Usability    stars_4

Like the WhiteLines notebook the Moleskine uses Evernote as its default digital note taking software.  Unlike the WhiteLines Link the Moleskine doesn’t utilise a proprietary app as its interface to Evernote.  Instead it uses the Evernote app itself.  The Moleskine can use both a tablet or a phone to record notes.  For this review I am going to use the same iPhone I used for the WhiteLines notebook evaluation.

Recording notes with the Moleskine is a straightforward affair.  You open the Evernote app on your phone and select the “Photos” button  – its located second from the left on the top ribbon menu.  You can see this in the first screenshot below.  Once this has been selected you are taken to the note capture window – this looks like the second screenshot below.

From here you can capture your notes.  As with the Whitelines app you can select whether you turn the flash on.  In addition to this you can also use previously taken photos, change which camera you are using and select if you want the app to automatically take the photo when framed correctly or if you want to manually take the image.

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Once you have recorded a note the app will save it into the current Evernote Notebook you are working in.  That is unless you use the very cool smart stickers.  These stickers are found in the Moleskine notebooks pouch located within the back cover of the notebook.  The stickers allow you to organise notes however you would like.

In the note I recorded below (first screenshot) I used two smart stickers (one you can’t see as it is off to the bottom left) that I had previously setup.  The app had no issues picking up the lightning bolt smart sticker and filing the note but the second smart sticker wasn’t recognised.  I had another go at this placing the second smart sticker approximately 2cm further into the page.  This time the app didn’t have any issues picking up both smart stickers and filing the note appropriately.

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As with most things in life setting up a smart sticker is not hard once you know the process.  First you select “Settings” and then “Camera”.  You should see something like the second screenshot above.  Next you select “Moleskine Notebook”.

From here you see a list of all the smart stickers available to you (see first screenshot below).  Select whichever sticker you wish to configure and then you can select which notebook you want to associate with the sticker as well as a tag (see second screenshot below).  The tag you select can either be created or selected from a pre-devised list.

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I found using the Evernote app with the Moleskine notebook easy and intuitive.  The smart sticker system is fantastic.  I only have one complaint. That is I wish there were more actions available for the smart stickers.  I would love to automatically add sections of notes to action lists or reminders.  Alternatively it would be great to number notes so there is an order and you can insert a new note somewhere into the middle of existing notes.

The Best Things about Paper

Okay, does the Moleskine Evernote notebook represent the best things about paper? Well yes it does.  I love writing in this notebook – as you probably can already tell – and its just so easy to cart around with you.  Its journal like appearance just makes me tingle inside.

The Paper Drawbacks

The Moleskine Evernote notebook’s smart sticker systems is great – as long as you don’t put the stickers too close to the edge of the page.  I had no issues organising my notes with them and the opportunity to put a note into two or more digital Evernote notebooks is great.

There was no problem searching the notes I created with Evernote and as I have atrocious writing this is pretty amazing.  However, I believe this has more to do with the Evernote app functionality than the notebook.

So yep – the Moleskine definitely makes up for the normal mans notebook.

Final Word

If you have read this review fully then you probably can already tell that after two weeks of using both notebooks I have fallen in love with the Moleskine.  You can live with the WhiteLines notebook and it does an okay job of integrating with Evernote but the Moleskine just does it some much better.

My recommendation is if you have the money to spend –  pickup the Moleskine.

Final scores are:

WhiteLines Link notebook      stars_3

Moleskine Evernote notebook stars_3andhalf

 

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