When I was first approached about reviewing this folio and notebook set up, I initially wanted to say no. This might be a little bit meta, but I worried about being able to be objective when given a free item to review. It just hasn't happened yet in the short lifespan of this blog. I don't reach out to companies and ask for review units; if something interests me, I'll buy it and review it. I take part in many of the subscription services out there and get things that way. I have talked privately to makers and creators about their products, but up to this point, I'd never been offered one from those people and I felt I was able to be objective because I'd spent my money on their product and I didn't really know them personally. I state in my About section that I will disclose any product given to me at the beginning of the review, so consider this that disclosure.
I don't worry about pissing off a maker. Sorry, but making them happy isn't what this blog is about. What I worried about was losing credibility with the readers, the handful of you that have expressed to me via emails, comments, etc, that you check my site when interested in a purchase and value my opinions. A lot of what I talk about, especially lately, is if the product is WORTH the money, and I often question pricing choices from these companies. I don't want to lose that angle. That angle is important to me, because many of us in this country are budgeting these days to make sure we get by and stay out of debt. So I worried what getting a free item would do to that.
So here's my pledge: no matter how much I like the person behind the company that has given me a product, I plan to review it honestly and truthfully. I plan on being fair. And any harsh criticisms will never be personal...I can like a person and hate their product (or vice versa)...hell, I love my family although I hate their politics most the time!
Mike Linn from Original Content Books actually made this pretty easy on me. There is a lot to like about this Modern Notebook Folio. It's not without its flaws, but as I've asked Mr. Linn some follow-up questions about them, he's assured me that he is iterating and the product will continue to get better and possibly expand.
This is the type of thing I would have killed for back when I was selling beer for a living. I used to carry around the Moleskine iPad Folio on a daily basis. It was that fake pleather thing that had a spot for their large Volant top bound soft cover book. The problem was that the iPad was on the wrong side. I needed to write on the right and have the iPad on the left, but it was the other way around. And this one didn't allow for just turning everything upside down and basically switching sides, because the way it held the iPad didn't allow for that. I think they've since changed the design, but I'll say this: it was heavy, unwieldy, and ultimately led to some RSI issues that went away once I ditched it for a naked iPad and a Field Notes in my back pocket.
The OCB Folio gives me what I want: paper on the right, tablet on the left. Included in the tablet holder is a 30 page A5 sketch pad. This is pretty decent paper, and it's just glue bound on one side for easy tearing off. It's French Paper Co 70# Sweet Tooth Bright White. It holds up to most writing tools pretty well. I was even surprised it took the wet AF Jinhao like a champ.
The A5 notebook is a behemoth. It's the same 70# paper as the sketchpad, 148 pages of it. It is a stitched binding. It doesn't seem very secure at all. It's all folded into one big signature, as opposed to a bunch of thinner ones stitched up then put together, a la the Confidant or Moo Notebook. At 148 pages and bound this way, it's a little too thick and won't quite lay how I'd like it. The spine is going to need some serious breaking in to lay flat. The ruling on the paper is very light, and I'm happy there. There are 2 ruling options: graph or dot grid / lined. I wish there were a lined only option, but for me, I went with dot grid / lined so I could at least get half of what I prefer. I'm slowly starting to prefer dot grid over graph as well, so it was a plus. One thing that bugs me is that the lines don't go all the way to the edge of the page. It always reminds me of the super cheap, printed-on-one-side-only legal pads you get when you buy a cheap leather folio. Starting at page 99, the pages are perforated. That's the back third of the book. It's a cool idea, but in my unit the pages were a little loose from opening and closing the book a few times. Maybe if it were bound differently that wouldn't happen.
AND THE RIBBON IS LONG. And useful. Thank you.
Now, onto the folio itself. This wasn't designed as a system that sticks you with using only their books. Any A5-ish sized book will do. And Original Content Books knows you may already have a book preference; they list a whole host of books that will work with the Modern Notebook Folio, even with purchase links. I was surprised when I saw that. It's one thing to say "this fits any A5 journal" but it's another to say "these are some other books you might love that fit inside our product, even though we sell notebooks, and here are the links to buy them elsewhere." Kudos to Mr. Linn. It may not be the best "business" decision, but it is a customer-focused decision that I applaud. There is a large strap sewn in to hold the back cover of your notebook on the right-hand side. It can be flipped to make it good for lefties. Also, it is open on both sides, so you can slide it in any way you want. The only thing you can't do is use a top-bound book. I had a Baron Fig Confidant and Vanguard, a Write Notepads Paper Journal and Traditional Journal, and a Field Notes Pitch Black Note Book in there. All fit, the Field Notes and BF Vanguard slid around a bit. They are a bit shorter than A5, so there was wiggle room. Not the fault of the Folio, of course. The Confidant didn't slide around because of the thicker cover, even though it is shorter than A5.
On the inside spine, there is a pencil / pen loop. One side is thin, for pencils or thin pens, and the other is thick, for fountain pens, thicker pens, or jumbo pencils. Back when my daily carry was a Zebra G-301 gel pen, I wouldn't have liked the fact that my pen spot was so fat. But I understand why it was done. Some people may not like the thin slot, if they want to carry 2 fountain pens, or a fountain pen and a thick mechanical pencil like the Kuru Toga. I don't know what the solution is here, but it was probably best to include one of each. If you're a freak about not wanting pens to touch, you may have an issue: the two writing utensils will touch each other and they will touch the tablet or sketchbook you decide on.
Speaking of the tablet side: it is held in place by 4 corner clips that are attached to elastic that is secured underneath the inner cover material. Again, I don't know what the solution is here, but I'm not a big fan of the clips. They hold the tablet securely, but I certainly don't trust elastic to last that long, especially not as long as this well-built folio seems like it will last. Also, the clips like to catch the corner of the opposite notebook when closing it up. You have to make a concerted effort for that NOT to happen, actually. As far as iPads go, the iPad mini is the only thing that will fit. The 9.7 inch iPad Pro or the "new iPad" 9.7 inch (I hate Apple's naming conventions sometimes) will fit in the clips at max stretch, but the tablet is just too big for the folio itself. Don't do it, don't try it. Also, the iPad mini is probably on it's way out, at least that's what a lot of the Mac nerds whose podcasts I listen to say. So my recommendation is to use this side for its other intended purpose, the sketch pad. The only bad thing I'll say about the sketchpad is that it's hard to tear off the top page when it's in the clips. Other than that, sketchpad over tablet is my preferred method. However, if you DO have an iPad mini and love it (or other tablet...why?) this folio is perfect if you've been wanting to join your analog and digital carry. One caveat: I recommend putting the notebook in "backwards" if you plan on using your tablet with the notebook at the same time. Slide the front cover in from the open side instead of the back cover in from the spine side. That way, when you open the notebook to write something you won't be covering up your tablet. It also alleviates the notebook catching in the clips problem a little bit as well.
The front cover has a neat little area to slide in a sheet of paper for either a to-do list, scratch paper, some important notes, whatever. OCB recommends that you take out one of the sheets from the back of the notebook and use it there as a to-do list. It's a nice idea if you don't mind having your to-do list out in the open for people to see. I'll keep mine hidden...no one needs to know my plans for world domination. You'll all see in due time...muahahaha.
The materials are all vegan-friendly, with my grey crosshatch having fabric on the outside and micro-fiber polyester on the inside. There are 3 folio colors available, Mint Green, Matte Black, and the one I asked for, the Grey Crosshatch. There are 5 notebooks colors available: blue, black, white, orange, and mint green. When you go to the shop to check it out, you'll notice two versions: Thin and Wide. I am reviewing the Wide. Thin was from the first run and didn't fit as many books as the Wide does. Thin fits the OCB Project Notebook as well as many A5 sizes, but doesn't fit bigger books like the Leuchtturm1917 and Rhodia Webnotebook. If you use a thinner book, you can catch a deal: OCB is selling Thins, sans notebook, for $20 instead of the standard $35.
If you get the Wide folio kit, you'll get everything I talked about here today: Project Notebook, Modern Folio, and the Sketchpad. All for $55. Project Notebook refills are $20 and the Sketchpad refills are $7.50. To buy the Modern Folio Wide itself is $35...you'll be bringing your own books, but if you're like me, you have many in waiting. This seems like a decent price to me: The iPad Mini folio from Moleskine retails at $65, and this has more bells & whistles such as better paper, the ability to use different notebooks, the iPad area isn't locked down to ONLY be for a tablet...for $10 less.
Overall, though there are a few things I would change, this is a solid product. I can't say that the bad things aren't fixable (or even that bad, really) and the good parts of it are really good. If you're in the market for something like this, the Original Content Books Modern Folio is worth taking a look at.
Part of my deal with OCB and Mr. Linn was that I get to giveaway one of these to the readers. So, here's the deal: below is a Newsletter form. I don't have a newsletter. But it's the best way to get your name and email address without getting a bunch of emails myself. So enter it in there and I will put your name on the list. I will choose at random, one winner on Saturday, May 20th. The winner will receive the same thing I reviewed, the whole kit. Your Project Notebook will be blue, however...I claimed the orange one! One note: the giveaway is for the Continental United States ONLY. I can't afford the US Postal Service's outrageous fees to send things out of the country (or to Alaska & Hawaii). Sorry, but that's just the way it has to be.
Available at Original Content Books. Modern Folio Kit, $55.