Tag Archives: notebook cover

Start Bay Navigator A5 notebook cover

A little bit of history  Notebook covers, also often referred to as traveller’s notebooks, have become first a fashion, then an enduring feature of the portable stationery scene. Start Bay notebooks started out as one man working from his home in, naturally enough, Start bay, a scenic cove in Devon, and people like the results so much that the range has  grown since then.  There is room for a bit of confusion, as Traveller’s Notebook is misspelt as a sub-brand by another manufacturer, while TN is used to denote a particular size of Start Bay notebook – but not the one we’re reviewing today. Just for clarity, this is the A5-size notebook cover, referred to by the makers as the Navigator.

How it looks  In many ways this is a fairly simply constructed product, which looks similar to other notebook covers like the Paper Republic alternative we reviewed a few months ago. It’s a sheet of folded leather, with four elastic threads inside the spine to hold notebooks in and one closure band to keep the whole thing together. The range of ‘charms’ which Start Bay also sells are optional, but quite tasteful. Those of us who have had one in use for quite a while find the leather attracts a few minor marks, but they add character – and the cover also comes in a rather nice canvas back should any extra protection be required.How it feels  Supple but solid, essentially; this is a pleasant cover to use and a good platform to write on, while giving the impression that it will take quite a bit of use and abuse if you need it to. Exactly what one wants from such a product, really.

How it fills  This is the detail which sets this product head and shoulders above its competitors. Unlike all the other ready-to-buy alternatives which claim to be A5, this one actually is; it’s big enough to accommodate up to four proper A5 notebooks without any of the edges poking out beyond the cover, meaning that  your writing is always protected – and you’re not limited to proprietary paper sizes when the time comes to buy a refill.  Several other manufacturers fail on this criterion.

Crucially, how it handles fountain pens…  Naturally that depends upon what notebooks you choose to put in it! Start Bay sell FP-friendly Clairefontaine notebooks at extremely reasonable prices from their own website, and there’s a range of British alternatives available from Personalised Stationery, to name just one of many sources. You’re unlikely to have much difficulty finding something which both fits this, and which loves your favourite fountain pen.

Bay! What is it good for?  Whatever you want to use it for, really. Having room for notebooks of different types means that it’s quite possible to accommodate a dot-grid to-do list book, a diary, a ruled journal and a plain sketch book, for instance.  As the name Navigator suggests, it also travels well.

VFM  Surprisingly competitive – this is a hand-made, well-thought-through product which you can get for less than £50.  That’s pretty impressive, really.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Start Bay offer a different ‘duo’ arrangement which allows for the fourth noteboook to be a top-hinged A5 pad (like the Rhodia n.16, for instance). They also have some limited-edition finishes, including some splendid-looking paisley patterns and, more recently, a special all-black edition. For those who can wait, a number of readers have pointed-out that there are several specialists who will custom-make a similar notebook cover to order – and we’ll try to review some of those next year.

Our overall recommendation  We think this is a well-constructed, useful product which we would have very little hesitation in recommending.

Where to get hold of one  Start Bay initially sold through a number of retailers, including many of our favourites, but the operation is increasingly focused on direct sales. Given the high standard of customer support we’ve observed, we think that’s probably a good thing – so if you want one, head straight to Start Bay itself.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Peter at Start Bay for lending us an A5 notebook cover for this review. Gillian will be hanging on to to it for a little while longer to assess how it fares during longer-term use.

Paper Republic Grand Voyageur XL

A little bit of history  While the whole “traveller’s notebook” craze was getting very fashionable – and let’s face it, very expensive – some enterprising folks in Austria thought that they could probably do better if they took the concept and started again from scratch. We caught up with their take on the format at the London Stationery Show, and tempted by the rather lovely-looking Grand Voyageur XL version (partly because it looked like it was A5), we immediately volunteered to put a few of them to the test.  Three of us have taken these out and about, pour voyages grands et petits, and here’s how they fared.

How it looks  Like a traveller’s notebook made by professionals for serious writers, which is a good image to start with.  The leather is available in a range of colours all the way from understated to bright and bold, and the availability of contrasting elastic closures (if preferred by the user) can make it look smarter still.  The Paper Republic logo is neatly debossed on the back, and buyers can have their initials on the front for a modest extra charge.  Only the frayed ends of the knotted retaining bands detracts from the professional appearance, but this may be something the makers look into improving in subsequent models.

How it feels  Smooth, supple, flexible and generally luxurious; if you’re a bit of a stationery leather fetishist you’re going to be pretty happy with this material.  Thanks to vegetable-derived tanning processes it even smells good, and it seems to hold up well after vigorous use.

How it fills  With Paper Republic’s Swedish-made refills, available in plain, lined and grid versions.  This is where we encountered the one major fly in the ointment; the paper is OK, but the paper size is not as we had expected.  These are not, in fact, A5 (which is 148mmX210mm), but a proprietary size of around 135mmX200mm, and that greatly limits the usefulness of the design.  If you have pages of notes made in the Grand Voyageur XL which you wish to remove and file with A5 notes, it’s going to be messy. Worse still, if you wish to source your own A5 refills, perhaps because you are actually travelling and can’t arrange a Paper Republic delivery, you can’t; a full A5 refill hangs out of the cover in a thoroughly ungainly fashion.  This is such a serious limitation that it is only really going to work for the sort of writer who is so disciplined that they know exactly how much writing they will do on any given expedition, and that’s a pity; other than this shortfall, we all thought it was a great product.Crucially, how it handles fountain pens…  Quite well, fortunately!  The manufacturer’s claim to use the best paper in the world was a bit of an exaggeration – we have certainly all used better – but that’s not say it’s bad at all.  It was quite pleasant to write on and coped with every nib we threw at it with aplomb.

Pulp! What is it good for?  Well, given the issue with size, it’s hard to think of what these are best used for at present.  But Laura’s adaptation of one into an ink journal looks like a good place to begin.

VFM  These covers retail for €60 direct from Paper Republic, or £54 from Cult Pens in the UK; which is most affordable will depend upon how much of a mess the Pound is in on the day you wish to make a purchase, but it’s always worth checking the exchange rates first. Our view is that the quality justifies that price, but the actual value to you the consumer may depend upon whether the eccentric paper size is a help or a hindrance.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There is also a not-quite-A5 notebook format from Germany, the X17, but while this has even more colour options, it shares the drawback of falling short in a dimension or two.  The only true A5 notebook cover we have come across is from Devon; the Start Bay is only available in shades of brown but is more competitively priced and definitely does the job well.  Meanwhile Paper Republic do also make a passport-sized notebook, and another which doubles as a mobile ‘phone cover, which may have wider appeal.

Our overall recommendation  This is a really well-made, impressive product which we would like to recommend without reservations.  Unfortunately we do have one serious reservation, but we have already shared this with Paper Republic and they’ve told us they’re considering how to proceed.  If they go ahead and produce a true A5 version – perhaps the Plus Grand Voyageur XXL – we’ll be first in the queue to buy a few.

Where to get hold of one If you like the format it makes a lot of sense to support the manufacturer by buying direct. However, if the consequences of foreign policy eccentricities have knocked your own currency out of kilter, Cult Pens also sell them.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Paper Republic  for donating no less then three notebooks in return for honest reviews.