Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Exaclair product review, Part 1: Rhodia Webnotebook , the US version

A little background, to start with: the buzz over the much anticipated Rhodia Webnotebook seems to have come in two waves. The first wave anticipated the initial release of the Webnotebook, which looked to be a promising alternative to the ubiquitous and highly successful Moleskine. Moleskine users, while favoring the hard covers, elastic band, and inner pocket, bemoaned the inconsistency of the paper, which sometimes feathered or bled when used with fountain pen ink. Many fountain pen users are already fans of the smooth, ink-friendly paper found in Rhodia pads, so the idea of Rhodia paper bound in a moleskine-like format would offer the best of both worlds.

The initial release of the Webnotebook, unfortunately, failed to meet expectations: users at Fountain Pen Network reported that the paper was quite unlike that found in the Rhodia pads and was disappointingly unsuitable for many fountain pens and inks. Exaclair , the US distributor of Rhodia, Quo Vadis, Exacompta and Clairefontaine (among others) listened to the response and moved quickly, and several months later, released an improved version of the Webnotebook, this time with the Rhodia paper everyone knew and loved. Sadly, this version was only released in the States, as I found out when I purchased a Webnotebook in my home province of Alberta - it was one of those with the inferior paper.

Rhodia Webnotebook
left: black Webnotebook bought in Canada. 80g paper, 192 lined pages, 14.5 x 21 cm
right: orange Webnotebook, US version from Exaclair. 90 g paper, 192 lined pages, 5"x 8"
(this picture and all the rest are clickable to larger sizes)

Stephanie of Rhodia Drive took pity on me, especially since she knew this was my second experience with a Canadian version of a product that did not perform as well as the US versions. She contacted Karen Doherty of Exaclair, who generously sent me sample copies of the Webnotebook, the Quo Vadis Habana, and the Exacompta Basics sketchbook in a Madiera cover.

My first reaction - "Only in America? Pity!" (you have to be a certain age and nationality to get that reference)
OK - that was actually my second (or third) reaction: my first reaction was "Put those down! Those are for me!" as my husband and son pounced on them: "These look great! can I have one? Can I have THIS one?"

The Webnotebook is certainly a good looking notebook, as is the Habana and Madeira sketchbook accompanying it. The version I received is just a little wider than a large Moleskine. It might be my imagination, but it also seems a tad thicker than my Canadian purchased version, which could either be because it contains 90 rather than 80 g. paper - or, it could just be because black is slimming :)
Rhodia Webnotebook
bottom to top: Canadian-purchased Webnotebook, US version Webnotebook, large Moleskine

The build is very like the moleskine, with a softer vinyl cover that is slightly imprinted by the elastic band, but that's not something that would bother me. There is an accordion pocket in the back (I admit I rarely use the pocket in this size journal, but it is still nice to have). Others have commented that they don't care for the Rhodia logo stamped on the front or printed on the page corners, but again, this isn't something that would really bother me.

Rhodia Webnotebook

There's two things I really want my ideal notebook to do: Lie flat when open, and take fountain pen ink without bleeding (ink spreading through to the other side) or feathering (spidery ink veins spreading from the line).

I'm happy to say that the US version of the Rhodia webnotebook does both, for the most part. I really hate writing into the "hump" in the middle of a book - that should not be a problem here. The signatures seem sewn in a little tighter than the Moleskine, so the pages don't lie quite as flat - but they will remain open if you leave the book open. I think they will likely loosen up with use and over time.

Rhodia Webnotebook

The paper is cream colored and, happily, is as great to write on as the Rhodia pad. I believe it's a touch heavier in weight - 90 g as opposed to the 80 g in the pads, but it has the same smooth feel. Best of all, it takes fountain pen ink happily, allowing a nice crisp line without bleeding or feathering. Now, I admit that I'm using somewhat different inks, because I bought the Canadian version several months ago, but most of the pens used in this test are the same, with similar inks. Click through to get the Flickr "all sizes" option if you like.

Rhodia Webnotebook
left: Canadian version. right: US version. Lines are much crisper.

Rhodia Webnotebook
left: Canadian version - note large amount of bleeding and showthrough. This makes me crazy, because I am much too cheap to only write on one side of the page.
right: US version - no bleedthrough. Yay!

My only disappointment is that this version is not available in Canada, to the best of my knowledge. The US version appears to have been produced in response to its users and the initial reviews, but there doesn't appear to be a similar response from Canadian distributors. There may well be some good reason having to do with trade and imports that I can't begin to understand, but the bottom line is that if I were in a Canadian stationery store with both the Webnotebook and Moleskine on nearby shelves, I would still pick up the Moleskine, because even with the inconsistent paper, it's still better than the Canadian version of the Rhodia Webnotebook.

If you're in the States, or can get easy access to the improved, 90 g paper version of the Webnotebook, it's certainly worth picking up. I would also love to see a plain or gridded version of this, in addition to the lined one. If in Canada, wait till you're travelling south of the 49th before buying this, or until the happy day that Canadian distributors catch on, and start stocking this much better version. Well - if you use a fountain pen, that is. If you don't have that to worry about, go ahead and get either version - it's a great notebook: sturdy, handsome, in utilitarian black or outspoken orange.

It's baffling to me that the same company is producing two versions of a notebook with the same name. If I did not know, from reading various forums and blogs, that a better version of the notebook existed, I might have sworn off this brand entirely. Unfortunately, this isn't the only Exaclair product like this - the Quo Vadis Habana suffers the same Canadian handicap, and I'll be reviewing that next.

Many thanks again to Stephanie and Karen for giving me the chance to sample the good stuff.


micheleannrussell said...

where's your snow photo? i want to see it.

away now until monday though.

Sophie_vf said...

still in my camera :)

I'll get to it soon. Still trying to figure out my Film Friday shot for today!