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Although I’m going on 10 years as a PDA/Smartphone user (Palm IIIe – Handspring Visor Neo – Treo 180g – Zire 72 – Treo 680 – Blackberry 8310), I love notebooks. A good pen on nice paper makes me much happier than the feel of a stylus on a plastic screen or the clickety-clack of a thumb-board. My personal notebook inventory consists mainly of three kinds of notebooks:

  • A pocket-sized Moleskine : I love the reporter’s notebook or standard lined notebook, though lately I’ve been using the tiny extra-small Volants, whose soft vinyl cover stands up to my back pocket better.
  • Tops Docket Gold letter-sized pads : These are my favorite pads for writing; they are the only letter-sized top-bound legal pads I’ve been able to find with both narrow rules (most legal pads are wide-ruled) and an extra-stiff cardboard backing, perfect for lap-top writing.
  • Hardbound Foray notebooks: Foray is an Office Depot house brand; they make several sizes and colors of hardbound notebooks. The front dozen or so pages are project planning templates, which makes them useful for, well, for planning projects. I keep one for each major project I’m involved with. (I couldn’t find a link to the particular one I use; they’re sold in the executive journals section of the store.)

But I’m always trying out new notebooks — at the end of the day, they do the same thing but some are just more of a pleasure than others. And I do a lot of writing and note-taking, so anything that makes that feel less like work and more like play is A-OK by me.

Here are a few of the notebooks (and their note-y cousins) I’ve tried, owned, or just plain lusted after.

  1. Moleskine : The classic. I’ve said more than enough about Moleskines already! (But for someone else’s perspective, check out the fan blog Moleskinerie .)
  2. Picadilly: A lower-priced knock-off of Moleskine’s notebooks that many claim are just as good as Moleskines. All the reasons you’d buy a Moleskine apply here, with some leeway for differences in paper or binding.
  3. Rhodia : Rhodia notebooks come in several styles (including a hard-cover Moleskine-like journal) but the classic is the soft-covered, stiff-backed pad bound with staples at the top. Known for their orange covers (though they also come in black) and loved for their high-quality paper, Rhodia notebooks are available in a variety of sizes andfor as low as a couple dollars each. (For a taste of why Rhodia notebooks have such a cult following, check out the blog Rhodia Drive .)
  4. Field Notes: Simple notebooks with a retro flair and a whiff of adventure about them, Field Notes are soft-covered, saddle-stitched notebooks with a straightforward, no-nonsense attitude. Field Notes are $10 for a pack of three pocket-size notebooks, and each shipment includes a fistful of goodies including matching pencils and click-pens.
  5. The cheapo spiral: The basic, no-nonsense cheapo notebook with spiral binding across the top or down the side. I hate them with a passion, but other people love them — they’re cheap, simple, unpretentious, and most importantly they get the job done. Plus, they’re available practically everywhere — supermarkets, drugstores, convenience stores, and of course office supply outlets.
  6. Levenger Pocket Briefcase: Not a notebook per se but an index card holder, Levenger’s pocket briefcases are made of quality leather which gives them a luxurious, almost decadent air. Most have a space for holding one “ready-to-use_ index card and a pocket to store used cards and spares. They’re not cheap, at about $30 and up, but everyone that owns one swears by it.
  7. The Hipster PDA: At the other end of thecontinuum from Levenger’s luxury is the bare-bones, stripped-down hipster PDA. A stack of index cards bound with a binder clip and *presto!* — you got yourself a handy, pocket-sized notebook. GTD’ers love it because they can record thoughs one per card and toss them in their inbox for later processing when they get into the office or home.
  8. Rite-in-the-Rain Tactical Notebook: Designed for military use, these perfect-bound, vinyl-covered notebooks literally go anywhere — the light green pages are waterproof! Add a Fisher Space Pen or other waterproof, write-anywhere pen and you’re good to go, and go, and go. I still have one from years ago (I managed a military supply store on the US Army base many, many years ago) and can vouch for the pages’ waterproofing. Though I don’t camp much, when I do, I take my Rite-in-the-Rain notebook.
  9. Scientific Notebook Company lab notebooks: Lab notebooks are more than just a place to take ntoes, they are a permanent record of scientific progress. SNC’s notebooks are designed to be used in support of patent claims, so each page includes headings for project info that are useful for anyone’s projects. (The footers include lines for signatures and witnesses, which are less useful, but take up little space.) The standard notebooks are hard-bound and letter-sized and run $12-20 US; vinyl-bound soft-cover student notebooks can be had for under $4 a pop.
  10. Livescribe Pulse SmartPen system: Not technically a notebook — and really, overkill of the worst kind, but: oh my! When used with the system’s specially-prepared paper, the SmartPen records every stroke of the pen plus audio of the class, lecture, meeting, or otehr event you’re taking notes on! You can later download your notes to the computer, effectively solving the “paper can’t be backed up” problem. For only a couple hundred bucks.

What are your favorite notebooks? Let us know in the comments!

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