This is Part 5 of my Mega Monster Review series on pocket notebooks. You can visit the main Mega Monster Review page for a listing of all the notebooks reviewed in this series. You can also open the massive Master Spreadsheet to see all the aggregated data on these notebooks. Note: This is a work in progress and will take several weeks to complete.
Kokuyo Systemic Refill Notebook A6
I know, I know. I’ve already heard from some of you that A6 shouldn’t be considered a “pocket notebook.” I have pretty average-sized pockets, and an A6 fits in almost all of them. The only ones it won’t fit into are the shirt pockets with a built-in, stitched pen pocket…but Field Notes doesn’t fit in there, either, so I say A6 is fair game. And that’s a good thing, because this unassuming little notebook is quite the gem.
About the Company:
Kokuyo is a Japanese company on a mission “to enrich the world through our products. We are constantly looking for ways to make people more creative through careful observation of their lives and work.” As such, they deal in two main types of products: stationery and office furniture. I can’t attest to any of their furniture, but I’ve used several of their notebooks, and I’ve never been disappointed.
Probably most well known for their Campus line of notebooks, Kokuyo got their start by supplying businesses with accounting ledgers, and moved into all sorts of other stationery and art supplies. Although headquartered in Osaka, Japan, they have operations in many other countries, such as China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and India (where they acquired the company Camlin in 2011).
This notebook is actually intended to be a refill for their Systemic line of notebook covers. They’re kind of reminiscent of the Filofax system, where there are about a million inserts and items that you can put into it to customize your EDC experience. I’ve never used any of their Systemic covers, but there were two things that caught my eye on these refills: the price and the number of pages.
Clocking in at a mere $2.35, this notebook is less than half the price of the industry-leading pocket notebooks ($12.95 for 3 = $4.32 each). Of course, these are regular production books and have no fancy design changes every quarter, so that helps keep manufacturing costs down. But the real kicker is that they cram 96 pages between the covers. That’s twice as many as a standard pocket notebook.
The Systemic refill cover doesn’t sport any real design elements. The front and back covers are just plain black, although the company logo, model number, and UPC code appear on the back. It uses a really simple glue binding with a textured black tape around the spine. I’ve been bending this notebook all over the place to see if it would lay flat (it does) and then go back to sit closed (it sits open a little, but not as much as I expected). So far, the binding seems durable, with no pages separating from the glue and no cracking in the spine itself.
The paper is a very light ivory color. Not dark enough to be considered cream, but definitely not white, either. Unfortunately, this refill notebook only comes in one configuration: black cover + lined ruling. I’m not a big fan of lined paper, but at least the rules reasonably spaced at 6mm and printed in a VERY fine and very light gray line, so they’re fairly easy to ignore if you so desire.
The top and bottom rules are darker and thicker than the rest, and they have these cool little spacers printed below them. They consist of alternating dots and vertical dashes and include a small triangle to indicate the centerpoint of the page. I guess these are intended to help keep consistent indentation, or even help in writing out tabular data. They’re nice to have if you’re looking for help with page structure, but easy to ignore if you don’t need them. It’s a nice touch.
Now I know some of you will get heartburn over me calling an A6 notebook a “pocket notebook.” But I have yet to find a garment that will accept a 3.5″ x 5.5″ notebook but not an A6 (of course, I’m not really the snappiest dresser, either…don’t judge…it was like 4,000 degrees out when that picture was taken). And although this notebook has 96 pages, it’s not really that much thicker than a standard pocket notebook. And really, it’s only like a half-inch wider and a quarter-inch taller, so it’s not really that big a difference.
The only point of contention for me is that the corners are all square. Rounded corners are better because they won’t catch on the fabric. I’m sure if you put the Kokuyo Systemic refill in your pocket every day, the corners would undoubtedly get beat up.
Perhaps you prefer pencils to pens. Pencils perform perfectly on this paper. Probably not a peculiar proclamation, given the propensity for pencils to perform impeccably by putting down a plethora of prose and poetry on practically all pages of pulp. 😛
- Palomino Blackwing: Creamy & Dreamy! The paper is really smooth, and the pencil tip stays relatively sharp while still putting down a dark and surprisingly crisp & consistent line. Erasing had a really stubborn start, but once it kicked in, a good amount of the pencil came away. And if I do say, writing on this paper with the Blackwing produced a lovely swishing sound that I found quite enjoyable.
- Uni Kuru Toga Mechanical Pencil (0.5): Precision writing going on with the Kuru Toga. The line is super fine and super crisp, although a little lighter than I’d like it to be (still plenty dark enough against the light ivory color of the paper, though). Erases nicely.
They pretty much work everywhere.
- Uniball Jetstream (0.7): Such a smooth writing experience. It’s like writing on butter! The line comes out really thin on this paper, and the ink is nice and dark. Despite it being a ballpoint, the Jetstream gave a pleasurable writing experience.
- Fisher Space Pen (0.7): Also smooth, but gives bit of resistance on this paper. The line comes out very dark…actually looks like black on this paper, where it’s usually more of a very dark gray.
Much like ballpoints, gel pens tend to work spiffily on most papers.
- Uniball Signo 207 Ultra Micro (0.38): The ink comes out a little light, but it otherwise performs flawlessly. Very smooth, even with the Ultra Micro 0.38 mm tip on it.
- Pilot G2 (0.5): I don’t even know what to write here. It’s perfect, like it usually is. It puts down a dark and very crisp line. Excellent.
- Zebra Sarasa (0.7): The American version of the Sarasa is a pretty gushy 0.7 mm gel pen. Once in a while it gets pretty sloppy, but not on the Kokuyo paper. It’s actually a really good match. Despite a tiny bit of spread that you can see under a loupe, the line remains relatively crisp.
Liquid Ink Rollerball Results:
The more I use rollerball pens, the less I like them. Had mixed results with these two pens on the Kokuyo paper.
- Pilot Precise V5 RT (0.5): Another winning combination. The V5 glides effortlessly across the paper and puts down a crisp and consistent line. It performs every bit as well as a gel pen. No spread or feathering at all, although it does lighten up a bit and looks dark gray instead of black.
- Uniball Vision Elite (0.8): I’ve come to the conclusion that the Vision Elite is just plain awful. It feathers everywhere. EVERYWHERE. No other pen feathered on the Kokuyo paper…but the Vision Elite did. Performance isn’t horrific, but it’s not great either. There’s a fair amount of spread and feathering, and the ink dries to a flat, ugly gray. The pen is serviceable, but if you’re annoyed by any amount of feathering, you’ll probably want to avoid this pen & paper combo.
Fountain Pen Results:
Other than a not-so-great 10-second dry test, this paper works amazingly with fountain pens. I wasn’t sure how good it would be at 70 gsm, but the paper must be coated/sized because it handles fountain pen inks beautifully, providing clean, crisp lines and excellent shading.
- (EF) Platinum Preppy with Noodlers Midnight Blue ink: Excellent. The EF nib will catch on rougher papers, but it’s smooth as silk on the Kokuyo paper. There’s zero spread or feathering. The ink does seem a little light on this paper compared to other papers I’ve used.
- (F) Lamy Safari with Lamy Petrol ink: Excellent writing experience. No trace of any feathering or spread. Super smooth. It’s an excellent match for this paper. Almost passed the dry test, with just a tiny drop that didn’t dry.
- (M) Platinum Cool with Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuki-Yo ink: I got amazing shading out of this combination. No feathering or spread with a super crisp line. Didn’t do so hot in the 10-second dry test.
- (0.6) Nemosine Singularity with KWZ Standard Turquoise ink: The edges of the letters are so incredibly crisp: No spread or feathering at all. And this is another combo that produced some excellent shading. The dry test was actually pretty close, but still didn’t completely dry.
- (1.1) Conklin Duragraph with Robert Oster Midnight Sapphire ink: Awesome shading! Wicked crisp lines, with absolutely no spread or feathering. Strangely enough, this combination sailed through the dry test (although my wife was asking me a bunch of questions, so I may have been distracted and let a few extra seconds slip by).
|Model||Systemic Refill Notebook|
|# of Pages||96|
|Cover Material||Glossy Cardstock|
|Shirt Pocket||Most; will not fit in pockets that have a stitched pen compartment|
|Paper Weight||70 gsm|
|Rule Spacing||6 mm|
|Rule Color||Light Gray|
|FP: Ghosting||Yes with all pens, back of page still usable|
|FP: 10-Sec Dry?||Not fully; EF Preppy & 1.1 Stub passed; Safari, Cool, & 0.6 stub smeared a little|
|Liquid Ink RB||Very Good; Vision Elite had minor spread|
While this notebook was intended for use with a larger organizer system, it works beautifully as an EDC pocket notebook, too. It’s got a whopping 96 pages of excellent, fountain pen-friendly paper, and it’s way affordable. It only comes in ruled, and it only comes in one color: black. So it’s not going to win any beauty contests. But it’s not hideous, either, and there’s a lot to love about it.
Dry times are an issue, though. If you use fountain pens, and you often need to write something down quickly and Get out of Dodge, you might end up with some smeared ink where you expected to find notes. But if you can afford a few extra seconds to let the ink dry, the smoothness and shading are well worth it.
Other than fairly slow dry times, every writing instrument I used was smooth on this paper. It seems to love just about every pen…even the Vision Elite somewhat behaved. And with fountain pens, I got all crisp edges and lots of gorgeous shading. I will say that at 70 gsm, the paper does allow a fair bit of ghosting with all the pens. But there was no bleed-through at all and the back side of the page was very usable with even the wettest pens.