Review: Rocketbook reusable notebook

For a few months, I've been using a Rocketbook reusable notebook. It works a lot like a regular notebook for writing, drawing, etc., except that it's got a special reusable paper. The sheets are coated with a kind of plastic (or maybe they're made of that plastic - IDK, I'm neither a paperologist nor a plasticologist) such that the writing stays on the page until you're ready to reuse it. Then you wipe it with a damp cloth and *poof*, the ink is gone. The sheet is blank again, ready to be reused.

By itself, that's no better than a pad of throwaway paper which reduces all of your deathless prose to transitory ephemera. But the real trick is in the app that comes with the notebook. You point your phone at the screen, and it will automatically line up the shot, take a picture of your page, and assemble all of your pages into a single document. Then it will automatically send that to you wherever you want: email, Google docs, Instagram, Twitter, Dropbox, etc. It'll send the pages as a PDF, or (and this is a snazzy touch) it will do OCR of your handwriting, convert it to text, and send along the transcription as a Word doc, Google doc, etc. Every page, every line, every word, captured for the ages.

What I like: I like the reusable pages, the ease of wiping away the old to make way for the new, the auto-send to wherever I designate, and the OCR/transcription of my handwriting is lovely black magic. My handwriting is pretty crap, but the OCR has done a decent job of making sense of it.

I also like how I can can carry a very light notebook (only 40 pages!) instead of a thicker, heavier notebook, or a really heavy laptop.

What I don't like: The Rocketbook will only work with pens from the Pilot FriXion line. These are erasable, and use a special kind of ink. It's a pity I can't use any of my own pens. Also, I wonder how limiting this will be, since I can't just grab any old writing implement that's close to hand if my pen runs out.

The FriXion ink comes out quite wet and although it dries instantly on regular paper, it takes 10-20 seconds to dry on the special plastic pages. This probably isn't a problem for most use cases, but if you're steadily writing page after page of prose, racking up words by the thousands (as I've done with mine), you run into a situation where you have to wait a few seconds before turning the page and continuing to write. If you turn it while the ink is wet, it will blotch all over the facing page. A kludgy solution is to use a blotting sheet - a sheet of regular paper - to blot the fresh, wet ink at the bottom of the page before turning to the next sheet. However, that tends to gray out your writing, since you're soaking up ink. The pause to let the ink dry interrupts my writing flow. Fussy me, I guess, but there it is.

I was planning to use my Rocketbook for NaNoWriMo 2019, but that pause in turning the pages is, well, giving me pause. I've done the last couple of NaNos longhand, and once I'm in the flow, I'd like to not be interrupted. FYI, each page holds ~275 words of my longhand, so 182 pages of prose will give me the 50,000 words of a NaNoWriMo. I'll have to fill, erase, and reuse the notebook four times, hitting 50K on the fifth time through the book.

What I don't like that isn't the Rocketbook's fault: The FriXion pens feel kinda cheapo. Since I've got a lot of really great pens, and I'm used to writing on pretty good paper, I wonder what kind of issues I'll have with fatigue after using these FriXions on the Rocketbook for hour after hour after hour of longhand. You can swap the FriXion cartridge into a Pilot G2 body, though. Since the G2 is a lovely pen, and far more comfortable to write with than the price might suggest, that's what I'll probably do for a Rocketbook NaNoWriMo. I'll just have to be sure to NOT mistake a regular G2 for the FriXion-enabled one, since a regular ballpoint would ruin the special Rocketbook pages.

Also, the FriXion inks aren't uniformly great. The blue is a nice, solid blue, but the black is more of a darkish gray. Red is blotchy. (I haven't tried the teal, green, purple, or pink because I am a Serious Writer.) Yes, I know complaining about the quality of the ink is picky, picky, picky, but if I'm limited to this kind of pen for use with the Rocketbook, I think it's fair to identify the limitations that will face you should you want to give this thing a try.

Yet another semi-serious concern is that the FriXion pens run out pretty quickly. In my experience over the last few months, each pen will only last for about 4300 words, max. As the folks at Rocketbook noted, this is a pen thing, not a notebook thing:
(Not part of the review, but I rather appreciate the "Sir, this is a Wendy's" quality of that response.)

To do a NaNo will take about a dozen FriXion refills. That's not a huge problem, but it's something I'll have to consider and prepare for, if I commit to doing it this way.

Conclusion: the Rocketbook is pretty cool, and its technology works exactly as advertised. Worth considering if you do a lot of longhand.

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