Keyboard Notepads, Cuffs, and Noise

What began as a couple of lines in a link post quickly morphed into something a little longer, the impetus being a review of the new Cortex Sidekick Notepad which appeared on Writing at Large. Listening to the usual podcasts will provide a fair amount of commentary on the latest Cortex product release, and linked above is an actual review to go with it, which I find to be a very well balanced and honest one.

Straight out of the gate, and as much as I’d like it to be, the Sidekick Notepad isn’t for me. Sure, overall cost is a consideration, however this isn’t unique to the Sidekick, notwithstanding the current noise around price, shipping, alternative (read cheaper) options out there – some which are suggested in the review linked above.

Exchange rates and shipping — all day every day

No, the cost considerations are certainly not unique to the product. Living in Australia, the exchange rate and shipping costs always kill you — on everything. Do I buy from overseas? Absolutely, and I’ve been through a couple of Theme System Journals and a Subtle Notebook from Cortex over the past couple of years, however I hold notebooks and paper to a high standard when considering their value proposition, for the simple reason they run out. Once used they are done. It’s a little different when considering something like a new pen, where yes, the same exchange rate and postage are also likely to be significant, though I’m fairly confident I’ll have the pen for life — or at least as long as I want it.

So how good does it have to be to cross the ok I’ll buy threshold? As always, the answer is — it depends. Occasionally it’s curiosity, other times it’s simply part of a rotation of writing paper which isn’t cheap. That is, a life’s to short to use bad paper approach. That being said, there are plenty of cheap options out there which aren’t bad paper either, making the market somewhat tougher on that score.

Hearing all the noise around the pricing and shipping costs of the Sidekick, merely demonstrates the tolerance level on this is very much what you are used to. As I said, living where I do (for which I’m very thankful mind you…), this sort of thing is the norm, and simply becomes a significant factor in any purchase — stationery or not. A quick check of my options at the time of writing: a Baron Fig Mastermind Desk Pad (list price $USD16.00) delivered in $AUD is $51.00; the Sidekick (list $USD39.00) delivered $AUD90.00. Local options include a Rhodia A3 Desk Pad at $AUD32.00 delivered, or my local Officeworks for a no-name brand at $AUD10.00 picked up.

Quality differences in the above random lots – absolutely, and I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on a factor that isn’t really an issue for the product itself — merely my geography. Suffice to say that if I shouted every time shipping and/or exchange rates tipped over a purchase from yeah that looks good into nah… I can’t pay that — I’d spend all my time shouting.

Again, it’s certainly a consideration, however it’s not about the cost or shipping — because everything is. My apologies for adding to the noise.

Utility, privacy, and cuffs

The real kicker here though isn’t related to any of what appears above, but from experience in giving front-of-keyboard notepads a run in the past. Having tried a similar set up before, I can safely say that for me at least, the logistics of resting my forearms across a notepad while typing just don’t bear out.

Why? Well predominantly, it’s the cuffs. No, the double button barrel variety — not the lockable metal kind. Notwithstanding the downward spiral of business attire these days, surely I can’t be the only one who actually wears business shirts to the office these days? Can I? Perhaps I am. At the very least in the cooler months it’s an Oxford Button Down when working from home, aka something that still has cuffs.

Even now in the office I’ll occasionally reach over my notebook to type a few keystrokes and pick up some ink from the pages on the heel of my hand and/or the cuff of my shirt. That’s with using a ballpoint no less. It’s precisely for that reason my office-based pens comprise the arsenal of ballpoints I own. Things tend to get messy and far less practical throwing fountain pens around. In times gone by when my setup did involve a dedicated desk notepad at the keyboard, I’d find myself constantly picking up an ever-increasing shade of ink smudge on my shirt cuff. I wouldn’t have thought I’d be alone in this, though the fact it never comes up in any commentary, perhaps I am? I sometimes think the typical office warrior such as myself is a thing of a bygone era, and independent creator products perhaps just aren’t intended for me. That said, product descriptions and marketing would seem to suggest they are?

Further, meetings. Apparently I could also take this to meetings. Well, sometimes I could, however a lot times that isn’t the case given space constraints in meeting rooms where table real estate can be at a premium and the standard set up is a small A5 sized notebook on my lap for any notes. Again, depends on the meeting, the attendees, and the topic of discussion.

Next, privacy. Well, granted, this would be the same with any form of hard copy notes taken, however in an office environment, anything I’ve written simply sits on my desk, which may be (and on many occasions is…) a note or to do item I don’t necessarily want seen: ”follow up HR about…” for example. It’s just easier to flip closed a notebook than cover up a slightly sensitive piece of information.

Even in this new way of working — office gossip seems to have remained unchanged…

Signing off

Were I in the market for a a notepad of this nature, well, the Sidekick might just as well be absolutely the one, and for some, it clearly is. I just wonder sometimes whether the products from fantastic independent creators (and I’m all about that — don’t get me wrong), just aren’t meant (or at least tested by) those of us anchored in hot-desking, Office 365, and physical office buildings.

Of course the entirety of each and every point above has an equally (likely more) compelling counterpoint or solution which I’d normally acknowledge in the post, however that misses the point a little, in that this is simply how the pro’s/con’s analysis of whether this is for me ended up. Looks like a fantastic product, however given my previous experiences with this type of setup I know what does and doesn’t work for me.

The Cortex Sidekick Notepad — I wish it every success.