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Would you bring the Habana to Havana? The Quo Vadis Notebook

September 17th, 2008 · 8 Comments · black book


Hello there.

Recently, Exaclair, Inc. (stationery importers of such fine products as the Rhodia line to the USA) sent me an unexpected package of notebooks for review, and by recently, I mean quite a while ago. Much apologies – as I posted last week, I haven’t been all that local in the past month, but now with my feet firmly planted in New York City, a number of new notebooks reviews should be hitting this site shortly.

Today, we’re going to be reviewing the Quo Vadis company’s Habana line of notebooks, and the first thing I think we need to cover is what exactly “Quo Vadis” means? A trip to Wikipedia tells us that it is Latin for “Where are you going?” which now makes me think this is probably common knowledge, and I’m the only one learning this for the first time.

Quo Vadis is a French company begun in 1954 by Doctor F. G. Beltrami. Apparently, Dr. Beltrami was unsatisfied with the range of agenda notebooks available at the time (what a nut), and set out to make his own. Among other innovations were section-sewn pages that allowed his agendas to lie open flat on a table. The agendas sold well over the following 50 years, and recently, the company has branched out into new areas.

The notebook we’re reviewing today is their Moleskine challenger, the Habana (as far as I can tell, named after the official spelling of Havana, Cuba). Though they come in a couple of attractive colors, we’re focusing on their black edition. The cover is identified as “imitation leather,” and feels pleasantly smooth/rubbery to the touch.

The leather covers a piece of cardboard which is more flexible than that on the Moleskine – you can actually get quite a lot of bend to it without warping it, and I’d normally say it’d be a great back pocket notebook.

However, the issue I have is with its size. While the Moleskine clocks in at a desirable 3.5″ x 5.5″, the Habana is significantly larger: 4″x 6.88″.

I know we’re talking less than two inches overall, but such a light difference is huge. I’ve said time and time again that a pocket-sized notebook should first and foremost lend itself to portability, be it backpack, purse, pocket, or in handheld writing, and this notebook is just a little too big. What kills me too is that some of that size could’ve easily been eliminated in the cover overhang, an unnecessary attribute.

The only identifying mark of the notebook is the small Q in the lower right hand corner. The back cover says Quo Vadis at the bottom.

Something that the Habana does extremely well, however, is the first page. Check it out: it actually lies flat.

To those who are not amazed by this, go grab your Moleskine (you know you own one) and check out the first page there – yep, it’s completely wasted by the way it’s attached to the binding. I’ve always hated this aspect of Moleskines, but assumed it was a necessary evil. Not so, however, as proven by the Habana.

With this notebook, you get 96 sheets of acid-free, pH-neutral, bio-whitened, PEFC-certified, chlorine-free Clairefontaine paper. Yeah, that’s a mouthful, but it’s all in the handy pamphlet that comes with the notebook.

I’m not quite sure I fully understood everything in the pamphlet, which seems to basically be promoting the idea of having your paper forests certified by the PEFC. So if you want your notebooks certified by the PEFC, well, Quo Vadis is the way to go. And as the back says: “This notebook is made with Clairefontaine paper, the best paper in the world for writing.”

I guess this is where I’m a bit confused, because the paper quality is definitely not that impressive. First off, it’s very much on the thin side. I’m not a fountain pen kind of person myself – I test all our notebooks with whatever Bic ballpoints I have lying around. Though the pages aren’t thin enough to bleed basic ink through, you definitely get the line scratches pushed through to the other side of the page, which I find to be annoying.

I imagine that anything heavier in the ink department would seep through.

Also, I’m not a fan of the color. Nearly all of the notebooks we’ve reviewed go for a slightly warm, creamy, pleasing-to-the-eye off-white. The Habana paper, on the other hand, leans toward a bland, harsh gray. In other words, this feels a lot more like an office product than something you’d associate with logging your vacation adventures in.

But on a more positive note: usually with the notebooks we’ve reviewed, I end up complaining about how wide the page lines are. Definitely not the case with the Habana, where you get the thinnest lines I’ve yet found in a notebook – about a quarter inch in height. Heck, this might be too thin for me, and I love thin lines! Also admirable is the way the notebook lies totally flat when opened to just about every page, from the front to back.

In the back is the pocket, which lacks a closure flap which might be helpful. But as I’ve pointed out time and time again, though I think it’s incredibly cool in theory, I’ve never actually put anything into my notebook back pockets.

The notebook features a trusty vertical elastic band to hold it closed. The elastic is definitely on the tight side, especially compared to the recent Moleskines.

All in all, the Habana strikes me more as a business product than one for taking on your travels or sketching in, which makes sense. After all, Quo Vadis got their start in simple, matter-of-fact agendas for the office. I think there is promise in the notebook – I like the cover texture and flexibility, and the excellent way in which the notebook can be opened flat to any page including the first. I think it just needs a bit of shrinking, especially the cover borders, and an upgrade in paper. I’m pretty sure you have the ability to “bio-whiten” this to a range of colors, and something a bit warmer and inviting would make a world of difference. The goal should be to make you want to take the Habana to Havana, not the conference room.

The Habana can be found in red, orange, and black, and purchased at The Daily Planner and Swisher Pens for $15. A larger size of 6.25″x9.25″ is also available for $20. Local US retailers here. UK buyers and others here (¬£9.95 Including¬† VAT at 17.5%).

Coming next, our first Japanese notebook review!

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