I absolutely love the idea of the Atoma ring bound system. You can take pages out, put new ones in and have multiple different types of paper (or rulings) exactly where you want them. So much more flexibility than a bound book. The system has most of the benefits of a traditional ring bound system but you can also fold it back on itself to reduce the desk footprint and as with the rings you never have to have a half empty book or pages with notes that you no longer need.
Today I am taking a look at a couple of Atoma A5+ (that is A5 but a bit wider) notebooks that I have been using for the last six months, the cheapest one in the range and the most expensive version with a leather cover. Cult Pens has supported this blog with a generous discount on the cheaper version and some refills, I got the leather one free with a Staedtler mechanical pencil that I reviewed before also from Cult Pens.
The Atoma Classic Colours refillable notebook is up first and is priced keenly at £5.49 with refills clocking in at £2.49. In its standard guise you can choose between lined & 5x5mm squared paper. I chose squared as the lines are spaced too far apart for my preference & writing style. When you go for refills however there are plenty of other options including plain, 10x10 grid, 4x4 grid and Seyes (or French Ruled). The book is 15mm wider than standard A5 which compensates for the room lost on the page due to the ring binding system.
The card cover has a mottled finish similar to the Clairefontaine Age Bage line of notebooks. I chose the black and it looks very reserved and professional but next time I would get the orange as it adds a bit of colour to an otherwise simple proposition. It is made of a relatively thick card stock that has held up well to being carted around in my bag and seems to protect the paper within nicely. I wouldn't expect it to last forever but it isn't going to disintegrate just by being looked at.
The rings are made of black plastic, this is the solution that allows the price to stay low, to get metal ones you have to upgrade to the 'Elegant' notebook line which costs £14.49 but also comes with a better quality paper. The plastic rings are robust and function perfectly well, the only advantage in my opinion to the metal ones is for the better appearance. The book opens and closes smoothly, the rings allowing the pages to lay very flat on the table which is great for writing. Like all ring systems I find the rings on the spine get in my way whilst writing on the left face paper, but the rings are small enough to be able to compensate relatively well. You can also take the page out easily and avoid the problem entirely.
The paper is ok, nice & white but with really intrusive page markings. The 5x5 grid has a very annoying left margin with a red line but the Seyes paper takes the biscuit for ruining the look of ink on paper. Typically this type of ruling is used for practicing hand writing but when the ink is nice and light it works well for general note taking, in this case however I wouldn't recommend it for that. The 4x4 grid doesn't have a margin and the ruling is lighter but colour so this would be my refil of choice. There is no dot-grid until you upgrade to the paper that comes with the more expensive books.
The paper resists feathering quite well but bleeds excessively unless you are using a very fine nib. With the 5x5 grid I have found the bleed making it onto the page below with a broad or stub nib. Again the 4x4 grid seemed like the pick of the bunch, not sure why it would be different paper but it does seem to work better with my fountain pens. The paper gives quite a bit of feedback compared to my normal reference paper, Rhodia 80gsm, which isn't everyone's cup of tea. It does however dry very quickly and this makes it very suitable for a notebook, I often find myself smudging on Rhodia books but have yet to do so on this even with a 1.1 stub.
The main point to raise is that for a similar price to the refills you can get a Clairefontaine Europa spiral bound notebook with the same weight paper but better overall performance. If scribbling notes is your task then the Rhodia No. 16 Dot Pad is available for a mere £2.10 and so really you need to be making the most of the Atoma system to make it worth it. The paper is acceptable but not great but if you frequently need to move pages around or use different styles of pages then this is a great idea at a perfectly acceptable price.
At the other end of the Atoma price range is the leather cover version. This comes with two pieces of tan leather with white edge stitching. It is bound with aluminium rings and inside there is a better quality cream paper.
For this version there is a dot grid available which is my preferred ruling & the dots really blend nicely into the background. There is no annoying margin either, this is a completely different proposition but it should be at nearly twice the price. The paper resists feathering and bleed, it is a hair smoother and whilst there is some show through it certainly isn't bleed. It does however maintain the excellent drying properties.
The cover leather is really thick and the edges are finished neatly, the rest however leaves a bit to be desired for a luxury product. For £50 I would expect an excellent finish and with the cover being co-branded with 'Ruitertassen', who manufacture impeccable teacher satchels, I was expecting them to nail it. It may be that I have a poor version, but the stitching around the covers is an uneven distance from the edge and in some places it is double stitched on one panel but not the other. The inside grain of the leather is rough and feels unfinished. This is in complete contrast with the outside surfaces which are beautifully smooth and evenly coloured.
The stiffness of the leather means that it protects the pages well and you can use the book with the cover doubled over without the need for a surface to rest it on. It does however take a bit of attention to close, the cover tends to get stuck when closing (probably due to the thickness) and I have bent the edges of the paper numerous times near the rings.
The rings are made of metal that feels like Aluminium and they look great, a definite visual improvement over the plastic ones, which I would expect at this price point. I cannot see them breaking anytime soon.
Maybe I have been overly harsh on this product so far, it is certainly an ok product and feels a lot nicer than the cheaper version in the range. The paper is pretty good, not superb for fountain pens but more than acceptable, if only it came in white rather than cream. I think my biggest disappointment is the finish quality, it could be a superb product and if they had focused on this then I would definitely be recommending it.
So the question has to come back to what you are looking for. If you want a normal notebook for writing in with a fountain pen then there are better options for less money but if the utility of a disc notebook is high on your priority list then take a look. The Atoma 'Elegant' version has the card cover of the Classic, the Aluminium rings of the Leather version but most importantly the paper. It's more pricey at around £15 but is worth the extra if you want the ring utility.
Where to Buy:
I got these from Cult Pens who happen to give great service, free delivery over £10 and have a great selection of products. They also are the only place I know of to buy these products in the U.K.
- Atoma Classic Card Cover Notebooks
- Atoma Elegant Notebook
- Atoma Pure Natural Leather Notebook
- Atoma Paper Refills