A paper notebook review on a site about gadgets and living the digital lifestyle? Even with the prevalence of smartphones, the Internet, and computers in general, there is a growing “counter-culture” that advocates the benefits of paper or, at the very least, writing things by hand. Rather than take one side to the detriment of the other, the folks at Rocketbook got their heads together to develop solutions, not compromises, that bridge the analog and digital in ways you may never have thought of before. Besides, the Rocketbook Everlast paper isn’t really paper anyway.
Paper is making a comeback. OK, actually it never really left. Despite advancements in computing technology, we are still dependent on it, from official documents that need to be printed out to books that have to be read to notes that have to be written. And then there are the psychological arguments in favor of the act of committing things on paper, using a pen or pencil no less. Presuming those arguments have merit and that you have come to believe in the power of the pen. That still brings up one other problem or two.
As even those who have embraced the paper-filled life will admit that it’s no longer efficient to live off paper alone but that creating a bridge between paper and computer, especially the Internet, is easier said than done. And then there’s no escaping the fact that paper means dead trees. Yes, you can recycle paper but until all the paper of the world is recycled, trees will still be felled in the name of good, quality paper.
That’s why Rocketbook came up with the Everlast two years ago, the startup’s second and equally successful crowdfunding project after the even weirder Rocketbook Wave notebook. Using a special type of paper, a special pen that can be easily purchased almost anywhere, and a simple but talented mobile app, the Rocketbook Everlast promises to be the only paper notebook you’ll ever need in more ways than one.
The Everlast is probably going to be the weirdest notebook you’ve ever seen. With only 16 to 18 sheets of “paper”, it is also probably the thinnest. That, however, is also one of its strengths. Imagine replacing your stacks of notebooks with just a handful of these and making room in your bag for even more stuff to cram in.
The notebook’s cover uses a plastic material more commonly seen in portfolios than notebooks. And here you will meet the notebook’s most immediately noticeable design flaw. That surface is easily scratched, so prepare to have a rather damaged look to your notebook over time. The paper may have been made to last, but the cover, not so much.
This could be remedied with a cover but the Everlast’s two sizes, finding suitable covers feels almost like a treasure hunt. This is especially true for the “Executive” size, 6 inches by 8.8 inches, that seems to miss every standard paper size and covers for those sizes.
Going past the cover, you get to the heart of the Everlast secret sauce: the paper. The pens used for it, specifically Pilot’s line of Frixion pens, are just as critical but those exist outside of Rocketbook’s domain and control anyway. We’ll get to those later because they have their own special considerations.
The paper admittedly doesn’t feel like paper at all. The thickness and the rigidity of the sheets seem closer to board paper and yet the texture of the surface is more akin to plastic. That’s thanks to the special coating that allows Pilot’s special ink to stick to the paper but, at the same time, let it be wiped clean with a moist cloth.
And that, folks, is what sets the Everlast apart from everyone else, even from its older sibling, the Rocketbook Wave. The smooth surface may remind you of a whiteboard but, unlike a whiteboard, your scribbles won’t be easily wiped off. You’ll need a damp/moist cloth to erase any marks and it does wipe off as easily as a whiteboard. Any piece of cloth will do but Rocketbook recommends microfiber ones. Luckily, they do ship with such a piece of cloth, specially branded, exactly for that purpose.
So the whole premise of the Everlast is that you write on it like you would any paper notebook, save the page to the cloud (more on that later), and then wipe it clean when you’re done. Rinse (well wipe) and repeat ad infinitum. It’s the perfect economical and environment-friendly reusable notebook, right? It’s definitely great but I’d hardly call it perfect. Sadly, that special sauce also causes a few problems along the way.
The biggest and probably the deal breaker for some is the smudging. Due to the unconventional nature of the “paper”, it takes a few seconds for the ink to chemically bond to the surface. Rocketbook says it takes 10 to 15 seconds, but that depends on the tip of the pen used. During that drying time, anything could happen to make the ink smudge. You could accidentally swipe your hand over it while writing underneath. You could flip the page only to see it smudge on the opposite page. Or you could be left-handed, in which case it’s impossible not to smudge what you wrote at all. That sadly leaves out not a few users and use cases from taking advantage of the magic of this paper.
There is one important note that Everlast users need to remember. They will have to erase their pages clean regularly, at least once a month. Wait longer and the marks on the page become almost permanent, leaving ghostly trails when you try to wipe them off. The notebook might last nearly forever, but their content isn’t meant to stay on those pages in the same way.
The power of Frixion
The other half of the Everlast’s equation is Pilot’s Frixion pen. The fact that Rocketbook used a kind of pen that can be easily bought in the market is no small matter. Other “smart notebooks” require the use of special pens or special inks, none of which are inexpensive. Sure, the Everlast requires you to use their special paper, but you won’t have to buy “refills” anyway. PRO TIP: Rocketbook ships one 0.7 mm Frixion Pen with every Everlast notebook. They’re tucked in a special pocket in the packaging and it’s almost too easy to miss them.
The Frixion pens are almost magical in themselves. Of course, it’s all science. They are Pilot’s special brand of erasable pens that uses a special kind of ink that turns invisible from heat. The normal pens come with silicone erasers that generate that heat by rubbing on paper, seemingly erasing the ink. In truth, they’re still there, just invisible. In fact, if you put the paper in a freezer, those marks would return like ghosts of the past coming back to haunt you.
The Everlast doesn’t use that heat to erase Frixion ink. Instead, it uses chemicals to be able to wipe off the ink even after it has bonded with the paper surface. Still, it’s Frixion and the marks might disappear if you leave the notebook in a very hot place, like inside a car. Never fear because you can just put the notebook in the freezer and they reappear. But despite using regular Frixion pens, Rocketbook advises against rubbing out the ink using the silicone eraser. That may eventually wear out the special coating that would, in turn, render the Everlast ineffective. On that point, Rocketbook also warns against writing too heavily on the surface for the same reason.
Rocketbook’s decision to use something readily available in the market is also liberating. It means you aren’t limited to what Rocketbook recommends or sells. In fact, you might even want not to use that 0.7 mm pen they recommend. The larger the tip, the thicker the line and the longer it takes the ink to dry. The smallest 0.38 mm Frixion pen only takes about 5 or so seconds but its lines might be to thin for some. The 0.5 mm is a good median and takes only 10 seconds to bond. And you don’t even have to stick to black pens, since Pilot sells different kinds of Frixion pens in different colors. There are even highlighters, though I’ve had bad experiences with them because they are wet and, therefore, erase the ink underneath.
From analog to digital
That’s well and good for reusable paper but once wiped clean, their content is lost forever, right? That’s where the technology comes in. Mobile and cloud technology, for that matter. Rocketbook provides an app for Android and iOS that basically takes a picture of a page and sends it to a cloud storage of choice. Hardly groundbreaking, right? After all, there are apps like Microsoft Office Lens or even Dropbox and Evernote that do the same. What makes Rocketbook’s app so special?
Well, for one, it does some heavy-duty processing to make sure that each “scan” is readable, no matter the lighting condition or angle. But more importantly, it lets you send the scan to any service of your choice, as long as they are supported, of course. You do that by marking one of the seven icons at the bottom of each page, corresponding to a service you assign to the icon in the app. And you’re not limited to sending it to just one service at a time. You can mark all the icons if you want.
Setting up those destinations is as easy as it can be. You pick an icon and select from a number of cloud storage and note-taking services, from Dropbox to Google Drive to Evernote to OneNote. It even supports sending to Slack or Trello. You’re not limited to just sending one image at a time though. You can opt to send a snap as a JPG image or a PDF, bundle the scans into a PDF or create an animated GIF from a series of scans. Additionally, you can automatically opt to send a scan immediately to the destination without having to confirm it. All you need to do is frame the page properly in the app’s camera view and wait for the app to recognize the page and it’s done. You don’t even have to press a camera button.
Recent updates gave the app even more abilities, specifically related to OCR or Optical Character Recognition, a.k.a. making sense out of your handwriting. In its initial iteration, Rocketbook didn’t offer any sort of OCR at all. Now, it can try to do so so that you can search for text in the app’s history, use titles flanked by “##” marks as filenames for the scans, or create a transcript when sending the scan to an e-mail. It doesn’t do any OCR processing for scans sent to other services, though. You’ll have to rely on those services’ own OCR features. Evernote and OneNote can do this to make your scribbles searchable but they only work if you send your scan as a JPG.
Wave and Color
The Everlast isn’t Rocketbook’s first futuristic reusable notebook and it isn’t its only one either. It was preceded by the Rocketbook Wave, which definitely raised eyebrows when it launched on Kickstarter. While it used the same Pilot Frixion pens as the Everlast, its method of erasing was out of this world: you had to microwave the entire notebook. To keep it short, it used the nature of the Frixion ink to make it seemingly disappear after cooking in the microwave for a few minutes.
Unfortunately, that had its drawbacks. For one, you can’t select which pages to erase. You have to microwave the entire notebook. Second, Rocketbook says that each Wave notebook can only be erased up to five times. That is why it recommends only microwaving the notebook after the 80 pages have been used up. But there’s also one other bigger problem with the method. It doesn’t completely erase the ink. If you leave the notebook in a cold location long enough, the “erased” marks will reappear. Not exactly as infinitely reusable as the Everlast.
There’s also the Rocketbook Color, a variant of the Everlast that’s designed more for kids. This time, the paper is more like a dry erase board. In fact, you use dry erase markers on them. Rocketbook recommends the kid-safe pens from Crayola. Sadly, like any dry erase board, these do erase easily without using any special method. Fortunately, all Rocketbook notebooks, including Wave and Color, support scanning and saving to the cloud like the Everlast.
With current technology, they may never be any perfect bridge between analog and digital when it comes to paper. Rocketbook’s Everlast, however, is near perfect. It checks the right boxes when it comes to reusability, economy, availability, and affordability. Of course, it could still use some more work as well. More durable covers, faster drying pages, and integration with Web automation services like IFTTT and Zapier could go a long way in improving the usability of the product. Still, for right-handed users who can never live without pen and paper beside their phones and laptops, the Rocketbook Everlast is going to be your best bet. As long as you remember to wipe it clean every month and scan the pages before you do.