A Cautionary Tale

The other day I received a parcel from Amazon, labelled as per this photo:

I was intrigued, because I had not ordered anything electrical…

When I unpacked it, I had a really good laugh – inside was what I HAD indeed ordered – this:

 

In fact, it amused me so much that I felt I had to write a proper review of this “notebook”. I did, and submitted it to Amazon’s customer review feedback. They politely declined to publish it, as my review didn’t conform to their rules & regulations. I don’t feel harshly treated, my only intention was to share a smile!

Anyway, here is the review I wrote:


Oxford “Black n’ Red” A6 Notebook – Review

I have to be honest, and say that when they told me I would be reviewing a £4.79 notebook, I was really not expecting very much. But I have to report that the Oxford “Black n’ Red” A6 Notebook was a really pleasant surprise!

Unpacking

Removing the Black n’ Red from its packaging offered the first such surprise. The A6 is incredibly light – at just 200g, it is nearly 70% lighter than a Samsung Galaxy Notebook. It is easy to see why they have named it the “A6” – the overall dimensions of 148mm x 108 mm are very close to the ISO 216 standard of the same name. However, it is the slim form factor that really impresses – at just 18mm thick, this has to be one of the most slender notebooks on the market. (Although the special hinge down one side does increase the thickness slightly, but I feel sure Oxford will be working on that.)

Design wise, the Black n’ Red is joyously retro. The glossy black top cover is decorated with just a thin red line across the middle, ending with a simple blue and white Oxford logo. The name “Black n’ Red” appears (in red naturally!) towards the lower right edge, employing an “old-school” serif lettering which fits perfectly with the overall retro style. Underneath, the base-plate is tricked out in the same glossy black and red, and here we find the usual bar-code and model number (we were reviewing the model 100080448), and the fact that the A6 is assembled in the EC.

First Use

Here we encounter our first disappointment – the notebook does not come bundled with a stylus. OK, so maybe I’m expecting a lot at this price level – but I can’t help wishing that Oxford had upped the price just a little and included what is after all, an essential peripheral. After a little Googling, I discovered that it needs a special kind of compatible stylus called a “Pen-cil” (seriously? – I mean, who dreams up these names?!). But they are easy to find once you know where to look. If you are going for the Black n’ Red, I would recommend purchasing the triple-pack of peripherals which includes the Pencil, an Eraser tool, and the Sharpening tool (of which more later). You are definitely going to need all three, so I recommend that you save yourself some cash and get the bundle.

The cover of the notebook flips open very easily. I might say too easily – it may even be a bit floppy – but I did learn that Oxford also offer a deluxe version of the Black n’ Red (the model 100080221) complete with an elastic closure mechanism to hold the cover firmly in place. At £5.29 the deluxe model is still a great bargain, and you won’t have to worry about the cover flipping open by itself at some inconvenient moment. Having said that, the red “twin-wire” hinge is robust and efficient, allowing the notebook to be quickly flipped between its native ISO A6 mode, and the equally useful “double-page” A5 mode.

Features

Now we come to the best bits – using the notebook. Another surprise – there is literally no “on” switch! You just flip open the cover and you’re good to go. Seriously good to go – there is absolutely no perceptible lag or delay on startup. In effect, the Black n’ Red is “always on” – an outstanding feature on a device in this price bracket.

For note-taking, reminder lists, sketching ideas, or drafting your novel, the notebook is an absolute breeze to operate. The Pencil stylus works beautifully – even responding very accurately to variations in stylus pressure. When a page is full, a simple left-swipe gesture brings up a fresh page for continuation. The right-swipe gesture is for reviewing your work. For some unknown reason, up-swipe and down-swipe were not functioning on my review notebook – this may be a fault, but quite possibly these gestures are simply not implemented on this model. Zoom function is implemented in a very intuitive manner – simply moving your head closer to the page does the trick, and the reverse for Zoom-out.

Deletion/correction is also easy – provided that you have purchased the optional Eraser peripheral. Just pass the tool over your work a few times, do a “flick” gesture, and you are ready to make corrections. A special gesture called “tear-out” (hard-press and right-swipe) removes an entire page permanently.

International Mode

One of the things I have personally found frustratingly difficult with notebooks is recording text in different languages. Imagine my surprise then, when this little Black n’ Red just sailed through my tests. I found that the Pencil stylus has a hidden international mode – it can switch instantaneously between languages. I almost burst out laughing when I easily wrote a sentence including a Russian word in the Cyrillic alphabet, followed by some Japanese Kanji characters – the device did not stumble at all, reacting instantly and seamlessly.

Performance

If you are a power user, it is important to note that image quality does deteriorate with prolonged usage. However, this is where the Sharpener tool come into its own – just insert the Pencil stylus into the tool, twist a couple of times, and your text and diagrams will again be crisp and sharp on the page.

Display

Oxford’s patented “Optic Paper” technology means that the page is bright, crisp, and white under all illuminations, and I have to say it is particularly impressive in bright sunlight. The internet informs me that other stylus options (called “Crayons”) can be used to create colour diagrams and charts, but I was not able to test that feature.

Capacity

The notebook can hold up to 140 pages of data (approximately equivalent to 35 pages of A4). This is not huge, compared to a Samsung Galaxy at 64 Gigabytes, but hey – what do you want for less than a fiver?

Battery Life

Oxford’s advertising includes the audacious claim of “Endless battery life” – but I promise you, it is really true. Astonishingly, the Black n’ Red does not require a Lithium-Ion battery (which I guess largely accounts for its very low weight). Somehow, Oxford have developed a technology whereby the notebook takes all the power it needs just from the movement of the arms and hands of the user. The only thing I can liken it to is the “automatic” mechanical watches that were popular in the last century – the ones which wound themselves as you moved your wrists around. For such an inexpensive notebook to have implemented such an advanced feature is almost beyond belief. I take my hat off to you, Oxford!

Verdict

The “Black n’ Red” A6 at £4.79 is an absolute steal. Its tiny form factor makes is suitable for even an inside pocket, and its “always on” feature and tiny power needs will have you laughing all through the meeting while your colleague is frantically looking around for a charger and cable!

I intend to make sure I am never without my trusty Black n’ Red!

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