I’m a notebook guy. Dedicated planners don’t work for me because they usually have pre-set dates and I don’t use my notebook EVERY SINGLE DAY so pages get wasted. Also, they typically restrict you to one page per day and some days I need three or four pages while others, I need an eighth of a page or no space at all.
So I typically stick with a standard notebook of sorts and just add a date at the top of the page and make my lists and notes that way.
However, the folks at Slice reached out to me recently to take a look at their brand new planner on Kickstarter. I agreed because their planner utilizes a two-page setup per day (a chronodex and some space for notes on the left side and a dot-grid sheet on the right), doesn’t have pre-set dates (other than in the beginning where there’s a two-year calendar) and it uses an app with special recognition software that lets you photograph the chronodex using your iPhone and it recognizes the shaded regions and your notes and drops them right in your calendar for you.
Pretty slick… Is it gimmicky or gadgety cool? I’ll break down this First Look into two parts — first, I’ll take a look at the notebook itself and then I’ll look at the app and discuss how it works and fits into my workflow.
The Slice Planner Notebook comes in two A5 variants — a hard-cover, non-reusable format similar to a Rhodia Webnotebook or Moleskine (Brad Dowdy just removed me from his “friends” list), and it also comes in a soft-cover format with a leather cover on it so you can replace the notebook and keep using the cover. I received the latter of the two and it’s my preferred style as the cover is reusable, which feels a little more eco-friendly than a fixed, hard-cover version. You’re still replacing the notebook either way, but the reusable cover is a nice, added value. The notebooks are offered in a variety of colors and I received a slate gray/blue color — light, dusty indigo — that’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s minimally branded with an embossed logo on the bottom of the back cover.
As for the notebook itself, it comes pre-loaded with some note pages in the front, a pre-set two-year calendar and then plenty of dual-page layouts (chronodex/dot grid) to get you through the year. I don’t love the two-page layout because as I said above, some days I get into a meeting and need multiple pages for notes or whatever, but the lack of hard dates on the pages means I could write over the chronodex or just skip that page altogether and continue on with my meeting notes. Each page has a series of icons at the bottom of each page and you can mark them according to what you’d like to see done with that page (added to a calendar, a note, or emailed) and you can also “outline” some of your notes and when you photograph that right-facing page, it will capture what’s in the outline and email it to you or add it to your calendar, etc. It’s all very techy and offers a lot of promise for integrating a paper planner into a digital world.
Speaking of the paper planner in a digital world… The paper is a toothy, lightweight paper. It reminds me a lot of the paper in Moleskine notebooks which, as we all know, is not fountain-pen friendly. The Slice Planner took every kind of pen I threw at it except for two — it got a little fussy with a fine point Pelikan nib (which is a very wet writer) and started to feather a bit and a Sharpie marker went right through. Not a deal-breaker, but I actually use Sharpie markers A LOT and I would like a paper that’s a little more resistant to permanent marker. I’m probably a small percentage of people that actually use a Sharpie in their notebooks, though, so I don’t fault Slice completely and can understand if their notebook wasn’t designed for permanent marker. Felt-tipped pens like the Pilot Razor Point, ballpoints like the Schmidt P8126 and gel pens like the Pentel Energel worked like a charm.
However, there was a good bit of show-through on the backs of the pages, which is a total let-down for a notebook that is meant to be used front-back, front-back, front-back. I’m curious to know if their app will be smart enough to “ignore” the ghosting and not mistake it for writing or shading on the chronodex (read the app part of the review for more clarification on why I can’t say for sure whether or not this will be an issue). Also, the notebook has a nice lay-flat design, which is nice, but on more than one page, it looked like maybe too much glue was applied and the pages were stuck together so wouldn’t lay flat. Pulling them apart tore the pages slightly at the binding, but it wasn’t terrible.
The App is still in the Beta Stages, which made it hard to test out completely. I expressed my concerns about writing a review about an unfinished product, but they encouraged me to do the best I could given the beta functionality, which I will do.
When you set up the Slice app, you can select which calendars you would like the app to access which is handy because when you use the chronodex and scan it in, it will cross-reference your existing calendars to make sure you don’t have a conflict. It also creates its own calendar and when you scan your chronodex, it adds all of your tasks to your calendars in iOS automagically. Your digital chronodex within the app then takes on all the colors of your iOS calendars and merges everything, seamlessly, into both the Slice app and your Calendar app.
In my testing, this worked extremely well. It was intuitive and fluid and had no trouble merging and combining my data. However, the app is not set up yet to allow for you to scan your own chronodexes. They have pre-printed chronos in the back of the prototype notebook that you can play with, but I wasn’t able to test whether or not the app would recognize my handwriting. It recognizes the handwriting in the back of the notebook with ease, but that’s computer-generated and easy to read and see versus my handwriting (which, I will admit, ain’t the easiest to read). They assured me that they are working on this and that the entire purpose of Kickstarter is to generate the funding needed to finalize the app and incorporate the full feature set by delivery day.
There’s also an AR (Augmented Reality) portion of the app which I was unable to test, but that promises an “automatic” scan of your current day before incorporating your chronodex to check for any overlaps. I will say that the test pages at the back of the notebook still required me to write in the date and it did recognize that and added all of the sample events to my calendar on the appropriate day.
While I don’t totally love the paper in the notebook, I could get around using super wet or very broad pens to write meeting notes, and in reality, a fine point gel pen would likely be the very best possible tool anyway as writing in a chronodex can get a little cramped so being able to write small and very cleanly is a good thing. The ghosting (or show-through), however, is a big deal for me as it makes the back of pages hard to use and I have concerns about whether or not it will interfere with the app’s ability to pick up or understand the markings within/around the Chronodex. I also don’t like that I only get two pages for a given day, but could work around that given there’s only a chrono on every-other page. I do like that there are no “hard dates” on the individual pages so you could extend the life of the notebook beyond a year if you wanted/needed to. And I also like that they offer it with a reusable cover (which, again, is beautiful).
And, while I understand that the app is still in development and that’s sort of the purpose of Kickstarter, I can’t totally recommend the product without testing it out. It handled the pre-printed sheets with ease (including my hand-written dates), but I have to wonder about my own handwriting which can get a little chicken-scratchy at times.
There’s a ton of functionality in this notebook. It all feels very well thought-out and does feel like a quality product. The app is gorgeous and I like the idea of being able to jot meeting notes and add to a chronodex that I can then go back and scan later rather than having to type it all in on my phone during a meeting (which is kind of rude) or after a meeting (which is kind of tedious). If they can get the app right and make sure the ghosting doesn’t interfere with the scanning, I think this will be a really cool addition to the planner world as it’s a beautiful blend of traditional and digital planning and I think that’s a neat concept..
So the million dollar question: Will I continue to use the Slice Planner? Hard to say. If they can get the app finished up and get it to read my chicken scratch, then I would consider making it part of my EDC. Until then, though, I think I'll stick to my preferred notebook(s) from Nanami Paper and Rhodia. Check them out on Kickstarter here and let me know your thoughts on the project! Huge thanks to the Slice team for sending this over for review. It’s totally cool. A little gimmicky for some, but definitely speaks to the gadget geek in me.
Thanks for reading,