Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Spiral Notebook in a Game - A Review

Well I've used the spiral notebook in two RPG games and here's my review of it as a gaming tool.

Note that this is not a general review of the spiral notebook. The reason being, there are probably better places where you can read a proper review of the book and because I don't want to make any political statements here. As I was shocked to learn that simply buying an spiral notebook can become.

Con - A horrible music DJ device

As a music DJ aid, it's quite horrid. As I stated in my earlier post about the spiral notebook, when I first started using music in my games CDs were what I always used and I got really good and using them. Using an MP3 player was never quite the same. Mainly because the display was so small.

However, the spiral notebook put me right back into the old days, the days without any music at all. I can't switch between different albums, songs, and playlists whatsoever, simply because the spiral notebook is just a pad of paper. Sure, my old iPod allowed me to switch around, but with the spiral notebook, I can't pick the precise album, playlist, or song at all. My laptop was great for this as well...but I hate looking at a laptop during a game. Because I stand up while I run games most of the time, it's often hard to see a laptop screen. Also, you have to bend over and crane your neck around while running your finger over the trackpad. With a laptop, I always I have to sit down for a second or two and select the track I want. With the spiral notebook , I glance down and it's on the table like a, well, book. It, however, can not play music.

Understand that I'm not disparaging using an iPod, MP3 player or laptop during a game for music. I've used all three of these devices for music during games to great effect. I just know that the spiral notebook is so much worse for gaming with music.

One other thing - the speaker on the spiral notebook is nonexistent because it is just a pad of paper. We were playing a game of Warhammer Quest and I tried to use the spiral notebook without speakers for background music. I can't describe just how poorly it did not work.

Pro - An excellent reader

Handwriting works very well on the spiral notebook. It's almost like it was made for it. When you hold up the spiral notebook to your face, one page fills up the, err, page quite nicely and it's very much like you're looking at the page of a, well, book. Turn it sideways and you get a two page view. Flipping through the text is as quick and easy as turning the page in a book, since that's exactly what you're doing. You tap the middle of the spiral notebook and then use your thumb to turn to the page you want. Or just swipe your finger across the bottom of the page and it's like you're turning the page of a book, again, because you really are turning the page of a book. The hand-drawn images come up fairly quickly. More quickly, in my opinion, than in my sketchbook. On occasion there is a slight delay, however, and that bears mentioning. I've recently played around with a few other types of notebooks such as a legal pad and they have no delay at all. However, I haven't played with them enough to give them a proper review.

What I've done for my personal use is to bookmark all of the important pages in the books that I have handwritten. Just tap the bookmark post-it on theside and select the bookmark post-it you want. Then, the spiral notebook zips you to that page.

I will note that it can be tricky when you're trying to look up a rule or something you haven't written down. And that's because even if you look at the index, the pagination of the pages is probably not the same as the pagination in the index. Your computer will usually count things like the cover, inside cover, and table of contents as pages in the file, while the book's index does not. Usually, if you use the index, you can get close to the page you want, so it's still helpful to refer to the index from time to time.

Will this sort of thing replace books? In terms of gaming books, not for me. When I pick up and read a gaming book, I don't read it from front to back. I typically look at the table of contents and then start with what seems interesting there. Then, I browse through the whole book, flipping back and forth, thumbing through the pages, looking at pieces of artwork that catch my eye, headings that indicate something interesting, etc.

You can't do that with a spiral notebook , it's not quite the same. It's harder to just flip through and browse than with a physical book, because when you flip, you're looking at handwritten pages. You can simply take a chuck of paper and flip your thumb down it, looking for whatever picture is going to hit your eye. Browsing is not that much harder mind you, but when you've flipped through and browsed books your entire life it's hard to go backwards, even a fraction.

If a new notebook comes out that allows you to flip pages a little better then I might consider getting more gaming books in handwritten format. Right now, for me, I'll probably keep buying physical books but using the spiral notebook as a reference device.

But here's the big question - is reading handwritten rules off of a spiral notebook better than off a computer? In my opinion it's not better. It's horrible. I dislike reading PDFs on a laptop and I've often taken large PDF files that I've downloaded and had them printed out at some random copy shop simply so I can read it like a book. There is something to be said for being able to read a document while standing, holding it with one hand. Or being able to lay flat on your back in bed and have it raised above you while you read. I will put it this way. I simply won't use my laptop to reference handwritten rules while gaming. It's too inconvenient. But I now use my spiral notebook for this purpose on a regular basis.

Con - Doing everything at once? So-so.

So the real gaming test for me was to see if the spiral notebook could actually keep pace with me. Could it change music tracks quickly and accurately while at the same time allowing me to view handwritten rules from gaming books? Yes and no.

About 0% of the time, I had no problem switching between my music player window and to a rules. While you are looking at rules, the music won't play in the background since it's really just a pad of paper. However, on occasion, I could swear I heard music, but it might've been from a passing car outside. Obviously this is a problem for casual use. However, for gaming, having my music cut out at any time is bad. I'm very particular about what I want playing when, so I will admit that on this one thing I'm being quite picky.

Also, I will note that while you can look at multiple handwritten rules at once, you still have to transition to each one. With handwriting, you have to back out of one page and then pick the one you want to look at on another page. It's possible that there will be a notebook that will allow multiple rules with tab post-its that you can switch between. I know that legal pads let you look at two different pages from the same notebook, even if they are not in the same section of the book. That would be great for looking at a monster manual, eh?

Some Closing Thoughts

Let's face it. The lowest level spiral notebook is .29¢. Cheap. If you want to take it into perspective, an iPad is about the same price as a Nintendo Wii and an X-Box 360 combined. So, if you're thinking about getting a spiral notebook solely for the purpose of gaming...just bear that in mind. There are folks, like yours truly, who do spend outrageous amounts of money on things for gaming. (Hey, at least I didn't buy a Sultan table! )

In the end, while its uses in gaming were certainly a draw, my decision to buy a spiral notebook was not solely for that. If you're considering getting one, think about what other things you'll want it for and use it for. Speaking for myself, buying a spiral notebook gave me a brand new place to write as well, because now all of my notes are on the spiral notebook, are easily accessible, and I have all of this free room in my sketchbook! So, for me it was a no-brainer. Get a spiral notebook and get a new laptop, too.


  1. This is obviously a good-natured parody post of my good friend Rucht's iPad review on his own blog! Check it out here:


  2. Do you find that the notebook is a stable platform? I mean, does it crash very often? I once dropped one in the toilet and had a so so time of recovering the data.

  3. I'd been considering buying one, but wasn't sure about the investment. It seems like every year there's another version so I'm concerned about it becoming outdated. I hear you can really extend the life of them by switching from "pen" to "pencil" mode... the data becomes re-writable!

  4. Lol! Christian and Mike, I hope you guys had at least half as much fun reading my post as I did reading y'alls' responses!

  5. I've got to get one of these!

  6. I'm not convinced. The whole spiral notebook thing is like a cult for trendy people. It's all mochafrappalate this and ill-advised goatee that, and you just know that they'll bring out a newer, better spiral notebook in three months anyway.

  7. I hear it has several compatiblity issues; Flash runs extremely slow, the USB interface is non-existant, and uploading data to it is limited by the amount of data and font quality. Do you know how well it works with UNIX?

  8. Quick note to spooky46: I don't know about Unix but I put Ubuntu on one easy. Everything was supported but the wireless.