The Cortex Brand Sidekick is a notepad that is designed to sit between you and your keyboard. The Sidekick’s layout is a bit unusual: it’s mostly a dot grid pad, but there’s a checklist on the right-hand side of the page, and there’s a titlebar above both the dot grid side of the page, and above the to do list side of the page.
The Sidekick is bigger than I expected. The full specs aren’t stated on the page (or on the notepad), which is disappointing, but it’s about 18cm tall by 30cm wide, has 60 perforated sheets printed one sided in dark grey and 100gsm Munken Lynx paper (that is stated on the back of the Sidekick). The paper is smooth (but not Rhodia coated smooth), white and fountain pen friendly.
The cover material is made from recycled coffee cups, which is very cool conceptually. Coffee cups aren’t otherwise recyclable because of their coating, and this is a way to make good use of them. The front cover is rather thin cardboard, but the back is substantial. As the front cover is designed to fold over and leave the pad itself open for writing, it doesn’t close very elegantly when not in use. It’s not a major issue, but you do have to be careful when slipping it into your bag to make sure that it is covering the pad, and I flip the Sidekick on its back when not in use to help the front cover retain its shape. This issue occurs with Rhodia pads as well, and is inherent to the fold back design.
Although the Sidekick seems to want you to use a page a day, that is too wasteful and expensive for me (more on the price later). I’ve been using this page from the 27th of February and I’ll be finishing with it sometime in the coming week – so that’s almost a month of use. I keep a Field Notes “Heavy Duty” nearby for jotting down and doodling things, and I use my Sidekick to help me manage my current project. I’ve found the checklist on the side to be a bit baffling. It’s too narrow for me, and I have small handwriting, and there aren’t enough checklist items to actually cover a day if I was using the page as a daily page. The checklist could perhaps work in a meeting setup, but unlike what Myke and Grey (the makers of the Sidekick) I think that the Sidekick is not a good meeting notepad.
So why do I think the Sidekick isn’t a good meeting notepad? Its size. It is way too big and it really would call attention to itself in a “LOOK AT ME, I AM TAKING NOTES IN THIS MEETING” kind of way. There is no discreet way to carry it or use it, and you will be taking a lot of real-estate on any meeting table. What is does do well is sit between yourself and your keyboard (provided you have room for it) and allow you to take notes that way. If you plan on using it for Zoom meetings it may work, but personally my meeting notes tend to be messy, so I wouldn’t want to waste a Sidekick page on them.
The back of the Sidekick comes with a page that has a Daylight Savings Time table for various places and product info. I have no idea why it’s there, but I assume that there’s a design decision behind it. I would have preferred to just have another standard page, and have the product info printed on the back cover or available on their site.
I bought the Cortex Brand Sidekick the moment that it became available for purchase (I also added my first Theme System Journal to the order, but I’ll discuss that in a different post). I like good stationery and I know Myke Hurley does as well. I had no doubt that this would be a well-made product, fountain pen friendly, and that Myke would agonize on every aspect of this notepad’s design. He did. The Sidekick is a high quality, premium notepad. It is hand assembled in Britain. It uses cool and sustainable materials.
It’s very expensive.
Now, I understand the price and I had no problem paying for it (and I bought this before the YouTube product video came out or the podcast episodes discussing the design and manufacturing process were published). This isn’t a mass market product, it uses high quality and expensive materials, and it is hand assembled in a small shop. These things make the price add up. The Sidekick is $32 dollars, to which you add shipping. That makes it a $40-50 notepad. If I were to use a page for every workday, I would be looking at around $200 a year on Sidekicks and shipping.
This is what makes the Sidekick a niche product, in my opinion. Myke said that there’s no other product like it, and that is partially true. If you like the page layout and the size, there is no other notepad but the Sidekick for you. However, I have been using a notebook that goes between me and my keyboard for quite a while before the Sidekick came out. It is small enough to fit on the most narrowest of desks, it has a plastic double cover and a chipboard backing that make it very portable, it is much smaller than the Sidekick, and you can take it to meetings without drawing attention to yourself (I have done so many times). It is also much, much cheaper than the Sidekick (coming in at less than $12 at time of writing, it is less than half what a Sidekick costs, not including shipping), and alas, as Amazon ships it, it is likely to be available with free shipping.
It’s the Maruman Mnemosyne horizontal A5 notebook and it is one of my favourite notebooks out there.
This isn’t a Mnemosyne review, but I will point out that this notebook has 70 sheets of 80gsm 5mm grid paper that is fountain pen friendly. The Mnemosyne also has perforated sheets, plus space to write a title in. It is ring bound, which is normally not my favourite, but works well with the horizontal format (the rings don’t get into the way of your writing hand). It carries well both in the bag and around to meetings – I am never without one in my bag. While like the Sidekick the grid is printed only on one side of the page, because it is ring bound you can use both sides of the page if you so choose. To do so with the Sidekick necessitates tearing the page out first.
The Sidekick is larger, which gives you more room to think. It also has thicker paper, and better perforation. The Mnemosyne doesn’t have rounded corners, and so the corners do sometimes get dinged. I’ve used them both over the past month, and while I treat using the Sidekick as a luxurious treat, the Mnemosyne is my workhorse. I don’t coddle it or think twice about scribbling something illegibly on it.
Do I recommend buying the Sidekick? Yes, if you can afford it. It is a premium product for a premium price. There is a place for those kinds of products in the market, and perhaps there is a place for them in your life. I see myself buying one Sidekick a year, two tops. That makes it a product that I use with consideration, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s good to be considerate of what you use and why. The Sidekick is a beautifully made and thoroughly considered desk companion, and I suggest that you give it a try to see if it fits in your life.
3 thoughts on “Cortex Brand Sidekick Review”
Yes, that’s a bit more expensive than I would typically pay for a writing pad. Actually, I gravitate towards the least expensive options, because I don’t feel as guilty when a page isn’t fully utilized.
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I like to have paper that’s good enough for my fountain pens, but not overly expensive because of the same kind of guilt.
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The Sidekick notepad is slightly odd A4-ish sized notebook and at $32 the price is borderline indefensible. If dot grid is your thing, you could get a letter-sized dot grid legal pads from Blackwing (also a “premium” product) and turn it sideways to get the Sidekick effect for less than 1/3 the price. Or, along the lines of what you’re already doing, you could get an A4 Mnemosyne for $18 or a B5 Menomosyne, which would really fit the in-front-of-your-keyboard-space perfectly, for about $11. I would consider buying a Sidekick at a pen show or another in-person method to avoid the $10+ shipping to support the Cortex guys. But $32 plus shipping, no matter how much anyone tries to explain it away, is really out of line with the rest of the market.
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