Review – Cross Jotzone Notebook and Pen

Notebooks are quite handy things, but most of the common ones look a little unprofessional. If the standard spiral and composition books won’t work for you, and Moleskine just seems a little cliché, maybe Cross has the answer for you with its Jotzone series of notebooks.

photo-242

I feel I need to put a bit of a disclaimer here at the front. I usually carry a notebook around with me and try to get through about a quarter of the pages before I do a review on it (that’s why I’ve done so few notebook reviews: it takes time), but on this one I certainly didn’t get anywhere close to that, for reasons that will be explained in a moment.

photo-246

The cover of the book is a nice, smooth faux-leather, black save for a triangle on the lower right of the front where the color varies (mine’s blue). It covers the full 5.5” x 7” paper part of the book, with a ½” extra bit around the spine, which is hollow, creating a “tube” where pens can be stored (it also helpfully says “Cross Jotzone™” on the spine) . “Cross” is nicely but subtly stamped both on the back and the triangle in the corner. An elastic band is attached to the back in a novel way, so that when it is being used to hold the book closed it lines up with edge of the colored triangle. Inside there is nothing special behind the front cover, but inside the back is a small, simple cardboard and paper pocket. It is attached so it is accessed from the top, a decision that with its small size seems to have been made only to avoid comparisons with Moleskine.

photo-249

The paper is very good, a nice 100gsm (70lb) that is smooth, but not too smooth in my opinion (it certainly isn’t as smooth as the Clairefontaine paper fountain pen people love). It handles fountain pens and liquid roller balls quite well; with minimal feathering and show-through under normal usage conditions (I’ve done no test with flex pens or triple broads) and the dry time isn’t that bad, though far from instant. The pages themselves are nice and white with a ¼” grey ruling that stops before the page ends, and a stupid grey triangle in the corners right under where the triangle is on the cover. This area helpfully says “Cross Jotzone™” on every page, and it’s supposed to be where you put your quick summary notes or something so you can easily riffle through the pages and find what you’re looking for. I think this is dumb (and I hate pre-printed words on the pages of my notebooks) but nobody asked me and the paper is good enough that I could easily ignore that (and the ruling that is far too large for me).

photo-247

But now for the reason I haven’t used the book that much, and wouldn’t buy another one. I admit it’s quite petty but I use my notebooks a lot, and I want them to look good. That’s why I still use Moleskine classic hardbacks, it’s very hard to find a notebook that resists damage (page corners bending, cover denting/ripping/bending etc) better than those books. And this one is, cosmetically speaking (it feels easily strong enough to not fall apart structurally before being used up) is the worst I have encountered. After sitting for a day or two in my bag, with the only other items in the bag being non-spiral notebooks the cover became covered (no pun intended) with irreversible scratches and scrapes that are quite noticeable. Basically, if you want to maintain the “Cross” professional look, it’s a desk notebook, and I have reviewed it like a desk notebook. It’s a pretty good if gimmicky one, but I personally couldn’t stand to look at the satin faux-leather cover getting so beat up over time (and I wouldn’t recommend using the spine pen holder, as its made out of the same, easily damaged material). I feel like it wasn’t really thought out, and is more of an “executive gift” that no one is expected to really use, and that’s a shame because it comes with a great pen.

photo-248photo-250

The pen is a very simple chromed metal pen (I would say steel from the weight, it’s quite heavy for a pen of its size) with a smooth cylindrical non-tapering barrel. There is pointed-ish cap finial at the back and a cone at the front leading to the point. It’s retractable, with a twist action, and there is a clear mark and band signifying where the pieces come together (and it is the smoothest action I have ever felt in a pen). The adornment and the clip are minimal, probably to be inexpensive, and while it’s a little ugly, the simplicity makes it easy to overlook. The cartridge is a short version of the standard Cross cartridge in a medium point. It, like most Cross pens, is very smooth, in this case especially when writing cursive. It does have some startup problems, especially when left unused for a time, but that problem can be solved by using it more or getting a new cartridge.

photo-245

In the end it’s an alright notebook, and a good pen. I wouldn’t purchase them for myself, but it does make a very nice looking gift, and it’s functional, with good paper and a nice writing pen. It’s a desk notebook, and a heavy desk pen (but I like the weight) made of good quality materials, but essentially with a disregard for useabilty. I can recommend them as desk materials, but not as daily users.

Review – Faber-Castell 033 Ballpoint Pen

I recently received a box of things my brother got for me on his trip to Peru. Inside were several pens that seemed to be commonly available there. Indeed, they are more common there than in the US, because all of the information I could find on them was in Spanish, or Russian (Ukrainian? Cyrillic of some sort). And they do say “Product of Peru” in Spanish. So let’s get to it and look at the first type I received, the Faber-Castell 033 ballpoint in black.

photo-156

The pen has a very classic octagonal design, and it’s made with a plastic that feels much like the plastic that older pens and mechanical pencils were made out of, except it is much lighter and feels more brittle and thinner as a result. The faceted barrel is capped on the back by a step-down plug of a light grey color that allows the pen to be neatly posted, and the cap on the front is a very simple, if unsightly, ribbed design. The clip is molded in and works, but is quite filmsy, and I wouldn’t trust it. The cap does fit securely over the section, which is a simple taper in the barrel to a larger-than-normal metal cone, at the end of which is the ball. As far as I can tell, this tip is not removable, and thus the pen is not refillable. Stamped in gold on the side is just enough information to identify it, but not much more.

photo-157

Writing is surprisingly smooth for a ballpoint, but it does have occasional startup issues and more blobbing than I can get past. The ink is comparable to inexpensive Bic ink. It’s suitably dark and black, but it’s got a bit of a red sheen, and upon close inspection under a bright light it looks like a very dark purple. It’s still on the warmer side of things, though. It dries fast (except for the blobs), but with certain types of paper I wouldn’t try it left-handed. And its blobbing might cause it to smear for left-handers anyway. It is suitably waterproof like most ballpoint inks. I haven’t tested lightfastness, but in general even cheap black inks do well, but it isn’t archival quality.

Overall it’s a well-working, inexpensive pen. As far as super cheap pens go it isn’t the best, but it’s far from the worst. It writes well, but not perfectly. The body is simple with no frills and holds together despite being cheaply made. And there isn’t much more to it than that. I wouldn’t be going out to import them, but I would (and will) use them if I ended up with them (which I obviously did).

Review – Uni-ball Jetstream Bold

Some people search for the best of something. I never really looked at my collecting in that way. I just like using a variety of things, and for me I know that there’s no one perfect thing. But that doesn’t stop me from liking sites like TheWireCutter.com, which finds the best product in a given category for the average consumer. I was recently featured in their article about the best mechanical pencil (along with several other, well-known reviewers), and while I was talking to them, I thought I’d try out their recommendation for best ballpoint pen: the Uni-Ball Jetstream. If you read their mechanical pencil article, and my review of their pick the Uni Kuru Toga, this might seem familiar. I do understand why people like the pen, but I don’t like it so much, and here’s what I think of it.

20150311-220545.jpg

My particular Jetstream is the bold 1.0, and starting at the top it has a nice, beefy, chrome click button that is very satisfying to use. Down from that is the logo, size, and a solid clip that does its job. The majority of the barrel is rubberized, with the Jetstream logo in the top half in a hard-to-read, reflective plastic. There are slight divots on the section for grip, which actually flares out, instead of tapering in, making it quite large in the hand, and then an interesting-looking chrome cone that leads to the point. This cone does screw off and the pen is easily refillable.

20150311-220550.jpg

The ink itself is a nice, cool black that slides onto the page easily. There is an ever-so-slight amount of dry time, after which the ink is quite waterproof. While the ball does roll nicely and the ink flows smoothly, I still get blobs and stuttering, blobs being less frequent than with comparable pens, and stuttering much more frequent. This slight stuttering is hardly noticeable when writing, but is virtually the only feedback the pen gives. It is most definitely the smoothest ballpoint I’ve ever written with but I don’t feel like I’m in control of it when I’m writing. The stuttering is easy enough to overlook when the writing is done, though.

Overall it’s a well-designed, sturdy pen that I don’t want to write with. The point slides out from under me, and the thick grip cramps my hand after a while. It’s also extremely light, which makes me want to hold it tighter so as to not lose it. Still, the fit and finish are great, it’s very satisfying to hold, and if you want an “inexpensive” smooth ballpoint, it really can’t be beaten

Review – Hot Concepts Illumix 4 in 1 Stylus

Every once in a while you run into a gimmicky, cheap product that’s still a bit of fun. For instance, I wanted a laser pointer (for me and my cat) and was in Walmart one day. On that day I found the “Hot Concepts Illumix 4 in 1 Stylus”. It’s a funky little pen with a light, laser, and touch-screen stylus. And it’s only a couple bucks! Let’s see how it works:

20150224-232410.jpg
The light is really just a white LED that’s stuck in the end of the pen. There’s no focus, so it dissipates rather quickly. You could get an idea about the shape of a small room, find a key, or perhaps locate something stuck behind some furniture, but that’s about it. Nothing far away can be seen, and nothing in great detail. But it still works alright. Interestingly enough, both the light and laser can be turned on at the same time. The laser is dimmed significantly by this, but the light seems unaffected.

20150224-232415.jpg

The laser pointer works fine. It’s one of the standard cheap ones that can be found almost anywhere. It will hurt your eyes, but isn’t very bright on anything else. It isn’t very well focused and will spread out over long distances. But inside a regular sized room, it is very functional as both a people and cat toy.

20150224-232420.jpg

The stylus works with modern touch screens, and it’s fine. It’s so easy to make a stylus that works with these screens now it’s unremarkable. It’s a bit cheaper than the norm and seems like it might wear out, but I’d say the worst thing about it is that you have to watch out and not hit the buttons and blind yourself when using it.

Finally, the pen part. It works, actually quite well. The tip is very fine, but despite that, it writes quite smoothly with little pressure. The inks a standard, almost-black ballpoint ink that’s water-resistant. The cartridge can’t be replaced as far as I can tell, though the batteries can be. So when you run out of ink you’re out and just left with the other features. That would seem to indicate the pen is not a primary function. The sleeve with the stylus has to be removed to access the pen, and this is not held on very well. It slips and can come off with a bit of a shake. There’s also nowhere to put the sleeve when using the pen, meaning it’s a two-handed operation.

A couple of other things: the clip works well, there’s a warning under the laser but otherwise no information printed on the pen, and the white smooth color with “chrome” trim looks nice, but not very professional, and it’s quite slippery.

Overall, every action it performs is done passably, but not well. It’s a fun device to mess around with or have if you want any or all of the 4 uses, but won’t use any of them that much. The batteries don’t last that long, the ink cartridge is small and not replaceable, and the overall tolerances aren’t very tight. The metal construction is nice, but the product seems to be made with disposability in mind. It’s fun, and good for the money. Just don’t expect much out of it.

Review – Papermate Eagle

All pen companies have a simple, cheap round pen. Bic has the round Stic, Staples has its… pen, and Paper:mate has its Eagle. And it’s the Eagle I’ll be looking at today.

20150218-000755.jpg

The body of the Eagle is nothing spectacular.  It’s simply a semi-transparent cylinder which tapers down slightly just after the section to a tip/refill insert that can technically be removed, but which shouldn’t be because replacing it would be as expensive as replacing the pen. The cap is a standard friction fitting affair, which covers the tip so ink doesn’t get everywhere, and has a clip that’ll keep it in your pocket for a little bit, though I wouldn’t trust it. The information printed on the side of the barrel is minimal but works.

20150218-000802.jpg

The writing is surprisingly smooth for a ballpoint, at least for the red one I’m using. I guess they’re just getting better over the years. The ink is the same color as in the Paper:mate Write Bros pens. It’s fairly dark and unaggressive as far as reds go. And it’s waterproof almost instantly, though I wouldn’t wager on it being fade resistant. Writing comfort is minimal, as one still has to push down a considerable amount when compared to liquid or gel pens, and there is no grip other than the plastic of the barrel. But it’s still quite tolerable and causes no excess discomfort when writing.

Overall it’s a fine office pen.  It works, and it’s cheap. It’s sturdy and fairly reliable. Is it great? No. But they’re fine for what they are, and virtually indistinguishable from similar Bic pens. If you lose a lot of pens, or need to get some for students or coworkers, these should do just fine.

Review – Poquitos Part 2 – Monteverde Ballpoint/Stylus and Fountain Pen

I had the regular Yafa brand Poquitos for quite some time before ever even hearing about the brand Monteverde, which is one of the many brands of “inexpensive” luxury pens that Yafa owns. Monteverde mainly has their own line of pens that could be completely separated from Yafa, but recently I discovered Monteverde was releasing a set of pens under the same name and similarly styled to the Yafa Poquito. This, of course, confused me, until I found out the companies’ relationship. The two Monteverde Poquitos have both similarities and differences when compared to the regular Yafa versions. Let’s take a look.

20150121-234835.jpg

First up is the fountain pen, which is styled very similarly to the original Poquito, but because it is a fountain pen, it is slightly larger, a little longer, and about twice as thick. The tip of the cap has the same “stylus” as on the smaller pens, and the clip is almost identical. The pen is also made of brass, but seems to be painted better, and Poquito is written right on the cap.

Being a fountain pen, it accepts cartridges (of the standard international variety), but there are no converters designed for it. Some small converters can be finagled into working, but none are advertised as doing so. The nib (which is only available in medium) and feed are relatively dry, but that is the case with many pens with similar nib and feed types (plastic, iridium point, German made) and many inks are designed to work well with this type of pen. The section is stainless steel (I think) and gets slick upon prolonged use. And the pen is too short to hold comfortably without posting. But the pen is still super small, and is absolutely ideal for taking quick notes provided one finds an ink that works well with it.

20150121-234842.jpg

In addition to their release of the fountain pen, Monteverde also released a new version of the regular ballpoint Poquito, called the Poquito Stylus (and funnily enough, they also released the Poquito Stylus XL which is almost the size of the Largo). The pen has the same writing and mechanism end as the Yafa Poquito (which is the only part that the Poquitos share). But on the other end, a touch-screen stylus of average size replaces the old hard “stylus” point, which was really useless. This new stylus works quite well, though it can be a bit broad at times. The clip design has also changed. It works just as well, and looks a little nicer, in my opinion, but is more likely to damage the item it is clipped onto. The ballpoint itself is identical to the older pen, with refills being the same.

Overall, the Monteverde versions of the Poquito pens are quite small, and quite functional. They haven’t really fixed any of the problems with the standard Yafa versions, but the added benefits of a fountain pen and stylus (for the people that like to use them) are great. All of the Poquitos are hardy little pens that serve well, and can go almost anywhere. The Monteverde versions just add a little more style and a little more usage variation.

 

Review – Pilot BP-S Medium

For quite some time, pen companies have been trying to come out with the “superior” ink. And many succeed in varying ways. Every ink has its benefits and faults. The Pilot BP-S (which I can only assume stands for “better pen” as it uses the “better” refill) claims to have a “revolutionary” ink (perhaps when it was first made) that is very smooth and writes the first time. But all my quotation marks just make me a skeptic. Let’s look at the pen.

20141224-010739.jpg

The body of the pen looks like a hyped-up Bic Cristal. It’s got a similar hexagonal shape, with a black end cap that screws off for easy refilling (with the Pilot better refills). The body is clear with a minor amount of information physically molded into it. It’s enough to tell you what you’re using. The grip is series of tiny ridges that lead all the way to the metal cone tip, and are surprisingly grippy compared to the rest of the pen. The refill in this model is medium, and it comes out a ways beyond the cone. The cap is nothing to write home about, though it does have a flat surface for easy removal, which is nice.

20141224-010745.jpg

On to the writing. I can tell you for a fact that no pen that isn’t liquid ink will write the first time every time, but this one comes close. It does take some pressure to start, usually, and a more constant pressure to continue writing than a regular ballpoint, but the overall experience is smoother. With the right amount of pressure, the ink comes out in a consistent line, and with a little let up, a serviceable one with a few gaps. Neither of these options are more strain on the hand than a regular ballpoint. The ink is black, most of the time. Sometimes it’s more of a cool dark grey. And that’s fine for any office setting, though not really for art. It is also smudge-resistant and water-resistant, like most ballpoints, so it will survive a spill as long as the paper does.

Overall it’s a good pen. Perhaps it was better comparatively when it was first introduced. It is nothing terribly special, but it is superior to standard ballpoint offerings from most major companies. Again, just slightly. If a ballpoint is the perfect writing or art utensil for you, but it just isn’t quite smooth enough, these are probably worth a look. They certainly don’t cross over into the realm of feeling or acting like another type of pen, which unfortunately tends to happen with these “smooth” inks.