Review – Muji Hexa Ballpoint (.25mm Gel Pen)

My handwriting is very fine, and I always gravitate toward finer and finer tipped pens in my quest to jam as much information on the page as possible. But there is a limit to how small the tip of any given pen can be. Too thin a felt-tip will simply break, and ballpoints or Rapidograph-style pens will either not allow ink flow or damage paper. Thus, even pens on the smaller end of the possible scale are hard to come by (being more expensive and relatively user-specific when compared to more standard sizes), with .25 being about as thin as one can find. Muji, in its characteristic minimalist style, offers a gel pen in such a small size. Is it a worthwhile purchase?

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As with many Muji products, the pen is outwardly pretty simple. The hexagonal black body is a little larger in diameter than a pencil, and covered in a matte rubber that is only interrupted by two slits in the plastic near the front (for seeing the ink level) and a set of bumps with the slightest of step downs for posting in the back. After a brief clear plastic part, the metal cone in the front quickly brings us to a very fine protruding ink tube that’s about an eighth of an inch long. The clear plastic cap is also hexagonal, with an integrated clip and matching color insert that both covers the tip and displays the sizing information where it can be read easily from a pencil cup. Other than this, there are no markings on the item itself, as the label comes off, stripping you of all its information(in Japanese).

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Performance is good. The pen is comfortable to hold and stays firmly in one’s hand (though the material can make capping and uncapping a bit more “frictionful”). When put to paper, ink flows relatively smoothly. At this size of tip, it is impossible to eliminate all of the scratchiness, but a good job has been done of controlling it. Likewise, another problem at this thinness is that a pen will tend to skip more if at any angle other than perpendicular to the page, but this too has been mitigated. I’d still recommend you write as straight as possible, but it shouldn’t have too great an effect on the writing. I don’t have much information on the ink, but I can tell you that it dries quite quickly (I almost can’t get it to smudge) and it’s waterfast and alcohol resistant (it does bleed a little, but remains legible, which is good for writing and bad for stains). Its spread isn’t too bad either, laying out on the average page about the same thickness as a .25mm (01) technical fineliner (though, with my handwriting both seem very close to a .7 ballpoint).

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The pen’s a good one. It’s nice and sleek with a rugged body (I might be worried about the longevity of the cap. though) and a good writing feel. It’s slightly more expensive than a gel pen of comparable quality in the States (the price tag says ¥210, or about $2, but they sell it in the US for $3), but not enough to be out of their range. The tip is noticeably more fine than other ballpoints and gel pens you’ll find, but in my opinion almost awkwardly so (I’ve never been a fan of how gel pens look on the page {when written with my hand}), and there can be potential issues with the pen drying out. Still, if you’re looking for a functional and minimal super-thin writing pen (that isn’t as finicky or fragile as a technical pen) this is one to look at.

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Review – Moleskine Softcover Pocket Book

Perhaps I lose a little bit of “reviewer credibility” when I say that my main notebooks for years have been Moleskine ones (specifically hardcover pocket and large). I know they’re not the best notebooks in the world, and I am phasing them out of my routine (since I’ve mostly stopped with specific daily uses, and uniformity is less of an issue for a while) but they are widely available, simple, and consistent books of decent quality. That being said, the ones I use have always been hardcover, and at this (192 page) size I prefer the rigidity of a hard-back, but am I being unfair to the softcover books?

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First off, all Moleskines come with a wrap-around paper “package”, and I’ll admit, my book is old enough I don’t know where it went, but I assume now they have updated it to the same useless “reusable” packaging that has vague blanks about travel to fill in if that floats your boat. The cover itself is a nice, flexible (black) pleather wrapped around the book in a single piece. On the back “Moleskine®” is stylishly stamped near the bottom and the elastic band is attached at two points. The cover has a pleasant texture that is relatively even and doesn’t scratch easily, but does show the binding and attachment points underneath and impressions from the elastic closure. It also easily divots and is structurally weak at the corners.

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Inside is the same-old Moleskine stuff: a “belongs to” page at the front, a cheap ribbon bookmark (mine unravel more and more often these days), and a sturdy pocket in the back that I’ve never personally found a use for. The paper is a pleasant off-white with a nice smooth (but not slick) texture that takes ballpoints and pencil very well (if you’re using it one sided {so no 192 pages, as advertised}). With anything more significant you get a lot of show-through, and with fountain pens or markers you’ll get bleed-through. I find it pleasant to write or sketch on, and the fact that it’s acid-free means your work is safe over time, but it is fairly fragile stuff (I wouldn’t erase too much).

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In the end it’s what I expected, the same Moleskine quality with a cover that is more easily bent and damaged (I do care about how my books look). It will probably hold up to most types of use, but it won’t look pretty at the end (the pocket at the back does mean it maintains support for off-the-table use, though). It’s a fine notebook, with decentness all-around, from page feel to binding, but it seems like less and less of a deal as things progress. One can find books at WalMart (potentially of dubious archival-quality) that do the same things cheaper these days, and they might not have the same quality control, but they are so much cheaper. I like the Moleskines for their ubiquity and uniformity, but they’ve always been overpriced, and this cover just doesn’t do it for me.

Review – Field Notes Pencil

Field Notes has made a name for themselves creating (or branding) basic but well made items for note taking and such. Their notebooks balance affordability with quality, and their range of accessories attempt to do the same. The Field Notes pencil (like the pen I’ve looked at before) is on its own quite a bit more expensive than most similar pencils, but they are often included as a free pack-in item (like their pens, calendars and rubber bands), so you usually don’t have to buy them straight out. But are they any good?

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The body has basically the same dimensions as your standard round pencil. The wood is a nice, unfinished cedar, with large amount of information printed on it in black. Attached to the back end is a nicely fitted aluminum ferrule with “green” green eraser. Everything is very precisely manufactured and it feels/looks great. You get more printed information that average, like the: brand, website, lead hardness, materials, and inventory number. It’s all laid out clearly and printed cleanly.

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The performance is about what you’d expect. The HB lead is a little rougher than some, but it goes down relatively dark while not eroding the point too quickly. The eraser could be better, but it does its job and there’s quite a lot of it to use (it doesn’t disintegrate immediately like some others do). I grew up with round pencils and I prefer their feel, so I think the ergonomics are quite good: it gives one a little more to hold on to, but it will more easily roll off the table. But the most surprising thing upon picking it up is how light it is. When brand new, I can actually feel the weight of the ferrule/eraser pulling the back of the pencil down a bit, which is a very unusual feeling, but you get used to it, and the lightness is wonderful for longer “penciling” sessions.

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It’s a relatively high quality pencil that I don’t think you can get anywhere else (unlike the Field Notes pen, which is a branded Bic Clic), but I’m not sure they’re worth the nearly $1 (83¢) asking price. They’re as good as or better than the name-brand pencils you find at the store (Dixon, PaperMate) but they’re at least twice the price, crossing the border from regular writing pencils into budget sketching pencils, with which I don’t think they compete. They’re good pencils for what they are, but I’m not going to be ordering a set anytime soon. Still, they make a nice bonus when opening your Field Notes packages (as are all the little things Field Notes puts in as extras).

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.