Review – Pilot Opt (.5mm)

It’s always surprising how many innovations there can be for something as (seemingly) old, tried, and true as a mechanical pencil. The Pilot Opt is a fairy traditional and comfortably chunky mechanical pencil save for its unique advance mechanism. While a standard click-mechanism is available and quite usable (and necessary for retracting), there is also a sliding weight inside that allows the pencil to be shaken to advance the lead. But is this shake advance mechanism (that I don’t fully understand) a real improvement over the standard, or just a gimmick?

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The body of the pencil is fatter than the average mechanical pencil and relatively torpedo-shaped, with the thickest part being around two-thirds of the way toward the front and tapering down from there. Forward of this hump there is a (removable) rubber grip section and a metal cone, attached to which is a smaller metal cone that serves as a lead pipe. As far as I can tell, the farthest this pencil can be taken down by the user is removing these two bits, which gets you nowhere. Behind the grip section is a clear piece of plastic with a colored checker pattern (which is black, trying to mimic a “carbon fiber” look. Other syles come in other colors) below this, you can see the black tube containing the advance mechanism. Behind that is a correspondingly colored opaque plastic bit that contains just enough printed information about the pen and holds the attached spring-clip on a pivot. At the very end of the pencil is a(nother) correspondingly colored translucent plastic eraser cover, under which is a small white eraser that can be removed to access the lead tube.

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The lead and eraser are what you would expect from Pilot: that is, quite serviceable. The lead is a fine .5 and the one included feels like an HB. It’s a medium hardness and quite smooth, nothing to write home about but nothing wrong. The eraser gets the job done but like many mechanical pencil erasers is entirely too small (in my opinion). This is offset slightly by it not being they type that disappears easily. The push click mechanism is usable and gets thing done, but is a little underwhelming. And the clip is great, being smooth enough to not damage items but strong enough to hold on firmly, while the spring mechanism makes it easier to use and harder to break. But obviously the main attraction is the shake advance mechanism, which works as advertised. A good shake will advance enough lead for one to be able to write, though it might take two to get to a length most people are comfortable with. The advance per “shake” is comparable to the advance per “click” with minor length differences depending on some ethereal power (likely gravity and the external forces you apply). And the weight inside needs to reach both extremes in a short period of time with some force in order to advance the lead, this means that accidental advancement is a rare occurrence, but when intentionally done can be a surprisingly subtle gesture (though it’s still violent enough that people might give you strange looks). I haven’t had it advance in my bag, yet it’s always done so easily when I was using it.

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Without its gimmick this is still a solid pencil, though one could argue that its ¥200 (≈$1.75) price tag isn’t worth it without the shake advance (the same for its increased US price of $3.00-3.50) but even then it’s right on the line for the quality (though I wouldn’t get it without the mechanism because of its thickness). But with the mechanism it becomes a fascinating and usable utensil. The grip is comfortable, if wide, the lead and eraser are of quality, the clip is a step up, and the mechanisms work wonderfully. If you’ve been looking for a more convenient advance mechanism and other options like side advance aren’t doing it for you this is certainly something to look at. And while I probably wouldn’t have bought one for myself (it was a gift from my brother when he went to Japan), and indeed I won’t be keeping it in my daily use pencil bag, I had a fun time with it all throughout my testing.

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Review – Kokuyo PS-FP102 Mechanical Pencil (.7mm) (DM)

In a time where a lot of companies are trying to re-invent the wheel with their pencils, Kokuyo from Japan has made a relatively inexpensive, minimalistic, and comfortable mechanical pencil. The PS-FP102 (Pencil Sharp {my guess from the website}) omits several things that could be thought of as standard, and uses that effort on a sturdy and comfortable design (that is, from what I understand, ostensibly for children in school). Is the trade-off worth it?

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The body is one of the simplest to be found on a mechanical pencil, being mainly a vaguely triangular-ized (at least the “frosted” versions are triangular) cylinder with a rubbery coating for the 4 ½” body. Sticking out a quarter of an inch on the back is the click-advance button, and five eighths on the front is a plastic cone, from which a smaller metal “lead-pipe” can emerge bringing the total length of the cone to three quarter inches. Printed (maybe stamped or adhered) on one of the facets is all of the information about the pencil (which seems like it will rub off in the future but has withstood use so far).

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The body can be unscrewed at the cone, revealing that the rubberized triangular barrel is just a sheath, and the cone mechanism can be pulled from the front. As far as I can tell no further takedown can be done and neither of these operation provide any real benefit that I can see beyond checking how much lead is in the pencil (through a convenient window {the view on my frosted black version from the outside is blocked}) and perhaps clearing out the front mechanism.

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Writing performance is good; the lead is a .7mm and presumably HB (there are also .9 and 1.2mm versions). It’s a bit too thick for what I usually like to write with (.5mm) but it is fairly break-resistant and smooth, which would be good qualities for a school pencil, and from what I understand that is what it was originally designed for. There is no eraser or clip (though there is a version of the pencil that comes with a stand-alone eraser and friction-fit clip) and instead of having to remove a back piece to insert lead there is simply a hole just big enough to fit the lead through that lead can be fed into. Once it has been pushed all the way in, it enters into a larger reservoir and will not likely find the correct angle with sufficient force to come back out of the hole. It’s honestly a pretty elegant lead-feeding system if one doesn’t care about having an eraser.

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The click-advance mechanism is very smooth and workable, but unsatisfying. The metal “nib”/lead-pipe at the front does retract and advance with the lead, neatly preventing any damage that it would cause but being a bit fiddly (it’s easily possible to retract the lead and not the metal piece, which is a bit of a strange situation). And the rubberized, triangularized grip is very easy to hold, not slippery at all, and quite comfortable (though not my preference), especially for hands just learning to write (it keeps fingers in the proper orientation). I must say, though, that it only barely resists rolling off the table more than its round counterparts.

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So instead of an eraser or clip, this pencil provides an elegant lead-feeding system, comfortable and chucky triangular grip, and a stow-away point. All of which make it a good fiddly-bit-free pencil for students, and with a slide-over clip and external eraser (the integrated ones are never enough) it might also be a preferable one for artists or in the office. For the mostly reasonable price of ¥180 (≈$1.55) it’s a solidly designed, well built little pencil that seems like it would last under a bit of stress and is certainly worth checking out if you want a triangular grip or to forgo the standard integrated eraser for greater lead convenience.

Review – Pentel GraphGear 1000

My favorite mechanical pencil is the Pentel GraphGear 500, but its MSRP is a bit close to my usual ceiling budget for new pencils, so I was reluctant to pick up its “big brother” the GraphGear 1000, until I saw one for a good deal. There are a lot of upgrades and features the 1000 has that the 500 does not, but is it worth the extra price (it usually costs)?

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If I was to give an example of an over-engineered pencil, the GraphGear 1000 would be that pencil. The body starts out pretty simple, with the back half being mainly cylindrical and having all the necessary information printed on it. The front half has the (grip) section that is very lightly knurled and has 24 embedded rubber ovals to increase comfort and grip. The “cone” in front of the section that steps and tapers down to the “lead pipe” screws off, allowing the section to be removed and reoriented. A small cutout at the end of the section (near the middle of the pencil) can then be oriented over a scale of hardnesses that are printed (stickered) around the inside barrel to show the correct hardness of the pencil (mine was preset at HB). Then the cone can be screwed back down to lock in the selection. (Otherwise the inner barrel is a smooth black plastic with a matte finish that isn’t really intended to be seen).

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The lead pipe usually featured on “drafting” pencils is curiously absent when one first inspects the item. It can be found by pressing the clicking mechanism on the end, at which point it pops out and is locked in place via a locking mechanism on the clip. Further clicking of the mechanism will extend the lead (or, by holding it down, allow the lead to be retracted) and pushing the top of the spring-loaded clip will release the simple locking mechanism and cause the lead pipe to quickly hide away in the cone again. The clicking mechanism cap can be removed to reveal an eraser, which can be removed to reveal lead storage. Both are friction fit with nice tolerances. And the mechanism’s cap has the lead size (.5mm for mine) printed on the top for easy reading when in a pencil cup.

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How well does all of this work? Very. Everything is solid, most of the important parts being made out of metal, giving it quite a heft when compared to the 500. The clicking and locking mechanisms are smooth, quick, solid, and satisfying to use. There is no play at all when using the pencil, and it tucks away perfectly (when the lead is retracted). The HB lead it comes with is standard. It’s bordering on the hard side of HB, but it’s still pretty smooth, and from using the same variety in other pencils for quite some time I can say it is reasonably break-resistant for the .5 size. The grip is surprisingly comfortable and the rubber ovals hardly noticeable (in fact they might not be necessary, or may even make it a bit more slippery than I would prefer). The clip does a very good job of clipping (mostly because of the cutout and spring present for the locking mechanism), and it slides off with very little damage from its well-polished edges (my model has a chromed-out clip for extra smoothness and flair I guess) and it being the locking mechanism means the lead pipe will retract as soon as it’s clipped on to something, preventing damage. The eraser is the same as the one on the 500, and it does a decent job getting rid of marks while being firm enough to not disappear completely.

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With that multitude of features and solidness of performance is it worth the price? Assuredly. But do you really need all of those features? Probably not. This is a great pencil and I’m really glad I was able to get one (even more glad it was at what I consider to be a really good price) but it just won’t be replacing the 500 for me (at least at the moment: only time will tell). I’m not really sure what it is about it, since it’s got a nice weight, a satisfying feel, good writing capability, and it isn’t ugly (though my model {the PG1015} is a silver color with chrome clip and button and I wouldn’t call it the most handsome pencil in my collection) but it’s just not right for me. Still, it is an astounding pencil at a very good price and if the features I’ve talked about interest you, or you want to move up in the world of mechanical pencils either as a hobby or an artist I can heartily recommend this as an excellent next step.

Review – OHTO Sharp Pencil APS-350ES

I like tiny, pocket-sized things. Especially writing utensils, like the Fisher Space Pen Stowaway, the cheap touch screen styluses, and now the subject of this review, the OHTO mini Sharp Pencil. All of these happen to be the same size. So the OHTO is cool both in that it matches many other small items you can buy, but it also might be the smallest mechanical pencil I have ever seen, being a little over 4 inches long and less than 3/16ths of an inch in diameter. But at that size will it still work well? Let’s take a look.

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The design is meant to mimic a wooden pencil. The outside of the pencil is actually made of wood and has a hexagonal design. Mine is in green, with silver printed information on one facet. The tip is sharpened like a wood pencil until about halfway when it is replaced by a metal cone that leads to a very short lead pipe. On the back there is a clip that is a separate piece of metal bent around and friction fit. Beyond that is the click mechanism that is really only usable when the eraser holder is installed. The eraser holder is quite a simple piece of metal that keeps the lead in the feeder, depresses the click mechanism, and holds a very small eraser. The wire-thin piece of metal attaching this piece to the body seems rather flimsy and easy to remove, but I have had no problems with it shaking loose: it simply doesn’t have enough mass. Likewise I have encountered no problems with the quality of any of the components.

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The lead seems to be HB. I don’t have the package (which is rather understated and nice by the way) with me so I don’t know what it is exactly, but I have no complaints. It writes well, and can be sufficiently dark. The eraser also works surprisingly well for its size, with very little being used to rub away quite a bit, but I wouldn’t say it’s a great eraser. The click mechanism is satisfying and the lead is held very securely in place when one is using the pencil. The clip is also very good for the size, easily holding it in place while not damaging anything.

In the end, for on-the-go sketching or writing I would certainly recommend this product. I also wouldn’t recommend it at all for stationary or desk-related activities. It is very small, and while that makes it portable, it isn’t the most comfortable of writing implements. It will hold up very well in a bag or a pocket, and it looks quite neat in my opinion. I’d just say be careful of the back end being knocked loose and stock up on some extra erasers and lead (it only comes with one of each) as one will likely run through them pretty quickly.

Review – Pentel Sharplet-2 .9mm

Recently I was gifted several mechanical pencils from someone who is a fan of larger lead sizes, and they were attempting to convert me. I have to say I’m not convinced, but the pencils themselves were ones I hadn’t had previous experience with. That isn’t really surprising, considering the vast array of mechanical pencils on the market from companies like Pentel, such as the gift I’m looking at today: the Pentel Sharplet-2 in .9mm.

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The pencil has a very classic and simple design that’s been around the block. At the back there is a plastic, cylindrical cover for the eraser, which is the standard tiny variety and placed over the lead tube. This back bit also serves as the click-advance mechanism. The barrel is the same diameter as the back cover, and consistent all the way down. The clip is one piece of metal that is friction fit around the barrel; it is a little stiff but keeps the pencil where you clip it. The only other features of the barrel are the brand and model information (that is engraved in as well as painted on, making it harder to wear away than on most writing implements), and about an inch of tiny ridges on the “section” (there is no separate section so that is for you to decide) for grip. The plastic cone that screws on the front is straight and unspectacular, ending in a metal pipe that makes the pencil more drafting-friendly.

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The leads pencils normally come with are all pretty standard, straddling the line between super dark and super light. The wider leads, just by virtue of being larger, require less pressure to write darker, and write (or sketch) in general with a wider and darker line. There are no real problems or tricks one has to get used to when writing. The eraser is similarly plain. It erases well, but can have trouble getting rid of darker or thicker lines like all erasers of its size that come packed in with mechanical pencils. The pencil does come in different versions for lead sizes; these are color coded for easy identification (it looks like there is some variation in the eraser color, as well).

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Pentel makes a solid pencil, and this is no exception. The design is simple, comfortable, and durable. It’s really a no-frills pencil. Everything is basic and has a function, it’s easy to disassemble and parts could be easily replaced (though it isn’t expensive enough to justify the hassle of that, it certainly isn’t a disposable pencil, though). The mechanism is satisfying to use, the grip is not slippery, the clip holds, and the retro styling makes it look kinda trendy (not that I care). If you want a simple, solid pencil or want to buy a set with easily distinguishable lead sizes, these would fit the bill.

Review – Zebra M-301 Mechanical Pencil

The Zebra F-301 is one of my favorite and most hardy ballpoint pens. I’ve used one for a long time, and they have a good record for staying together. But Zebra has several other writing utensils in their “301” line, one being the still-very-popular M-301 Mechanical pencil. Is it as good as its counterpart? Let’s see.

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The body of the pencil is the same as the pen, starting with a sturdy stainless steel click button, and going to a black plastic clip “holder” for a stainless steel clip that does its job if one doesn’t get turned upside down and shaken. The barrel is also a nice, plain stainless steel with the pencil’s information printed on it. The grip section is plastic with a bit of “knurling” that provides some grip and is unintrusive. The real difference between the two bodies is that after the section the pencil has a black plastic taper with a metal pipe for the lead. Unscrewing this will reveal the lead and make it breakable but otherwise not change the operation.

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The push cap operates smoothly, and can be removed to reveal an eraser that does its job, though it has no replacements in the package. Removing the eraser reveals the lead feed, which thankfully does come with more than one lead in the standard version. The lead feeds well, and writes as smooth as one would expect a standard HB to. It is a bit hard, and brittle at times; unlike many pens there is no shock absorber, so keep the lead as short as possible. The pipe and the lack of a shock absorber do make this pencil much more like a drafting pencil than the standard mechanical pencils, and it would work in that scenario in a pinch (or perhaps a bit longer). And its rugged steel exterior make it great for taking anywhere. One would just have to worry about the pipe getting bent or tearing something.

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It’s a great pencil, really, and it lives up to the expectations of its ballpoint relative. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a tough little thing that gets the job done, and for an inexpensive price, considering the materials and drafting-friendly capability. If one can find refills, they will have a pencil they can take anywhere for a very long time, even if it’s not their main utensil.

Review – Bic Velocity Mechanical Pencil

Bic makes a lot of writing products, and sometimes it’s hard for me to keep them straight. I’ve never really been sure what one is supposed to do over the other. Nevertheless, the Bic Velocity is a solid mechanical pencil and I’ll be looking at it today.

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The back of the pencil is unremarkable; a clear plastic cap covers a small, white, barely functional eraser (it works about as well as most mechanical pencil erasers). This assembly can be pushed down to activate the lead advance mechanism. Just down from this is a plastic clip, functionally all right, with the pencil’s information written on it. Down from there, the body is clear and straight until it get to the rubberized grip section where it bulges then hourglasses, creating a nice place to rest your fingers. The little cap cone after this is clear, and has the metal tip floating inside so that is retracts when the lead is retracted, preventing the tip from getting caught on anything.

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Writing is fine. The lead is standard. It doesn’t break much, goes on smoothly enough and dark enough for school or office work. There is no advanced shock absorber or lead turning to prevent any damage, though, but at the price, that’s teetering on the edge of reason. The grip is comfortable enough to get one through writing or drawing without too much trouble. It doesn’t slip and isn’t too narrow. The overall construction is solid, and it feels like it won’t break in your hand.

Overall, the Velocity is fine. It isn’t the best mechanical pencil ever, and it has no real features, but it’s solidly and relatively comfortably built. It is fairly inexpensive and comes with enough refills of erasers and lead to last the user for some time. As far as inexpensive options go for mechanical pencils, it’s a good one, but there’s nothing special about it.