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.

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Review – INC Soft Scripts Mechanical Pencils

Pencils for the office, school, or just someone who loses their pencils a lot can get pricey, fortunately there are a lot of inexpensive options out there. But are they even worth it to try? Sure, there are a lot of inexpensive pencils, but if they don’t “pencil” there is no reason to even consider them. INC Soft Scripts are one such pencil on the less expensive side of the aisle. How well do they work?

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The design here is pretty stereotypical, with the barrel being a thin, featureless tube of black plastic that tapers at one end to a plastic lead pipe. Near this end is a rubber grip in one of a few (5 in my case) colors that is narrower in the middle and has ridges toward the end, both ostensibly to help with grip, and they succeed in being barely noticeable. On the back end is a colored plastic push-advance mechanism (that matches the grip) with integrated pocket clip and eraser holder. This bit can be removed to expose the lead-holding tube that contains 2 extra leads (for a total of 3 per pencil). The clip is nothing spectacular, with most of the necessary information on it, and fairly brittle. But I feel the entire end piece would fling off before it broke.

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Performance is what one would expect. The HB lead is middle-of-the-road, leaning toward soft, but there’s nothing particularly off about it. I personally don’t use a .7mm size but it is a fairly standard size and makes breaking less of a problem. The eraser is one of the little white ones that will get the erasing done pretty well, but will seem to disappear almost immediately. The clip is serviceable but I wouldn’t recommend using it. And, finally, the mechanism is quite solid and workable; pushing lead out and holding it in place when commanded to do so.

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They’re easily usable, but far from spectacular, pencils, with their main benefits being the rubber grip (if you happen to like those) and the fact that they are the ones at the store (if indeed they are the ones at the store). There’s nothing really there to recommend them on, but no reason to tell you to stay away, either. They will perform fine for office, school, car, or other tasks where pencils should be inexpensive because of the frequency with which they are broken or lost. In comparison to others at a similar, price it would really come down to personal preference.

Review – Uni-Ball Kuru Toga Mechanical Pencil

When talking about mechanical pencils, as with many things, it’s hard to get away from the idea that there must be some way to improve upon past designs, and that the standard design we use today has enough flaws in it that seem easily fixable that they should be promptly corrected. The Uni-Ball Kuru Toga is a mechanical pencil that is designed to fix one of the long-standing problems with pencils: unevenness of the tip due to use. Let’s see how it works out.

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The body of the Kuru Toga is quite simple. The barrel is almost entirely featureless until getting close to the point, where there are a few ridges for “grip”, and then a small metal step-down to the lead point. Interestingly enough, unlike most mechanical pencils, this metal step-down is not integral to the design and the pencil will function fine without it. At the top is a small click-advance system, with a transparent eraser cover that is the accent color. The eraser is small, but works quite well, and most packs come with a few replacements. The cover makes a satisfying clicking noise as it moves into place. The clip has all the info you’ll get about the pencil, which is just enough, though not very much. The clip itself is functional, but not the best. The barrel is semi-transparent with a logo, giving the pencil overall a very interesting look.

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The lead is HB, and, according to the package, diamond-infused. It is harder than most other HB’s I’ve used, and I haven’t had a lead break on me yet, though that’s more because of the lead advance, which tends to give less instead of more, meaning I have less lead available to break. Overall, the lead is smooth enough and doesn’t write very bold or dark. The real feature of this pencil is the turning point, which acts with the pressure of writing and supposedly turns the lead to prevent breakage and to create a more even tip. I’m not sure if it works, or even if it is working, as I’ve never felt it when using the pencil, but I have also never had the lead break, so there’s that. I wouldn’t say it improves the writing experience by creating a sharper point, but it certainly doesn’t make it worse. Perhaps this feature for me is unnoticed since I naturally rotate the pencil around in my hand willy-nilly. That’s just how I write.

So overall, how well does this pencil do? Pretty good, I guess. I’m not a fan of the overall design, and the lack of any grip on the smooth plastic can make it hard to hold. Like I said, I can’t even tell if the feature is working, but I’ll go ahead and say that, at least through a combination of factors that went into the design of the pencil and lead, it is much less prone to breakage than other models. So if you have a problem with breaking your leads, I’d certainly have a look, but if you value the comfort in hand more than the lead quality, I might look elsewhere.