Review – Zebra SL-F1 Collapsible Pen

Earlier this year, my Fischer Space Pen Stowaway finally had the accident I was worried it might all along (the two halves of the pen became separated, and now I only have a cap). So, I needed to acquire some new small, daily carry pen. The choice wasn’t particularly difficult, my go-to ballpoint pen company, Zebra, has been making a collapsible pocket pen for some time and previously I simply never had an excuse to buy it. But, now that it’s in my hands, does it actually hold up?

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When retracted the pen is absolutely tiny at just over 3¼ inches long. The rear part of the pen is a cylinder 7mm in diameter and just under 2 inches long. At the top of this tube is a flat chrome finial with a simple chrome clip extending just beneath it. At the other end of the tube is a slight polished step-down that leads to a smaller tube, at the end of that is a similar step-down leading to a polished metal cone. Grabbing the smaller tube and pulling forward slides it out from the larger tube about an inch. This action also retreats the cone a quarter inch into the pen and pushes the point of the pen out of the end (leaving you with an overall length of 4¼ inches). Both of these cylinders are constructed of metal with a matte black finish applied, and the only markings are the word “zebra” written in silver near the bottom of the larger barrel.

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The retraction and extension method is a bit clunky and sticky, but it is very solid feeling and doesn’t show signs of failing anytime soon. The only potential problem I can see is that you need to be holding the tube that extends in order to write or the whole thing collapses back up again. The fine, .7mm ballpoint tip is, like all of Zebras refills incredibly smooth for a ballpoint while still having minimal skipping issues and providing a consistent and dark line (it writes almost identically to their standard refills for the “F” ballpoint series, but is a smaller, specialty refill). The extension of the pen is just enough to place it in the crook of most hands, allowing for it to be supported when writing, but the barrel/grip section, even for a lover of thin pens like myself, is small enough that your hand will cramp up over longer writing sessions (but this pen obviously wasn’t meant for that).

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If you’re looking for a pen that maximizes space while still being rugged and usable, this is a definite winner. The metal construction is hardy, while the extending feature is handy. It is easy to refill by screwing out the front cone (preferably when collapsed) but remains safely in one piece throughout normal use. The clip is very grippy and sturdy while not being sharp or prone to rip fabric, and its situations so near the top allows for deep carry with very little sticking out above to get caught or seen (though this is actually a problem for where I use it, as I have a hell of a time getting it out of the loop I’ve stored it in on my belt pouch. Something like that shouldn’t be an issue for most people). The writing is very nice and smooth with a permanence suitable to most people even though it can’t write upside down or underwater. And the price, while certainly higher than most ballpoint pens, is not going to break the bank.

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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.

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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.

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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