Review – Sharpie Mini

I really like Sharpies, and I have talked about them a few times before. There’s a reason they’re so popular, and as they continue to become more used they are diversifying their product range. One such product that came out a while ago is the Sharpie Mini, which is, as the name would imply, much shorter than the average Sharpie.

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It has the same starting and ending diameters as the regular sized Sharpie, with an extra part on the tip that snaps on with a lanyard “ring” (triangle). Both the cap and body have been reduced in size, but proportionally the cap is larger. The clip is very similar, but shorter, and works well enough but not fantastically. The necessary information is still printed on the side.

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The size is quite small, at 3 and 11/16ths inches capped, down from a standard Sharpie’s 5 and ½ inches. Most people would find the uncapped marker uncomfortable to hold without posting, and it’s still only tolerable when it is. The odd shape of the cap and grip make it strange to hold. The rest of the writing is all the same as a regular Sharpie, with a cool black line, very permanent but not perfect (archival) qualities, a nice tip, fast drying, and the ability to smoothly put down a ton of ink.

There’s not much more to say than that they’re smaller Sharpies. And if you like Sharpies but want a more portable option, here it is. The only downsides are they are somewhat awkward to hold, and have less ink. I personally didn’t like the lanyard ring, but that just pops right on and off, so it’s no problem. I have Sharpies around with me a lot because they’re so versatile, and this is a great little thing to decrease their needed carrying size with.

Review – Fisher Space Pen Stowaway

The Fisher Space Pen has a reputation for being a very good pen, with many models being used by many people for many different things. But I feel that some models of space pen get more attention than others. And for some reason, the stowaway isn’t one of them, but it might be my favorite and I think it’s deserving of a look today.

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The body is very simple. It’s a black metal cylinder with a plastic end cap and another slightly larger black cylinder fitting over it. Fitted to this top tube is a clip, which is longer than most pen clips I’ve seen and has “Fisher” stamped into it (not much else to say, it works as a clip should). On the section there is a slight but smooth step down, and then a taper to the point.

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Writing is fairly smooth, though it does require a bit more pressure than some of the more modern pens (but less pressure than the cheap ones). The pen itself is very thin in diameter, meaning one’s hand will begin to cramp if writing more than a few notes. The body is also very short, and generally requires the cap to be posted (placed on the back of the pen) in order to lie in the webbing of one’s hand and be comfortable. This small-ness is very useful when traveling, as this pen can fit just about anywhere (but not an Altoids tin or some similar sized case, which might be why “preppers” don’t use them very often). And even though it’s metal it weighs next to nothing. In most cases it will “stowaway” very easily.

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I really like this pen. It goes with me almost everywhere (and I found an almost identically-sized pencil I will be talking about soon). Its slim body and black color make it very low profile and professional, while its all-metal construction and space pen (underwater, upside down, in space etc.) writing ability make it a very rugged writer. I did dent and scratch mine within a day of owning it, but I haven’t put anything on it since (and besides, that just adds character). The cartridges are even replaceable so you don’t have to throw out the pen each time as with many pens of this size. So, if you’re looking for an on-the-go sketching/writing/note taking pen that could also fit in with any of your other stuff at a moment’s notice, I’d say check this guy out.

Review – Poppin Fineliners

Poppin is a company that I don’t know much about, but their pens definitely catch the eye. When I saw this set of fineliners (felt tip pens) from them, I knew I had to pick a set up. The packaging and the feeling of the pens themselves appears quality, but do they live up to their first impressions?

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The outsides themselves are very nice looking. At the bottom is a small inset for posting the cap, which connects via a visible seam to a very smooth and featureless barrel. Underneath the cap are a series of step downs that are quite short and would be uncomfortable to hold, leading quickly to a standard-looking felt tip point, making it more comfortable to hold the pen by the barrel when writing. The cap, when on, has a slight step up from the barrel but is equally pleasantly smooth, and its only features are a dimple in the top and a rather unique u-like clip that looks like a Lamy wire clip that has been flattened.

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Functionally, the clip is about useless. It doesn’t have any dimple with which to grip, and is spaced farther from the cap than the width of most fabrics, meaning friction won’t be holding it in. The tips themselves aren’t that great, either. Like most fineliners, they do write with minimal pressure, but unlike most they do not give a consistent line. Dots very quickly form when writing or drawing due to having a very fluid ink not well controlled, and when writing fast at times skips can even develop, though this is rare.

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The colors of black, blue, and red are very standard, but the two extra colors are very washed out, blue especially. The blue is very pleasant sky blue when controlled well, but becomes darker quickly. But it still sticks out compared to other office blues. Red is nice and vibrant, though its tone is closer to that of a pink. It’s the least prone to problems as the ink is a bit thinner and less likely to dot. The black is fortunately a black and not a very deep purple or gray as some are. It is slightly on the cool side, which is unusual. The colors do match their corresponding pen bodies fairly well, but the inclusion of a 4th pen that has a white body, but also black ink, is slightly confusing. They unfortunately do bleed through the paper, but have minimal shading and resist water (while they do spread slightly when wet, they remain easily readable).

Overall I think the pens aren’t really up to par with what one can get for their office. They are sturdy and the ink works well, but without functional clips, they must remain at the desk or in a case, and their writing performance leaves much to be desired. The user just ends up with a pen that feels slightly rough and dry. If style and durability are your main concerns (and potentially ease of writing as the ink almost jumps from pen to page on contact) these might work for you. But for those looking for the superior, super-smooth and comfortable writing experience, or a portable reliable writer, these can be easily passed up.

Review – Bull & Stash Notebook Travel Stash

Bull & Stash was a kickstarter for a notebook company that I only found out about because my brother was excited about it. The particular product he was looking at still hasn’t entered regular production, but I figured I’d test out one and see if they were any good in general.

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The basic idea is that the notebooks have removable pages. This way, different types of paper can be used, and notes can be organized after they’re written, both inside and outside the notebook. This is accomplished by having two posts on the back of the notebook that have removable screws to allow paper to be put in an out.

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The cover is a simple slab of supple leather with two holes in the back, and a logo stamped on the front. I’ve seen some complaints that the logo is stamped unevenly, and while it is on mine this doesn’t bother me. The cover did have an unsightly curl when I first received it (the back and front didn’t match up) but this has gone away with use. On the inside, the hardware is simple, and it screws down a flimsy cardboard piece with a place for basic lost and found information. Inside this is the paper. Around 40-45 pages can fit in at a time, but I’d recommend fewer. The cardboard and leather cover do provide enough stability to write on in most situations, but I wouldn’t be taking long notes or more than a few without a stable writing surface. The cardboard is also prone to bending, decreasing the stability over time.

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The paper is all right. It is fairly bleed resistant, but prone to feathering inks. The graph and lined refills are only printed on one side, which is fine by me because I only use one, but others might find it annoying. It would be difficult to use both sides in this book, though, because the hardware makes flipping through pages difficult. I’d remove the first few pages regularly to prevent them from being destroyed, and I can say that writing on the back of a page is almost impossible. The hardware also cramps the writing space. If things were a little smaller I’d be more happy.

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In the end, it’s a solid first attempt. It seems more like a portfolio builder, though, and I don’t know how supported the books will be. There are little inconsistencies and design problems that make me shy away from recommending the books. It’s not worth the current asking price to me if the cardboard and stamp quality aren’t fixed. And the edges of the notebook aren’t finished very well, leading to a very strange appearance. It definitely will last a long time: the leather and steel hardware aren’t going anywhere. But it just seems like the designers dropped the ball a little bit. It’s almost too simple and feels like it’s slapped together from existing items. Maybe my problems with the hardware are solved in the larger version, but I doubt it. Until a more usable and better finished version is released, I’d hold off.

Review – Autopoint All American

There are tons of pencils out there, but sometimes the old designs just call to me. And they still work very well. It’s hard to beat some of the most simple writing utensils in many cases. The Autopoint All American is not the simplest of pencils, but it is quite a classic and simple design that works very well.

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The top of the pencil is a hard, but functional, eraser held in by a metal sheath; removing this allows for access to the lead storage area. There is a metal collar that holds the clip just down from that, followed by the faceted barrel with 10 sides. This continues until the break for the twist mechanism, at which point the tip tapers down to the point of the lead. The only information is the lead size and brand on the clip, which is quite hard to read, and leaves me wishing the model name was somewhere.

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The mechanism is a simple wire-twist one that is a bit stiff to use. Once lead is inserted, one can twist to the right to advance the lead, or twist to the left and push on a hard surface to retract it. While stiff, the mechanism is quite solid, and the lead is held firmly in place. I have a .9 lead size version (in blue) and the lead is large enough that breaking isn’t very common anyway, and I haven’t found it to be a problem. The lead included is fairly standard in and of itself.

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It’s a good pencil with a classic design. The mechanism isn’t the easiest to use but it’s robust and sturdy. The pencil itself has a very utilitarian look and feel that I quite like. It feels like many of the classic pencils I have. So for those looking for a classic, rugged pencil design, this is one to look out for.

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.

Review – Uni Kuru Toga Roulette

I’ve previously looked at one of the most liked (and according the to the Wirecutter the best) recent mechanical pencils, the UniBall Kuru Toga; I was under whelmed. Recently I was able to get a hold of the upgraded version, the Roulette. Is it worth the upgrade? Should you skip the regular model and get this one? Let’s take a look.

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The back end of the pencil is a plastic and metal lead advancer; it works and doesn’t dig into the skin. There is a rubberized ring around it for reasons I don’t quite understand. Removing the advancer reveals a super tiny eraser that won’t last long but does indeed erase. Below that is a clip, which is fit onto the barrel in a way that would allow removal, but with difficulty. Japan is stamped into the side of the clip, and the name and size of the pencil is written on the barrel just beneath the clip. The barrel is plain until one gets to the section, which is metal and extended, the bottom half is knurled, but not aggressively so; it provides a good grip. There is a small hole in the grip that allows one to see the fact that the pencils mechanism is turning (but no the mechanism itself). Down from that is a tip very similar to the regular Kuru Toga, but extended is some ways. On this model this oddly designed step down cap is still not necessary, but covers up an otherwise ugly portion.

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Now on to the part everybody loves, the mechanism. I mentioned that I was under-whelmed by this previously, and I still am, but I know why now. The window in the grip section allowed me to see clearly when the mechanism was turning and when it wasn’t. And while it was possible to do this in the cheaper versions I was a bit harder to see. The mechanism itself by the way, as far as I can tell, is identical in both pencils, but there is no way to open them and find out exactly without possibly rendering them inoperable. But the answer to when the mechanism was turning when I was writing with the pencil was… never. I tested it, the mechanism works, it just never moves when “I” write with it. My writing, and drawing, are much too light to get it to rotate the lead, and thus I never see the affects. The packaging (for the inexpensive one, my roulette came in all Japanese packaging) says that the mechanism helps with the point of the pencil, and to prevent breakage. I really have never had a problem with either of these things, partly because I flail the pencil around compulsively when writing and drawing, and that rotates it such that my lead is always at a point. Now I guess I know that I write far too lightly to have a problem with breakage. But man, if I write lightly, some people must really press down on the things. So yes, it works flawlessly, but if you write like I do it isn’t really a selling point. And finally I wouldn’t worry about the mechanism wearing out, it is extremely well made and there have been no complaints about such a thing occurring, so if it does by that time you’d be able to just get a new one, it’s popularity means it likely isn’t going anywhere.

So, it is a good pencil? Yes. Is it worth the money for the upgraded version? Yes, even without the mechanism. The pencil is solid, well made, and solves the comfort issues I had with the less expensive version. The weight is good, the feel is good, the metal gives one a good grip and the writing is nice and fine. And if one does press hard enough to activate the mechanism I’ve heard nothing but good things. I wouldn’t take it over my Graphgear, but that’s just personal preference. I like the thinner body a little better on that one. So if you write with a lot of pressure, the Kuru Toga is the pencil for you, if you don’t you have other equally good options within the price range in my opinion. Even then it’s definitely worth a look.

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

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:

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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.

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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.

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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 – Bic Cristal Bold

Bic makes a lot of pens, and the Cristal is one that everyone knows about. It’s a staple of the modern world: an admittedly cheap pen that can be, and is, used by everyone. But most of the time you find the medium version (or a fine if you’re either lucky or unlucky). And those have many of the problems we associate with ballpoints. And when one is running a business or doing art, sometimes it’s more important that the pen write on the first try, and write smoothly, than have a thin line. That’s where the Bic Cristal Bold 1.6mm pen that we’re looking at today comes in.

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The body is a simple as can be: a translucent piece of hexagonal plastic with key info on the side. The base of the ball point is plastic, while the tip itself is metal. The cap is a single piece with an integrated clip that works, but isn’t the best. The cap’s only real function is to prevent the pen from marking things when set down.

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But the real thing here is the tip, which is much wider than usual Bic ballpoint tips. Bic says that it is an “easy glide” pen. And I’d agree that that is the case. The ink is super smooth, and requires very little pressure once it gets going. After pushing down for a little bit, the pen, in my experience, will be writing perfectly a quarter of the way into the first letter, so not perfect startup, but good for a ball pen. After that it’s smooth enough to write cursive easily. There are a few points where the ink breaks up, and those are unsightly, but with a little hand control they can be covered up nicely. Like most ballpoints it’s suitably waterproof. And while the pen and packaging say it’s 1.6mm, Id’ be much more tempted to say it’s simply 1mm.

Really, it’s a great little pen, and not very expensive. If you’re looking for a cheap way to get a smoother (and partially less globby) writing experience, I’d say this is the direction to go first. They don’t match liquid ink pens of any type, but they certainly do work quite well and are convenient, having replaced most of my other ballpoints right now.