Review – Zebra F-701 Ballpoint

For quite some time now, my go-to ballpoint pen has been the Zebra F-301. I carried one around with me every day and have one in each of my various bags. To me, they are a very good compromise between writing performance, durability, availability, and expense. But recently I managed to crack off the plastic grip in my daily carry pen (in quite the unremarkable way, I just fidgeted with it too much and was popping the threads) and even though it is a problem that I’m not likely to replicate in the future, it set me on a quest to find an all-metal replacement that won’t have a similar problem. I’ve been fairly happy with other Zebra products in the past (with the exception of their fountain pen) and I ended up finding the “upgraded” version of the pen I was currently using, the F-701. This all stainless-steel pen with a knurled grip is supposed to be durable, elegant, and precise. Does it live up to its own advertising?

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The body of this pen looks simple even when compared to the already minimal F-301. A 3/8ths tubular body uses more than 4 of the pen’s overall 5 ¼ inches in length. The last inch or so from the tip is very finely knurled to form the grip section, after which is a stainless-steel cone with some cosmetic step-downs. This cone screws off, providing the only access to the refill or inside the pen at all, allowing you to see that the walls of the body are about 2mm thick. On the other side of the pen there is a highly polished clip in the bent-spring steel fashion with “ZEBRA” and “F-701” stamped into it that is joined to the top of the barrel with the only bit of exposed plastic on the pen. Above this is a clicker button, which is, in fact, a plastic plunger with a metal sheath. You can theoretically remove this sheath, but there is no reason to (it doesn’t give you access to anything) and it doesn’t look like it will come off under normal conditions.

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The refill is exactly the same as the refill for the F-301, which means it is fantastically smooth for a ballpoint, with a black that’s dark enough and generally resistant to wear (I believe you could also swap in one of their gel refills if that’s more your thing). This smoothness is added to by the weight of the pen, which is almost twice that of the 301, and it really shrugs off the common complaint that ballpoints require too much pressure to write with comfortably. I can write in cursive with one of these pens as fast and as easily as I could with any of my fountain pens and I get the benefit (or detriment) of that thin, precise line.  The clip is almost identical to that of the 301, but it seems to be attached more securely and doesn’t have as much of a problem with bending away and losing its grip over time (but this is still an area that can be improved: I wouldn’t clip on anything thicker than a piece of fabric). The knurling on the grip is superb, completely removing any slipperiness while being fine enough to not dig into the skin to be noticeable. This, combined with the larger size, will probably be good news for anyone who has cramped up trying to hold onto the 301 series. And finally, the click mechanism is very smooth with a nice amount of back pressure. Despite claims that it is “silent” there is still a noticeable click, but it is much less satisfying. The overall mechanism feels much more structurally sound and is nicer but ever-so-slightly more difficult to push.

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I would consider the 701 an upgrade in almost every way. It is heavier, thicker, and more expensive. But the all-metal body is (even more) rugged, and the feel of the writing experience from click to page is smooth and seamless. My complaints are limited to the clip still being a problem if bent out even just a little, and the habit the shiny metal body (especially the polished clip) has of collecting scratches (some people might also be displeased about the grip being not-grippy enough for them, or the body feeling cold/heavy because of its metal construction). For the price, I’d say this is the best you could do for a ballpoint, and I might even go so far as to put it up as one of the best ballpoints I’ve ever used.

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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.

Review – Zebra Sarasa Colors Black, Blue, Red, Navy, Mahogany

I’ve talked about the Zebra Sarasa before, and it’s an alright gel pen. The saving grace of many gel pens is that most come in a variety of colors at least partially unique to them, and the Sarasa is no exception there. Let’s take a look at a few of the colors.

The colors are always a bit off in the digital space

The colors are always a bit off in the digital space

First, Black. It’s a cool black that covers well. It works in an office setting and generally doesn’t get lighter even with minimal pressure. I’d say it’s black almost as soon as it gets on the page. The drying time is moderate and it’s water smudge-able.

Next, Blue.  The blue is quite dark, darker than most office-type blue colors. This makes it easier to read and more professional. It’s also natural looking, more like a deep sea-blue than an in-between blue that doesn’t really exist in nature. It’s the least smudge-prone of the bunch, but that won’t entirely stop it from lifting off the page.

Third, Red. It is a bland red, with no real pop to it. Though it is brighter than some of the competition, it isn’t really eye hurting. It’s quite noticeable and quite red but has no character — and no real flaws, either. It’s the color that fades the most when exposed to water.

Now, Navy.  Navy is a very deep, dark blue. It’s really almost black. You’d need a good light on to tell which one is which, though you could tell that black and navy are different colors with minimal light. It’s a wonderful dark color that is almost soothing and quite free flowing.

Finally (for this set), Mahogany.  It is really more like maroon. It’s a slightly purplish red which is also very dark and quite nice. It is much more noticeable than the navy, and still quite natural, giving an almost brown appearance from far away. It’s probably my favorite of the five, though the one with the fewest applications, and while you might get away with it at the office, it could be a hard sell. Unless you work for Texas A&M University.

That’s the five colors for this week. Next time I’ll be looking at the other five colors in the standard ten color pack.

Review – Zebra F-301 Ballpoint

Sometimes even the most pretentious artists or religious fountain pen users have to use a ballpoint pen. Now they could just use a ballpoint insert in a more expensive pen, but they might not want to do that. They also might not want to use a Bic ballpoint. So now we enter the level of not entirely expensive or cheap ballpoint pens. The first being the Zebra F-301 ballpoint pen.

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The pen is made of stainless steel with a round barrel with the model number on it. The (grip) section is a checkered plastic that is grippy and between comfortable and uncomfortable. It really does nothing for me. The cone near the tip is nothing spectacular. The clips is a simple stainless steel, with a plastic back and a metal button. The button does not lock down when depressed so it does shake when one is writing. Otherwise, the body is very study and light. Denting is hard; scratching is fairly easy, though.

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The point is very fine. It writes smoothly and the ink is standard ballpoint black. It is slightly grey and skippy unless one pushes down hard. It is not waterproof, but it doesn’t smudge after drying. I will say that the pen I have used is more prone to globs of ink off the tip than almost any other pen I’ve used.

So overall the additional expense of this pen (which isn’t very much, but still…) over a regular ballpoint is obviously its design. It will hold up better and is much more pleasant to hold than any other cheap ballpoint. The writing experience is about the same, which, to be fair, doesn’t get much better with the more expensive pens. It really is just a matter of taste and how much you want to spend on this one.