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 – 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.