Review: Classmate Octane, Gel Ink, 0.5mm

It must have been some combination of boredom and curiosity that led me to order this 5-pack of Classmate Octane gel pens (or, as it turned out, five 1-packs). The Classmate brand is entirely new to me, and I’m not sure that the company actually sells anything in the United States. But I did stumble across these Octane pens on eBay, and at a little over 50 cents per pen, I thought I’d roll the dice. Who knows? Maybe I’d discover the next great gel pen.

With it’s stealthy, black body and high-powered name, the Octane certainly seems cool on the surface. Other positives: it’s a smooth writer and produces a nice, dark ink, but the “Japanese Waterproof Ink,” as Classmate promotes it, does like to smear. And, as one might expect from the price, the all-plastic construction does feel a bit cheap. It has a flimsy clip, and the rubber grip section slides around.

Classmate, a subsidiary of the Indian conglomerate ITC Limited (formerly known as The Indian Tobacco Company), probably sells these pens for practically nothing in India. And if you live in that part of the world, it may be worth getting some of these pens for casual use. It is an adequate gel pen after all, but my verdict is that it’s not something worth importing from across the ocean.

Review: Inc Forma, Ballpoint, 1.0mm

After my bad experience with the Inc R-2 rollerball pen, I wasn’t expecting much from the Inc Forma. After all, it does look like a cheap, ballpoint version of the Pilot G-2, and it’s primarily sold at The Dollar Tree. But after using it for bit, I was quickly and pleasantly surprised.

At $1 for a 3-pack, you’re definitely not getting a premium experience with the Forma. The pen is entirely made of plastic, the clip feels very flimsy, and the rubber grip is best described as “soft-ish.” But putting pen to paper, the ballpoint ink in this pen is surprisingly smooth. It doesn’t require much pressure to use, making it a decent writing experience.

On the negative side, the ink isn’t particularly dark, and there’s a small issue with blobbing and smearing. But, really, I don’t have any criticisms that are harsh given that it’s such an inexpensive pen. I’d prefer it over a cheaper BIC ballpoint any day.

Of course, I’d never suggest that anyone go out of their way to buy a pack. The Forma is not, by any means, a great pen. But if you happen to be in need of some cheap ballpoints while at a dollar store, then this is a fine choice.

Multi-Pen Review: Skilcraft B3 Aviator

If you’ve heard of the company Skilcraft, it’s probably for two reasons. First, it’s the manufacturer of the U.S. Government Pen, a low-cost, professional-looking ballpoint that also happens to be very reliable. And second, it’s held in high regard by the National Industries for the Blind for employing scores of blind workers in their manufacturing facilities. Skilcraft is a good company, and so I was interested in trying another of the their well-known pens, the stealthy-looking B3 Aviator multi-pen.

As the pen’s name makes obvious, the B3 Aviator is marketed towards pilots. It meets the FAA’s “FOD” requirements, and it has a matte black finish to prevent glare. The multi-pen has three components: a 1.0mm black ballpoint, a 1.0mm red ballpoint, and a 0.5mm mechanical pencil. The midpoint of the barrel twists in either direction to eject and retract the three tips in turn, and the end-cap also screws off to reveal an eraser.

Oddly, the design and function of the B3 Aviator is pretty much identical to the Zebra Surari Sharbo 1000. So, it probably goes without saying that the problems I had with the Sharbo are the same problems I have with the Aviator. In particular, there’s no indication on the barrel for which tip is selected (you have to closely examine the tip to know if you’re about to write with black ink/red ink/pencil), and the cap that covers the eraser is a small piece that’s begging to be lost. For some reason, I also had some trouble getting the Aviator’s pencil lead to eject without breaking.

But, unlike the Sharbo, the Aviator feels a lot more substantial and durable – for about $18, you don’t feel like you’re getting ripped off. But that’s all that this pen really has going for it. The refills are fine, and it generally works okay. However, I still wouldn’t recommend this multi-pen – the design just isn’t very good.

Review: IKEA Fullfölja, Gel Ink Pen

Shopping at IKEA can actually be pretty fun. The size and layout of these stores essentially make it a day trip; one full of poor attempts to pronounce Swedish words, small arguments about kitchen decor, and tasty meatball lunches. As I cut through the stationery department on my most recent visit, I found stacks of gel pens with the name Fullfölja – I told you that this stuff is hard to pronounce – and grabbed a 3-pack without hesitation because, well, why not? Impulse buying is an IKEA staple.

As you’d expect from an IKEA design, the pen is simple and straightforward. It’s about 5.5-inches long with an all-black, rounded barrel and a short cap. There is no clip, and the pen is not refillable. For the tip, I couldn’t find any sizing information, but the pen produces a fairly thick line. So I’d wager that the tip size is about 1.0mm. With such a thick line, the ink does smear easily, but it also produces a satisfyingly dark, black ink.

I’ll admit that there’s no shortage of gel pens that, for a similar price, are better than the Fullfölja , but strangely, I like these pens a lot. The design of the pen captures the IKEA brand so perfectly that using one gives me a small hit of the fun/stressful rush you get while shopping at an IKEA. They remind me of the Baron Fig Squire, albeit a plastic version, which I don’t really mind losing if it happens to roll off my table at a coffee shop.

I’m certainly not going to encourage anybody to go out of their way to find these pens, and the prices I’ve found online are ridiculous. But if you happen across these during your next IKEA visit, you might as well toss a 3-pack in your bag for $2.50. I think they’re worth it.

Review: AmazonBasics, Gel Ink, 0.5mm

As Amazon.com has become more and more successful, they’ve also been the target of more and more criticism, and the AmazonBasics line of products (Amazon’s “house brand“) is no exception. But whether we’re talking about batteries, power cables, kitchenware, or whatever, I’ve had good experiences with AmazonBasics as a consumer. So, when I saw that Amazon started selling their own retractable gel pens, I had to give them a shot.

Currently, Amazon doesn’t offer many options with these pens. They come in two colors, black or blue, and two sizes, 0.7mm or 0.5mm. The price fluctuates, but they seem to hover around the $6 mark for a pack of 12, which is pretty good for a “premium plastic” style gel pen. For comparison, the Pilot G2 (the most popular pen in this category) is usually double that price.

Since the AmazonBasics gel so much less expensive than its competitors, I’d expected a sharp decrease in quality, but everything has worked well for me over the last month that I’ve been using these pens. They write clean with low smearing, the ink is dark, and the grip section is comfortable to hold. I’ve had no issues with ink leaking, the knock hasn’t jammed, and the plastic clip has so far resisted snapping off.

So, if you’ve not sworn off Amazon after one or more of the company’s controversies, then I have to recommend this pen on its price point alone. It’s not my favorite “premium plastic” gel, but I’ll be happy to keep a box of these in my desk for anyone that comes along asking to borrow a pen. But if you dislike or Amazon, or if the price ever rises, then check out the Zebra Sarasa – it is uncannily similar.