While visiting the Somjai stationery store in Thailand earlier this year, I only purchased two pens. The first was the uni-ball Laknock (you can read that review here), and the second was this, the Faber-Castell 1423 Ball Pen. At 10 Thai Baht (about $1 USD), it’s not an expensive or fancy pen, but what drew me to it was the Faber-Castell name, which is primarily known to me as a high quality pencil manufacturer. As it turns out, they do manufacture plenty of pens as well, and so I was looking forward to trying one out.
Well, the 1423 doesn’t scream “premium quality” with its looks. The design is simple, and its body is entirely plastic. Probably the first thing I noticed was that the cap secures and posts very tightly. But when I got to writing with it, the overall experience was pretty good. The ink goes down dark and smooth, and it produces a clean line. However, the ink is also quite wet and will smear if you don’t give it a few extra seconds to dry.
Oddly, the 1423 feels more like a liquid ink (rollerball) pen than a ballpoint, which traditionally use oil-based inks that don’t tend to smear very much. Regardless, I like this pen, and I’ll find some use for it. But I wouldn’t suggest going all the way to a Thai stationery store to get one. A pen like the Pilot Acroball will provide a similar writing experience.
I wasn’t planning to visit any stationery stores during a recent vacation to Thailand. But one afternoon, as temperatures in Chiang Mai rose to over 100ºF, we took shelter in the MAYA Shopping Center where I spotted a storefront loaded with the good stuff. The shop, I later learned, is a Thai chain called Somjai, which is full of all sorts of cool stationery and art supplies.
Unprepared and slightly overwhelmed, I didn’t end up buying much while I was there, but one item that caught my attention was this uni-ball Laknock ballpoint. I’ve reviewed a lot of uni-ball products on this blog, but I’ve never heard of the Laknock before. And, honestly, I kind of just liked the product’s name.
The Laknock is a retractable ballpoint, and it was priced at 30 Thai Baht (about $1 USD). It has a comfortable, rubbery grip and a body that is constructed with plastic. Overall, the look is very similar to your run-of-the-mill Pilot G-2. It seems to come in multiple tip sizes, but I went for the smallest one I could find at 0.5mm. For a ballpoint, this tip size feels very fine, though I do like it. However, like most ballpoints, the ink isn’t particularly dark, and I’ve experienced the occasional blobbing and smearing.
For a dollar, the Laknok is a nice ballpoint, but there’s nothing that really sets it apart from any other ballpoint you’d find for a dollar. It’s rather generic, and there’s little to say beyond that. So, if you find yourself at a stationery shop in Thailand, it wouldn’t hurt to pick up one of these ballpoints. But, otherwise, you’re not missing too much.
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.
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.
Since Muji has only a handful of retail locations in the United States, I make sure to visit whenever I’m in proximity to one. So when I was in New York a couple of weeks ago, I hit up their SoHo location and picked up a few fresh Muji pens, including this $1.50 gel. If you know Muji, then you’re probably familiar with the company’s “no-brand” products. Unlike your BIC Cristals and Pilot G2s, this pen doesn’t really have a name, but it’s simply referred to as a “Smooth Writing Gel Pen.” Though there’s a little bit more to it than that.
Unlike the standard Muji gel pen I sometimes see in the wild, this pen is retractable and has a handy spring-loaded clip. It has a good, dark gel ink that doesn’t smear too much, and as the name suggests, it is a smooth writer. It is also a reliable writer, so you wont be bothered by ink that skips out. If you’ve ever used a Zebra Sarasa Clip, this pen will feel very familiar (in fact, it’s likely that Zebra clandestinely produces this pen for Muji).
My only complaint with Muji’s Smooth Writing pen is that I don’t really like the grip section – the rubber grip has an odd “pencil eraser” feel to it. Though, admittedly, this doesn’t bother me so much as to make me stop using the pen.
If you’re going to be at a Muji store any time soon, then maybe grab one or two of these on your way to the check-out. Otherwise, if you’re looking for a decent gel pen with a spring loaded clip, then it’ll probably be easier to find a Zebra Sarasa Clip instead. You’ll hardly notice the difference anyway.