Review: Retro 51 Hex-o-matic, Ballpoint, Medium

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Put them side-by-side, and the Retro 51 Hex-o-matic looks a lot like an ‘everyday carry‘ version of the Retro 51 Tornado. But really, aside from the knurled-metal end, the two pens share little similarity. The Hex-o-matic is thin, clickable, and durable. It has a matted, hexagonal body with a round, knurled grip, and it has an overall shape that is reminiscent of a syringe. Its metal construction gives it a nice bit of weight, and, like almost everything Retro 51 produces, I like it a lot.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the Hex-o-matic is actually its packaging. It is fairly intricate, as if it were designed by an origami expert, which makes for a great first impression. But unlike the Tornado’s packaging, which doubles as a pen holder, this elaborately-folded cardboard tube is ultimately useless. I’ll soon be tossing it in the recycling bin as I wonder, “how much did this packaging add to the cost of the pen?”

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The Hex-o-matic comes loaded with a Schmidt Easy Flow 9000 ballpoint refill, which is the same refill used by the Retro 51 Slim Tornado. It’s definitely good; much smoother and darker than a typical ballpoint, though it smears more than it ought. However, since it is a pen that seems built for ‘on-the-go’ usage, I really wish it came with a pressurized ink refill, such as the one that comes with the Fisher Space Pen. Unfortunately, that particularly refill doesn’t quite fit, at least without modification.

At $28, the Hex-0-matic feels a little expensive, especially when a decent metal pen like the Pentel Energel Alloy RT is under $10. But now having used the Hex-0-matic a while, I find it competing for pocket space against the Everyman Grafton, a favorite of mine (that costs even a little bit more money). So if you want a nice, durable pen to throw in your pocket as you run daily errands, this pen is a very good choice.

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Review: e+m Slim Line, Ballpoint, Medium Tip

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Wood, for whatever reason, is not a material that’s typically used for pens, but the German company e+m seems to prefer it. e+m makes a handful of wood-barreled pens, one of which is this Slim Line model that comes in three finishes: black, white, and “natural.” It’s this natural look that I like the best, and my girlfriend seems to agree; after I first used it, she snatched this ballpoint off my desk and said, “ooh… pretty!”

The Slim Line is primarily made from beech wood. It’s a good choice –  it feels like a softer wood, so it’s fairly comfortable to write with. The accents are all metal (which makes a lot of sense for the clip), but this natural finish version comes with a wooden clicker that looks like a golf tee protruding from the top. I like it.

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The only downside to this e+m pen is that it uses a generic, blue ballpoint refill, the kind that you might find in a promotional pen. It’s okay if you’re comfortable having a scratch-pad handy, otherwise you’ll be annoyed by ink stuttering. This e+m pen design doesn’t work well with other refills either – most are too fat to fit inside the barrel. Cult Pens recommends a Schneider Express 775 refill (they can be found for a little over a dollar a piece), but I can’t vouch for that refill myself.

Regardless, the e+m Slim Line is such a unique-looking pen that I’m still happy to pick it up from time to time. It’s not the type of thing that will fully satisfy a pen nerd, but it would make a good stocking-stuffer. And it doesn’t hurt that these can easily be found for under $10.

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Review: Retro 51 Slim Tornado, Ballpoint, Medium Point

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Okay, full disclosure: I’m a fan of the Retro 51 Tornado. I’ve got a bunch of them. So when I saw the new Slim line of Tornado pens in the recent Retro 51 catalog, I knew right away that I was going to buy one. My only difficulty was deciding which one I wanted most.

For a while the Slim Tornado was made only in partnership with Apple, with four designs that match the four iPhone colors. The problem is that these pens are available only at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters. If you live outside of California then you’re out of luck, unless you’ve either got a good friend on the West Coast or you’re willing to pay triple the retail price on eBay. But have no fear, Retro 51 has three new designs for the Slim Tornado that are available everywhere.

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While I was initially tempted by the Graphite design, I was a bit more intrigued by the Electron. Unlike the other designs, which have a printed wrap, the Electron has a metallic barrel, anodized with a light blue color that covers the entirety of the pen’s body – tip, clip, twist, and all. It looks great, plus the barrel is acid etched with a hexagonal design that’s reminiscent of a carbon nanotube.

Compared to a standard Tornado, the Slim is slightly thinner, lighter by a hair, and has a shorter clip. However, both pens are the same length, and unless you’ve got them side-by-side, the differences aren’t overt. The Slim Tornado also uses a ballpoint refill, the Schmidt EasyFlow 9000, rather than the Schmidt Rollerball refill typically found in a Tornado  (which is just too fat for this pen). As ballpoints go, I like it quite a bit. However, that may be because it feels much more like rollerball ink. It’s dark and smooth, but it smears more than your average ballpoint, especially on glossy paper.

Overall, I really like this Retro 51 Slim Tornado, which perhaps is no surprise. I still prefer the larger-sized Tornado original, but that’s just a personal preference. My girlfriend, with her smaller hands, says she prefers the Slim. And, regardless, if you’re a fan of the Tornado like I am, then I would definitely suggest adding one of these to the collection.

Review: Paper Mate Inkjoy 550RT, Ballpoint Ink, 1.0mm

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While there’s a huge variety to Paper Mate’s line of Inkjoy pens, the Inkjoy 550RT is the only one which is “designed for fun.” At least, that’s according to Paper Mate’s marketing department. In reality, however, there’s nothing that’s exactly “fun” about the 550RT, but it still manages to be a decent, disposable ballpoint pen.

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Really, the design of the Inkjoy 550RT is nice but also relatively plain. Each end of the barrel is covered with a rubbery grip that narrows towards the pen’s middle, creating a very subtle and relatively comfortable hourglass shape. It has faux-chrome accents, a sturdy clip, and a clicker that’s reliable, though not terribly robust.

The ballpoint ink is surprisingly smooth and smear-free, and it dries darker than what you’d find with a cheaper ballpoint. Although it’s not quite up there with the Pilot Acroball or uni-ball Jetstream, it’s still a worthwhile product if you’re looking to buy a handful of ballpoints for only a few bucks. Only, you should be sure that your expectation for “fun” isn’t set too high.

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Review: Pilot Dr. Grip, Ballpoint, Medium Point

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If you walk through a stationery aisle every now and again, it’s likely that you’ll have at least a passing familiarity with the Pilot Dr. Grip. At my corner store, for example, there’s always one situated alone and awkwardly, hanging between a row of BICs and a row of store-brand gels. Well, Dr. Grip, the time has come to take you off the rack and out for a spin.

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Despite the small amount of shelf space it’s often given, the Dr. Grip has its fair share of fans out there. It’s a thick pen with a large and rubbery grip, which makes it quite comfortable to write with. In fact,  it is probably intentional that the pen’s name, Dr. Grip, suggests a somewhat therapeutic product.

The Dr. Grip’s ballpoint ink is surprisingly good too, darker and smoother than most – it comes close to the nice ballpoint ink of Pilot’s Acroball. Still, for a pen that is geared toward comfort,  a smoother gel or rollerball ink might have worked better. Regardless,  it’s a nice pen overall, and if writing tends to make your hand cramp up, the Dr. Grip is a pen worth considering.

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