Review: Lamy Safari, Ballpoint, Medium Point

After my recent disappointment with the Lamy Tipo, I was a little reluctant to purchase another Lamy product so quickly. However, I’ve had good experiences with Lamy in the past, and I generally like the creativity in the company’s designs. So, after reading good things about the Lamy Safari Ballpoint, I decided to give it a shot – and I’m glad I did.

In all honesty, the Safari ballpoint seems like an odd choice for anyone who already owns the Safari in the much more popular fountain pen format, but it’s surprising how different the two designs actually are from each other when you have them side-by-side. Of course, both versions have the iconic U-shaped clip, and the indented grip sections are very similar. But everything else is quite different.

The ballpoint version has a rounded barrel, as opposed to the flattened-sides of the fountain pen version, and it’s also retractable. So the ballpoint version completely lacks a cap, which has been replaced by a knock that resembles an accordion. And, since the ballpoint refill is an enclosed metal tube, the ballpoint Safari has no need for an ink window.

It’s a unique design that, like it’s fountain pen counterpart, is produced in a bunch of colors. Mine is a mint green that was part of a limited edition run, but in person it is very reminiscent of Tiffany blue (it will be confiscated by my wife shortly after I finish this review). But red, black, and blue versions seem to be widely available, and new colors are frequently released.

I do have a couple of minor complaints that are still worth mentioning. First, the knock has a somewhat squeaky/rusty sound to it. I’d almost like to open it up to add some WD-40. And the (Lamy M16) refill, though it is relatively smooth and dark for a ballpoint, seems to skip in and out on occasion. So you might need a piece of scratch paper handy to get the ink flow started now and then.

Otherwise, this is a really nice pen, and Lamy did a lot of work to make it feel different from its fountain pen counterpart. It’s light weight, comfortable to hold, and it feels like a high quality product. So if you’re a in the market for a nice, colorful ballpoint, you won’t go wrong with the Safari.

Review: Lamy Tipo, Rollerball, Medium Point

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Lamy is a company known for their innovative pen designs, and you can tell by the look of it that this streak has continued with the Lamy Tipo. Like Lamy’s Dailog 2, the Tipo has a unique retracting mechanism, but unlike the Dialog 2, the Tipo is relatively inexpensive, usually selling between $10-$15. This is possibly the least expensive pen that Lamy sells, and so I was obviously interested in trying it out. But, unfortunately, that low price turned out to be a bad omen.

But first, the good: the Tipo has a rather slick design. It has a smooth plastic barrel and a ribbed plastic grip section that slowly tapers toward the tip. It comes in all sorts of colors, and it manages to feel high quality, even with its all-plastic construction. Lamy’s (proprietary) M66 rollerball refill is also very nice if you like thick, dark lines.

The clip and the retracting mechanism, however, drove me a little crazy. To eject the pen, the clip has to be slid down to catch a little hole on the side of the barrel. It’s simple and works fine most of the time, but you have to be very deliberate about it or it won’t catch, which can be mildly annoying.

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But the big flaw, in my opinion, is that the plastic clip is thin and flimsy. If it gets bent or if it breaks (which is what happened to me), then the pen is simply no longer functional. Without the clip, you cannot eject the tip of the refill.

In my opinion, Lamy should have made the clip out of a more durable material, even if it meant charging an extra dollar or two. This would have made the Tipo easier to retract/eject while also making it more durable. But designed as is, I cannot recommend this pen to anyone.

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Extra Links

  • There is an aluminum version, which might be more durable, but I cannot vouch for it.
  • A review over at Inkdependence has a good photo of Lamy’s clam shell packaging, which may honestly be the best part of the Tipo. I also like the look of that orange version. But, alas, this reviewer shares the same frustrations with the clip.
  • According to The Pen Addict, if you don’t like Lamy’s proprietary refill, you can substitute the Pilot G-2 refill. Worth considering if you end up purchasing this pen, as the G-2 has many more color and size options.

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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Extra Links

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.