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.
At 2 to 3 dollars apiece, the uni-ball Vision Elite is a pen that’s positioned at the top-end of the inexpensive, plastic market. It’s the sort of pen you’d expect to be handed at a car dealership just before signing a lease agreement. It contains a dark ink, has a sturdy clip, and features a thick, robust barrel. However, the most impressive thing about the Vision Elite is its ink – advertised as “super ink” – that barely smudges or smears at all.
On the other hand, the ink doesn’t flow all that consistently, and this 0.8mm tip provides a much bolder line than I expected (although, uni-ball does make finer-tipped versions, at 0.5mm and 0.7mm). Additionally, I should mention that I had problems with the cap, which would constantly pop off whenever I tried posting it to the end of the barrel. Though, these “designer series” versions of the Vision Elite, which differ only in aesthetics, do look pretty snazzy.
If you’re looking for a fairly inexpensive, low-smear rollerball pen, then the Vision Elite is a good choice. If you can tolerate some smear, then I’d recommend checking out the Pilot Precise instead. Or if you’re okay with a gel pen, then the uni-ball Signo 207 contains similar low-smear ink as this pen. But overall, the Vision Elite is a decent, smooth and comfortable pen, even though it wouldn’t be my first choice.
- Art Supply Critic has a review that features the red and blue versions of the Vision Elite. He mentions some bleed through issues, which will definitely happen on thinner paper.
- Here’s a very positive review at The Clicky Post. It’s mentioned here that refills for the Vision Elite can be purchased separately, though you’ll spend about the same amount of money if you just decide to buy a new pen.
- And, of course, this was reviewed by The Pen Addict. It’s mentioned here (and in the pen’s advertising) that the Vision Elite is airplane safe. Though, honestly, I’ve never had a problem with pens exploding on airplanes. So I’m not sure that this is a unique feature.
With its clear plastic body and black trim, the uni-ball Power Tank might look like an average “premium plastic” pen, but there’s actually a bit more going on inside the barrel. The Power Tank uses a pressurized ballpoint ink refill, similar to the Fisher Space Pen, the Pilot Down Force, and the Tombow Airpress. This means that, like these other pens, the Power Tank can write upside-down or on rough, wet, and dirty surfaces. But unlike these other pens, which typically cost around 10 dollars, the Power Tank can be easily found for about $2.50 per pen – the least expensive pressurized ballpoint on the market.
The Power Tank may not be the fanciest or most colorful pen in its category, but, frankly, you get your money’s worth. The ink is relatively smooth and dark, and though the clip and grip aren’t the best, they are certainly adequate. Overall, it makes for a good and inexpensive alternative to other pressurized ballpoints.
If you’re looking for a pen that you can use anywhere – one you can take traveling, for example – then the uni-ball Power Tank is a good option, especially if you’re concerned about losing a nicer, more expensive pen. For two or three dollars, you might treat it better than a ten-cent BIC Cristal, but it wouldn’t be a big deal to misplace it either. And even though I enjoy my Fisher Space Pen, it’s also nice to have a few Power Tanks lying around for whatever grab-and-go situations come up.
- A funny review at The Ruminator. A positive review overall, but he doesn’t like the name. On the contrary, I think the Power Tank is a really cool name for a pen.
- A review at Pen Paper Ink Letter with lots of pictures. I agree with the overall opinion here – I don’t think it would have a place as my “everyday” pen, but it’s definitely a no-brainer if you feel the advantages of a pressurized ink cartridge would be useful.
- So, uni-ball originally made a capped version of this pen? Legomac has some info on it, but they are apparently very difficult to find. I’m okay with that, as I’d rather have a retractable model anyway.
Along with the uni-ball Air, the Signo 307 is one of more recent offerings by uni-ball to hit store shelves in the U.S., and if we’re to take its name at face value, it seems to be an upgrade to uni-ball’s popular Signo 207 pen. Of course, it just so happens that the Signo 207 is one of the best gel pens on the market and one that I end up recommending quite frequently. So if uni-ball has somehow managed to make it better, then that would be quite an accomplishment.
The main difference between the Signo 207 and the Signo 307 is their refill – the 207 uses the UMR-87 refill, and the 307 uses a refill labeled “UMR-87E,” both of which are quite good. The 307’s ink is a little smoother and bolder, but the 207’s ink seems to smear less. The 3o7’s main selling point, however, is that it writes better glossy paper, and for a gel pen, it does a surprisingly good job of this. But if writing on glossy paper is a major concern for you, then you’ll still be a lot better off with a pressurized ballpoint pen.
In terms of aesthetics, the Signo 307 is undoubtedly cheaper than its predecessor. While I like the 307’s all-black, stealth style, I still prefer the Signo 207 for its professional look and low-smear ink. It should also be noted that the 307 currently only comes in a 0.7mm tip, and UMR-87E replacement refills cannot be purchased separately. So if you want a smaller tip size or intend to refill the ink, you’ll be stuck using a 207 refill anyway.
- On uni-ball’s website, they show that the Signo 307 is available with a 0.5mm tip. I’ve looked high and low, and I haven’t been able to find that size available for purchase. Maybe its coming soon.
- A review at the Penman Post shows some close-ups of the 307’s barrel, which actually has a carbon-mesh design (though he says it chips off easily). He prefers the 307’s refill to the 207, and says that it works well inside a Retro 51.
- Check out the review at That One Pen for lots of good comparison shots between the 307 and 207 (and more).
I should probably begin this review with the obvious: “Fanthom” is a terrible product name. As uni-ball’s erasable pen, I understand that it’s meant to be a play on the word “phantom,” but as far as purposeful misspellings go, it’s pretty bad. On the other hand, the same criticism might be made of Pilot’s erasable pen, the Frixion, but it never mattered in that case because that Frixion works incredibly well. But even looking past the name, the uni-ball Fanthom has a lot of problems.
On the positive side, the Fanthom does what it purports to do; it erases very well. Using heat-activated ink technology similar to that of the Pilot Frixion, rubbing the the cap against the page makes the Fanthom’s ink disappear without leaving any smears or eraser residue behind. Unfortunately, uni-ball’s erasable ink looks very dull and is much closer to gray than black. It’s also difficult to re-write over previously erased areas, which is certainly an annoyance.
I’m not a fan of the barrel design either. The grip area is a little slippery, the rubbery cap feels a bit cheap, and the dull gray aesthetic reminds me of the BIC Triumph 537R. Perhaps uni-ball will improve upon its erasable pen in the future, but for now you’re a lot better off sticking with the Pilot Frixion.
- Well Appointed Desk has a nice post reviewing the Fanthom and Frixion pens. Lots of pictures. She saw some residue from the eraser of the Fanthom, which looks more like residue from the erased ink to my eye.
- A review from No Pen Intended, which she says is overall on par with the Frixion. My favorite sentence from this review: “For those of you looking to build up your writer’s callous, look no further.”
- A review from Pen Addict. He also had trouble re-writing over previously erased areas. The Frixion has this issue too (see above picture), but not nearly to the same extent.