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If you’ve been following the blog, you probably know by now that I’m still a college student. Over the past few years I’ve collected different pens to fulfill my needs for different classes and different EDC situations. I’ve found that there is no better place to find all sorts of unique, high quality pens than JetPens.com. As a loyal customer to the site, I was thrilled to hear that the folks over at JetPens are fans of my site as well! JetPens marketing associate, Brad Dowdy, more commonly known as the man behind the The Pen Addict (an excellent resource for pen reviews, I might add) reached out to me and we came up with a few products to review for you. I specifically asked for items that I felt would work well as EDC items, and Brad included a few of his own picks as well. The following reviews will focus more towards the pen in the context of everyday carry, with less emphasis on writing performance, technical specifications and other pen nerdery. I would like to take this time to kindly thank Brad and JetPens for supplying these units for review. I do not work for JetPens, nor do I have any other affiliation with them.
Zebra PenPod Mini [$3.85]:
I’ve mentioned this particular pen in previous posts about keychain pens. As you can tell by the picture, it’s definitely small enough for keychain carry. I threw it on my keyring and carried it for a few weeks, and it held up fine. The included hardware is sturdy enough for ring retention. In fact, I’d worry more about the anchor point breaking off, not the ring. This is because the pen housing is made entirely of plastic. As a result, the pen is inherently less durable but it cuts down on weight, which seems to help reduce noise and clacking while it rides on your keychain. The pen writes like a standard Zebra ballpoint pen, making its average performance adequate as a backup pen or for jotting quick notes. My biggest disappointment about this pen, however, is opening, using, and closing this pen.
A notched, plastic shaft resting in the cap secures the pen closed by locking two nubs on the barrel of the pen (also made of plastic) into the notches with a simple push, then twist. I have some reservations about this locking mechanism just because the small, plastic locking nubs appear fragile. The lock should be sufficient for general EDC but for those who need a backup pen they can rely on, it might be best to look elsewhere. To disengage the lock, you need to push the pen inwards, twist to unlock, and a spring inside the pen itself will push the pen out of its cap. This sounds convenient but in practice I found it to be problematic. I have small hands and I wouldn’t consider them clumsy by any means, but on several instances, if I was not using two hands or not paying too much attention to retrieving the pen, the spring would basically launch the pen out of the cap and onto the pavement. The spring in the barrel also means if you don’t choke up on the pen when writing (there barrel becomes thinner, and it lacks a grip there), the spring compresses and messes up your strokes. Trying to put the pen back into the cap single handedly and not looking while it’s attached to your belt loop is even more of a hassle, as you’re working against the spring and gravity. I might be exaggerating how complicated the process is, but it’s just not for me and not what I look for in an EDC pen.
Overall, this pen is decent for the price and would make for a decent backup pen. It’s not my favorite of the keychain pen offerings out there, but it is also perhaps the most affordable of them all.
Pilot Birdy Stainless Steel Mini Ballpoint [$6.75]:
The Birdy Mini, while not a keychain pen, remains an excellent option for minimalist carry. It boasts many features that I feel make it a strong candidate for everyday carry use. Firstly, its size is nearly perfect: it’s small enough to carry slimly in your pocket, discreetly in your bag, or in some wallets, even, without being so small that it becomes awkward to handle. The entire pen appears to be stainless steel, which provides some confidence in its durability while giving it a sleek aesthetic that could look great in any carry. Because of the overall size, despite being made of stainless steel, the pen is lightweight but not cheap feeling.
Two of the more impressive features are that it somehow manages to fit on a pocket clip (!) and a clicky top (!!!). These two features combined make for such an easily accessible and convenient user experience. I can reach for it at the top of my pocket, unclip it, click the top and I’m ready to write. No fumbling with pop or screw off caps require both hands to remove, and even then, are at risk of dropping or misplacing… no magnets, no twisting at the tip, no pushing and turning — just a quick and convincing click! and you’re in business. I would say the pen is slightly more comfortable to write with than most keychain pens, but its small barrel still leaves something to be desired. It writes decently, which should be sufficient for jotting something down or signing something, but it isn’t as smooth and as satisfying to use for longer sessions compared to say, my Sharbo X or something. The pen refill appears to be standard sized to me, which is impressive considering how the pen’s barrel is mid-size at the largest. I was very impressed with this pen and at around seven dollars I think it’s a worthwhile investment.
Uni-ball Power Tank Smart Series High Grade [$16.50]:
This pen was one of Brad’s picks, and with good reason. I hadn’t heard about this pen before, especially within EDC circles, but I’m glad that Brad included one for me to try. The Power Tank can most appropriately be compared to your favorite “space pen,” as it features a pressurized ink cartridge. Not all of us are interested in writing in extreme conditions (zero grav, subzero temps, raining, upside down, etc) but it does inspire some confidence about the pen working when you want it to without surprises. I think this is pretty valuable for EDC and your overall writing experience. After EDCing it for a bit, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed having it in my pocket. My initial impression was that it would just be like any other pen (some of you may still think this) but it carries slimly for being a full-sized pen, and it isn’t encumbering or straining in any way.
The pocket clip isn’t spectacular but it feels very solid and it’s shaped with a gentle curve so as to not rip your pocket up. The clicky feels nice to activate, and its relatively long button seems to prevent accidental activation in pocket. The only problem I’ve had with it being in my pocket is that somehow the tip unscrewed from the barrel just a bit, but it was nothing to worry about. The barrel has very fine ribbing, giving it a good grip throughout. There’s no dedicated cushion or grip but it’s sufficiently comfortable to hold. If I’m not mistaken, the barrel is made of some kind of metal. You can see some wear on the finish from when I fell up a flight of stairs (don’t even ask) with it next to my knife in pocket, but it did not dent or break anywhere on the pen. The pen writes surprisingly smooth for a ballpoint (this is most likely due to the pressurized cartridge) and I enjoy using it for long sessions. Strangely enough, even though it isn’t particularly small or fancy, I like to carry it and often reach for it over my other pens if I’m going out. It’s just extremely convenient, simple, and reliable for quick notes or signatures, as opposed to say, one of my fountain pens or something. At about sixteen dollars I’m not sure how it compares to other similarly priced offerings from Fisher or Zebra, but I’m satisfied with the Power Tank’s performance.
Rotring 600 Mechanical Drafting Pencil [$33.00]:
Finally, we’ll take a look at not a pen, but a mechanical pencil by Rotring. If you’re familiar at all with Rotring you’d know that they put out some high quality products, and that quality is reflected in the price. Some people dismiss the mere notion of a pencil with a $30 price tag, but the Rotring 600 feels like it could be worth even more than that. When I handled the 600 I couldn’t help but admire the beauty of its design and the flawlessness of its construction. It appeals to me in the way that it feels like a product of good engineering and design to produce more good engineering and design, if that makes any sense.
The pencil boasts many features that I would look for in a good flashlight, actually: a tight, but not overly aggressive knurled grip, a hexagonal body for its anti-roll function and stable fit in hand, a strong removable clip, and a click top with convincing actuation. It writes perfectly fine and has plenty of technical and design features. I am not surprised that this pencil is so highly esteemed. However, despite all of these qualities, I cannot recommend this pencil for EDC, at least, in your pants pocket. The one glaring deficiency in this pencil is that the shaft is not retractable and thus could be prone to bending or breaking (which would render it essentially useless as a drafting pencil). With a $33 pricetag, you’d be safer keeping this pencil in your bag or at your desk. It’s a shame because it’s definitely durable enough to handle being carried everywhere but at the tip. If you think this pencil is for you but want to pocket EDC it, look into the Rotring 800, which actually features a retractable tip. The Rotring 800, however, comes at a much more premium price and has some gold accents that I would rather do without.
I have had experience with plenty of pens, and more recently I’ve been EDCing fountain pens. Having this package sent to me really opened my eyes about the way we carry pens, and after thinking critically I finally recognize the value of pocket clips, clicky tops and pressurized cartridges. Out of all these pens, while I was impressed most with the Pilot Birdy and the Rotring 600, the most practical value for me has to go to the Uni-ball Power Tank. Hopefully the review has been helpful, especially with school just around the corner for some of us. Lastly I’d like to thank Brad and JetPens for making this review possible, Jonah for the T2i and to you, the reader, for motivating me to keep this blog going. Cheers and carry on!