Reviewing gear is really fun. I don't have to tell you that, as I am sure if you read this site you'd agree with that statement. But sometimes it is more fun than others. Reviewing the Alpha Pen was perhaps the most fun I have had with any review. Let's face it--the majority of the world is just not excited by the technical marvels of a XML emitter or the engineering genius of a Compression lock. People, generally speaking, don't care or notice these details, but it is impossible NOT to notice the Alpha. This is as bold a statement pen as I can imagine and still be practical.
I used this pen exclusively for a week, enough to kill a Montblanc Fineliner refill (more on that below), and in that week, in and out of court, around the office and around town everyone--every single person--that saw the pen commented on the pen. Jason's aesthetic is cohesive, clean, and when electroplated, as gleaming an example of the new craftsman gear movement as I can imagine. You want people to ask about your gear? You want to introduce people to stuff made by talented, small batch craftsmen? Carry the Alpha. It is all you'll talk about. And when they ask to borrow it so they can write with it, which they will do about 90% of the time, they will then ask you if the pen was expensive. And in comparison with other pens of this level of refinement the answer is a solid and convincing "no." Even people who find our multi-hundred dollar flashlights extravagant are pleasantly surprised at just how affordable the Alpha really is. This, folks, is a conversation starter of the first order.
The Prometheus Alpha Pen is a project from Jason Hui, aka DarkSucks on CPF. Jason is a truly great guy, nice, down to earth, and incredibly responsive. He also happens to be one of the people that really does push the envelope in terms of design, performance, and fit and finish. Jason gave me my first review sample product, the Alpha (formerly known as the MC-18), an 18650 light that was cutting edge a year or so ago when I reviewed it and still compares favorably to the market today. He also made an aftermarket clip for the Surefire 6P that happens to fit the G2X Pro and a bevy of other lights as well. Finally, he made the aftermarket clip for the Eiger, a clip I truly love. The 6P clip was my Accessory of the Year for 2012. After those ventures Jason started a crowd sourced venture capital project for a Preon clip and recently he started a Kickstarter for the Alpha, found here. There is only one source for the Alpha and, aside from this, no other reviews. Jason OVERNIGHTED two pens to me, the prototype aluminum pen and the prototype titanium (pure, CP2 grade Ti, not the 6Al4V ti-aluminum blend customary in knife handles) pen. Here are the twin jewels:
I am going to do a joint review, like I did with the CRKT Drifters.
Design: Ti: 2; Al: 2
The Alpha pen is very similar in appearance to the Alpha light. Here are the pens with the caps posted:
The large scalloped section in the center ends in the writing tip on one side and the posting section on the other. There are threads on both ends of the barrel and they are fine threads. The pocket clip is standard Prometheus--simple elegant perfection. It is capped off with a beautiful brass bolt providing a nice color contrast to either the titanium (which is tumble/satin finished) or the electroplated aluminum (which is as high polish as you can get before it becomes a mirror). The grip section is covered in hatching and the rear portion of the pen terminates in a makers mark--the only form of branding on the pen.
Nothing is excessive here, nothing is superfluous. All of the lines and shapes serve to make the pen nicer in the hand and/or nicer in the pocket. This is a tool that your hands crave to touch (insert dirty joke here).
Fit and Finish: Ti: 2; Al: 2
Jason's fit and finish on every single thing he does is incredible. Here the threads are beautifully cut:
In a week of screwing and unscrewing the cap they never once cross-threaded. The edges of the pen cap are clean and the pocket clip is smooth to the touch. Everything is as clean and as rounded as it looks. This is a statement in machining skill.
This pen takes only two refills, more on that below, but the result is a pen that is super tight and dead simple--no spacers or springs. Closing the pen with the refill in provides a bit of physical feedback, but once the grip is threaded to the body tube the pen seals up like a submarine hatch. It is amazing demonstration of just how fine the tolerances are on this pen. I am fairly certain there is no practical import to that demonstration, but it is pretty impressive nonetheless. And didn't Mercedes make a series of commercials about how awesome their car doors are? Some people are impressed with stuff like this and I am one of them.
Carry: Ti: 2; Al: 2
Some nice pens are heavy. The TuffWriter Ultimate Clicky (which is made of aluminum), is, for example, a beefy 1.70 ounces, while the Ti version of the Alpha is 1.76 ounces and the Al version is 1.20 ounces. The lack of a clicky mechanism certain saves all that weight (especially when you compare like materials). But neither Alpha is so heavy as to be difficult to carry. Add to that a superb clip, truly superb, and you have a pen that is an excellent pocket companion. Here is the clip:
I might be a little wary of the finish on the Al version, but you have a breast pocket for reason, right?
Appearance: Ti: 2; Al: 2
These are two totally different pens in terms of appearance. The overall look has enough personality and flair to distinguish itself from, say, the Fisher Space Pen or the Zebra F-701, but it is not so ostentatious as to look like a mere desk pen. This pen looks like it does work (because it does), especially the Ti version. The Ti pen as the burnished smooth feel of a piece of worn metal, something that has been buffed by years of carry and use. It makes an excellent EDC pen and you have little to worry about even with the most rowdy pocket companions, such as keys. The Al pen, on the other hand, looks like it belongs in a glass case next to a Meisterstuck. It is that nice. But after you use one or the other you'll realize--either version does work and lots of it.
Durability: Ti: 2; Al: 2
Beating up the Al version, with its lustrous finish, is very hard to do on purpose. The Ti version looks like it can soak up damage. Holding one of these pens in your hand tells you that both can take a beating. I am always worried about flair out on the ends of caps for metal pens, but in a week of use I have seen none. The clip is worthy of special mention--this thing is a beast. It is unlikely to be damaged under any normal circumstances and it is brilliantly simply.
Writing Performance/Refill: Ti: 2; Al: 2
The Alpha only takes Montblanc refills. That's kind of like saying you can pick any car you want so long as it is a Ferrari, but still. Here is a writing sample of the Fineliner. The top paragraph is written with one running out of ink and the other with a new refill:
The Fineliner is a very distinctive refill. It is a felt tipped refill with incredible bold lines. This is not, in the end, all that fine. It comes is blue and black and produces some really stunning lines. The problem is that the Fineliner allows for very little variability in the line, with almost no possibility of shading. Additionally when you are taking detailed notes, making drawings, or doing sketchnoting, all of which requires a fine line to cram everything in, the Fineliner fails. I am no fan of needle-like tips, rarely dipping below a 0.5mm, but this is simply too thick. For regular old notetaking the Fineliner is superb--fast drying and vivid. It is also excellent for signatures. For anything requiring a finer touch, it probably won't work well.
The roller ball refill should also work here and should fix a lot of these problems. I haven't used one, so I reached out to someone that knows more about pens than me (and probably most other people)--Brad Dowdy. He told me there is no finer version of the Fineliner, but assured me that the roller ball refill from MB was quite good. With this information, I can't do anything but give the pen a 2. Your limited in your choices, but your choices are all good. If you like the feel of the Fineliner, you'll love this pen. If you haven't tried it, give it a shot. It is definitely interesting. If you don't you can fall back on an excellent roller ball.
If you are committing to a single refill format I am not sure there is a better choice than the Parker format in terms of versatility. But in terms of quality alone, Montblanc is hard to beat. This is a Montblanc only pen. People that would buy it probably already like MB refills. If you aren't already an MB fan, make sure you aware of this before you buy the pen. If you are, or have an open mind, you won't be disappointed.
Balance/In Hand Feel: Ti: 1; Al: 2
This is the only place where the scores depart for the two Alphas. Both are balanced to the back end, probably around 3/5ths of the way up the body towards the posted cap, but not obnoxiously so. They don't give you that "crane boom" effect that a lot of too heavy pens do, like many of the Montblanc's I have handled. You know exactly what I mean. They have that feeling of being just out of your control, a bit wobbly, and a bit off.
The Ti is just a tad heavier, as you can see above, and while the balance is still perfect, it is probably too heavy for me. The Al version, however, sings in the hand. I have used a lot of pens over the years and none have felt as good in the hand as this one. The Ultimate Clicky is a beefy pen and going from that to the Al version is like taking the donut off a bat. I feel like I can write forever. I did a 5 hour hearing with the Al version and took over 20 pages of notes, all handwritten, and I did not crap up once.
Grip: Ti: 2; Al: 2
Whether it is the tumbled Ti or the polished Al, the grip is outstanding. Horizontal ribbing runs up the pen and provides ample grip without being obnoxious. Here is a good look:
There is also threading towards the very end of the grip and I was worried it would chaff in the hand, but it was perfectly fine. After the threading (which is for the cap), there is a raised portion for the main body tube, and again I thought it would be a problem, but wasn't. Even with the incredibly polish of the Al version, there was no slipping at all. Furthermore, the pen and the grip are not so fat that they feel like a caveman club or a plump cigar, but they are also not spindly in the least. Excellent size, shape, and traction.
Barrel: Ti: 2; Al: 2
Let's be honest, barrels don't do much. They should be like baseball managers and interfere as little as possible. At most, they should look good and not screw with you when your writing. The Alpha's barrel, with that visual reference that harkens back to "an elegant weapon for a more civilized age", is gorgeous.
It is not so jarring as to be outright "tactical" but it also doesn't just sit there either. It is part of Jason's aesthetic and I very much like the way his lights look, so it should come as no surprise that I like the barrel here.
Deployment Method/Cap: Ti: 2; Al: 2
Caps drive me crazy and I was worried that this pen, with its cap, would push me over the edge. But then something happened--I feel in love with the ritual of unscrewing the cap and screw it on to post it. It added an air of ceremony to the act of writing. In reality it is not that inconvenient to unscrew the cap and it adds a great deal of stability to the posted pen. I'd prefer no cap, but here, in this pen it works. I am glad it is threaded. Before this review I hated capped pens--more stuff to lose, less stability in the hand--but now I realize it was not the cap itself, but the designs was I was using. The threads fix many of my concerns.
Score: Ti: 19 out of 20; Al: 20 out of 20
Design is about choices and here Jason's choice to use Montblanc refills is an important one. If you know that going in and like the refills, then get ready because this is an amazing pen. I was worried about the lack of a clicky, but having the pen be well balanced and just the right size when the cap is posted covered over those fears. This is a sweet pen and a testament to Jason's skill and craftsmanship. If you are already a backer of the Kickstarter project, the wait will be too long as this is something you will enjoy using and owning. If your not, it is definitely worth the dough. Even if you don't like the Fineliner refill, the roller ball should be fine and the overall appearance of the pen is amazing. If you are the jobsite type, the tumbled Ti should be your weapon of choice. If you are the suit type, trust me on this one, the electroplated Al will be a showstopper. Truly an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.
I work on the final score a lot in a review and in this one I really focused on the last point. Awarding something a 20 out of 20 is an event. I don't want to do it. But sometimes the products demand it. I was using this pen on the last day of the review period when a judge and another lawyer both asked me about it. I gave it to the judge who seemed surprised at how nice it was. The other lawyer used it as well and was blown away. He is not a gear guy, but he instantly loved it. This thing is a showstopper, both in terms of appearance and performance. Some might not like the limited refill options, but both choices have their pluses. Others might not like the cap and prefer a clicky, but this is a very well designed and implemented cap. In short, this is a GREAT pen. Backers on Kickstarter this is a Tale of Two Cities: the best of times (when you get the pen) and the worst of times (the time spent waiting for it). In the end though, you will be pleased--this pen is truly wonderful to look at, use, and carry. Its a good thing too, as you will probably have this thing for the next 20 years.
Jason any interesting in making knives?