Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Inspirs TTi-120 Review

Unlike with a knife or a flashlight, part of the functionality of a pen is its appearance.  Sure, we all like good lookin' blades, but ugly blades, if designed well, can perform as well as their more comely brethren.  But its different with a pen.  In many settings you are using a pen and that alone is making a statement.  The type of pen, based solely on its appearance, has a big impact on people around you.  Fountain pens elicit more comments than another other piece of gear I use or carry.  There is a reason the Mont Blanc "snow cap" is clearly visible when the pen is clipped to a pocket.  With pens appearance is part of their function.  How they look is part of what they do.

So when Inspirs Design reached out me and offered a review sample of the TTi-120, I was very surprised to see what it looked like.  This was no ordinary hard use pen.  It didn't have the battleship appearance that many tough, EDC style pens do.  In fact, it was even more stately looking than the indisputably flashy Prometheus Alpha.  In fact, the TTi-120 looks downright professorial compared the pens I am used to reviewing.  In short, the appearance of the pen communicates a lot about how it works.  I am not going to go so far as to throw out the bullshit lines from watch and fashion ads and claim that it is a sign that its user is a person of distinction (acts, not possession distinguish you), but there is no disputing it--the TTi-120 is a beautifully conceived package.

Here is the product page for the TTi-120.  Here is the Kickstarter page.  This might be the first review.  Finally, here is the review sample sent to me from Inspirs Design:

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Two notes on this item.  First, the Kickstarter is over and the project was funded.  Inspirs is currently in the process of setting up a retail store.  At the KS price of $125 this is a very competitive option.  The Ti body and wide range of refills that can be used make it an outstanding choice.  I contacted the company and they don't have a firm price, but the whole package, pen and case, may be as expensive as $200.  At that price it is a less competitive option.  It would be more than a lot of very good EDC pens and regular pens.  Second, Kickstarter's MO used to be small one or two man shops doing stuff locally.  I am unsure of the size of Inspirs.  Additionally this pen is made overseas, in China, if I am not mistaken.  I don't think that is a big deal, but some people do so I want to make it clear up front.  

Twitter Review Summary: Super clean, executive look with EDC pen durability

Design: 2

The Inspris TTi-120 is one of a dozen or so Ti Kickstarter pens, but it is a pen made better by the fact that there are no design gaffs or mistakes.  This is simply a very good pen.  Its not the design masterpiece that the Vanishing Point is, nor does it have a classic look like a Meisterstuck, but it is a good, clean tube of Ti.  One touch that I really liked was the ultra cool CARVED Ti clip.  Carved as opposed to stamped clips have become all the rage on custom knives, the knife equivalent of dovetailed drawers.  This sign of quality and attention to detail is nice to see in a pen and rare here.  Even Mont Blancs and other high end pens lack a carved clip.  The carry case is quite a statement maker too, but more on that later.  The final cool touch and a nod to the TTi-120's EDC heritage is a hidden tungsten tip--a great window breaker or pressure point, in case you ever need one. 

Fit and Finish: 2

How good is the fit and finish on the TTi-120?  So good that I couldn't figure out where the tungsten tip was.  The small cap that fits over the tail of the pen is so well machined that even knowing (or being told) that it was there, I still couldn't find it.  Worried, I gave the tail a sharp twist and finally I realized it was there.  All of the threads are clean and crisp.  The finish is a nice, even matte that held up well to a month or so of hard use.  The clip stayed put and had just the right amount of tension.  

Carry: 2

The pen, of course, has a clip.  But its the slim carry case that really got me.  Its not a big deal.  It doesn't really matter all that much.  But, as with many things in life, it is the little touches that count.  Keeping the pen in the case will help preserve the matte finish, which eventually will show wear. 

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Its funny what catches non-pen folks' eyes and the case is definitely one of those things. I will note, only because the bag itself is so cool, the ring is compatible with Tom Bihn latches (and other things as well).  As such, it rides well in my Cadet.

Appearance: 2

In this world we live in Apple dominates both the market and the aesthetic of consumer goods.  Everything looks like an Apple product.  Everything is minimalist.  The TTi-120 definitely lives there too and it in a pen I like that.  Fountain pens tend to be a bit to gauche for me--massively oversized, covered in swirly acrylic, and touched off with polished metal accents (okay, so not EVERYTHING has been Apple-fied).  EDC pens are no better--similarly thick and bulky, covered in grooves and notches.  So in that regard the TTi-120 is a break from the pen norm and more like the rest of the world of consumer products.

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But this is not another plain jane Kickstarter pen either.  Its clean, for sure, but there are a few snazzy touches.  First, the carved clip is really outstanding.  It looks different and feels different.  Then there is the hardware--here a custom fastner at the top of the clip, a really nice accent.  Inspirs clearly has the capacity and ability to bling this thing out, given the clip and fastner, but they didn't and in the end they created a nice balance between an Apple-fied pen and a the blingtastic stuff you find in other high end pens.  I like the appearance quite a bit.  It does the job quite well--telling others this is the a serious writing tool.

Durability: 2

The matte finish has me a bit worried for extended use, but I imagine that will simply go from even to scuffed to something like stonewashed (which is what happened with my Tuff Writer Ultimate Clicky--it looks better than ever now).  That point aside, the rest of the pen is very well made.  Inspirs levered the titanium nicely--the pen feels robust and durable without being a clunker.  I would note that the threads, which are well cut, are very fine.  There was no issue during the testing period, so this is a hypotethical concern, but I could see them cross threading pretty easily.  
 
Writing Performance/Refill: 2 

The refill is a ceramic ball roller ball from Schmidt.  Schmidt's refills are among the best on the market (they are the source of the Retro 51 magic) and it does not disappoint here.  The other trick for TTi-120 is the wide range of compatible refills.  Check the KS page for a complete listing. The highlights?  It will take a few different Schmidt refills, the Fisher refill, and the Hi-TEC-C refill.  That should have you covered, refill-wise.  

Balance/In Hand Feel: 1

Okay, here is the first minor issue.  This pen, especially when the cap is posted, is tremendously long.  The carved clip also adds a small bit of weight to the end and this combination occasionally gives you the cantaliever effect, making the pen feel unbalanced over long writing tasks.

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The unbalanced feel isn't bad or even overwhelming.  It might be that 99% of folks never notice it, but I take a TON of handwritten notes.  Here is where the issue came up for me.  I had a very long hearing in a recent case with one witness.  He talked for about an hour or an hour and half straight.  No breaks, no stopping.  It was a very important hearing with lots of details and a complex narrative.  In the end I had taken approximately 20 pages (probably more, but I stopped counting) of nearly verbatim notes.  By the end my index finger felt like it was holding up a weight.  The effect is easy to explain--like a see saw, the more weight you have further from the balance point (here right where the pen rests in the hand), the weightier it feels.  Again, it only came up once during the testing, but it was noticeable.  If you don't take a lot of notes or you can pause when doing so, you'll probably never notice this issue (other than noticing it now because I pointed it out).

Grip: 2 

The grip section typifies the entire pen--clean, simple, and without mistake.  Its nothing...to write home about (rim shot, please), but it works very well.  It boggles my mind how bad the grip section is on some EDC pens, covered with harsh knurling and jagged edges.  Why anyone would want to write with something like that is beyond me.  Here we get a plain comfortable grip.

Barrel: 2 

The barrel is smooth, well balanced (especially when not in the posted configuration), and pleasing to the eye.  Again, its not complicated, but it just works with the pen's overall aesthetic.  A half or quarter inch shorter barrel would fix the balance problem, but as barrels go, this is a nice one.  I have yet to reach the swirly acrylic stage of my pen appreciation and so, at least for now, I like clean and simple and that is what you get here.   

Deployment Method/Cap: 1

The cap can be engraved for custom graphics when you order the pen.  The review sample had no such labeling and because of that I can't really give you information about that part of this design.  What I can is that the cap's threads are very fine and because titanium is a galling metal, they tend to get noisy or sticky.

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Over time, titanium tends to wear well and the stickiness goes away, but until then, the cap's threads are my least favorite part of the pen.  I have never had the cap get stuck, but the squeaky feel of the threads doesn't mesh with the TTi-120 otherwise refined look and feel. 

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

The Inspirs TTi-120 is a very good EDC pen.  It is light and durable, but doesn't look like the writing instrument of a Klingon as so many EDC pens do. It accepts a wide variety of refills including many community favorites.  It looks very nice and the slip case is an excellent touch.  This is a perfect example of good product design through zero mistakes.  Think of the TTi-120 as a baseball player with enough talent to make the majors but with EXCELLENT fundamentals (say, Torii Hunter).  I'd worry about the matte finish over time, but with the slip case it should be okay.   At $125 is a very solid purchase.  At something more than that the value proposition gets less certain. 

4 comments:

  1. Talked me out of wanting one. With the shortcomings mentioned and the fact that there are better choices for less out there.
    Thank you.

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  2. Why no new flashlight reviews?

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    Replies
    1. Xtar B20 is in the works, coming two Tuesdays from now and then the T10T after that.

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  3. "Carved" pocket clips are a buzz word; I think they mean machined. I doubt there is a guy with a chisel thwacking away at a hunk of titanium to make a pocket clip. Same with "3-D Machined."

    ReplyDelete