Friday, September 25, 2015

Anso Matrix Card Holder Review

Before we start this review, let me get one piece of business out of the way.

Its pronounced  Ahn Sue.  Not An So or An Zo.  Ahn Sue.  That's what he told me himself.  Ahn Sue.  How would you like to be called Joan instead of John? Ahn Sue.  

Now on to the review.

Okay, Anso makes great knives.  His handmade knives are amazing.  His production knives, even when crippled by penny pinching accountants at production companies, are still awesome slicers.  He just has a knack for knives...

Actually, that's not true.  Anso has a knack for good product design.  The Matrix Card Holder is a bit far afield from his comfort zone of stuff like knives and OPMTs.  But even here, the Anso penchant for creativity and effectiveness comes through.  In short, the Matrix is a great wallet alternative and if you don't carry cash, its damn hard to beat.

Here is the product page.  The custom version is $250.  The Kickstarter version, which is a production run, was $110 with a few fees.  Here is an overview.  Here is the review sample (purchased with my own money):

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Twitter Review Summary: Damn good shit.

Buying Experience:

This is the first item I have purchased directly from a Kickstarter campaign.  I have reviewed other Kickstarter items, but this is the first I have purchased.  Anso's entire campaign was utterly flawless.  It didn't help that at the time I was also in on the Pinch Kickstarter, which was, frankly, a disaster.  The Pinch took months to arrive, there were a number of obviously stalling "updates" ("Any change of address?  How about now?  And now?"), and there was a ton of unnecessary solicitation.  When the Matrix it was--pledge, follow up email, one solicitation email with AWESOME stuff, and one update which was: shipping now.  Ansoo actually shipped either before or on the date he said he would.  Simply, utterly flawless.  This is how all Kickstarters should work.

Design: 2

Think of this is a titanium framelock wallet that doesn't do cash well.  To Anso's credit he says that up front.  This isn't a wallet, it is a card holder. Now you can shoehorn in a bill or two, but this really isn't a way to carry cash, especially a lot of it.  Mob bosses need to look elsewhere for their carry needs.  But if you can accept that limitation, man is this a sweet piece of kit.  

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The incorporation of knife tech into a wallet, in the form of a bent metal leaf, is ingenious.  It solves a problem inherent in all hardside wallets--how to hold cards in place when there are a variable number of cards.  With one card, the tension is enough to prevent it from sliding out.  With two or three, it requires a good hard shake.  With more than that, only a purposeful pull or push will work.  I carry six cards and a twenty in my Matrix and I have never had anything slide out.  

The design has a few touches besides the framelock worth mentioning. Because of the cutouts the wallet is quite light.  The cutouts also serve two other purposes.  You can use them to push or pull contents out and you can use the one on the side opposite the logo (see below) as an ID window.  

The use of G10 and carbon fiber not only lends a unique visual element to the wallet, it also makes it lighter.  The blue, as my favorite color, seems striking here and, well, if you read this site I am assuming that you like titanium and carbon fiber.  I don't go a day without someone saying to me: "Wow that is an interesting wallet."  I could be a dick and correct them "Its a card holder," but that is not my style.  

Overall, the clever touches, the lightweight, and the choice of materials makes this the best hardside wallet I have seen.  If you can live with the lack of cash carry and the rigid in pocket shape, you will be delighted with the Matrix. 

Fit and Finish: 2

The Matrix was design and the prototypes were machined by Anso, but the Kickstarter run, as he was clear to state in the campaign, was manufactured here in the US.  In fact they were made in my home state of Massachusetts.  They are fantastically well made.  All of the edges are flush, the materials are nicely finished, and the entire unit feels like it is made of one piece instead of a bunch of smaller pieces.  There is nothing to complain about...well that is not EXACTLY true.  My blue G10 was slightly discolored, but I could care less than that.  

Materials: 2

Again, titanium, carbon fiber, and G10.  Nothing to complain about here at all.  All of  the materials are top shelf and all of them are well done here.  They aren't just cool pocket frosting though, they all serve a purpose.  

Carry: 2

The Matrix is by far the smallest hardside wallet I have ever used or seen other than a straight up money clip.  Its actually just slightly bigger than the cards it holds, as you can see here:

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This was one of things I didn't love about the Obtanium.  It was so much bigger than it needed to be in all three dimensions.  

Accessibility: 1

With a run of jimping down the G10 sides and two cuts in to the materials its very easy to get things in the Matrix.  The cut on the bottom lets you push stuff out and the cut on the top lets you pull stuff out at the top.  Overall it is very good.

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There is one point, however, that I am not thrilled with regarding the accessibility of contents.  When you push stuff back in, it runs into the "framelock" portion of the titanium side and is pushed into the carbon fiber side.  There is potential for this to cause the carbon fiber to fray.  A quick push from the side opposite to framelock realigns everything for smooth operation, but it is another step you need to take when putting stuff back in the Matrix.  Its not a huge problem, but it is worth noting for this reason--you will be taking all or most of the cards out every time you get something out of the Matrix. It is very difficult to get out one card at a time.  This means a lot more time with all of your stuff out in the open and an increased potential to lose or misplace cards.  These two things together--the misalignment problem and the "full deck" problem result in a 1 point deduction.  So far neither have been issues, but it prevents you from thoughtlessly using the Matrix as a straight up wallet replacement. 

Appearance: 1

Let's face it--this thing is weird looking.  No one, not one of the two or three dozen people that have asked me about the Matrix when I took it out of my pocket (this may seem high, but I go through a magnetometer or two a day in court) guessed that this was a wallet.  Some may like highly unconventional looks, but for me, I just want something subdued and functional.  This is an attention seeking piece for sure.  If you are okay with gawks and stares that accompany carrying a massive Direware custom or a behemoth Cold Steel Espada, you'll be fine.  For the rest of us, this is a bit of a men-wearing-skirts-on-the-first-episode-of-Star-Trek: The Next Generation gadget.  A "what the hell is that" item for sure. 

Durability: 2

If the constituent material can hold up to use on a knife, I think it will be fine in a wallet.  In fact, it is almost certainly overkill.  Cool, sexy, overkill.

Retention: 2

Anso's use of the framelock has solved the single biggest problem with hardside wallets in a way much more elegantly than others have tried.  The retention on one card is fine.  With more, they are really locked in.  I was very impressed when I first got the Matrix and I am continually impressed each time I carry it.  Nothing is falling out--nothing.

Organization: 2

Wait...a 2...how is that even possible?  Well, Anso is a clever man and even a device with one place to store things and no dividers allows for organization.  Here's how.  The cutouts in the frame of the Matrix not only allow you to have access to the contents, they also act as an ID window.  See the picture under "Accessibility" for what I mean.  Also, there is an optimal way to orient cards, so that the raised numbers of one card, match up with the raised numbers of the next card in the stack (they face each other with one card flipped upside down).  This not only stabilizes the stack of cards preventing bending and the like, it also means that ideally your valuable credit card data will be on the inside of the stack making harder to steal and, unlike with a leather wallet, leaving no impression on the wallet itself (this is a benefit of all harside wallets).  These two subtle points make the Matrix function much better than it would otherwise.  I am sure the first thing was intentional, but I am not so sure the second was.  As the wise Branch Rickey said "Luck is the residue of good design."

Efficiency: 2

The entire Matrix is surprisingly thin.

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While its tough on the bum, its small size does allow it to be carried in the back pocket if absolutely necessary.  Its more of a front pocket carry and in that location it is very good.  It does give rise to some pocket pendulum effects, as all hardside wallets do, but it was significantly less than the other hardside or semi-hard wallets I have tested.  The Matrix is also small, being just slightly bigger than the cards it is holding.  

Score: 18 out of 20 

This is one awesome piece of kit.  It is also confirmation that Anso is one of the best designers, not knife designers, but product designers, in the world.  One day when the snooty folks at Apple or Mont Blanc discover the Anso aesthetic and have him make something, a la Marc Newsome, those of us in the gear community can say we knew him when he first got started.  

I am confident that this is not just a fluke, given how good his knives are, and how good his carabiner is according to Andrew Gene.  From the Zulu to the Matrix, nothing he has had final say over has been anything less than awesome.  And the Boker Zero would be awesome if they just made it like the original.  

The Matrix is why I write this blog--its a clever design, a useful and fun thing, made by a small maker that knows and loves his craft.  If you have even passing interest, go buy one.  They are a bit unconventional, but you know what, conventional can be boring.  And who doesn't love carbon fiber, titanium, and G10?  Enjoy the framelock wallet.  The production version is totally worth the dough.  The custom one, well, that's a lot of money...

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