Friday, September 11, 2015

Quick Hits: Three Swings and Misses

In this installment of Quick Hits I am running down through some things that I have had hanging around for a while, many of which turned out to be not so good.

One thing I have always been worried about was the "tally" effect of a scoring system.  I don't award negative scores in any category, so even a broken product can get a decent score.  So when that does happen, when something is fundamentally broken, I reserve a special notation for them--NOT RECOMMENDED.  I have given it out only a few times, such as for the wretched UI of the Balder HD-1 or the SPY 007 and its insane price tag.  But here we have a collection of three products that are just fundamentally broken.    

Boker Anso Zero

Get ready for another Anso.  This is a very competent knife.  Like all Ansos the blade shape is amazing and cuts like a demon.  It is quite thin.  It has N690 steel.  It has a very good pocket clip.  But man is the handle just hideous. This is not the Anso pattern, but some muted barfy version of the Anso pattern.  That's to be expected given that the handles are molded as opposed to sculpted, which is all but required to get the true Anso feel.  The color is optional, but please, never ever choose this color.  Its not tan, its baby poop tan.  Yuck.


But the real problem with the knife is such a boneheaded omission.  Where is the deployment method?  Not even a nail knick?  Why?  Boker, the original custom had a thumb stud.  Why not include one here?  Its not a legal issue because most places that have a two handed law also prohibit locks, so that's not the reason.  And it is not for aesthetic reasons because, as I said, the original had a stud.  I know that two handed knives are okay.  I love my Indian River Jack, but in a modern style knife there needs to be reason to not include an opening method (such as in the Spyderco Pingo).  Here we get nothing.  And it stinks.  The Quiete was at least manageable to open with one hand.  Here it is almost impossible.  No amount of finger yoga is enough to pry this sucker open and that is very annoying. 


Overall Score: 16 out of 20, NOT RECOMMENDED (1 off for Design for the cheapo and ugly scale, 1 off for Grip for the muted Anso pattern, and 2 off for utter lack of a Deployment Method)

Zebra Sharbo X LT3

Where is the line between versatile and complicated?  Well, wherever it is, the Sharbo X passed it a long time ago.  This is a versatile writing tool, no doubt, but it is insanely difficult to buy and hard to use.


There are two problems--first it is a Japanese product and very few places have them in stock to purchase directly.  This is an Internet only item.  I am not so angry about this because a lot of the gear I review here is Internet only.  The bigger problem is that there are so many parts to order that getting them all right the first time is difficult.  You might be thinking that I am a moron right now (and maybe I am) but let me run you through all of the ordering options:

1.  Order the pen body itself--twenty four styles and color options (including upscale models)
2.  Order the pencil component--three options (.3mm, .5mm, .7mm)
3.  Order the pencil lead--three options (same as #2)
4.  Order pen refills sizes--three options (.4mm, .5mm, .7mm)
5.  Order pen colors in the above sizes--at least six options (blue, black, green, red, orange, and pink, at least)
6.  Order stylus (if necessary)
7.  Order erasers (if necessary)

There are literally thousands of possible Sharbo set ups and some of those combinations produce pens that don't work--like getting a .3mm pencil component with .7mm lead.  I am not sure I got all of the combinations correct either.  Just wading through the options again is too complicated.  

The LT3 body was only $36, but all of these components, shipped added up to something like $85.  I got a LT3 with one .5mm pencil component, .5mm lead, two .5mm inks (blue and red).  And through the confusion of ordering these things I ended up with a .7mm pencil component as well.  It also took a long time to order and ship all of these things.  This pen is a nightmare to get JUST right.

But once you get it JUST right there are still problems.  The ink cartridges lasted me about two days.  I recognize that I am an excessively heavy writer, but two days is not acceptable.  Because I have to then wade through the ordering hassle again and pay four dollars shipping for a $1.97 item.  UGH.

In the end, I can't recommend this pen under any circumstances.  Its just too complicated and expensive for what you get.  The brass body is well made and the pen is beautiful, but at some point you just have to say enough.  I am sure there are Sharbo aficionados that can run through all of the options in seconds and love this pen, but in the end it is too much work, hassle, and money to make it useful for me.

Overall Score:  16 out of 20 but NOT RECOMMENDED (2 off for a Design that requires a degree to get working, and 2 off for a dizzying and often incompatible set of refill options)

Retro 51 Tornado

"No reward is worth this."

--Han Solo, Sage of the Stars

Okay, there comes a point where we can't just wave our hands and say "It looks good.  And what do you expect for a $30 pen?"


Over the past three years I have spent over $90 on Retro 51 Tornados.  I bought a black one three years ago, liked it for about ten seconds, then it broke.  Buoyed by the wave of good reviews on the internet, I bought a stainless steel model a year later and IT broke.  One broke where the clip attaches to the pen and the other's twist mechanism broke.  The third broke at the clip again.  

Each time the most forceful voice in the chorus of fans was none other than the Pen Addict's host Myke Hurley.  I love the podcast and listening to Brad and Myke talk about pens is a Tuesday morning commute highlight for me.  Myke loves these pens.  He is right that they have great refills, the Schmidt EasyFlow 9000 is definitely the cream of the crop of Parker style (aka Fisher) refills.  Its as good as a ballpoint can get, circa 2015.  He is also correct in saying that they look beautiful, but they are the classic Monet product.  They look good on first blush, but the longer you use it the more it falls apart.

Simply put, other than the Gerber 600 there has been no product I have reviewed that disintegrated faster than the Retro 51 Tornado.  This is not "fit and finish" this is the step before that.  These pens just cannot hold up and after three samples, I feel confident in saying that I didn't get a lemon three times in a row.  Do not get seduced by the looks, this is a Singing Siren with an STD.

Myke Hurley, your Retro 51 addiction has cost me $90 of what, in about two months after purchase is a pile of loosely assembled non-function parts.

No pen is worth this much headache.  Just like no reward is worth a bossy princess.

Overall Score: 14 out of 20 NOT RECOMMENDED (2 off for Fit and Finish, 2 off for Durability, and 1 off for Carry for the snowflake fragile clip).


  1. I just wanted to say that I really like these quick review articles. They give us more reviews(always good), they don't waste our time going into super-fine details on less-desirable or less-interesting gear(the latter being subjective, but to me some of the positive short articles just don't need any more exposition to get the point across), and they free up your time to focus on reviews of better and more interesting items. Keep up the good work! And by all means if you decide you want to Kickstart or Patreon or something to get a better hosting platform, please don't hesitate to ask us. I think you've probably got a good enough readership that would be willing to shell out a little to help keep this thing afloat.

  2. Quick nitpick - the exact quote is "No reward is worth this."

    Yes, I'm an enormous nerd.

  3. Re Zebra Sharbo X LT3, obviously some people see versatility/flexibility where you see excessive complexity. I have two of them and like them but I think your review is fair. The ridiculously short life of the refills seems to apply to the gel type ones. These write really nicely but as you say have too short of a life. It will take any D1 ballpoint refill and the Zebra ones are OK for ballpoints and last a useful length of time.


  4. Actually in Germany you may have a one hand non locking knife (like the Squeak) or a two hand locking knife (like the Fallkniven U2). But you may not carry a one hand opening locking knife (pick your favourite spydie).

    Boker is a German company. They are not idiots, the knife has a purpose.

    1. That's pretty interesting. I did not know that about German laws. But couldn't boker have added a nail nick and achieved the same thing?

  5. I agree with the review of the Tornado. I really like the design but the three or four I've had over the years simply haven't lasted. Have you tried the Sensa pen? With the right refill I love it. I think it's discontinued now but they do occasionally pop up on eBay.

  6. I certainly respect your opinion but have had different luck with the Tornado. I have used one exclusively as an EDC pen for the last year and it is no worse for wear.

    1. I think most would agree that any review on the internet is to be taken with a grain of salt. The more you read a particular reviewer and begin to understand his mindset and methods, the grain will probably get smaller, especially if you have similar experiences with a given piece of gear. That said, what I like about this site is that Tony tells you up front his personal preferences in both technical(no serrations on knives, MTs should have scissors, etc) and aesthetic(prefer minimalistic tools, prefer certain styles and colors, etc) senses. That goes a long way towards minimizing the grain. But for any given piece of gear, your use cases and personal preferences will differ, so your mileage will always vary.

      All that is to get to this: how often during the day do you use the Tornado? I only ask because Tony is a lawyer who's taking a LOT of notes all day, and if you haven't read his pen reviews, he tends to go through pens like a hot knife through butter. I personally don't use an EDC pen nearly as much in a given day, so there's no way I'd ever be able to stress test a pen like Tony without trying to do so intentionally.

    2. I have read many of his reviews and appreciate the heavy use his pens get. Knowing that, when he gives a perfect/near perfect score you can rest assured it will work for the rest of us given most will not use them that hard. That is my point however, I use my Tornado in an office setting daily, in which it sees significant use. It is also clipped to my jeans pocket every time I leave my desk and the clip has never failed. I can appreciate not recommending it for the harshest of users, such as Tony. To say that it will not work for many others is not what I've found in personal use.

    3. I wouldn't say I am harshest of users. Those are folks like State Troopers that are writing tickets on the side of the road or field scientists documenting tadpools in knee deep mud. I am step down from that--lots of medium level use. And even with that caveat these didn't hold up. If you are the occasional notetaker or receipt signer the Retro 51 is great. More than that and you need to find a different pen. The problem is ANY pen can do the notetaking, receipt signing thing.

  7. I really enjoy your blog, reviews and thoughts on gear but I think the Boker Zero deserves more than the "14/20 not recommended" score ( or 16/20 not recommended in the review). Whilst you have taken Danish knife law in consideration when reviewing the Pingo, you have not taken German law into the equation while doing this review.

    I have been edc-ing the black Fox Zero for a couple of months now, it's the identical knife to the Boker except the rounded spine and, contrary to your review, I would recommend this. Yes you can't open it with one hand, yes the brown color on the Boker looks like a baby has done number two and yes the Anso pattern is not very grippy.

    On the flipside: it is light, it has a brilliant blade shape, the handle is well enough designed not to need extra grip of jimping and provides a three finger plus grip. Also is has a very light and compact lockback with a very interesting design (see Gavko's video for more on that). For me the bladeshape is wide enough to get good purchase to open it and from a utilitarian point of view the black scales look good and work just fine ( and not more or less annoying than any other FRN handled knife). I was actually happy not to see a nail nick or something else on the blade as it really kept the look of the knife very clean.

    1. It is not feasible for me to take into account the law of every country when doing knife reviews. I mentioned the Danish one in the Pingo review because it was impetus for the design. Normally I just leave it at "be sure to consult your local knife laws."

      I can't get behind a lack of a nail knick. It NEEDS one. Its not like the Quiete which can, with a bit of practice, be opened one handed. This knife just won't open without the use of both hands. If that's the case then the knife needs a nail knick, plain and simple.

      Without it, the knife is an incomplete design, hence the not recommended tag.

    2. Like Sebastiaan I really enjoy your reviews and find them very helpful but I cannot agree with you on the Boker Zero. Of course you cannot account for the law in every country but in this case the knife was specifically designed to be legal in the home country of the manufacturer - which at the same time is the biggest European market. I also don't think all knives HAVE to be locking and OHO, even here where they are legal (but that is my personal opinion).
      The other issue is the nail nick. Almost all other reviews that I have seen say that the nail nick is unnecessary because you can place almost your entire thumb on the blade and open it much more comfortably than other knives with a nail nick.The big advantage of the Zero is actually that you can open it while wearing gloves!
      I do agree that Boker dropped the ball with these FRN handles. The pattern is actually not that bad (better than completely smooth) but the material feels very cheap. Using G10 or micarta here would have gone a long way and probably given the fake Anso pattern a much better grip.
      I have been carrying my Zero a lot (I ended up getting custom scales for it) and I think while not perfect it is a very decent EDC knife - as long as your work does not require OHO.