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).