Wednesday, July 1, 2020

REVIEW: FABER-CASTELL GRIP 2011 FOUNTAIN PEN

REVIEW: FABER-CASTELL GRIP 2011 FOUNTAIN PEN
I don't review enough pens in the 10-20$ price bracket. It's something I really want to change, because there are some real gems to be found in the entry-level range. Faber-Castell is one of the brands that often brings excellent bang for the buck in their lower-tiered offerings, and yet I don't spend enough time with their products.

I guess it's some kind of pen-snobbery once you start getting into more expensive pens. But really, that's just ignorant, and I know it. A while ago I got a couple of pens on loan from Appelboom, amongst which this new-ish Faber-Castell Grip 2011 fountain pen, but also a 1000$ Montblanc (the R. Kipling Writers Edition, should you want to know), and frankly the Faber-Castell more than held its' ground against pens many times the price.

The new Faber-Castell Grip 2011 fountain pen continues on their popular line of Grip 20XX stationery and school supplies. The Grip product range has been around for years and is quite extensive, so it's perhaps a bit of a surprise that it took them so long to add a fountain pen to the list. But hey, they did now, and the end result is more than decent, really. 
REVIEW: FABER-CASTELL GRIP 2011 FOUNTAIN PEN
With their ergonomic triangular designs and easy-to-hold rubberized dots (hence the name 'Grip', obviously), the Grip products are marketed mainly towards a younger audience. The dots are the main design element that set the Grip products apart, including the new Grip 2011 fountain pen.

However, as I said, on most of the Grip 20XX products those rubberized dots serve the simple purpose of providing grip. On the fountain pen that added functionality is gone, unless you grip your pen all the way up on the barrel I guess. So the only reason they're there is to make the design stand out and create a uniform look across the entire product line. 
REVIEW: FABER-CASTELL GRIP 2011 FOUNTAIN PEN
Other than the dots, the Grip 2011 fountain pen is a fairly standard-shaped pen. The cap is round and almost featureless. It has a concave finial on top, with Faber-Castell's jousting knights logo on it. Same as all other Grip products, the barrel has a triangular profile with nicely rounded edges. It's a fairly clean and minimal design really, and in this silver metallic colorway, it actually looks quite nice. Given that this product range is aimed at children mostly, it's still a surprisingly business-y-looking pen (although it's also available in some really bright colors, if "business-y" is not your thing!).
REVIEW: FABER-CASTELL GRIP 2011 FOUNTAIN PEN
REVIEW: FABER-CASTELL GRIP 2011 FOUNTAIN PEN
L to R: Pilot Metropolitan, TWSBI GO, Faber-Castell Loom, F-C Essentio, F-C Grip 2011, Lamy Safari, Lamy 2000
Some measurements then: the Grip 2011 is 13,9 cm (5.47") closed, and 13 cm (5.1") without the cap. It has a comfortable diameter, definitely not too thin. The triangular profile of the barrel continues underneath the cap, with a subtly shaped rubberized section. The section shape is quite interesting actually. It's not super-pronounced, so it doesn't force your grip and feel as restrictive like the notorious section of the Lamy Safari does. But at the same time, you definitely do feel that this is a shaped section. And if you don't have a 'traditional' triangular grip, it may very well still bother you. Aside from the section shape, the Grip is actually a really comfortable pen. The transition from section to barrel is seamless and the pen fits nicely in the hand. The 'dots' -even though you normally don't hold the pen on the barrel- do throw me off sometimes, they are definitely noticeable in the hand - a massage for the web of your hand, perhaps?
REVIEW: FABER-CASTELL GRIP 2011 FOUNTAIN PEN
What Faber-Castell does absolutely great is make consistently high quality products, no matter the price range. The Grip 2011 is all-plastic, sure. But it's all constructed very precisely. The injection-molded plastic parts are thick and sturdy, and the cap snaps on reassuringly. It's a very light pen (15 gram total), but nothing rattles or feels poorly made, even the folded stainless steel clip feels surprisingly sturdy and has a nice firm spring-loaded action. Not at all bad for a 20$ pen!
REVIEW: FABER-CASTELL GRIP 2011 FOUNTAIN PEN
Then there's the nib. Faber-Castell's steel nibs are usually the star of the show, but the Grip (and a few of their other lower-end pens) utilize a slightly different nib and feed. So is it still as good? The nib has an almost identical design, the only visual difference is its slightly smaller size (a bit smaller than the usual #5 size nib). It's not removable either by the way, not that there's a need to remove it though.

Performance-wise, this smaller nib is pretty much on the same level as FC's other nibs. It's smooth enough, though has perhaps a touch more feedback than the regular FC nibs. It writes consistently, as I've come to expect from them, and the ink flow is balanced but slightly on the wet side. Interestingly, from my (limited) testing of a couple of these nibs, I learned that this smaller nib writes a slightly narrower line compared to the regular #5-sized nibs. For this review, I tried a medium nib, but I'd say it's more of a medium-fine.
REVIEW: FABER-CASTELL GRIP 2011 FOUNTAIN PEN
The Faber-Castell Grip 2011 retails for 20€, or 23$ from Appelboom (Even 10% less if you use my discount code 'friend' on their website!). The design is -ehrm- different, I'm pretty neutral about it - I don't love it, but don't hate it either. The nib though? Absolutely perfect, just an all-round great writer. It's also well-made, sturdy clip, good ergonomics (if you don't mind the triangular grip!)... what more can you expect really? It ticks all the right boxes for a 20 dollar pen. So if you ask me, the Grip can easily compete with the usual workhorse pens in this price range, like the Lamy Safari or Pilot Metropolitan!
Appelboom pens
This product was provided on loan by Appelboom, so I could write this review. I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own! This post contains affiliate links.
 REVIEW: FABER-CASTELL GRIP 2011 FOUNTAIN PEN

Thursday, June 25, 2020

REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN

REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
As you may (or may not) have noticed, I'm sort of on the search for the perfect modern flex nib fountain pen these days. I've reviewed a few flexy pens already, the most recent ones being the Pilot Custom 743 FA and FPR Himalaya, but today it's the turn of the Noodlers Ahab - Thanks to La Couronne Du Comte for sending this one over for review!

The Ahab is somewhat of a long-standing icon in the fountain pen hobby - although not always for the right reasons. The Ahab has sort of a bipolar reputation: some people love it, some people hate it. Me? I'm probably somewhere in the middle between those two camps. On the one hand, it's hard not to like it. For 20$ you get a lot of pen, with a couple cool features to boot. But it's far from the perfect everyday writer, either. 
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
Let's start at the beginning though, and that's the looks. Surprisingly, I ended up appreciating the Ahab's design considerably more than I thought  I would. The Ahab has a story to tell, that of Moby Dick, to be more specific! The clip is modeled after the top view of a sperm whale (Google it, the resemblance is actually quite convincing!). The barrel, shaped after captain Ahab's prosthetic leg (made out of whalebone), is perhaps a bit more far-fetched, but I do very much appreciate the thought that went into the design of this pen. The demonstrator finish is definitely my favorite, as it shows the unique plunger-filling mechanism in all its glory. Apart from the metal trim and ebonite feed, every single part of this pen is transparent by the way, which makes for a pretty cool see-through and clean design. 
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
Talking about the material this pen is made of... It may also be the first item on my list of negatives, unfortunately. Noodlers describes the material as some sort of 'vegetal resin', but unfortunately doesn't go on to specify which exact one. It looks good (maybe not as smooth and polished as I'd liken but that probably has more to do with the low price point than anything else), it feels warm to the touch and durable... but it SMELLS. SO. BAD. 

The best way I can describe it is sort of a putrid, sickly sweet smell. The smell is terrible out of the box - and may put people off of buying this pen - but it luckily lessens over time (although the parts on the inside of the cap, section, and barrel remain smelly on my review pen to this day - even though it has been continuously on my desk for the past 6 months or so). Some people apparently like the smell - I don't. 
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
The Ahab is a nicely sized pen, I feel. It measures 14cm (5.5") capped, and 12.8cm (5") uncapped. The barrel is not too thin, and the section has that comfortable 'stepped' shape like we also see on the Leonardo pens nowadays (although Noodlers did this design first, I should add!). 
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
The Ahab is certainly a comfortable pen to use, It's a good, balanced size, the all-resin construction is lightweight, and the threads are not that obtrusive to my grip. The cap posts, but not very deep and it often sits crooked on the back of the barrel...which annoys me a little bit. 
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
In terms of construction and build quality, I really don't have much to complain about. I mean it's a 20$ pen and I view it as such. But for the price, everything fits together nicely and feels sturdy. Even the clip has a really nice and solid spring to it. 

I also particularly like the plunger-type filling system. It has a very high capacity (approx. 2mL) and is designed properly with a breather tube so it fills up completely with minimal effort (a night and day difference over the so-so mechanism of the FPR Himalaya). You can also remove the plunger and use the Ahab as an eyedropper. But you can't use regular cartridges or converters with this pen. Overall, I've seen a few Indian-made pens at this point (Noodlers pens are made in India, btw) and none have been quite as nicely made as this one. 
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
And then we get to the nib. This is another area of the Ahab where I'm a little divided. On one hand, I'm excited to see a flexible steel nib and ebonite feed on an affordable pen like this, on the other hand, it's not without its flaws. You see: I'm lazy and spoiled, and I expect some kind of instant gratification when I buy a pen, especially a modern one. Admittedly, fountain pens never really are the ideal choice for ease of use. But I at least expect a pen to write properly out of the box, and Noodlers pens have never been known for their nib consistency (I've had the same issues with the FPR Himalaya that has a similar nib and feed). 

Frankly, it might as well be borderline impossible to provide a flawless writing performance with a highly specialized nib and feed setup like this, at this price point. It's difficult to make a flex nib work, you know. So to keep costs down, you - as a customer - are more or less expected to take care of the nib tuning yourself. It's probably a bit of a nib lottery, some nibs might be good out of the box, some might take some tinkering. Mine fell under the latter category.
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
Heat-setting the feed, and adjusting the nib to get a proper ink flow (especially for flex writing!) took me more than a couple tries and some swearing definitely was involved. I got it to a point where I can live with the writing performance, although  I  probably could've done a better job. This flex nib (fine-ish size) is smooth, but not buttery, and it can keep up with a decent amount of flexing (it opens up to about 1mm line widths). Solely for flex performance, the FPR Himalaya and it's custom modified 'super-flex' nib and feed certainly give much more dramatic line variation. The ink flow is not super heavy but manages to keep up most of the time. You definitely have to take your time when flex writing to avoid railroading, but that's a general remark for most flex pens. 
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
The Noodlers Ahab costs 23€ (23$). That's not a lot. In fact, at that price, I'm willing to forgive the finicky flex nib and smelly resin as a trade-off for a cool design and decent potential if you put in some effort to get the performance dialed in. Is this the perfect modern flex pen? Nah, but it sure is a fun pen if you're willing to give it a try! 
NOTE: This product was provided by La Couronne Du Comte, so I could write this review. I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own! This post does not contain affiliate links.
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

PEN CASE REVIEW: FRANKLIN-CHRISTOPH NEW PENVELOPE

PEN CASE REVIEW: FRANKLIN-CHRISTOPH NEW PENVELOPE
Of all the hardshell-type pen cases I know, the Franklin-Christoph Penvelope (review) sits comfortably in my top recommendations, perhaps only to be surpassed by Visconti's Dreamtouch cases (review) to the number one spot. In any case - hah, pun. - the Penvelope is without a doubt a stylish and practical storage option for your pens, and it's offered at an attractive price point. But despite already having the excellent Penvelope - and an extensive range of storage options overall -, Franklin-Christoph recently introduced a second Penvelope-style case to their product lineup: the 'New Penvelope' (not quite the most original naming ever). So obviously I was very curious to give it a try and see what it's all about!

"Why fix what isn't broken?", one could argue, but the New Penvelope doesn't really feel like they just updated the original. Instead, it's a complete departure from the original, meant to serve a different audience based on what you're looking for in a pen case.
PEN CASE REVIEW: FRANKLIN-CHRISTOPH NEW PENVELOPE
In terms of design, only the signature FC beveled edge on the front flap remains, the rest of the design was overhauled completely. The bottom and sides of the case are now completely closed up with a single strip of hard material. That's in contrast to the original Penvelope which has accordion-shaped (?) soft leather sides that allow the case to stretch out when (over-)filled to the brim. This design change makes the New Penvelope more robust - so in theory more protective for your pens - but it also takes away some of the practicality of having extra room to accommodate small notebooks, cleaning cloths, or even additional pens in front of the pen slots. No extra space to do that here.
PEN CASE REVIEW: FRANKLIN-CHRISTOPH NEW PENVELOPE
Top to bottom: FC New Penvelope, Visconti Dreamtouch, FC Penvelope (original) (all 6-pen versions)
PEN CASE REVIEW: FRANKLIN-CHRISTOPH NEW PENVELOPE
Top to bottom: FC New Penvelope, Visconti Dreamtouch, FC Penvelope (original) (all 6-pen versions)
Talking about space, the first thing that stood out is the New Penvelope's incredibly tiny footprint. The original Penvelope is quite a large case, much larger than an equivalent Visconti case, and I can see how that can be frustrating when you want to carry it around in a backpack or purse, or while traveling. The New Penvelope trims off almost an inch (about 2cm) in both height and width, while also being much slimmer. That puts it at an even more compact form factor than the - already quite compact - Visconti Dreamtouch pen cases.
PEN CASE REVIEW: FRANKLIN-CHRISTOPH NEW PENVELOPE
PEN CASE REVIEW: FRANKLIN-CHRISTOPH NEW PENVELOPE
New Penvelope left, original Penvelope right
On the inside, Franklin-Christoph opted for a removable slotted insert made of soft black cotton fabric (gone is the classy ribbed fabric of the 'old' Penvelope, unfortunately). I don't think making it a separate piece was the most space-efficient option, but they pulled it off anyway. The insert is sort of practical because partially sliding it out keeps the flap of the case opened and makes your pens easily accessible. The slots run all the way to the bottom of the insert, so removing the insert from the case won't display anything but the pens' finials, but at least they are well-protected.
PEN CASE REVIEW: FRANKLIN-CHRISTOPH NEW PENVELOPE
One of the unique selling points of the New Penvelope is the addition of - besides the classic boot leather - a leatherless (vegan!) finish called 'Natural Wood Fiber' (NWF in short). It looks like leather (complete with the wrinkly, texture of real leather), it feels like leather (I think it's waxed, not sure though?), it even smells like leather... but it's actually wood-based cellulose made into a kind of fabric. The FC website states it's as durable as real leather, and having the case in hand it sure looks like it will easily stand the test of time. I quite like this material, especially in these muted colorways that FC offers. It's not as soft or cushioned to the touch as the original leather Penvelope though, but I suspect that also has to do with the stiffer and thinner materials used for the structure of the case.
PEN CASE REVIEW: FRANKLIN-CHRISTOPH NEW PENVELOPE
The slots of the New Penvelope are visibly narrower than on the original design
PEN CASE REVIEW: FRANKLIN-CHRISTOPH NEW PENVELOPE
L to R: Pilot Metropolitan (almost invisible), Esterbrook Estie, Leonardo Momento Zero Grande, Edison Beaumont, Lamy 2000, Lamy Safari
Inevitably, the size reduction does have an effect on the functionality of this case. I maybe wish they hadn't taken the space optimization exercise quite as far, because the small form factor physically dictates the maximum size of the pen you can fit inside. The rather stiff construction of the case doesn't budge too much, so I feel like pens up to 14.5cm (5.7") are about the tallest to fit comfortably. Not at all bad for such a compact case, and plenty for a large majority of pens. Though the FC website goes even further with a maximum of 15.3cm (6"). Optimistic, but indeed possible because the long tab of the closure allows for about a centimeter of additional headroom inside the front flap. You can see that even the 15cm long Leonardo Momento Zero Grande could still fit, but it's a bit too cramped for my taste, whereas it fits just fine in the original Penvelope.
PEN CASE REVIEW: FRANKLIN-CHRISTOPH NEW PENVELOPE
Space is limited inside the case, so clips have to face sideways to get them to fit.
The main size limitation is not so much the length, but the maximum diameter of the individual slots. Here's where I don't agree with the FC website: they say it can take pens up to 0.75" (19mm) in diameter, but I just don't see that happening. The Leonardo Momento Zero Grande was again a good test subject (maximum diameter of 0.66" / 16.8mm). It worked, but it's already an extremely tight fit and difficult enough to get out again. I can't see how anything even wider would be possible without getting pens completely stuck inside the slots. For really oversized pens, this case is clearly not your best friend. 
PEN CASE REVIEW: FRANKLIN-CHRISTOPH NEW PENVELOPE
The New Penvelope from Franklin-Christoph is a cool new offering in their extensive range of pen carry & storage options. The NWF material is really neat, it looks and feels almost like real leather. And I think the more compact form factor will appeal to a lot of people that want to slim down - literally - their daily carry. It's almost complementary to the original Penvelope, so I hope Franklin-Christoph will let both cases coexist side by side!

The New Penvelope is not without its faults though: The new closure system doesn't look quite as clean as the magnetic closure, the fabrics used for the pen insert feel a bit cheaper, and the overall finishing doesn't feel quite as premium and plush as the original  Penvelope (although that's just due to the thinner and stiffer overall construction I think). The compact form factor also means that this case is simply not ideal for larger pens, although it should still be plenty spacious to fit the majority of 'normal' pens.

In the end, it manages to redeem itself with an incredibly competitive price point though. The original Penvelope already offered excellent value for its 65$ price tag, but the new model sits even lower, at just 45$ (for the 6-pen variant). Of course, you can also go for the smaller or larger 3 and 12 (not 13!) form factors. But regardless of the size you choose, the New Penvelope is consistently more affordable than the original (even if you do choose the slightly more expensive boot leather finish!). That makes it an excellent storage option if you're on a budget, yet still want to keep your precious pens safe and easy to carry around.


This product was provided by Franklin-Christoph, so I could write this review. I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own! This post does not contain affiliate links.