Snap Judgments: Hero 1202 Demonstrator

Chinese pen manufacturers are on a serious clear demonstrator kick at the moment. For those of us with a thing for naked pens, this is our time! The Hero 1202 is one such pen, readily available on eBay for $3.78 USD (including shipping!) Let’s see if it’s the hero we need, or a villain in disguise.

The Hero 1202 sits in the smaller end of the size spectrum. It’s slightly shorter than the Pilot Metropolitan when capped and uncapped.

On the scale with a partial fill of ink in the converter, the 1202 weighs in at a feather-light 9g without a cap and 14g with. This lack of heft is due to the fact that the pen is made of very thin plastic, which makes it feel cheap and uninspiring. The barrel has a faint mold line, which is usually not present on quality pens. There are also a couple of tiny opaque blemishes on the cap near the band. Compared to the Penton F10, another Chinese demonstrator pen, the 1202’s plastic just doesn’t feel as solid. Of course, neither of these pens compare well against higher quality plastic pens such as the TWSBI ECO or the Lamy Vista, but at this price point that’s to be expected.

Chinese pen manufacturers are known for churning out thousands of low quality clones of popular name-brand pens. I try to avoid clones as much as possible, but I don’t think the Hero 1202 is a clone of an already existing pen. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) It’s reminiscent of certain Sailor pens, though the overall design feels more like the epitome of the “generic fountain pen” than anything else.

The barrel end is plain, but it’s watertight, which ought to make the eyedropper fans out there perk up and take notice.

While turning this pen into an eyedropper is an option, it comes with a converter included. The converter appears to be the standard international size, but I haven’t confirmed it. A small metal spring inside the converter acts as an agitator. The body of the converter doesn’t hold much ink, but it works well.

The 1202 comes with gold trim on the cap and section, along with a matching gold nib. The cap screws on and off in 1.5 turns, and it has a simple stamped metal clip.

You can remove the clip by unscrewing the finial.

The clip is stamped with “HERO”. I’m not sure what method was used to color the clip gold, but it seems to be holding up so far without any chipping or tarnishing. In use, the clip feels surprisingly sturdy. It takes some coaxing to get the clip to open, but once in place it feels secure.

There’s no real cap band to speak of, though there are a couple of thin gold rings printed onto the plastic along with some brand and model markings. The printing is thin and beginning to wear off in some places.

Unscrewing the cap reveals a slim, round section with a translucent feed. I love, love, love these kind of feeds. Let me see my beautiful ink!

The section is 20mm long, with a very gentle step up to the barrel. There’s a thin ring of gold trim between the section and the barrel, which has unfortunately begun to tarnish with use. The cap threads are shallow and don’t get in the way of my grip. At only 8mm in diameter at its most narrow, the section is a hair smaller than that of a Pilot Metropolitan. This is definitely a pen for those who prefer thinner sections.

In the hand, the 1202 feels balanced, but it’s one of the rare pens that I prefer to use posted as it’s almost too light to be comfortable without the extra weight of the cap.

A gold colored steel nib sits in the business end of the pen. The nib is tastefully embellished with a vine-like design and Hero brand mark. While the nib is described as a fine, it’s more of an extra-fine, putting down a thinner line than my Pilots with fine nibs. I haven’t been able to find this pen with nibs in other sizes.

The nib wrote smoothly out of the box (or wrapper in this case), but it does have that feedback common to thinner nibs. The tipping is a simple ball and the steel nib is a nail, so expect no line variation here. While the nib is thinner than I like and does my handwriting no favors, it’s a surprisingly decent nib for a pen this price.

The Hero 1202 isn’t likely to wow anyone. It feels a bit flimsy and who knows how long the trim will last before wearing off or tarnishing. But if you like EF nibs or showing off your ink, this could be a pen to take a chance on since it’s so inexpensive. I’ve been using mine to play with temperamental inks like J. Herbin Rouge Hematite, and for that purpose I’m more than satisfied.

Things I like about the Hero 1202: smooth writer (for an EF) out of the box

Things I don’t like: thin plastic, poor trim quality

This Hero 1202 was paid for with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.

Advertisements

Let’s Talk About the Pilot Kaküno

The Pilot Kaküno is a pen that wouldn’t look out of place in the hands of a seven-year-old. It’s chunky and plastic. Its nib has a smiley face on it. Aurora wouldn’t make this pen, nor would Montblanc, and in a time when the majority of fountain pens seem designed for the boardroom instead of the classroom, the Kaküno’s youthfulness makes it stand out from the crowd. But can a pen for kids be any good? Let’s take a look.

The Kaküno has been around long enough that volumes have already been written about it. I’m not going to rehash all those reviews — if you’re interested in reading more, I’ve linked to several of them at the end of this post. Instead, I’m going to discuss my experience with the two Kakünos I own.

First, some basics if you’ve never seen this pen before. The Pilot Kaküno is a lightweight plastic fountain pen with a steel nib that takes Pilot proprietary ink cartridges or converters. The cap is clipless, but has a roll stop. The section has a rounded hexagonal shape, ostensibly for teaching children the proper grip.

Everything about the Kaküno is super kawaii. The packaging is colorful and easy to open, and the instruction pamphlet features cartoon drawings that are easy to understand even though I’m an American who doesn’t speak a lick of Japanese. And just look at these nibs…

THEY PUT A SMILEY FACE ON THE NIB.

This is what I look like whenever I see this pen:

Most people will either love how the Kaküno looks or hate it.

Back in Japan, Pilot sells the Kaküno in a wide array of color combinations. Unfortunately, they’ve chosen not to import all the available colorways to the US. Kakünos with light grey or white barrels and brightly colored caps can be found in the United States for less than $20, and often less than $12. If you want a different color, you’ll have to import it yourself, like I did with this clear version.

I just can’t resist a clear demonstrator.

The Kaküno is a compact pen, but when it’s uncapped, it’s comparable in size to the Pilot Metropolitan and the Lamy Safari/AL-star/Vista.

L to R: Pilot Metropolitan, Pilot Kaküno, Lamy Vista
L to R: Pilot Metropolitan, Pilot Kaküno, Lamy Vista

As an all-plastic pen, it weighs about as much as a feather in a gentle summer’s breeze, but don’t take that to mean it’s insubstantial. On the contrary, it feels well constructed. The plastic is comparable to the Lamy Vista’s, and far better than the dollar Jinhaos and Wing Sungs I’ve been playing with lately.

“YES THAT’S NICE, BUT HOW DOES IT WRITE?” I can hear you asking.

The Pilot Kaküno writes… okay.

I know that sounds tepid. But this pen can be a beautifully smooth writer, with a couple big caveats. First caveat: both of my pens needed their nibs to be tuned before they wrote nicely. The first Kaküno I bought had horrible baby’s bottom from the start. Bummer. The second Kaküno isn’t as bad; it writes smoothly, but still has an occasional skip, even with inks that behave well in other pens. Double bummer. I realize that two nibs is a small sample size, but I’ve never had this problem with other Pilot pens. Maybe the factory thinks little kids don’t care about the occasional hard start?

The second caveat is the hexagonal section. I use a traditional tripod grip, so much so that the Lamy Safari’s shaped section doesn’t bother me at all. But when I use my normal grip with the Kaküno’s section, the nib is slightly rotated to the left. This means that both tines don’t touch the paper evenly, and the nib is scratchy. I end up rotating the pen in my fingers, against the shape of the section, in order to find the nib’s sweet spot. I’ve found a grip that works for me, but it’s not comfortable for long writing sessions.

Based on my experiences, I can’t recommend the Pilot Kaküno to beginners as a first pen. However, I do consider it to be a good tinkerer’s pen. Like the nib but hate the section? Swap it into a Metropolitan or a Plumix. Or maybe you’re like me and really love how this pen looks and know how to tune a nib. It’s inexpensive enough to take a chance on, but I recommend trying one in person before you buy.

Some good reviews of the Pilot Kaküno:

Do you have a Kaküno? Did it write perfectly out of the box? Did I just get unlucky with these two?

I paid for both of my Pilot Kakünos with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.

Snap Judgments: Nock Co Seed A6 Case

Now that I’ve gone all-in on the Hobonichi Techo by ordering a 2018 edition for next year, I decided it was time to get a proper cover, too. In a bit of serendipitous timing, Nock Co recently announced a new notebook cover of their own: the Seed A6 case. With the positive experience I’ve been having with their Lookout pen case in mind, I jumped at the chance to order a Seed case as soon as they were available online.

The Seed is an A6 case that fits notebooks sized 4.1 x 5.8 inches (10.4 x 14.7 cm) and up to .75 inches (1.9 cm) thick. While the Nock Co website doesn’t specify the materials the Seed case is made from, I believe that the exterior fabric is the same 1000D Cordura found in other Nock Co cases.

This particular case is the “Steel/Silver Dust” colorway.

The Seed is a clamshell style cover with a sturdy YKK zipper around the outer edge. The zipper has double zipper pulls but I’m not sure why. On such a small case, I feel the second pull just gets in the way. (Obviously, this is a matter of personal preference.)

This style of case can be tricky to sew, and the sewing on this one is top notch. The seams are straight and even, and there was only one stray thread at the end of a seam that needed trimming.

Since this case was designed for the A6 Hobonichi Techo, I was pleased to see that it fits my notebook like a glove.

That said, it’s highly likely that other similarly sized notebooks (like the Stalogy 365 or Midori MD A6) will also fit. But as always, measure notebook twice, buy cover once.

The interior of the case is a lighter grey material. There are two pen slots on the front side and a business card slot on the back.

There are also slots on the front and back to secure the cover of whatever notebook is being protected. The Hobonichi Techo fits into these slots perfectly. It’s also possible to skip using the slots entirely and keep your notebook loose inside while using the slots for other flat items. A third option, which is what I settled on, is to slip the back cover of the notebook into the back slot while leaving the front cover free. This lets me store loose papers or a pocket notebook in the front slot.

In this configuration, I found that the notebook remained comfortable to write on. Writing on the left side pages is slightly more bumpy when there are pens in the slots. The surface of the paper is also higher off the tabletop due to the cover’s presence, which is something to get used to if your notebook was naked before.

The pen slots are generously sized and securely sewn. The left slot is slightly more narrow than the right. My largest diameter pens are a Lamy Vista and a TWSBI Diamond Mini, and both fit with plenty of room to spare.

Something to be aware of when storing larger pens in the pen slots is that they will add bulk to the front cover and make the case more difficult to close.

Also, if you store your pens clipped to the case with the clips facing out, some clips will leave small indentations in the flyleaf of the notebook inside. If you want to keep your notebook pristine, turn your pens inside the slots so their clips aren’t exposed.

Nock Co says their 1000D Cordura has a durable water repellent (DWR) finish, so let’s put that to the test.

Looks like it’s working. 🙂

The front of the case has an overlapping flap pocket.

It’s a little awkward putting items into the pocket, but once inside, they’re unlikely to fall out. I was able to cram a roll of washi tape, a Kaweco Sport, and a Raymay Pencut in there, but that’s pushing it. Items stored in the front pocket also make the case rather bulky.

So the Seed A6 looks good and fits good. I’m satisfied with mine, but at $60 plus shipping, I feel it’s about ten dollars too expensive. You’ll have to decide if $60 is worth it to you when there are American made leather covers out there for not much more.

I’ve only had my Seed case for a few days, but it’s already a part of my everyday carry. It’s simple, well made, and does the job.

Things I like about the Seed: the fabric, craftsmanship, fit

Things I don’t like: it’s $10 too expensive, would prefer just one zipper pull

This notebook case was paid for with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.

Snap Judgments: Miquelrius Mini Notepads

Now here’s something I didn’t know I needed until I received one in an iPenBox Subscription Box. I’ve received two of these Miquelrius Mini Notepads — one blank, the other graph ruled — and I’ve had them long enough to share what I think of them.

Miquelrius is a Spanish stationery company that I was unfamiliar with until now. These Mini Notepads are a collaboration with Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, a Spanish fashion designer. Each notepad measures 2.7in x 4.3in (7cm x 11cm).

The covers certainly are colorful.

While not my aesthetic cup of tea, the covers are so bright they’re easy to find on my desk or in my messenger bag.

The front cover is made of cardstock. The back cover is even thicker, almost as thick as chipboard without actually being chipboard. The back is plenty sturdy enough to support the pages of the pad when holding it in your hand, so these notepads are well-suited for taking notes on the go.

There’s an elastic band on the back cover for holding the notepad closed. The band is attached to the cover with grommets. In a very nice touch, the notepad comes with a loose sheet of paper sandwiched between the last page and the back cover, to keep the grommets from marring the back pages. This is the kind of attention to detail I like very much.

The outsides of these notepads are very pretty, but we all know it’s what’s on the inside that really counts to us fountain pen aficionados. I’m happy to report that the paper inside is fountain pen friendly indeed.

Each Mini Notepad contains 90 sheets of 70gsm paper that’s glue bound to the outer cover. The glue binding is nice and secure, but individual pages are easily and cleanly removed with a strong pull.

These notepads are available in blank and 5mm graph versions.

I tested the paper with the fountain pen and ink combinations I use the most, along with a few other kinds of pens for variety’s sake. I’m not a pencil user so I can’t comment on this paper’s performance with graphite.

The paper is not as smooth as Clairefontaine or Tomoe River, but it’s pleasant to write on and doesn’t feel cheap. I’d say its tooth is comparable to HP LaserJet paper.

There was no feathering with fountain pen ink except for a tiny bit of spiderwebbing when using Pilot Blue Black. (This was a surprise, since Pilot Blue Black is a rockstar on nearly every paper.) Regardless, the feathering is so minimal you almost need a loupe to see it, and for an everyday note-jotting pad, it’s not enough to bother me, especially when other inks performed so flawlessly.



I saw a little bit of ghosting but no bleedthrough with fountain pen inks. Gel ink, the Retro 51 rollerball, and the Sharpies had some bleedthrough, with the Sharpies being the worst. No surprises there.

These Miquelrius Mini Notepads are well-made pads that look and feel like quality items while performing wonderfully with fountain pens. They’ve become my go-to notepads for quick notes and lists. At $2.49 per pad, they aren’t cheap, but the price is comparable with offerings from Apica and Mnemosyne. Perhaps the only downside is availability; I’ve only been able to find these for sale at iPenStore.com. I certainly hope they keep sending me more in future subscription boxes!

These notepads were sent to me in a subscription box that I paid for with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.

Let’s Talk About the Lamy Vista

Ah, the oft-overlooked Lamy Vista. The odd pen out in the Lamy Safari/AL-star family, the Vista is a pen for those who like the Safari’s aesthetic and want to see it in demonstrator form.

I received this Vista as a gift, and it holds considerable sentimental value. This has undoubtedly influenced my opinion, so take this post with a grain of salt.

The Lamy Vista is the clear demonstrator version of the Lamy Safari. Aside from the color difference, the Vista is a Safari in every other way, right down to the ink level cutouts in the barrel, which are of course made completely unnecessary by the Vista’s transparent plastic.

The Vista accepts proprietary Lamy ink cartridges as well as the Z24 and Z28 converters. I’ve used this pen with both cartridges and a converter, and I prefer the cartridges because they hold more ink and because I don’t like the red knob on the converter.

Red clashes; black goes with everything. Why, Lamy, why? (photo source: lamy.com)

While I understand why the Vista has the ink cutout windows, they create a huge missed opportunity. Can you imagine this pen as an eyedropper? You’d probably have enough ink to write Ulysses. As it is, you’ll have to settle for admiring your ink from within a cartridge or converter.

The cap is mostly clear plastic, with the classic U-shaped Safari clip and black plastic “+” finial. The inner cap is metal, with a black seal that fits snugly around the shoulders of the section. While the metal inner cap does disrupt the demonstrator aesthetic, it makes up for it by securely sealing the nib when the pen is capped. Even after sitting for several weeks, this pen has started on the first stroke every time.

(Note: the streak of green in this photo is a stray reflection. There’s no actual green anywhere on this pen.)

The cap can be posted, and it fits on the barrel deeply and securely. In my smaller hands, posting the cap makes the pen feel unbalanced, so I prefer to use my Vista unposted.

The Vista is what I’d call a typically sized modern pen. Indeed, Safaris/AL-stars/Vistas are so ubiquitous that most pen reviews have at least one in their size comparison photos as a standard of reference. As I tend to favor smaller pens, this Vista is one of the larger pens in my collection.

L to R: TWSBI Diamond Mini Classic, Lamy Vista, vintage Sheaffer Balance
L to R: TWSBI Diamond Mini Classic, Lamy Vista, vintage Sheaffer Balance

For a mostly-plastic pen, the Vista feels substantial but not overly heavy. It’s heavier than the Pilot Kakuno, the Jinhao 992, and the Hero 1202, but it’s lighter than the Pilot Metropolitan. For me, the unposted Vista is in that sweet spot of weight and balance that makes it well-suited for long writing sessions.

Aside from their looks, perhaps the most controversial thing about the Safari/Vista is the shaped section. Most pen folks seem to love shaped sections or hate them.

I find the Vista’s section comfortable, but I have small hands and hold my pens in the standard tripod grip. For this reason, I strongly suggest trying a Safari/AL-star/Vista in person before buying one.

This particular Vista came to me with an EF nib. Lamy nibs tend to run wide in sizing, and I’d describe this EF as similar to a Japanese medium. This Vista’s nib suits my teeny-tiny handwriting just fine.

The nib is made of steel, with its tipping shaped into a rounded ball. The result is consistent lines with no variation.

In my experience, this nib writes on the dry side with most inks. It has a bit of feedback that I liked more than I thought I would. It’s not at all scratchy, but also not as smooth as a Japanese nib. The nib on this Vista wrote perfectly out of the box.

A nice thing about Safaris/AL-stars/Vistas is that their nibs are interchangeable and easily swapped. Buy one pen and a bunch of different nibs, and you could go from an EF to a 1.9mm stub without breaking the bank.

This Lamy Vista is the most reliable pen in my collection. It starts up every time and never skips. It works so well it’s almost boring. I’m pretty sure the Germans would call that a success, and I can see why these pens are a modern classic.

That said, I don’t feel compelled to add an AL-star or Safari to my collection, though this year’s Safari Petrol limited edition was awfully tempting because I liked the color. But I’m not sure I want to fall down the rabbit hole of acquiring multiples of the same pen in different colors. I’d rather invest in a wide array of nib sizes instead.

Since nearly everyone has at least one Safari, AL-star, or Vista in their collection, I’d love to hear what you think about yours.

This Lamy Vista was given to me as a gift. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.