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.

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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.

iPenBox Subscription Boxes Surprise With Stationery Delights

I found myself in a stationery rut earlier this year. There are so many products available, with more announced daily, and being faced with an overwhelming number of choices left me paralyzed with indecision about what to try next. I kept looking at the same familiar pens, papers, and inks — great when your needs are specific and routine, but not so great when you’re a blogger. I needed to branch out.

Then I stumbled across the iPenBox subscription box.

iPenstore offers the iPenBox subscription box for $30 a month, including shipping. The subscription is available for international folks, but at a price of $40 per month. As a subscriber, you receive a small box in the mail every month filled with 5-10 stationery items. These could be fountain pens, pencils, paper, stickers, office and desk supplies. If it’s small, inexpensive, and of interest to stationery lovers, it could show up an iPenBox.

In other words, it sounds perfect for me so I had to give it a try. I’ve received the July and August boxes, and here are my first impressions, as well as how I feel about the service as a whole.

I subscribed in June and received my first shipment the second week of July. Boxes typically arrive the first or second week of the month.

It’s hard not to get excited when this shows up in your mailbox:

The packaging was simple, but secure.

Inside was a whole host of goodies! Apparently each month’s box has a theme, and this one was “Color Pop.”

I’m going to highlight a few items now, but I’m also going to skip a few of the pens and notebooks that deserve in-depth reviews. Look for them in the future. There’s a full listing of all the items in each box at the end of this post.

There were a couple of Pilot Varsity pens with medium nibs, and this cute (in size) but retina-searing mini notebook made by MIQUELRIUS.

I was pleasantly surprised by the paper’s performance with fountain pens.

A little bit of bleedthrough but not terrible.

Also in the box was a pair of tiny novelty erasers. These aren’t very practical so I doubt I’ll end up using them.

There was a sample of Monteverde Purple Reign. This is not a color I would have sought out on my own, but the ink performs well. I’ve only tried a few Monteverde inks, but have been impressed with them so far.

The “main” items in the box were a Sheaffer VFM ballpoint pen and a Jinhao 992.

I’m not a fan of ballpoints so while the pen is nice, it’s not really my thing.

The Jinhao 992 is a wonderful pen that’s felled by an Achilles heel of brittle, crack-prone plastic. If you like to play with fire or ticking time bombs, the 992 is the pen for you.

Rounding out the July box was a Pentel RSVP pen in a GO ‘MURICA! colorway, a small pack of flag-style sticky notes, a sample of Monteverde pen flush, and a lolipop treat. There was also a postcard from Michigan (cool) and a coupon for 10% off at iPenstore.

Overall, I was pleased with the July box. There were a couple pens I didn’t care for due to personal preferences, but most of the items are things I can (and will) use. The items fit the theme, and the total cost of the contents of the box came out ahead of the $30 fee. (There’s a full cost breakdown at the end of this post.)

Next up is the August box, which arrived this week.

ooooh, mysterious packaging… What could this month’s theme be?

Yes, this month’s theme is “Eclipse,” which is appropriate given that the US is experiencing Total Solar Eclipse mania leading up to the big event on August 21st. Anyway, there weren’t as many items in this box, but they made up for lack of numbers with some “ooohhh!” factor.

The first thing I examined was the Schneider Voyage fountain pen (the white pen at the top of the photo above.) The Voyage is a simple plastic pen that takes cartridges. I’ve wanted to try a Schneider pen for a long time so I was happy to see one here.

There was also a Rosetta Notes pocket notebook, a sheet of moon phase stickers from Stickerology, another 10% off coupon, and a Starburst treat. Very cool.

The “main” item in the box was a Retro 51 Tornado “Apollo” rollerball pen. These Tornado pens are a constant presence in the stationery blogosphere, so I’m eager to see if they live up to the hype. Maybe it’ll convert me into a rollerball believer.

There was also a sample of Diamine Eclipse ink, which is an interesting purple-black. Again, another color I wouldn’t have picked out on my own but am glad to have in my collection.

I really enjoyed this month’s box. The theme was perfect and the items were an A+ fit.

So. Two boxes in, the biggest question is “Is the iPenBox subscription box worth the price?” Let’s take a look.

I had to estimate prices for certain items so these totals aren’t exact, but they’re close enough to see that the value of the contents in each box has exceeded the $30 subscription price. And that’s not even factoring in the cost of shipping that you’d have to pay if you bought the items on your own.

Another thing I found helpful is that iPenBox lists the contents of every box they’ve shipped on their website. If you’re thinking about subscribing, peruse some of the past boxes to see if the items catch your fancy. Past items are of course no guarantee of what you’ll get in the future, but it gives you an idea of what you’re signing up for.

With these things in mind, is the iPenBox worth it? I say yes.

I plan to continue my subscription. The boxes are a fun surprise every month, with well-curated contents. Plus, they’re a good value for the money. If you’re looking for something to push you out of your stationery comfort zone, give the iPenBox a try.

I purchased this iPenBox subscription 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 Lookout Pen Holster

Note cards weren’t the only item in the shipment I received from Nock Co last month — I ordered a Lookout Pen Holster as well. Now that the Lookout and I have had a few weeks to get acquainted, it’s time for a review.

The Nock Co Lookout is a pen case with slots for three pens. It’s made of 1000 denier nylon with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating. That’s a lot of fancy words for thick nylon fabric that’s water resistant, but the Lookout’s first impression is that of durability. The fabric looks and feels tough, and the case feels solid and well made. It reminds me of other high quality backpacking and motorcycling gear I’ve collected over the years.

I did a quick test of the DWR coating by dropping some water onto my Lookout while it was loaded with my precious pens. The things I do for science blogging!

I chose a Lookout with the Raven/Aqua colorway, and it has a black exterior and aqua blue lining. An odd thing I noticed is that the contrasting thread stitched across the exterior is a different shade of blue than the aqua colored interior. This clash of colors bothers my OCD tendencies and I wonder if it was intentional or not.

Such confusion could be avoided if the Nock Co website had better quality pictures of each of the available colorways. As it stands now, the photos on the shop page aren’t detailed enough, and they don’t show all the available color combinations. (Seriously, what colors are “Peacock/Coal”? Is Peacock blue? Coal isn’t black because Raven is black, so is it grey? Curious shoppers want to know.)

The Lookout is a fold-over style pen case that’s secured by folding a flap of fabric over the tops of the pens stored within, then tucking the end of the flap under a strap. The interior lining is lightly padded, with three slots sewn into it to separate individual pens. The slots seem large enough to hold most pens. My largest pen is a Lamy Vista, and it fits in each slot with plenty of room to spare. I don’t own any gargantuan pens like the Montblanc 149 or Sailor King of Pen, so I can’t comment if they’ll fit in a Lookout.

Overall, the Lookout is slightly longer than an A6 Hobonichi Techo and about 1cm more narrow.

I’m a tough customer when it comes to sewn products, a side-effect of my other addiction, motorcycling, where a poorly sewn seam on a jacket or pair of pants can mean the difference between getting road rash scrubbed out at a hospital or walking away from an accident without a scratch. I looked long and hard at the sewing on my Lookout, and I’m mostly satisfied. The stitching is excellent overall, but there’s an edge on the flap where the lining was cut too narrow. This is a cosmetic issue that doesn’t affect the protective properties of the case, but it’s worth noting.

In the short time I’ve had my Lookout, it’s become part of my everyday carry payload. I use an ancient Timbuk2 messenger bag to hold my stuff when I go to work every day, and the Lookout and my Hobonichi Techo are a perfect fit in one of its interior organizer pockets. Every morning, I pick out the pens I want to carry for the day and load them into my Lookout, and I’ve found that three pens is plenty for my purposes.

At $25 plus shipping, the Lookout is on the expensive side for a fabric pen case, but it’s not nearly as much as some leather cases I’ve seen. Fabric versus leather is a matter of personal preference, and the Lookout’s fabric is top notch. In addition, Nock Co has a good reputation in the fountain pen community, and its products are made in the USA. I don’t skimp on protective riding gear for motorcycling and I won’t skimp on protection for my pens. This is one area where quality is worth paying extra.

Despite some minor flaws, my Lookout has become an indispensable part of my EDC kit. My pens ride comfortably within its interior and I can carry them with me knowing that they’ll be safe and protected from the knocks and bumps of my daily commute. If you only need to carry a few pens at a time, take a look at the Lookout pen holster. I’m very happy with mine.

I purchased this Nock Co Lookout with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.