By April 26, 2011

Zebra F-701 Ballpoint Pen Review

One of my favorite jobs of all time was working at a pen store. We mostly refurbished and sold fountain pens, but there were some really nice other kinds of pens and mechanical pencils. Rollerball technology had improved to the point where they were no longer in niche status and a lot of people preferred a roller’s ink flow over a ballpoint pen.

Too pedestrian compared to fountain pens, and too low-tech compared to rollerballs, trusty writing instruments like the father’s Parker Jotter became unfashionable. It would be almost two decades before I would buy a ballpoint pen again.

Zebra makes a trio of metal-bodied ballpoint pens. The F-301 pen is mostly plastic, the F-402 is mostly metal, and the F-701 is all metal. As the plastic-to-metal ratio goes up, so does the price. However, the “top of the line” Zebra 701 is still less than $7 at Wal-Mart and a lot of office supply stores. All take the same refills, which can be had locally for about $5 for a pack of two. Oddly, the pens and refills are some of the few items that are cheaper to buy in a brick and mortar store than online.

I own the 402 and the 701. The 402 has a rubber grip on the front that some may find more comfortable than the 701’s knurled stainless steel grip. I personally like the 701. I’ve written a few times with wet hands, and I was glad for the extra purchase from the textured grip.

Some folks like the action of the 402’s plunger more than the 701. I can’t really tell a difference but if you were a compulsive “clicker” on your debate team then you may want to either buy a 402 or do a 402-to-701 plunger mod. There are a few modifications for the 701 out there, including using Fisher “space pen” refills in it. A 701 is about half as expensive as a Fisher space pen, so that mod may interest you.

I’ve owned my Zebra pens for about six months, and thanks to their narrow barrels and tough construction I keep one in my pocket at all times. My father used to keep a pen in his shirt pocket, but I own less than five shirts with pockets. I was nervous that a rollerball would leak, or that a plastic-bodied ballpoint would fail after being in my pocket all of the time.

The 701 feels very, very sturdy. Some folks are using these as cheap “tactical pens.” I wouldn’t recommend this pen for that duty, even if you were the type to carry a tactical pen — which I am not. My friend CannonFodder and I ran the 701 through some durability tests, and while the barrel and clip is all metal, there is a plastic jointer where the grip meets the barrel. This would be prone to breakage under extreme stress. If you just want a pen to write with this shouldn’t be a concern, but I do worry about people who buy the 701 as a last-ditch self-defense option. I’d look elsewhere.

“Good” ink payload and deployment are very subjective in the pen world, much like point/nib fineness. It’s a matter of personal preference and writing style more than one “best” nib size or ink flow. I find the Zebra’s 0.7mm fine point to work just fine for my block-letter style of print. The ink viscosity more than keeps up with my fast-paced, but clean handwriting. If you tend towards cursive or a mix of cursive and print, test drive the ink with a pair of 301s for $4 first. If the Zebras don’t keep up with you, throw one pen in your car/motorcycle and one in your emergency bag and call it a day.

Overall, I strongly recommend the Zebra F-701. The pen is inexpensive, durable, and readily available at stores like Staples and Wal-Mart. It may not be tough enough to take down a bunch of tangos, but it will stand up to use around your home or work — no matter how rough those reduction in force meetings get.

Strongly recommended

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