So - to the contenders.
In the blue corner: the FPN Stipula Passporto. Nib: F.
In the yellow corner: the Sailor Sapporo Short. Nib: F
In the quite shiny corner: the Pilot M90. Nib: F
Get your sunglasses: Yard o Led Viceroy Pocket. Nib: F.
(Oooh - all the same nib size! That's a good start compared to last time, no?)
Firstly, a caveat to the review: I don't actually use any of these in my pocket - I did until the little yellow Sailor decided to unscrew its cap and disgorge most of a cartridge's worth of Sailor Nano Black ink on my favourite pair of jeans (sorry, late favourite pair of jeans). The Stipula and Sailor have screw-thread caps; the others are clip on and therefore theoretically even less secure. Although it doesn't matter. Once bitten twice shy, none of them is going anywhere near my pocket!
So, shorn of their raison-d'etre, let's start the test! Fight!
Forgive me, but they're just… so… cute. All of them. Yet it is interesting to note that each manufacturer has pursued different design ideologies with their pens, but the end result is surprisingly similar: you just want to twiddle them, caress them, give them to a baby dressed up as a playwright.
The Sailor and the YOL have taken the traditional signposts of their larger pens and simply shrunk-to-fit, making them almost comical in their new constrained proportions. The YOL looks like the pen Doctor Evil's Mini-Me would use to put his signature to world-domination-once-removed for it is so ornate, so wonderfully over-the-top that you cannot help but fall desperately in love. The Sailor just looks like a joke - it is not Mini-Me's pen; it is Mini Me himself. I can imagine the conversation in Japan: "Oh, what should we do for our mini pen?" "I know, let's just put a Pro Gear in the computer and set scale to 50%" "Good idea! Now where's the nearest Izakaya?" "Kampei!" It could be seen as lazy if it didn't just... dare I say it... work.
The Pilot and the Stipula though have taken a different course: theirs have no reference to any other pens in their line or, in the case of the Passaporto, any pens at all. The M90 has a long history with the Murex line and the great Japanese tradition of the long-short pen, yet to my eyes it still looks odd - with the long cap and short visible barrel when closed, it has the proportions of a rather small mushroom. The Stipula instead reminds me of a roll of papyrus, wrapped at the centre. It does not look like a pen, for better or worse.
As size no doubt matters in this case, smallest to largest:
Beside a Lamy 2000
Fit and Finish:
Well, there are clear winners here, and they should come as no surprise. The YOL is simply drop dead gorgeous, from its craftsmanship to the intricate design which adorns its solid silver body. It is one of the most beautiful pens I have ever seen in any size, at any price.
Next comes the Sailor. Dull, dull, dull bar its "hey I'm yellow!" resin, but it is (as I have come to expect from Sailor) unimpeachable in its build quality. There is no play on any single part; you cannot get your fingernail under any of the gaps; the finish is flawless. Impressive.
Third: the Pilot. Everything is beautifully built, and the brushed stainless steel has a lovely tactility. But… the details grate. Well, really only three details: of minor irritation are the cheap-looking blue cap gemstone and the incongruous smooth steel of the clip; of rather more annoyance is the solidity of the cap while closed and posted - or rather lack thereof. It has about a millimeter of play in it - tiny, but grrrrrrrrr…. not good enough Pilot!
And finally, bringing up the rear like the asthmatic kid on sport's day, it's the Stipula. No. Just no. Some plastics transcend their humble origins. Not this one. It has no lustre, and looks and feels lifeless in the hand. The light blue swirls seem like ugly imperfections rather than flourishes and though not terrible, it is nowhere near the other three. Asthmatic kid's report card: "C-. Must try harder".
The great thing about all these pens is that despite their tiny dimensions closed, they become rivals for standard sized pens once posted. Each of the four has an integral way of posting: threads on the Sailor and Stipula, clip on the YOL, pins on the M90. The Stipula is the lightest, followed by the Sailor; it is probably no surprise that the two metal pens are the heaviest with the YOL tipping the scales over the most. All are exceptionally comfortable to use, only the YOL being less in any noticeable sense due to the tiny diameter of its section and barrel (the barrel which, depending on how close to the nib you hold your pen is the section).
With my trusted L2K again...
Let's get this out of the way first. There is one winner, and that winner simply blew the others out of the water. And that pen is…
… the Sailor. The 14k H-F nib may be at the lower end of Sailor's repertoire, but by god is this a good nib. Smooth as silk, razor fine yet forgiving of angle, consistent flowing and (I don't know how they manage this), brimming with personality, it is quite simply one of the best nibs on any of my pens.
What is all the more impressive is the background to this test. Following the pen's incontinence, I am embarrassed to say, I was angry. Very angry. So angry that the pen was banished into eternal exile (ok, not eternal, but it spent nearly a year dumped at the bottom of a drawer) with the offending cartridge of nano carbon ink still firmly half-full and wedged within. When I came to salvage the pen, the ink had evaporated and a dusty sediment remained all over the nib. And yet… I ran some water through and replaced the cartridge and IT STARTED RIGHT UP! Not only that, it wrote perfectly, without a single problem for the subsequent two days to today. Incredible!
In light of that, the Europeans should hang their heads in shame. Fair enough, the Stipula's nib is humble steel, but that is no excuse for the eratic flow and toothy progress. But, the shame, the shame. For that beautiful YOL 18k nib will not write properly. Yes, it looks lovely; yes it is soft and sometimes flexible; yes, when it works it has a lovely, true-western-fine solid line; no, it will not write a page without skipping; no it will not be placed down for a few minutes without hard starting. Even when the nib does work, that flexibility is a poisoned chalice, for the feed cannot keep up with the necessary ink-flow and quickly dries if you flex too long. Very very disappointing.
And the Pilot? Well, that nib is a tour-de-force. It is hands-down the smoothest steel nib I have ever tried and, like the Sailor, can be trusted for a consistent line and flow, being only slightly broader. It also looks fabulous, being made from the same single sheet of steel as the section.
By default, the winner here is the M90. Why? Because as hated as a cartridge converter is, it pales in comparison to the venom and bile spat at cartridge-only pens.
Or maybe not. Maybe the winner is the Passaporto, for it can be used as an eyedropper. I like my jeans and my bags, so I am not so brave. You may be, in which case this single idiosyncrasy may swing you.
Worth noting is the type of cartridges each uses: while the YOL and Stipula both use standard international cartridges, the Japanese both use proprietary cartridges. "Grrrrr" many may say (and Pilot and Sailor cartridges, in the west, are not exactly the easiest to source), however in my experience the result isn't exactly clear cut. Each pen only has space for a single cartridge (no spare), and those international cartridges are truly lame. The Sailor and Pilot hold substantially more ink, though their colour palettes are very very limited. Which to choose? No idea. I'll leave that to you…
Left to right: International, Sailor, Pilot
Is this really a fair test? The most expensive pen here costs nearly 5 times the cheapest, with the others falling somewhere in between. In units of Passaporto, the Sailor is 1.5 Passaportos, the Pilot (when I bought it two years ago) 2.5 Passaportos, and the YOL an eye-watering 4.5.
This one is easier to call than the Battle of the Giants. There is a clear winner and a clear loser. First, to the loser: the YOL. Yes, it is breathtakingly beautiful, and as a solid silver pen, oozes quality. But the nib doesn't write, and it's just not four-and-a-half times the pen that the Stipula is.
Which is not to say that the Stipula comes off well. It is firmly in the bottom half of the class. Yes, the YOL is not four-and-a-half times the pen, but that does not make the Stipula a good pen. It is cheap, and that is its salvation, but it does not feel like a quality item. When TWBSI is pumping out 540s for less, this little guy doesn't stack up. Sorry.
So, that takes the battle over to the Pacific. Which of the Samurais will be victorious?
It's not the M90. Valiant it may be; iconic it may be; a good writer it may be, but it is simply blown into the weeds by the Sailor. That is not an embarrassment, for this Sapporo Short is a truly formidable foe. It is so well made, writes so wonderfully, is so damn perfectly fit for purpose that even were it not also the second cheapest (and, in my opinion, one of the pen world's great bargains), it would walk this.
And so, for the first time, there is a clear winner. Take a bow Little Yellow One, for the force is strong with you.
I only hope my other, upcoming, comparisons will have such a definitive finish!
EDITED TO ADD: Obviously, the ink in the Stipula sample is not MB Royal Blue. I don't know what it is, sorry. They should start marking cartridges - rationality and unit cost be damned...
Edited by mongrelnomad, 31 January 2012 - 12:20.