The Levels were an attempt to make fountain pens absolutely as easy to use as they could be. Instead of taking the pen apart to insert a short lived cartridge or messily dipping their pens' nibs in ink, Level owners simply had to press a special ink bottle against the pens, umm, butt, and squeeze. This transferred about 8 cc of ink in a single mess free operation. And, yes, it really worked!
Or rather it still does, because Levels are cheap on ebay.
So the Level gives you huge capacity and mess free filling, albeit from a special bottle (which you can refill with any ink you like). It is also claimed to be flight safe, and it uses the excellent nib from the Go and Pelikano, so it writes about as well as any fountain pen on earth. The body has excellent ergonomics, with a long comfortable section that accommodates a range of grips. The body is translucent, letting you see how much of that ink is left. With some caveats, I consider the Level 1 an excellent buy - I got mine for about £10 NOS on ebay, including international postage and a bottle of ink!
As I've already said, this is the same nib that the Go and Pelikano use. I've not heard of anyone disliking this nib, and a lot of users report that they prefer it to the nib of much expensive pens. I certainly prefer it to the nib that my M200 had and compare it favourably with any nib I've ever used. It's in a different league to Lamy Safaris and Waterman Kultur\Phileas - it really is a nib that feels in the class of a classic Sheaffer or high end Bock nib. It's smooth, but gives a good feeling of feedback. The wetness, which I rate "middle of the road", is constant under any sort of reasonable writing pressure. It's stiff, but not uncomfortably so. My nib is rated as Medium and I would say that's exactly right.
As I've said, you stick a bottle up the pen's butt and squeeze. And if you think that's altogether to enema-ish, wait until you learn the Level's cleaning procedure!
Anyway, to fill the Level you turn the dial on the end of the barrel so that the circle marked on it is aligned with the circle on the pen barrel. You then insert the ink bottle, holding the ensemble so that the bottle is top and the pen is bottom, and squeeze. This done, you remove the bottle.
But wait! The Level has two ink tanks! You've just filled the larger but reserve one. To fill the smaller one that's directly connect with the nib, turn that dial so that it's triangle aligns with the circle on the barrel, wait briefly with the pen held nib down, and you're done. You repeat this whenever the shows signs of running out of ink in its writing reservoir.
This is great engineering. The real problem with "big ink" pens are evaporation and thermal expansion. Because the main ink supply is tightly sealed away in a locked chamber, evaporation does little to rob you of ink and wreck your pen with sediment. And expansion isn't a problem either - the ink is too tightly sealed away to be forced out by warmed up air bubbles (the bane of eyedroppers that don't have cut-off valves like those on the Danitrios.)
The worst thing connected with filling is the ink supplied with the Level. It's awful, thin blue-gray stuff that makes Quink seem like Supershow Blue. I'd advise you to pour it away and put something decent in the special bottle instead.
If you press hard on the filler bottle and the Level's valves are in the wrong position, you will drench your hands and whatever surface you are over with ink!
It's "right size" - about the same as an M800, I think, weighs almost nothing, and as I said the section design is good.
The Level as is minimal and functional as a pen can become, subject to good ergonomics. It's a translucent tube with a tapering section with a nib sticking out. The cap looks like a slight piece of fancy-fication, but it isn't. It's a "Pharaoh's hat" shape, broader at the closed end than the the open end. I thought this was just an mis-attempt at looking interesting, but makes it easy to draw the pen from a jeans pocket, and then thumb off the cap - only one hand required throughout!
Sturdy tasteful plastic. The pen would have got a 5 if I wasn't slightly worried about the longevity of the clip. (The Go's clip is the best clip I've seen other than the PFM's, which it more or less copies, albeit with a flourish of bad taste and plastic coating.) It is an effective clip however - springy! But I'm probably being harsh - the body and cap feel like they are very tough, certainly sturdier than the Phileas, and possibly tougher than the Safari.
A superb writing super high capacity pen for only £10 ($20)! As a carry-always pen, I don't think the Level can be beaten. It clings to your pocket, holds a tanker of ink, writes superbly, the translucent barrel lets you know how ink you have left, it can take a few knocks, and you won't be out of serious money if you lose it.
Tomorrow I shall explain how to clean a Level without dismantling it. It's a pain, so I recommend sticking to one colour of ink per pen - which means throwing away the ink that came in the bottle with the pen. But not the bottle! And I shall add photographs, if I can.
Edited to add:
I'm working looong hours time to get a piece of software shipped. As a consequence I just left my Level uncapped at about 6pm and just found it now at 4am. (I'm having to keep very weird hours for complicated reasons.) After almost 12 hours of being uncapped the Level wrote perfectly on my third scrawl - less than five seconds after I picked it up!
At the time I wrote this review I didn't appreciate that the nib used on the Go, Level, and Pelikano is very special. It's actually a wing nib, possibly stolen from the c. 1960 Meisterstuck when Mont Blanc were at their technical peak. The nib seals in the feed, giving most of the benefits of a hooded design while looking conventional. The benefit is a supremely reliable pen that is very reluctant to dry out - I suspect it actually out does the P51. I had a Level also used as a cat toy (I guard the others carefully now, but the Level is my so-what pen) not only survive an entire night of feline torture but actually start with no re-wetting of the nib after being uncapped for 18 hours. The pen also failed to leak any ink on the floor, although it had obviously been quite roughly treated. Tough pen! I do consider my Level indispensable - it can write for almost as long as a big Danitrio ED - literally a week of heavy writing - has a nib that would be acceptable on a £200 pen, doesn't dry out, and is almost indestructible.
Edited by meanwhile, 13 August 2007 - 12:01.