Kickstarter Pens... Man, oh man. Seems like every time I turn around, there's a new "last pen you'll ever buy" on our favorite crowdfunding site. And it seems like we've seen it all from super tactical with bottle openers and pointy ends to ultra minimal with a sleeve over a refill (just barely) and everything in between.
I was recently contacted by the folks at VergeStyle (Kickstarter veterans with 4 successful projects) to take a look at their Sens Pen — a Kickstarter project that ended in the fall of 2017. Does it stand out amongst the pen chatter on Kickstarter? For me it does. Read on...
The Sens Pen falls into the minimalist category with no clip, grip rings or mechanisms. The pen is machined from lightweight aluminum and finished with a variety of anodized colors — Silver, Black, Gold and Space Gray (more on that in a moment). All of the pens feature a high-gloss surface that looks really pretty, but is a bit flashy for my taste. I'd love a matte black or matte gray option as I think they'd be a little more subtle. The pen they sent me is the Space Gray version and it's not overly eye-catching, but it is glossy. A matte finish would have been much more appealing to me. That being said, I still find the pen to be quite attractive and the finish hasn't shown any defects in the time that I've carried it. I don't know how they're getting away with "Space Gray" as a color option as I'd think Apple would have a fit over that, but it does match my 2017 Space Gray MacBook Pro quite nicely (except that it's glossy).
The Sens Pen comes nestled in a little walnut block with a slot underneath for a refill (the Schmidt P8126 which is a favorite of mine). The block has a black outer sleeve with the word "SENS" embossed on it and a small card covering the pen with the phrase "PEN MAKES SENSE" embossed on it. It's quite beautiful packaging, especially for a pen that comes in at the $50 mark (at the time of writing in December 2017). I don't understand the "PEN MAKES SENSE" part, but I'm guessing they're trying to say that the pen just makes sense to use. And if that's the case, they're right.
The walnut block doubles as a pen stand when you're not using it to store the pen. I think this is a nice thought and if this were my only pen or if it was something I'd leave on my desk all the time, I'd probably use this feature more. I do like the idea of reusing the packaging, but I think it could have been made better had they put the hole on the top side so that the groove where the pen used to sit could be used to hold a stack of index cards or business cards.
The Sens Pen is very minimal with no clip, ridges, grip rings or O-rings on the outside, It's a sleek finish that gets larger as you approach the business-end of the pen. I find this to be extremely comfortable as it allows me to grip the pen comfortably anywhere along the barrel and the slightly bulbous front-end (it's rather Zeppelin-like in profile) keeps my fingers snuggly in place without knurling. Adding to the minimalist aesthetic is a lack of any prominent logos or branding. You'll find a small white logo etched (I'm assuming) into the top of the barrel (barely visible in the photo below) and again at the top of the mechanism. It's tasteful and not ostentatious.
The only place you'll find texture on this pen is at the back where there is a screw mechanism that extends and retracts the refill. There's a hard stop when the refill is fully extended, but there's no stop when retracting. I wish they had worked out some way to put a little bump or notch to let you know that the refill was sufficiently retracted as continuing to unscrew the back-end just unscrews the mechanism entirely and the refill slides out. This isn't a deal-breaker as it takes a few turns to get to this point, but having some sort of gentle, tactile reminder would have been nice. One thing I really enjoy about the mechanism is that it has an O-ring around it which creates an extremely smooth, dampened screw-action. It's BUTTERY smooth and feels really nice.
I've used the pen for several weeks and have actuated the mechanism many times. It's been carried in a pocket and bag, left in a vehicle (hot and cold), etc. Not once has the O-ring failed, seized or faltered. The O-ring is also user-replaceable should it ever crack or wear out which really extends the service life of this pen. And they put a cute little "Good Luck" message on the mechanism (you have to look for this) that shows they're having some fun with the pen and giving some extra thought to tiny details.
The refill is the excellent Schmidt P8126 which is a favorite around here and can be found in a lot of other pens from Karas Kustoms, Retro 51 and Namisu. They're readily available all over the place and easy to come by should you need a replacement. It's the only refill I've found that fits the pen. Admittedly, I like the 8126 so much that I haven't sought out a replacement. Good choice, Verge!
Ajoto's "The Pen"
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this... This pen looks incredibly similar to Ajoto's The Pen. From the teardrop shape to the knurled knob to the Schmidt refill, it's very similar. The main differences are in the mechanism of the Ajoto, which appears to be a fluted brass design versus the chunky threads of the Sens Pen, the O-ring, which is leather (yes, leather) on the Ajoto and the knurling on the mechanism which is fluted parallel to the body of the pen on the Ajoto as opposed to the cross-hatched knurling present on the Sens Pen.
The Ajoto comes in on (what I consider) the pricey side at $155-332 USD depending on the version, material, etc. I do like that the Ajoto is offered in some matte finishes and also in Stainless Steel (which I'm a huge fan of) and that they offer some more premium options for those looking to really kick it up a notch (The Wall Street Journal version is stunning), but I don't know that it's $100 more "premium" and it's certainly not $275 more "premium" regardless of the material. I think Brad Dowdy and Mike Dudek might disagree with me here...
The Sens Pen sits a little more comfortably in the $50 price range (again, as of December 2017) which is more reachable for folks that can't drop upwards of $300 on a rollerball pen. Does it bother me that the Sens is so similar? ... It does. I think if Verge had come up with a different shape or a slightly different mechanism or even used a similar design that worked with 110mm refills (like the Pilot G2 and Juice), I could see where the Sens Pen would have it's own place in the market. And at $50, I'd still recommend it, but it's hard to miss the fact that it's almost a direct copy of Ajoto's Pen. There's a plethora of Chinese-made knock-off's in the Pen World right now — copying everything from lower-end pens like the TWSBI Eco, Pilot Prera and Lamy Safari to high-end pens from the likes of MontBlanc and Caran d'Ache — and there are two very divided sides of the fence regarding the ethics behind them (I'll admit that I own a few Chinese "knock-offs" just out of curiosity and none of them really compare to their "Official" Counterparts).
While this doesn't pretend to be an Ajoto, it's similar enough that multiple folks noticed it when I posted it on Instagram some time back and I felt that it's worth mentioning here. It's also worth mentioning that in their original Kickstarter campaign, they referenced a brass pen manufactured in the USSR that belonged to their grandfather (pictured above) and that this pen was a nod to that pen. I looked high and low on the internet and couldn't find this pen anywhere else, but I'd love to have one if I could find one as it'd be a USSR-made product (which is way cool historically-speaking and I love old cameras and watches made in USSR).
In conclusion, look-alike status aside, I'd still recommend this pen as I really do like it. It's comfortable, clean and the mechanism is smooth and kind of fun to use. I really like the attention to detail from tip to tail and the teardrop shape, which fits my grip perfectly. The fact that the packaging is environmentally responsible and is able to be repurposed just continues to show that Verge is thinking about more than just the pen.
Thank you to Verge for sending this over. Be sure and visit them online at Verge-Style.com and check out their pens and other goods.
Thanks for reading,