<p data-preserve-html-node="true">I want to start by apologizing to the lady at the local Staples who was trying to help my recent pen-shopping trip. I had my head buried knee-deep in my phone as the poor lady was trying to do her job. She was proving herself too — by trying to tell me not to buy the F301, she proved she knew what the Internet was talking about.</p>

So, in saying that, I will prove that I don’t share the same discomfort as the rest of the Internet’s major pen-players.

I love the Zebra F301. It has its shortcomings. And it certainly isn’t the most comfortable pen to hold for a lengthy period of time. But the F301 also redefines the fine ballpoint pen market for me.

<p data-preserve-html-node="true">Prior to the F301, I had dabbled with fine rollerballs and bold ballpoints only. Those bold ballpoints — specifically the Uni-ball Jetstream — wrote great and felt surprisingly solid in my hand considering the price. </p>

Even still, I love the F301. Sorry Brad. All your negative points ring true, but I’m one of those guys with his hand raised for Zebra’s fine point pen.

Physical Design

The Zebra F301 is the sleekest pen I own. It’s also the narrowest and thinnest pen I own, which may cause some problems for others.

<p data-preserve-html-node="true">The F301 barrel is made of durable stainless steel. The brushed stainless steel finish hides scuffs and scratches quite well. The steel is also shiny, leading to some of my photos having unnecessary highlights. I really like how Zebra has maintained the brushed stainless steel throughout the pen; only the grip and retractor are made of plastic. The F301 is a very classy pen to pull out of your bag and will certainly give off a good first impression. </p><p data-preserve-html-node="true">The barrel is fairly skinny in comparison to the Uni-ball Jetstream I reviewed a few weeks ago. This may cause some discomfort for people; I find the narrow body perfect for my smaller and skinnier hands, but I had two burly chaps try out the F301 only to return the pen immediately. They both felt the pen was too light and too skinny for any normal writing. </p>

The stainless steel barrel is quite light considering its durability. The density of a Fisher Space Pen and its surprising heftiness make the F301 feel like a featherweight. While waiting for my Space Pen, I carried around the F301 as an everyday-carry tool and consistently forgot about it in my pocket. If not for the inherent discomfort of carrying pens in front pockets, I’m certain I would have forgotten the F301 in my jeans before throwing them in the laundry.

<p data-preserve-html-node="true">Cheap but high-value pens like the F301 have to take shortcuts in order to offer low prices. Zebra chose to skimp on the barrel grip. The F301 has a hard plastic grip with course grooves. I understand wanting to create friction between the pen and a sweaty hand, but the plastic grip eliminates any sort of comfort needed for longer periods of writing. I remember switching out the F301 for a Jetstream a few times when writing notes in a two-hour Marketing class. </p>

Perhaps the selling point of the F301 is its fine tip — at least that’s the selling point for me. I don’t have major experience (yet) with fine-tipped ballpoints, but the F301 is the best 0.7mm ballpoint I’ve ever used. It writes smooth and leaves a thin line. Most important to me is how the F301 addresses the paper; there is a similarity between writing with a newly sharpened pencil and the F301. The F301 comes to a well-finished, sharp point that hearkens back to my school days with a pencil in my hand.

Writing

What makes the F301 the best fine-tipped pen I’ve used is that it isn’t perfectly smooth. I grew up on pencils and learned to appreciate some feedback when writing. Ultra-smooth writing, like the Jetstream, isn’t my idea of an ideal writing experience. The F301’s combination of good ink flow and slight friction makes it my favourite pen for writing at the office or in my Moleskine Extra Large Cahiers.[1]

<p data-preserve-html-node="true">The other ideal characteristic of the F301 is its ability to dry quickly in my Field Notes Expedition Edition books. The thin line leaves less link on each stroke and, therefore, less time is needed for the line to dry on the Yupo paper. The Fisher Space Pen still dries quicker than the F301, but I would be quite optimistic about using an F301 if it was my only option.</p>

Further to Expedition and the F301 is the actual writing experience on the Yupo paper. I wrote that the Jetstream felt like writing in butter when used on Yupo paper and the F301 lessens that feeling to a more realistic level. The F301 feels like writing in butter, but the added friction I talked about earlier makes the experience much more refined. I feel in more control when using the F301 in my Expeditions — something I yearned for when testing my Expeditions a few weeks ago.

<h2 data-preserve-html-node="true">Verdict</h2>

As I’ve hinted (or shouted) earlier, I really like the F301. The slim, narrow and sleek body fits perfectly in my smaller hand and the fine ballpoint tip is the best I’ve come across. The brushed stainless steel adds to the elegance and the durability of the F301 and proves that you care — if ever so slightly — about the pen you use.

I’ve really had to get over the ridged plastic grip though. I understand that I can’t always have everything I want in a cheap pen, but the plastic grip gives off the only hint of cheapness throughout the body. Put a rubber grip on this pen and I believe it overtakes the Jetstream as the “pen of the people”.

<p data-preserve-html-node="true">Looking back at my conversation with the sales lady at Staples results in a mixed bag. She proved she was on top of the blogs and understood what the most prestigious pen-bloggers were saying about the F301. </p>

But she also missed the part about everything else.

The Zebra F301 is my go-to office-slash-desk pen as of right now. It is small, light, durable and ultra sleek. And it writes great to boot, even in my Expeditions.

<p data-preserve-html-node="true">I still have my hand raised Brad. And I’m starting to crack a smug little grin while I’m at it.</p>


  1. Granted, not for long periods of time due to that plastic grip. Once my hand tires, I still reach for my Jetstream.  ↩