Thursday, May 04, 2006

Papermate Auto Advance Mechanical Pencil Review

A little while ago I listed the Papermate Advancer in my Two Bad Buys posting. I said that I would review the Auto Advance and try to be objective, so here goes.

I quite like the look of the Papermate Auto Advance. It comes in a selection of nice bright colours with black trims and silver lettering, and the barrel is a smooth contoured shape. The transparent body means you get to look inside and see all the complicated mechanism – lots of springs and other parts. Overall it’s a pleasing visual appearance. The only thing I am not too keen on is the uncovered eraser. I always think uncovered erasers should be some dark colour as white often ends up looking dirty. But as for functionality, this eraser works OK.

The grip section on the barrel is a very slightly frosted finish to enhance your grip. That’s good attention to detail. The pocket clip is a moulded plastic one, so as expected, it’s not much use, but better then nothing. Access to the lead magazine for refilling purposes is by removing the eraser. The plastic lead holding sleeve is retractable so this pencil is definitely pocket safe.

Now for the main event, the mechanism. This is a 0.7mm push top ratchet mechanism with the added feature of auto-advancing the lead as you write. The first push on the eraser advances the lead sleeve out of the body, and a second push starts advancing out the lead. This is just standard stuff. What happens is that as the lead wears down and the lead sleeve starts to touch the paper it retracts and the mechanism keeps feeding more lead out. It really works, and I take my hat off to the ingenuity of the designers. Another feature that many may find of benefit is that the auto advance system only allows a very short piece of lead out of the sleeve, so there is virtually no chance of breaking the lead. On the other hand the sleeve system means it’s no good for drafting, this is a writing pencil only. You can also override the auto advance by manually activating the push top ratchet system at any time. So far so good, but not all is well in “Auto Advance-ville”.

I am afraid to say that basically this mechanical pencil is unusable. What happens is that sometimes the lead sleeve just retracts back into the body, so your pencil just “plunges” into the paper from time to time. It does seem to be force related as the harder you push the more likely it is to happen, and if you are very light-handed it doesn’t seem to happen often, but overall it is just pretty random, and I can’t permanently write so light-handed. I have to say that this “plunging” is truly awful, and I considered terminating my usual week long trial by midday on the first day. But I persisted, if only to try and see if I could control the plunging by altering my writing pressure (within reason), angle of pencil-to-paper, or something. I failed. I thought perhaps I had a faulty mechanism so I purchased another pencil. It did the same thing, although I guess this does still leave the possibility that a batch or shipment sent to New Zealand was faulty and I’ve got two from the same faulty batch.

Another problem I had with the mechanism is that it is very smooth and silent. There is no audible “click” noise and it does not require much force to activate the push top mechanism. Several times I was just idly “playing” with the pencil and managed to accidentally extend a long length of lead out of the tip. Lastly I didn’t really like the feel of writing with the advancing system in operation. The plastic lead sleeve is actually scraping on the paper as it is auto advancing, and you can feel it. So overall I would like to acknowledge Papermate for designing an auto advance mechanism for this price, but its just unusable.

  • Best Points – Simple, clean attractive good looks, and the concept of auto advancing.
  • Not So Good Points – The plunging of the lead sleeve holder, and being able to so easily accidentally feed a whole lot of lead out.
  • Price Range – Economy.

Dimensions – Length 144mm, diameter 10mm at widest point. Balance point about 75mm up from the tip.


ryan said...

There is a similar one by Faber Castell, also in clear plastic barrels. The lead sleeve is smooth and rounded at the tip, however, so you won't feel it scraping on paper as it auto-advances.

I hope you could do more articles on auto-advancing mechanical pencils.

ryan said...

Oh, I can see you already wrote about the Faber Castell Grip-matic.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Where do you get a Papermate Auto: Advance 0.7mm in green. Thank You.

Anonymous said...

I hate this pencil. It doesn't work well for people who like their lead to overhang by only 1 millimeter. Seriously, this is NOT worth the price of $1.25 CDN.

Anonymous said...

I agree with ryan's comments above. I always dislike having to pause and press something to advance the lead when writing. About 15 years ago I had a Porsche Design pencil with a similar mechanism to the Papermate Auto Advance. It worked quite well and always let out the right amount of lead unless you wrote at a very acute angle, in which case the lead would not advance. Unfortunately, one day I lost a piece of the mechanism while playing with it and had to stop using it. I have no idea where the pencil is now. I would like to buy another high quality auto-advancing pencil someday.