Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Uni Alpha-Gel Mechanical Pencil Review

Uni Alpha-Gel Mechanical Pencil Review

Haribo Gummi Bears
There are a few different varieties of the Uni Alpha Gel mechanical pencil – originals, slimlines, shakers, etc. I never planned on getting one because they aren’t available in my part of the world and their main feature is a large squishy gel grip…something I am not usually enamoured with. But in a very polite way Isu from Japan frequently asked me if I had a Uni Alpha Gel, and did I know “...its gel grip is the exact same consistency as Haribo Gummi Bears?” Well, I hadn’t ever heard of Haribo Gummi Bears, obviously another thing we don’t have down my way, but Isu’s sweet tooth got to me and eventually I ordered an Alpha Gel mechanical pencil. A Uni Alpha Gel HD Shaka Shaka M5-618GG 1P chrome green mechanical pencil to be precise.

Uni Alpha Gel HD Shaka Shaka mechanical pencil
The bright shiny chrome green upper body and metallic chrome fittings combine to make a rather striking and attractive looking pencil.

Alpha Gel mechanical pencil
The Alpha Gel weighs in at 18grams and in the hand it feels about the weight you would expect for a largish plastic mechanical pencil. I must say that when you first pick it up or wave it around a bit in your hand the movement of the internal shaker weight seems more obvious than on many other shakers, and more noisy when the weight hits the end stops.

I have read that the gel grips are slightly different formulations and consistencies on some of the models. (Unlike Gummi Bears?) My creamy white grip is quite soft and squishy, flowing and moulding under normal finger pressure. I wouldn’t be surprised if the grip has some ‘memory’ and becomes permanently deformed after extended use, but I haven’t used it long enough to say for sure. I have also read on some other reviews that people have had problems with the grip tearing. It didn’t happen to me, but I take extra care with my review pencils because I want to try and keep them in ‘as new’ condition for my collection. I could see the Alpha Gel grip being very susceptible to damage if stored in a pencil case and rolling around with other pencils and items. That’s just plain ole askin’ for trouble. Anyway, it does seem likely to me that the Alpha Gel grip is not particularly robust or durable. I’d also suspect that the grip won’t stay that nice milky white colour for too long in real-world conditions.

Uni Alpha Gel grip
Like most gel grips it is of larger than average diameter – about 13mm or 1/2inch to be a little more specific.

Uni Alpha Gel mechanical pencil shaker instructions
Not surprisingly the Shaka Shaka is a shaker mechanism pencil. The instructions for its use were a little beyond me, but you can operate it as an ordinary push top ratchet mechanism, with ten clicks getting you 7mm of 0.5mm lead, or you can shake away and operate it with the shaker mechanism. The push top button can also be fully depressed to lock the shaker mechanism so it doesn’t operate. This doesn’t just lock the shaker, it also makes the pencil non-operational as the lead is no longer held by the chuck and thus can be pushed back up inside the sleeve. Some might say that the lock is not 100% effective, as if you give it a really good shaking you will get a little bit of lead advancement. However the lead is not gripped and it can just be pushed straight back in.

The shaker is readily activated, possibly almost too easily, but that’s a matter of subjective opinion.

I have long since reconciled myself to the fact that if you write a blog, at some stage you are going to end up looking stupid, only the frequency and degree of stupidity will vary, so now for the embarrassing bit. I feel really certain that when I first got my Alpha Gel that the lead sleeve was retracted, and the first push on the top button extended the sleeve out. Now though it is a non-retractable fixed sleeve. So surely it can’t have been retracted when I first got it? But my mind is convinced. Garrrr!!!….I must be going mad. However I will ignore the madness and say that the Uni Alpha Gel has a fixed non-retractable 3mm lead sleeve.

There is a small white occasional use only eraser under the top button. I quite like the pepper-pot arrangement of holes in the top button. As expected you pull the eraser out to refill the lead magazine.
mechanical pencil top button and eraser
The pocket clip is very good - very springy with an interesting clear plastic tip that catches the barrel colour or not, depending on your angle of view.

Whilst I wouldn’t say no to a Gummi Bear or Jelly Baby, I’m really more of a Milk Bottles type of person. Many Milk Bottles perished preparing this article.
Milk Bottles plus Alpha Gel pencil

• Best Points – That chrome green finish really is good looking.
• Not So Good Points – Lead sleeve not retractable, questionable durability.
• Price Range – Low.
• Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? - No.

Dimensions – Length 145mm, diameter 13mm at grip. Balance point about 70mm up from the tip.

Note: The alpha symbol is sometimes mistaken and written as oxy and thus the pencil mistakenly called oxy-gel, uni oxy gel or oxi gel or other names along those lines.


Anonymous said...

HARIBO Goldbärchen are the best!



Kiwi-d said...

Great link. Thanks Arne.

2nd_astronaut said...

I am afraid I would prefer the Goldbärchen (ursus latex) to the ugly alpha.

memm said...

I saw the α-gel pencil in a shop in an airport a few years ago and bought it for my wife. Unfortunately the gel grip changed colour over time (it is not dirty on the surface, but the plastic changed with age) and it does not look very nice now...

Henrik said...

He - he! Haribo macht Kinder froh!

miss.awesome.lady said...

About a month ago, I reviewed this pencil on my blog (there's a link in the sidebar) and it's become one of my favorites, despite the pathetic ripthe grip got the first week I had it. But the grip is squishy, even squishier than my gummies. But then again, it's been a while since ive had any.

And be very protective of this pencil in public. I left it out at school and then somebody borrowed it without asking... And then they didn't give it back.

But this is a great pencil, and I'm glad you finally reviewed it.

Anonymous said...

@ Henrik
here is a list of this slogan in a lot of languages and it's translations/explanations in English.



Kiwi-d said...

A co-worker came into my office today and she was using a Uni-ball Premier 207 BP. I noted the similar looking grip and asked her how did she find "the squishey grip". She replied, "good, but look"...and showed me the big split in the grip after only a couple of weeks use.

Henrik said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henrik said...

thanks - I should of course have added the English translation: Haribo makes children happy.
BTW we must make an effort - DK is 300 hits behind Sweden at the flag counter :-))

miss.awesome.lady said...

These squishy grips are popular but really really rare...

Rachel said...

We definitely have Haribo bears here, in Ohio, but I've never heard of milk bottles!

Kiwi-d said...

Hi Rachel.
Well since pretty much my whole country is just one big dairy farm, Milk Bottles are a traditional sweet down here. They contain quite a lot of milk powder and do taste milky.
Hmmm...maybe over Wisconsin way you might them :-)

Brodie said...

I am not sure how old you are dave, but haribo gummy bears used to be in the country, I remember eating them at intermediate school. So that would be around 23 years ago though :) I got some from japan on one of my many trips, and to be honest, they didn't live up to the memory, but you can get them from Nosh in auckland these days as well.

Kiwi-d said...

Hello Brodie
Well I've got a decade and a bit on you.
Can't say I ever recall seeing Haribo, and I don't see them in any local supermarkets, dairies, etc. So you mean they used to be more common back in your school days but not so much now?
I guess a specialist gourmet retailer like Nosh might import them themselves, or source through some specialist importer.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,
Google Maps says:
your next Gold Bear depot is just 25 km away!

The English Corner Shop (open)
60 Victoria Street

They offer Haribo Gold Bears 38g for $ 1.20
This is somewhat expensive but give them a try.


Kiwi-d said...

I can see some of you are determined to send me to fancy food shops and put me in the sirens way again.
Well, clearly Haribo is available here, but not in any "mainstream" way.

Brodie said...

"So you mean they used to be more common back in your school days but not so much now? "

Yep, used to get them from the tuck shop, and then chop them up with scissors and then eat them. I vaguely remember a cartoon sorta about gummy bears as well, not sure, they used to eat a berry and then bounce around. But back to the subject at hand, I tried out hte alpha-gels in japan, and found that they wouldn't squish enough, so ended up deforming to conform to my grip. But it's probabaly my grip thats all wrong.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Hello is this a tuck shop or a pencil blog. Anyway I have the alpha gel slim which dosent have that horrible flared out grip - diameter 8.8mm. Still squishy though.

Pamberjack said...

Dave - i've said it before and I'll (probably) say it again. These cheap-ass pencils aren't worth yr valuable review time. I understand you like to have a range of pencils on the blog, but I'm not really down with reviewing these "buy-me-in-a-supermaket-for-$4.99" pieces of plastic.

The way I see it, it'd be the same as an auto blog reviewing a base-model toyota Yaris, or a food blog going to town on a piece of sliced white bread...


Kiwi-d said...

Hi Pamberjack.
Well, I can understand where you are coming from, and I half agree with you, but as you say I do like to try and cover the full spectrum of mechanical pencils, so that means the cheap to the super-expensive and the nasty to the fantastic.

To be honest, I’d like to review more high end pencils…but I can only review what I have, and I’m not awash with Montblancs, Conway Stewarts, Parkers, DuPonts, YOL’s, etc.

You suggested an auto analogy, well how about this…Formula One, Indy and the other race and rally competitions, and the super premium marques are the main source of development, design and innovation in the auto industry. It’s trickle down from the top to our everyday cars. I’m not sure that’s the case with writing instruments and mechanical pencils. The everyday Pentel, Uni, Tombow, Staedtler, etc – they are the main sources of design, development and innovation. It’s the reverse, it’s trickle up. Where did Kuru Toga come from? The sliding sleeve, vanishing points, shyaker mechanisms, twist out erasers, etc? The luxury brands generally do little more than design fancy bodies (jewellery) and wrap them around essentially the same mechanism as you find in the better everyday pencil or pen. So, I’m not so sure it’s good to dismiss out of hand the seeming Yaris and sliced white bread of the MP world. Anyway, that’s just a little counter thought…something to mull over. I’ll sign off now and dream of buying a Conway Stewart :-)

Penmaniacs said...

i agree with your opinion on how lower cost pencil companies are coming up with all new innovations. for the 450$ you might spend on a mont blanc pencil you would expect it to be equipped with a machine gun, or transform into a spaceship, yet it is still a very old school and classic pencil. however i would expect a lesser brand such as uni, or pentel to be the first to create these innovations

Pilot Lover said...

Are you going to review the Slim version?

Anonymous said...

Currently, the Alpha-Gel has a Kuru-Toga version (or rather the Kuru-Toga has an Alpha-gel version). It looks like the Slim version of the Alpha-gel. It may be the best of both worlds if someone, like me, love the alpha-gel's grip and also love the Kuru-Toga mechanism. Can you please review it? (Ask your friend Isu in Japan, it should be quite easy to get hold of one there, but the cost is quite expensive, because the cost is just the price of the Alpha-gel and Kuru-Toga added together)

Anonymous said...

Hello Dave - I'm an architecture student at the University of Liverpool and love your blog. It's helped me a great deal with purchasing the gazillions of pens and pencils I've amassed from Cult Pens and Amazon over the last few years, so thank you! :D

I just wanted to reply to ^Brodie^ - the cartoon was 'The Care Bears', and it used to air back in the 1980s-1990s when I was a little kiddywink :)

I think [from memory, at least] that they had some kind of magic berry that gave them super-powers, supposedly to defeat some evil villain. I actually quite liked the program, partly because my mother had been given some sort of 'Care Bear' baby calendar-book-memento-lock 'o hair book when I was born.

Ah, happy times :) I *was* only two, though :P

Oh well, I'd better get back to work...

Best wishes,

Liverpool, UK.