Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Papermate Apex Mechanical Pencil Review

Papermate Apex Mechanical Pencil Review

The Papermate Apex mechanical pencil has a got a lot going for it. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, it is a member of that fairly exclusive club, the ‘Vanishing Points’. I’ve come to the conclusion that vanishing point mechanism pencils don’t actually get much press. Well, certainly not the press that I think they deserve. The Papermate website describes the Apex mechanism as “retractable”. That’s it. One word. One single word to ambiguously describe what is surely the primary marketing feature of the product? A sliding sleeve is retractable too, but that’s not the type of retractability we are talking about here.
paper mate apex mechanical pencil

Anyway, enough of Papermate’s marketing plans, but it does beg question - what to call pencils with that kind of retractable mechanism? A mechanism where the whole front tip section is retractable back into the barrel. The first push on the top button extends the tip section out and locks it into place. Subsequent lighter clicks then extend the lead like a ‘normal’ mechanical pencil but if you keep pushing past the first pressure stop-point then you unlock the tip and it springs back up inside the body for supreme pocket safety. So, what to call them? I cannot stand calling them ‘double knock’ pencils, the literal translation of the Japanese wording. ‘Double action’, ‘dual action’ and ‘double push’ all seem reasonable and descriptive, and have been used by some manufacturers, but surely ‘vanishing point’ sounds far more interesting and marketable? So, cast your vote on the poll in the sidebar. (The poll is now closed - see results here)
papermate apex tip retractedpapermate apex tip extended

papermate apex tip showing lead
One problem I do have with vanishing point mechanisms is that many of them are designed so that when retracted the end of the lead sleeve is only just inside the barrel, and you can easily end up with lead sticking out past the end of the barrel.

A problem that some folk have with vanishing point mechanical pencils is that the retractable tip introduces another possible source of lead wobble. The amount of lead wobble you can tolerate obviously depends on your personal requirements. I generally don’t have too many problems with the amount of wobble on vanishing points, and the Papermate Apex is no exception, but there is of course more wobble than on a good quality rigid sliding sleeve or fixed sleeve pencil.

In the hand the Apex is a medium weight pencil and a little top heavy. Well it feels a little top heavy, no doubt thanks to the twist out eraser cartridge, but objective measurement of the balance point doesn’t entirely back me up. The grip is a dimpled rubber piece. The compound is quite hard and doesn’t really move under finger pressure, but at least the compound is reasonably grippy.
papermate apex mechanical pencil grip

The pocket clip is strong chromed steel, quite springy, with ‘Papermate’ and ‘Japan’ stamped into it. The only other markings on the mechanical pencil are ‘Apex’, the lead diameter and the Papermate double-hearts printed on the barrel.
papermate body markings

Up at the top end of the pencil we have a twist out eraser. The top of the twist out cartridge has a knurled chromed ring which adds a touch of class to the whole thing. The eraser is one of the thin diameter types, with the eraser core being just under 4mm diameter and having about 28mm of usable length.
papermate apex mechanical pencil eraser

The eraser cartridge is also the push top button that activates the lead advance mechanism. Whilst one big click will extend or retract the vanishing point mechanism, ten more modest clicks will get you 6mm of 0.7mm lead. You pull the whole eraser cartridge out of the main body to access the lead refill chamber underneath.
papermate apex eraser cartridge

Overall then I’m pretty positive about the Papermate Apex, but somehow this pencil just doesn’t grab me, to me it just doesn’t look right. It’s the grip. The Apex has got some great features like the vanishing point mechanism and the twist out eraser, and it’s a good pencil, but for me, the grip…it’s just such a negative. Obviously many will disagree, but visual styling is a matter of personal taste and that matt black grip as part of a long straight otherwise glossy and metallic barrel…it just doesn’t fit. Maybe if the grip was a different diameter to the body, or contoured, but as just a long matt black dimpled continuation of the line of the barrel, it’s just doesn’t look good to me. Sorry. Anyway, I don’t want to end this review on a negative, so I’ll be positive - if you like the look of the Papermate Apex mechanical pencil, then buy it.

• Best Points – Vanishing point mechanism.
• Not So Good Points – For me, the grip just spoils the whole aesthetic look of the pencil.
• Price Range – Low.
• Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? - No.

Dimensions – Length 136mm, diameter 9mm. Balance point about 65mm up from the tip.


Rachel said...

Huh. Interesting, and tempting. But I'm not sure I'm a fan of that grip, either. I own only one pencil (Graphgear 1000) that does the "retract the whole point" thing, and it IS a very handy feature!

Anonymous said...

This pencil looks awfully similar to one that Office Depot currently markets in their stores here in the U.S.A. under their own house brand of "Foray". It's called the "Trig pencil". Other than a few different details it has the same triangular-looking cross-section with a vanishing point and twist-out eraser. It's available only in 0.7mm lead width.

Kiwi-d said...

Hi Anonymous - thanks for the comment. The Apex is round grip and body cross-section. I see there's an optical illusion hint of triangularity in a couple of my images though.

Anonymous said...

This is a very good pencil. You point out in the review that one of the disadvantages of vanishing points is the potential for lead to stick out when the point is retracted. It seems the designers of this pencil took that into consideration. If you retract the tip with lead sticking out, the chuck opens in the retracted position. This allows the lead to be easily pushed back in if necessary.

P.S. Excellent blog, Dave. Appreciate your objective reviews and nice to know there are more people out there with a fascination for mechanical pencils.

Anonymous said...

This pencil got briefly mentioned on the Cool Tools Web site,
The author noted it was half the price of the Pilot Vanishing Point. And as Pilot are intent on vanishing the Vanishing Point, that's just as well... I agree about the looks of the grip. Another alternative VP is the Pentel Technica-X, which is nice to handle, but the Apex has far and away a better eraser with a safer eraser mechanism.
- PointFour

Anonymous said...

The biggest issue I find with this pencil and the Tech Pro 2 is the lead capacity. The lead tube in both of these pencils has a cylinder within it at the bottom. This limits the lead capacity. This would not be as much of an issue with a 0.5 mm model.

Otherwise, this is a very good design, I like the lighter touch for extending the lead vs. extending and retracting the point. Moreover, the point is well inside the barrel -- not at all flush -- when it is retracted.

Bob S.

memm said...

The retracting mechanism sounds great, and the chrome ring looks really good.

Where do you always get the good and the funny pictures from? Magazines in NZ seem to have much better photos than what you usually see here.
(..and this time I even recognised someone (Sanjeev Bhaskar)).

Kiwi-d said...

Howdy memm. Well the majority of background images on this blog are from a weekly magazine I subscribe to. It describes itself as,"the country's only national, weekly current affairs and entertainment magazine. It covers the political, cultural and literary life of the country, as well as carrying television and radio programme listings for the main national broadcasters." It's a decent read, plus it tells me whats on the box every night for my viewing pleasure.

Ethereal Winter Wind said...

Is that play money in your wallet? :P It's alright I'm from Australia :)

2nd_astronaut said...

Did the woman with the deadly armpits on the photo forget her deodorant that morning? :-)

Kiwi-d said...

Ethereal - Hey, I had to go to a machine and get that money especially! Like many I'm basically 100% plastic these days :-)

2nd - the lady is a famous British popstar. The image was from an article discussing celebratory endorsement of fringe and unproven medical and health treatments. As I recall said lady had some uncommon personal hygiene theories.

2nd_astronaut said...

Ginger Spice (Geri Halliwell)?

BTW, I voted for "double push", because it's easy to understand (and because of the Rotring Tikky "double push"). I guess, only few people here can imagine, what a pencil with a "vanishing point" is...

Kiwi-d said...

No, not Ginger, rather Atomic Kitten if memory serves me. Check me on Google Image Search.

Anonymous said...

sorry for the off-topic question. lead hardness indicators only function as mere indicators. right? do they do anything else? thanks in advance

Kiwi-d said...

Correct, just an indicator so you know what grade of lead you filled the pencil up with.

Anonymous said...

I just ordered 12 of these pencils off of eBay. They should be here today. I'm an engineer and find it to be one the best pencils for work because of the retractable point and twist-out eraser.

I like the rubber grip, but I agree with Dave that the style is lacking something. I think it would look much better if the top part of the body didn't have that weird bulge in the middle.

I would love to see one of these made in a deluxe / professional version with an aluminum body styled more like the Zebra Sharbo X.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much!
I used to push all the wat to try to get more lead and it didnt work!
with your explanation I like my pencil now.

Anonymous said...

FWIW - this is my girlfriend's favorite pencil but she exhausted the eraser and she couldn't find the pencil for sale anywhere. I finally found the name of it so I could buy up a bunch for her, but I also needed to find out the eraser it takes. So FYI Paper Mate actually has a chart of that info on their site:
and so you'll find that you need replacement eraser part# 64896.
This is also the same as for the ProTouch and the Technitian and perhaps others. Hope that can help anyone else looking for replacement erasers!

Anonymous said...

I have this Papermate Apex .7 pencil and after extensive usage a the plastic part under the grip got cracked (2 or 3 cracks I think). Now the metal cone where the tip extends cannot be screwed in place. Anyone have an idea of fixing this?