Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Zebra Sharbo X Multi Pen Review

Well readers, today we have a guest review, sent in by Jarmo from Finland.

Zebra Sharbo X Multi Pen Review

I’m one of those people, who love not only pencils (and some pens too), but also various gadgets or anything with a useful or at least semi-practical “trick” to it. So when I found out multipens exist, they seemed right up my alley: the Swiss Army Knife of pens, neat! Besides, I need both pencil and pen at work, which made the combination seem all the more attractive. So I bought a few of them. My favourite ones by far are Zebra Sharbo X and the similar Tombow Zoom 414, but I like the Sharbo X a little better, so that’s the one I’m reviewing here.

The Sharbo X is available in many materials, finishes and colors. The ones you see here are Zebra Sharbo X LT3 in matte grey and matte green. They are cheaper than most of the other options and I figured the matte finish would provide a better grip. These pen bodies are made of brass, but there are aluminium and even carbon fiber models available as well. The innards are almost completely customizable. In addition to the pen body, you will need to buy at least three refill components. One of them must be a mechanical pencil, the other two you can fill with any D1-pattern refills. The mechanical pencil components are available in 0.3, 0.5 and 0.7 mm. They only fit one pencil component at a time.

The pen itself is 134 mm long (writing tips retracted, add 3-4 mm when extended), about 9.4 mm in diameter and weighs 23 grams with the internal components installed. I think it’s a fairly compact pen. See pic below with good old Pentel P205 for size comparison. The body is fairly smooth with almost uniform diameter, and the only external features are a few markings, grooves and a pocket clip. There’s no rubberized or knurled grip section.
zebra sharbo x multipen assembly

The pocket clip appears to be steel and feels like it’s spring-loaded, but I haven’t disassembled to check. It has a fairly strong grip. Under the tailcap is a replaceable eraser, but the tailcap must be unscrewed to access it, so you’ll probably want to use a separate eraser. Still, it’s there if you need it.
zebra sharbo x eraser

About midway on the body are three marks: I, II and III with the Sharbo X logo under the I. The number that the pocket clip points to marks the function that is currently selected. I is where the obligatory mechanical pencil component is, II and III are the other components. That’s right, the pencil is always number I.
zebra sharbo x numbers

The different writing components are selected by simply turning the barrel in either direction, so whichever mode you have selected, the other two are always just a single quick twist away. There’s a definite tactile feedback when a given writing tip is extended and clicks into place. The selector can also be left in any in-between position, in which case the writing tips are retracted, making the pen pocket safe.

The best thing about the selector mechanism is, however, that it rotates endlessly in both directions. Personally, I infinitely prefer this system to any other, such as gravity feed where you have to hold the pen in a certain way to (probably) get the function you wanted, or those pens where the barrel begins to unscrew if you turn it too far. No such woes with the Sharbo! Just keep turning in either direction until you find the tip you wanted. (Note: the Tombow Zoom 414 works the same way, so this is not a unique feature.)

Naturally, the barrel can still be unscrewed so you can change the internal components. Simply pull out the one you want to replace and push another one in its place. You can also change the refills without disassembling the pen, but you may need pliers to get the old one out. The pencil part won’t fit through the opening, however, so if you want to change that, you’ll have to disassemble.

The lead is advanced by clicking the top of the pen, but instead of a button, the whole top half of the pen moves on each click. It works smoothly, but still requires a slightly stronger thumb action than most other mechanical pencils. With 10 clicks, the 0.3 mm component gives you 3.5 mm of lead, whereas the 0.5 mm one gives you 5.5 mm. In the pic below, the grey pen has a 0.5 mm tip and the green pen has a 0.3 mm tip.
zebra sharbo x multipen tips

One disadvantage of multipens is that the mechanical pencil part is tiny and will not hold many spare leads. I haven’t tried stuffing them to see how many they can take before jamming. I usually keep 3 spare leads in the 0.5 mm one and 4 in the 0.3 mm one. To refill the lead magazine, you can push the tail section to release the lead holding mechanism and feed in one lead at a time through the tip. Of course, you can also disassemble the pen if you want to put in several leads at once.

The lead sleeve is only 2 mm long, so this is not a drafting pencil by any means. Due to the nature of the beast, the writing components also have a tiny amount of wobble to them, but not so much that it would bother me. Indeed, I didn’t even notice until I deliberately checked for it.

Ergonomically, the pen is good, though it could be better. While the grip isn’t bad by any means, it’s not as good as knurling once your hands get sweaty from a lot of writing. On the other hand, unlike some pens with a built-in grip area, you can grip the Sharbo fairly close to the writing tip, which I like. When you pick it up, it seems surprisingly heavy for its compact size. The point of balance is located just a little beyond the halfway mark, about 70-71 mm from the tip. Technically, it’s slightly tip-heavy, but not enough to feel that way in practice. In other words, it feels neutrally balanced.

As far as durability goes, it’s perhaps too early to say much, since I’ve had them less than a year. But I’ve used them daily at work, and so far, I’ve had no issues with either one. I have dropped them a few times, and once the green one landed on a concrete floor, right on the tip of the 0.3 mm pencil component. The lead shattered, of course, but the pencil component itself shows no signs of abuse and works fine. And even if it had broken, it would have been very easy to simply replace the pencil component with a new one.

Since this is a pencil blog, I’ll only briefly touch on the other refills. There are many, many types and colors available from different manufacturers. Ballpoints, gel ink, highlighters etc. Tombow even has a pressurized Space Pen type refill, if you need to write upside down or underwater. I’ve found Zebra’s ballpoints to be very good, they start easily, write without skipping and seem to last a long time considering their tiny size. Their gel refills, on the other hand, seem to dry up and/or become scratchy fairly quickly. Also, it has turned out that D1-pattern refills are not quite universal. Tombow and Zebra ones seem to be interchangeable, but I tried a Lamy refill and it was slightly smaller in diameter, so it didn’t fit properly.

Overall, I really like the Sharbo X, but I did make the effort to write as impartial a review as I could (and yes, I paid for both of them and all the refills with my own money). As I mentioned, I frequently need both a pencil and a pen at work, and these multipens work quite well in both roles. Switching back and forth between the modes is effortless. While there are some mechanical pencils that are better pencils that the Sharbo X, it’s still a perfectly satisfactory pencil. If you are looking for a multipen to add to your pen collection, Sharbo X and the Tombow 414 are the best ones I’ve tried.
  • Good points – easily customizable, three writing functions, excellent selector mechanism, high quality, pocket safe.
  • Bad points – grip could be better.
  • Other points – lot’s of material, finish and color options to choose from before you even get to the refills.
  • Price range – high, if you include both the body and the internal components.
Dimensions - 134 mm long, diameter ca. 9.4 mm, balance point about 71 mm from the tip end of the body (with writing components installed but tips retracted).

Great stuff! Thanks Jarmo.


sygyzy said...

I love my Sharbo X and agree that the LT3 is the way to go.

Time Waster said...

Those are nice looking I always thought multipens were too fat but these are great. I like the finishes on em'.

Speedmaster said...

Wow, I really want one of these, BADLY!!!! ;-)

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of multipens having a fair collection, recently got a Ohto Multi 2+1 Pro MF-10PA3 which is nice as it breaks from the usual widebody multipen format and looks more like a drafting style pencil, it is also pretty heavy.

Currently using the standard Sharbo in Gunmetal which combines a pencil and ball point.

Nice review will need to get one.

Dubai Wanderer

Anonymous said...

Nice review, thanks!


Anonymous said...


Speedmaster said...

I ended up ordering one, enjoying it so far.

Anonymous said...

Consider the Cross multipen - twist the pen repeatedly for the desired tip - no gravity feed. All metal construction. A screw down cap over the eraser - I love this. Since I use such eraser for emergency only I like the fact that it is difficult to lose the eraser cap (unlike push on/off caps that do not descend into the body of the pencil).

There's a review of the Cross multi-pen on this site if I recall correctly.


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

There are several combinations, which also vary in price.

If you want to try to mount your personal multi-pen, try at: http://www.sharbo-x.com/

It's in japanese, but is very intuitive. You should have no problems to understand and see the final price of your personal "Sharbo X" multi-pen.

Time Waster said...

I'm just curious about the weight of the pencil...

Speedmaster said...

Guys, I can confirm that the Lamy M21 refills fit the Sharbo X LT3 (and I would imagine the other Sharbo X models). I just picked up some M21 refills in blue locally and using them now w/ no trouble.

PointFour said...

Cult Pens import Sharbo-X into the UK, and include lists of the refills that fit them, here: http://www.cultpens.com/acatalog/Zebra-Sharbo-X.html

fameh said...

Hello, this seems to be a great Multi, but for me, one pity for me of the Zebra Sharbo is it's unable with my desire, which is the option of install 2 pencil components, and then maybe one or zero (if it could be impossible because of space) pen components.

That would be very useful for me to correct tests inside books i don't want to mark forever with a pen (with 1 black and 1 red lead, for instance). Also maybe because install two different grades, for example 0.5 and 0.9, or something like that.

I surfer a lot through this wonderful site, but i couldn't find it. Does anyone know a 'multi' able to do this?
Thanks and keep it on, it's a marvellous website :)

Kiwi-d said...

Maybe Pentel 357, Pentel Multi 8 ??

fameh said...

Oh! how i missed that! Thanks a lot, really! :-)
I will make some reading and investigation then :)
Now, as i always visiting your site, i have a pleasantly budget/desire internal fight! :D

Peter Hosey said...

Worth noting: There are three versions of the Pentel Multi 8. The one I've seen personally is the PH158, which only contains regular pencil leads in different colors. The PH802 includes two “non-copy” leads (one for plain-paper copiers, the other labeled “Diazo non-copy”, whatever that is), but all eight are pencil leads. The PH803, or “Super Multi 8”, swaps out three of the pencil leads (including the Diazo non-copy) for three pen refills.

So, fameh, the Super Multi 8 may work for you, as it has both five 2 mm pencil leads and three pens.

Kiwi-d said...

Peter - interesting - diazo is a plan copying process using special paper treated with diazonium compound.

fameh said...

Thanks for the great info, Peter! :)
Well, I'm considering more the Pentel 357 Dave mentioned, as i am using it 100% to write (mainly in black/red), so I think the Multi8 is great, but could be too thick, too big in diameter, not the best option for long writings. Seems it's more focused on drawing or underlining.

I think the Rotring Trio-Pencil could be nice too, but the "only pencil" version is really hard to find from here, Spain, even through ebay or internet (same as the promising Platinum Pro-use 357). So probably i'll give the Pentel 357 "a try" :p

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if the clip is metal on the LT3? I keep reading differing claims?

Anonymous said...

The clip on the LT3 is metal