Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ohto Auto Sharp Mechanical Pencil Review

Ohto Auto Sharp AP-205 Mechanical Pencil Review

For general writing mechanical pencils, I guess that effortless automatic lead advance, which the user is unaware of, is one of major goals for the designers. I’m not sure they will actually reach that goal with the current types of auto advance mechanisms as they are activated by physical contact with the writing surface, and thus the alert writer will always be aware of something going on. For perfect automatic lead advance I think we will have to wait for some sort of proximity sensor that knows the tip of the lead sleeve is getting too close to the paper and that it is therefore time to advance some lead.

I feel I should know better, but automatics do have a certain allure to them, and so yet again I found one in my hand. Will this tale of the automatic be the familiar one – long on promise, short on delivery? With pencils like the Super Promecha, Ohto are known for marketing some of the most advanced, customisable, technical, complicated, gimmicky (take your pick) mechanical pencils around. Surely an automatic from them is likely to be better than most?

So then, the Ohto Auto Sharp AP-205 mechanical pencil.
ohto auto sharp ap-205 mechanical pencil

It’s a lightweight mostly plastic pencil. The styling and colour scheme are quite nice, although nothing outstanding. The body and the grip are triangular, although the front end of the grip does start to taper down and transition into round where the front tip screws in.
ohto auto sharp rubber grip

The triangular grip is made from a smooth rubber compound which is quite hard, with a relatively smooth surface. The rubber does improve the grip properties a small amount, but not by much. The grip is an average size so should suit most who like an average sized pencil.

Now, as we know, the Ohto Auto Sharp has an auto-advance lead mechanism. Firstly though it is also a standard push top ratchet mechanism pencil. Ten clicks on the top button will get you a whopping great 14mm of the 0.5mm lead. The lead sleeve is a short plastic cone which is retractable so this is a pocket safe pencil. Right then, how does this pencil perform when you don’t click the top button and let the auto-advance mechanism take over? Well, basically it performs as expected. It advances lead when the tip hits the paper and when that happens you can notice some small differences in the feel and lead application to the paper. For me personally the major issue I have with many auto-advancing mechanisms is ‘plunging’. That’s my name for the phenomenon of suddenly, whilst you are happily writing away, the whole lead sleeve retracts back up into the front tip and you ‘plunge’ forward. It’s really annoying and disconcerting. It sees to affect some pencils far worse than other…although for all I know they all possibly have the same design mechanism. Well, the Ohto Auto Sharp is one of the better performer in this aspect – whilst I did experience some plunging, it was relatively rare and not too dramatic. So, basically as always, I’d suggest you use the pencil in the normal manner, advancing the lead manually and just letting the auto-advance take over for those infrequent occasions when you are ‘caught short’, as it were.
ohto auto sharp mechanical pencil tip

Hmmm, just thinking about the auto-advance mechanism for a bit longer. It works by having the plastic lead sleeve make contact with, and thus rub on, the paper. I assume the plastic sleeve is made from a decent engineering plastic like acetal or something, but paper is just really compressed wood fibre and any woodworker knows that saws and all their other fine steel tools go blunt when in contact with wood. Really, despite what is feels like, paper is actually reasonably tough and abrasive. Cutting paper with a steel knife will dull the blade over time. So, how about that plastic tip then? Actually, I didn’t even need my magnifying glass. After two weeks of use, I could see the edge of the lead sleeve cone had been worn away. Viewing with a magnifying glass just confirmed it. The triangular grip on the Ohto Auto Sharp must actually increase the wear because the pencil can only held at three specific rotations, and because of the pocket clip, many users, like myself, will not even rotate it at all and thus the exact same spot on the lead sleeve will always be making contact with the paper and thus be worn down even quicker. Obviously paper type, amount of hand pressure, amount of use of the auto-advance feature and amount of rotation will all affect the rate of wear on the lead sleeve. Who knows how long it would take before the cone wears down so much as to affect the operation of the auto advance? I imagine though it would be a fairly long time, and most users would have misplaced their pencil before it happened. Still, it’s an interesting little thought process.

Carrying on then, as expected there is a small eraser under the push top button, and you remove that to access the lead refill magazine.
refill ohto mechanical pencil lead

The pocket clip is moulded plastic and actually quite stylish and functional.

Markings on the body are “Ohto” printed on the pocket clip, and “Auto Sharp 0.5mm AP-205” on the body. I fail to find the word “Japan” anywhere on the pencil. I imagine that implies something.

ohto automatic mechanical pencil
So, in closing then, the Ohto Auto Sharp is a nice enough mechanical pencil for its price range, but as usual I am left a little nonplussed with the auto-advance mechanism. Must try harder to resist the allure of the automatic…but hey, down this way the general public can’t own handguns…so temptation abounds…automatic pistol…automatic pencil?

• Best Points – The auto-advance works reasonably well.
• Not So Good Points – Considering what this pencil is, and its price range, then nothing much.
• Price Range – Low.
• Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? - No.

Dimensions – Length 141mm, width 11 mm across the face of the body. Balance point about 65mm up from the tip.

This Ohto Auto Sharp AP-205 mechanical pencil was sent to me gratis by Cult Pens. Thanks Cult Pens.


2nd_astronaut said...

With vintage pencils, it doesn't matter if the automatic advance is working well or not: all these ...-matic are the top of the line models, heavily sought-after and therefore so expensive, that you don't write a lot with them ;-)
http://3579.dtiblog.com/blog-entry-75.html (the first pencil doesn't fit in the row).

Kiwi-d said...

True buddy, true.
The current auto-advance mechanism is quite different (i.e. much simpler and cheaper to manufacture) to many of the old "vintage" types.

Eric W. said...

Dave, would you consider this a standard for auto advance pencils? If not what would you use as a standard to compare it to. I'm really not a fan of these types, but maybe I'm not using the right one.

Anonymous said...

I fail to understand (other than perhaps flattery) why the model name AP-205 is remarkably similar to the legendary Pentel P205 which of course is not automatic. This name association reminds me of only the simple, rugged and reliable Pentel P205, compared to more marketing hype over auto advance pencils.

2 1/2p

Time Waster said...

At least you posted a picture of ANgelina =)

Kiwi-d said...

Eric W - you've actually surprised me with that comment. I hadn't considered the concept of a "standard" against which to measure other auto-advancers against. I don't have a standard, I don't think any of the current crop are really good enough to be held up as a standard to which others should aspire or try to beat. They are all just OK or acceptable or average, at best, and lots are worse.

Eric W. said...

Well, I don't feel so bad for not liking any of these types then! I purchased the Bic AIs a little while back and wasn't impressed, but haven't gotten around to trying another one. I may just stay away until the next auto advancing technology comes out. I'm sure the Kuru Toga will keep me happy til then.

~ said...

Could you tell me about the cushioning in this pencil?

~ said...

Actually as I'm going thru your reviews - I notice that the only time you talk about cushioning is when there is a negative aspect to it. Cushioning is pretty vital to me in a pencil - so it's hard for me to tell with these reviews.

Bill W said...

Thanks for this review and your excellent site. Interesting to see, as you've noted above, that the automatic advance feature is now appearing at the bottom end of the market having been traditionally only seen at the very top end. And the tradition is certainly maintained through top-end prices on eBay for the few vintage items that do appear!

Do you know of any attempt at a complete list of automatic advance pencils - none of the enthusiast websites seem to bring them out as a separate category? I know of the Faber TK-matic, Staedtler Marsmatic, Pilot Automac and now this Ohto low-end model, but I'm sure there are more.

Unfortunately every one I've tried has been pretty much unusable due either to 'plunging', or the horrible feel of the sleeve scraping and bouncing along the paper while the lead wears down enough to activate the mechanism. But the engineering is still fascinating enough to collect!

2nd_astronaut said...

A list of automatic pencils would be rather long and maybe a bit boring...

Another question would be: what was the first automatic pencil? We have 2 candidates, and both claim this honor: Faber-Castell DS-matic (DS75) http://www.adsandbrands.com/img/thumbs/default/600/9999.jpg
and Pilot AutomacE http://moonpaste.net/stmg/cgi-bin/moonwiki/wiki.cgi?AutomacE