Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Zebra T3 and Pilot Birdie Mechanical Pencil Reviews

Zebra T3 and Pilot Birdie Mechanical Pencil Reviews

Its bonus time - two reviews for the price of one! Well, I’ve just recently been on holiday in Australia and it seemed a good time to put a few mini-pencils through their paces. First up we have two somewhat similar pencils, the Zebra T3 and the Pilot Birdie.
Photo: Pilot Birdie (top) and Zebra T3.

Zebra T3 Pocket Pencil Mechanical Pencil Review The Zebra T3 Pocket Pencil is very small – at 100mm (4in) long and a very slender 5mm (< ¼ in) in diameter, you’ve got to look pretty hard to find something smaller. The T3 is an all-metal (lightly brushed steel body, polished end-pieces) push top ratchet 0.5mm pencil. It has a short little 1.5mm lead sleeve at the tip so it’s not really (trouser) pocket safe, despite it being called “Pocket Pencil” on the Zebra website. Being so slim and a reasonably smooth steel body, it’s never going to win the “good grip” award. In fact I imagine those of you who wear size X-Large gloves would possibly rate the T3 as unusable. For someone like me who is in the medium hand size range, you wouldn’t want to be writing any long novels with the T3, but clearly this is not what the T3 was intended for. Obviously it is a short slim pencil to fit unobtrusively in a notebook or compendium, so that you can jot down a few short notes here and there. At this, it is quite good, but I do have one significant reservation - the pocket clip.

The pocket clip is part of the push top button and it doesn’t really fill me with confidence. As normal, you pull the push top button off to reveal a very small eraser, and then remove the eraser to refill the lead chamber. The problem is, it doesn’t seem too much of a leap of imagination to see the push top button coming off at an inappropriate time and therefore the main body of the pencil will just fall free. Lost. Gone.
  • Best Points – extra small and slim to fit in your compendium.
  • Not So Good Points – extra small means a bit hard to hold for longer periods of time, and I’m uneasy about its security when clipped to a pad or folder compendium. Despite its small size, I wouldn’t really put the T3 in a trouser pocket.
  • Price Range – Low.
Dimensions – Length 100mm, diameter 5mm. Balance point – irrelevant.

Note: I’m not sure of the T3’s proper designation – some sites call it T3, others TS-3, but they appear to be the same pencil.

Pilot Birdie Mechanical Pencil Review
The Pilot Birdie is reasonably similar to the Zebra T3. It’s a little bit longer, but still very slender. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the main bodies of both the Birdie and the T3 are made from the same standard size seamless tube. The Birdie is a push top ratchet 0.5mm pencil, but not quite “all-metal” as there is a thin black plastic washer visible where the tip section screws into the main body. Like the T3, the Birdie has a short 1.5mm long lead sleeve at the tip so it’s not really pocket safe. I’m not quite sure why the designers of both of these pencils went for this short sleeve – why not make it retractable or do away with it entirely? As expected, you pull the top cap off to reveal a very small eraser, and remove the eraser to refill the lead magazine. Now for an important difference – unlike the T3, the Birdie’s pocket clip is welded direct to the main body, like “normal”. Gone are my worries about the pencil detaching and not being where I clipped it. Just for the record, the Birdie clip might be small, but it’s a good strong clip.

Again as a small slim pencil the Birdie is never going to be the greatest for grip and feel, but having said that, I must compliment Pilot on somehow making it look and feel surprisingly substantial. By polishing the end-pieces and using a black washer they have done what they can within the very limited confines of a simple metal mini-pencil.
  • Best Points – Overall its just a little bit “more” than the T3 – it both looks and feels that little bit more substantial.
  • Not So Good Points – Similar to the Zebra T3 - extra small means a bit hard to hold for longer periods of time, and I wouldn’t really put it in a trouser pocket.
  • Price Range – Low.

Dimensions – Length 111mm, diameter 5mm. Balance point – who cares?

The Final Verdict – personally it’s not much of a contest. If you want a slim mini-pencil to fit in your notebook, filofax or other such compendium then I’d choose the Pilot Birdie.
Photo: A relatively “normal” size Cross ballpoint pen with Pilot Birdie and Zebra T3 to illustrate just how slim these two pencils really are.

Credit: Both the Pilot Birdie and Zebra T3 were given to me as freebies by Cult Pens in the UK. But no strings were attached – I was free to like or dislike them, review them or not.


Germ said...

i can say, i have had 3 of the zebra over the years. 1st was in second or 3rd grade. at that time, you could get them with red or green plastic trim. the cap had a hole in it (for some reason), and IIRC, the clip was on the barrel. of, being so young, i lost it. FF
about 13yrs ago, was wanting another one, none were in stock, so i ordered one, and looks like the current one. it broke, though. the plastic collet inside came apart for some reason. so, i replaced it last year.

Germ said...

damn sissy pencils.

forgot to add that, :)

Anonymous said...

My T3 has withstood a wash at 40 °C (about 100 °F); of course I don't know about the long-term consequences for the pencil.

Anonymous said...

I just received a Zebra T3 as a gift today. (Serendipitous timing, since I had just read your review.)

It is remarkably slim - to the point I fear losing it, even on my own desk! Still, I can see how it would be valuable while travelling.

Anonymous said...

I love these pencils but would like a normal length (and maybe slightly fatter) version for everyday use, do they make 'full size' versions aswell?

Anonymous said...

I am in love with these pencils!
I bought my current one when I lived in Japan in 1994. It has been my constant companion in my diary ever since.
It died this week (the plastic internal screw thread on the tip end broke) and hence I am searching for a replacement.
Seems I have to order one from the UK - can't find anywhere in Australia that stocks them. At least it's cheaper than another trip to Japan!

Anonymous said...

Good Job!: )

Anonymous said...

I found a birdie pencil in one of my mums boxes and was enchanted by how cute it was. Sadly I didn't have a clue how to put the lead in or anything so I googled it and your blog came up =) Thanku.

Cavvvp said...

Actually T3 is the pen. TS3 is the pencil. I have the set and so does my wife. Hadthem for more than 3 years. Love them. Look sharp. Always get comments on them. Holds up well. I clip mine in a slim wallet (or a business card holder) and drop it in my pocket.

Anonymous said...

I really like the Zebra for carrying with me: I have taken the clip off: I don't like bulging pockets and it's so small & slim now, it's completely out of the way in my pocket. No clip also means nothing to catch on. I put it in my pocket upside down, so it doesn't make a hole - I just have to be slightly careful putting my hand in.
Downsides of no clip: it rolls off the table, and there's now a tiny slot hole in the cap where the clip fixed in. I have actually put a short (5mm) length of coloured plastic sleeving over the end to cover this (the specialist stuff that electricians use), which actually looks rather smart! :-)

PointFour said...

I wish Zebra made a version of their small but more usable M-301 stainless+plastic pencil that was pocket-safe...

Anonymous said...

You're a bird watcher, aren't you? Me too.

Kiwi-d said...

I have been known to keep an eye on the birds.

P.R. Scholtz said...

I realize I'm a bit late to the party, but has anyone stumbled upon a way to repair them? I've worn out two of them, and it's as Jeremy said above, the plastic collet inside came apart. I've got on left that I've kept as a spare, but I'd sure like to find some way to get my other two working agin. maybe another type of pencil I can cannabalize to fix them? I sure like the small size to keep on me for sketching when I'm waiting in line, ect. the first one took 5 years to break, but the second onl;y took 4 months.

J Ferguson said...

I bought the Zebra one in a set with a similar pen, and the pencil very quickly proved to be too fragile. I would drop it in a coat pocket, then when I'd later pull it out the whole nose section would have come off or the pocket clip/cap would have. Useless as a pocket pencil. The pen, strangely enough, is still kicking after several years.