Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Pentel Champ AL17 Mechanical Pencil Review

I feel like I’ve gone from a famine to a feast. Normally guest articles are few and far between on this blog, but over the past few months I’ve had a whole bunch of guest submissions. All that arm twisting has paid off, and there’s even been some volunteers too! Now, here’s a guest review from Derek, aka ThirdeYe, who recently started his own writing instrument blog, as you’ll see below.

Pentel Champ AL17 0.7mm Mechanical Pencil Review

The first things I noticed about the “new” Pentel Champ were its color and interesting grip. This is one of Pentel’s more modern releases, consequently made in China like some of Pentel’s other newer releases like the Client and the Jolt. While I find this trend disturbing, I don’t have any real issues with the Jolt or the Client.

I am not sure exactly when they changed, but both the Pentel Champ and the Pentel Icy used to have a smaller grip that did not interfere with the way you held the pencil. Pentel decided to shake things up a bit by introducing a new grip on both of the pencils while still offering the old version on their website. However, this is the “new” Champ that I am reviewing.

Let’s start with the vitals. The Champ comes with 2 60mm HB sticks of lead. It is offered in both 0.5mm (AL15) and 0.7mm (AL17), but I tested only the 0.7mm. The MSRP for these pencils, according to Pentel, is $1.05/each for both the new and old style Champ. It comes in a variety of bright colors, such as blue, orange, light green, red, pink, purple, etc. It utilizes a fixed plastic sleeve, with no metal support like those found in drafting pencils. It has a 1” conformed grip and it uses a standard Pentel PDE-1 universal eraser.
pentel champ al17 mechanical pencil disassembled

At first glance, the grip looks soft, ergonomic and comfortable. In practice however, all it seems to do is collect dirt/ink and get in the way. I hold my writing instruments differently than most, only using my index finger tip, the underside of my thumb, and the side of my middle finger. Most people tend to do a 2 or 3 fingertip grip, while I use one tip for control/precision and the sides of my fingers for sturdiness. With this pencil, it leads to an awkward and uncomfortable writing experience. When you compare it to other pencils like the EnerGize, TranXition, and Paper Mate Mega Lead (which have better grips), the grip on the Champ forces you to hold the pencil higher up the barrel which to me at least, reduces the overall control and precision of my writing. I know that in Dave’s review of the Pentel Client, he enjoyed the contoured grip, so I know my opinion may be going against the grain.

Another point I’d like to mention is the overall cheap construction of the pencil. On the green Champ I own, the grip appears to be distorted or installed incorrectly, causing it to look “pinched” in an area. The pencil feels flimsy and the top removable green insert that holds the eraser feels like it could break easily. When you use the clip on a stack of more than 10 papers, it actually causes the entire green section to start to bend and put pressure on the inner lead-retaining tube.

Back to the grip collecting debris… the material reminds me of Silly Putty, with its bright color, squishy consistency and also its tendency to transfer ink & other materials when pressed against a newspaper, etc. When testing my fleet of Champs for this review, I would occasionally glance at the grip only to notice it was covered in black debris that could be wiped off with some effort. Fast forward a few days to when I was using one to do some crossword puzzles and I realized this is not a good crossword pencil. When I do crosswords, I occasionally take a break by using my pencil/pen as a temporary bookmark like I imagine others do. Normally this isn’t an issue for me, but rather a convenience. The Champ however, even without any applied pressure, transferred the ink from the two pages it was sandwiched between much like silly putty to the grip. You could actually read the letters on the grip! This is definitely a nuisance to someone like me who tries his best to keep my pens/pencils in like-new condition.

After physically writing out the latter paragraph in my hand-written draft of this review, my hand and wrist started to hurt and fatigue too much to continue. In college, I would use Bic Matic pencils almost exclusively and never had this happen this severe, even during extended periods of writing. I had to take a break and rest my hand before I wrapped up the review in my next paragraph. I have a Pentel Icy with the old grip that the Champ used to share with it, and I much prefer that to this new Grip that they put on the Champ and Icy.

As readers of my blog could attest to, I am a big fan of Pentel products and I really wanted to “crown” the Champ. Don’t get me wrong, it may be a decent pencil to those that hold their pencil in a way to utilize the grip more properly, but it was ruined to me by the poor ergonomics, its seemingly cheap construction, and the grip’s “Silly Putty”-esque features. I would pass on these pencils and opt for one of Pentel’s better offerings. Pentel is known for making high-quality, yet affordable, mechanical pencils. In my opinion, the Champ does not do Pentel justice. For only $2 more or so, it’s a no-brainer to opt for the much better Sharplet-2 or try to find the Champ/Icy with its old-style grip that is still being sold on Pentel’s online store.
pentel champ mechanical pencil

-ThirdeYe (Derek)
Derek’s Pens & Pencils

Thanks Derek. I can certainly see that silly putty business being annoying. Keep up the blogging. Dave.


Anonymous said...

Ah, Sharplet-2 - now you're talking. I doubt these Champs would be available in the Australian market anyway. Well done for your guest review.

ThirdeYe said...

Thanks! I do use the Sharplet-2 almost daily and enjoy it very much.

razide said...

Thanks for the interesting review, ThirdeYe.
Whilst the retro kitchen applicance colour looks quaint the Champ appears to have a few niggling features like that silly putty grip (a definite turn off in terms of texture, comfort and dirt attraction) and the pocket clip end assembly design.
I think this is one Pental I'll be happy if they don't release in Oz.

ThirdeYe said...

Do they sell the older Champ there? The grip on that one is so much better.

Time Waster said...

The Champ looks just like a Pentel Icy

Office Supplies said...

Never did like the silly putty feel of some pencil grips.

razide said...

I can't recall ever seeing any Pentel Champs in Oz. There could be some in a Newsagent somewhere (various Newsagents seem to get hold of some Pentels that Stationers don't).

I tend to try and keep away from the rubber grip type mech pencils as I wonder about the long term durability of the rubber/plastic used. As an example last week I picked up a 5-10 year old(?) Pacer 300 and the grip felt a bit sticky so I went to clean it with water and a bit of dishwashing liquid. The rubber decompossed almosted immediately and I then had to rip it off completely. The pencil now looks and feels a bit odd without the grip but still ok to use.

ThirdeYe said...

Time Waster - It is very similar. They share the same grip, eraser, etc.

razide - I'm glad I'm not the only one! Here I thought it was my mild OCD. :) I too prefer to steer away from grips as I worry about the long-term durability. My girlfriend found a discarded Pilot G-2 and the grip on it was pretty worn out and loose, but the rest of the pen itself was fine with a new refill.

Kiwi-d said...

Wait until you back to your storage facility, find a pencil that has been there undisturbed for 3 - 5 years and its rubber grip is actually covered in droplets of oozing silicony/oily type liquid. Yuck.

Anonymous said...

The Pentel 'Mini-MVP' that I grabbed for cheap at the local office supply store is essentially this same exact pencil except with a shorter barrel. It also irritates the heck out of my hand and is even more annoying to grip correctly due to the short barrel. It is easy to carry around though and it has a clip on the cap just like the Champ. If it came down to comfort though I would easily take a Bic Mini instead of the over engineered Champ/MiniMVP though.

ThirdeYe said...

Anonymous - I forgot about the Mini MVP. I have seen that for sale on Amazon and other websites before and noticed it was indeed the exact same as the Champ, only smaller. I think a Mini RSVP would probably be a better choice for something on the run. That or a Zebra F-301 Compact (my personal choice that I carry every day). I know they're not pencils and it may be heresy, but I haven't found many good mini pencils. :)

Eric W. said...

I will second the notion that the old champ is much better. I'm actually using one right now. The grip is much better because it doesn't restrict how you hold the pencil. The grip can slip off, but I have to try to make it happen, and it doesn't happen under the normal course of writing.

One glaring and I think important difference between the old champ and the newer one, aside from the grip, is the construction of the advancing mechanism. It is all metal on the old champ where the new one is plastic. I see this as a long term issue, but then you get into the argument of how this is a cheap replacable pencil, blah blah blah...

Unknown said...

Does anyone know where I can purchase the older version of the Champ pencil? I bought a box off of Amazon that had the picture of the old pencil, but I received the newer ones instead :-(

John said...

I like the old Champ (and Icy) MUCH better than the new. The looks of the old Champ have more character and class, and does not have the silly flaring out look of the new one.