Now n Then contacted me recently, wondering if I’d like to get my hands on their Eco Essential pen and pencil they successfully funded on Kickstarter. Of course I said yes.
Now n Then comes from Ishuja, a group of three guys with some pretty interesting product ideas. Based in Taiwan, the three of them put their heads together to make some beautiful pens. Their latest, the Retro Essential pen, well exceeded the funding goal last month, so go check out what they’ve been doing lately on Kickstarter here.
The Eco Essential pen was funded mid-last year, and the pencil a few months after that. It’s obvious that people love the cool design and modern functions of these pens, and they’ve consistently raised many times their goal figure for their projects. So, are they deserving of all this support? Let’s see.
Check out the video review below, and read on to see my detailed thoughts on this set.
The Eco Essential Pen & Pencil
When looking for a product, I primarily seek out good craftsmanship and excellent materials. The price is secondary, and I’d rather pay more for a quality product than pay less for something that will break in no time at all. The Eco Essential pen and pencil (I’ll just refer to them as EEPP from now on) ticks all the boxes. The finish on these is excellent, and looks right at home next to my iPad and Macbook Pro. Aluminium and bamboo construction equals light and durable, and the compatibility with refills ensures I can reuse them time and time again.
Price? Well the set they sent me comes in at around $100 including shipping, which given the quality is fair, I would say. This set includes a pen, pencil, two pen refills, and two accessory packs (more on that later).
The packaging is top notch, with a nice dark grey cardboard box similar to many large-scale pen brands today. Opening the top uncovers the pen and pencil, held in place front and centre. This box could be used to keep the two in whilst on your desk, and it looks the part.
Underneath are all the accessories. As mentioned above, two pen refills and two accessory packs are included, as well as a small spring to use in the pen that holds the refill in place. Don’t know why they didn’t just whack this in the pen initially, however I imagine this is done to prevent both scratching on the inside, and possible rattling noises when in the box.
Everything is packaged up nice and neat, however there are no instruction manuals or papers included. You can check online to see how the pen works, but barring that you will have to just experiment to see how the EEPP work, as I did. It’s fairly self-explanatory though.
A Closer Look
Looking at both of them, it’s obvious a lot of care has gone into the design of the pen and pencil. There are no sharp edges, no gaps, and everything is put together very nicely. These are definitely far beyond your regular disposable pens, that’s for sure.
Both have screw on caps, which is both unusual and a good thing. I much prefer screw on caps, as they are much more secure and create a tighter seal than friction fit caps in my experience. Similarly, they post on the back by screwing onto a smaller threaded portion at the rear of the pen. Whilst this is a smart aesthetic choice to minimise the amount of gaudy threads, the smaller travel means that it takes a bit more effort to actually get the cap to latch onto the rear threads. It has the tendency to go on a bit wonky, but when it is on properly, it stays secure. A fairly minor problem, but it can be a tad annoying.
The pens are undoubtedly sleek, however this comes at the cost of function. There is no clip whatsoever, and no choice of adding one either. I think it would be dead easy to manufacture a clip that installs in the ring section up the top (more on that in a sec), but if you want a clipped pen check out the new Retro Essential product line, as they come with clips as an option.
Bamboo is a good choice for the body. It is just a covering on the aluminium shell, but does well to break up the metal portions with a nice orange tinted wood grain. It’s real wood too, meaning every pen is unique and there are no seams to be found. The metal parts are anodised, a process whereby the aluminium corrodes (rusts) in a controlled environment to create a textured and protected surface. This is also how Apple makes its products, from Macbooks to iPad Minis, so it’s sure to last.
The pen is refilled by unscrewing the front section, dropping in the included spring, and then the refill. Theres a bit of a whine when screwing/unscrewing the front section, but luckily you don’t have to do this often. The pencil features a button on the rear, which advances the lead, and is removed to expose a hole to slip in lead refills. The internal mechanism is also removable by unscrewing the front section, and is actually an insert with a plastic tube and a metal tip, so you wouldn’t have to replace the whole pen if it breaks, just the cheap internal part. The pen and pencil bodies are not interchangeable as the pen is missing the button and the opening at the writing end is slightly larger.
I took a good look at the caps, and they’re identical across the two models. Inside there is a narrower section that acts like an inner cap, and there’s an o-ring to create an airtight seal. On the top of the caps sits the stylus tip, which can be removed along with the coloured ring. These can be customised with other colours of rings, and there is also a Wacom style stylus tip available separately for $8. There is a whole list of spare parts available at the Ishuja website, which is also where you can purchase the pen.
I really like the design of the pen, but the pencil has one flaw to it – the cap. Two reasons, first is that there’s a danger you may be fiddling around and pressing the button with the pencil capped, or it tumbles around in your bag, and the lead hits the top of the cap and breaks. The second reason is that when you post the cap on the back of the pencil, it completely blocks access to the button. As I tend to click mechanical pencils every half page of writing, this means frequently unposting to press the button. However this does mean you don’t end up stabbing your hand when fishing around in your bag for things. I’ve actually been stabbed by a mechanical pencil in the past doing this exact thing, so trust me when I say a capped pencil is a good thing.
Both the pen and pencil are wonderful to use. They are seriously light, even with the refills installed, and almost feel like nothing in your hand. This means you can minimise hand fatigue, especially when writing for ages at a time, as your hand doesn’t get tired holding up a weighty pen. It’s also comfortable, and whilst the metal grip is rather cold to the touch, it’s not at all slippery and makes the pen easy to use.
Unposted they are a suitable size for my large hands, and posting the cap doesn’t mess with the balance at all. Posting the cap also means you can quickly swing the pen around to use the stylus tip, which is a common situation for students and those that use touchscreen devices as well as paper to get things done.
The included G2 and Hi Tec C refills fit into the pen like a glove – there’s no movement in the tip after it is installed. These refills are renowned for their quality and flow, and come in a huge variety of tip sizes and colours, so you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to pen refills. The pencil is a 0.5mm tip, the standard size for most mechanical pencils. The included lead is reassuringly smooth and the clicker mechanism is solid. Unfortunately there isn’t an in built eraser, however I often find them annoying and impossible to remove when you wear them down too much, so I imagine it was a conscious design choice.
Everything feels high quality and well worth the asking price in my opinion, and you’ll get comments from people around you for sure as they look fantastic.
Unfortunately, the stylus tip is a real disappointment. I’ve used many of these rubber, squishy style capacitative styluses before, and the Eco Essential is definitely one of the worst. It’s not that it’s poorly designed aesthetically, it’s that you have to push down in order to register a touch. This is a deal breaker as when using a touchscreen, you want 100% responsiveness at all times. Maybe they wanted accidental touches to be ignored, but I don’t want to have to constantly retype words because the touches on the keyboard didn’t register. Ishuja apparently considers the stylus to be secondary part of the product, and not the main focus, but it’s a feature that every other stylus manufacturer gets right; surely it can’t be too hard to integrate a working stylus. I wonder if the optional Wacom style tip fares better, in which case this would be a perfect bridge product between technology and paper.
The set includes two sets of rings and an alternative tip as well. Unscrew the stylus tip and the coloured ring also pops off. Then, you can choose one of the black, red, blue, green, or amber rings to replace it. There’s also a plain tip as well for those that prefer not to have the stylus. This is a good way to personalise the pen and to distinguish the pen colour if you own multiple pens.
I do think that a wider range of accessories would be a great way to separate this pen from others in the same category, however. Perhaps a ring that has a small loop to attach things onto, like keyrings or decorations, or a clip version (most pens have clips that are just a ring held in by the crown, just like this pen’s design). There’s a pretty huge potential for Ishuja to release a bunch of ring and tip accessories, it will be interesting to see if they come out with anything in the future.
Now n Then (Ishuja) have a real hit on their hands here. Although there are a couple of minor improvements they could make, namely making the stylus a bit more sensitive, all the included features come together to form a pen and pencil that are well worth the price of admission. The minor customisation possibilities and chosen materials are nice, but in the end if a pen doesn’t work as described it’s not a pen anyone would use. Luckily the EEPP nails comfort, writing ability, and aesthetics and delivers them in equal measures.
I’d recommend pairing this pen with a Rhodia notepad/notebook (the orange goes well with the bamboo), or a rustic paperback notebook like Field Notes or these Paperways Patternism notebooks.
If you’d like to purchase some for yourself or a friend, check out the product page here.
Thanks to Ishuja for providing the products in this review, and don’t forget to check them out on Kickstarter and keep a look out for their future projects.