Cross Matrix Multifunction Pen for Palm OS and Pocket PC

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, September 2004
Manufactured by: A. T. Cross Company
Available from: StylusCentral
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$70.00 (available from StylusCentral for $34.99 as of August 2004)

Some of the memorable turkeys in the annals of multifunction pen design still hold cherished and hysterically funny place in my heart. My earliest recollection, easily twenty years ago, is of a hard plastic thing with a fat, almost ungrippably slick white barrel, plastic top with molded plastic clip (which snapped like a dry toothpick at the merest glance), with four springloaded tubular plastic refills in each of black, blue, red and green, none of which fed properly. It was terrible and useless. The refills stopped working after a week or so, the tips streaked any paper, the extension mechanism broke after two weeks and the whole thing soured me on multifunction pens for a long time.

The advent of the PDA however, demanded simultaneous attention to the writing instrument for paper and the instrument needed to write Graffiti and tap commands and selections. And for those purposes, the multifunction pen has been designed to far surpass the awful early attempts. Unifying the pen and the stylus should be an important and profitable goal for the writing instrument makers too because the PDA makers can't seem to come up with a decent stylus on their own. Everything the PDA makers supply is designed only to fit in the tiny storage silo built into the PDA case, which is never enough space to provide for a even a vaguely decent writing instrument. Say hello to the Cross Matrix.


The A. T. Cross Company was established in 1846 in Providence, Rhode Island, making it the oldest manufacturer of writing instruments in the United States. With that kind of history and a host of patents to its name, the company has forged ahead through all the different eras of writing instruments: from the earliest fountain pens to mechanical pencils, from ballpoints to rollerballs to multifunction designs. Cross makes a wide range of products, from the remarkable Ion and Morph models to the gold and platinum Townsend. The company competes head to head with such luminary writing instrument manufacturers as Waterman and Mont Blanc. One of the segments in which Cross shines these days is the multifunction line. The Matrix is designed to accommodate four different writing tips at once. Two additional writing tips are available as screw-in accessories.

As supplied for this review, the Matrix was set up with dual twist out ballpoints (red & black, using Cross fine point mini refills—3 other colors available), a black gel ink rollerball (using a Cross stubby refill) and an integrated, fixed heavy stylus tip. The pocket clip is rigid, with a fine leaf hinge at the top and can be used on most outside shirt pockets and most inside jacket pockets. The twist pens are located at the top of the pen above the pocket clip. The stylus tip is located at the opposite end in a separate, shorter barrel that snaps in and out of the main barrel. The other end of the short barrel contains the accessory tip which unscrews quickly whenever you want to switch between rollerball, highlighter or fountain pen. The main/mid barrel is brushed aluminum with a polished steel pocket clip. The upper part of the main barrel which includes the twist tips in made of grippy synthetic with a hard inner liner. The short barrel is made of the same synthetic and the stylus tip is a tough polycarbonate which is also gentle on PDA screens. Although it's exposed, the stylus tip is carried tip down in the pocket which happily also eliminates any possibility of ink stains from a leaky refill (not that we've ever heard of a leaky Cross refill mind you). The Matrix is very light in weight due to the combination of synthetic and aluminum materials.

I used the Matrix exclusively for about two and half weeks, about 60% of time as a writing pen, the rest of the time as a PDA stylus. It was a delight to use and drew a lot of comments for its unique but professional appearance. The fine tip ballpoints work well, providing smooth strokes and skip-free writing. As usual from Cross, ink quality is excellent, dries quickly and is smudge resistant. The rollerball is good, but not great and feels a bit rough on some office stock. Even so, it's a definite cut above standard rollerballs and supports good penmanship. The rollerball ink is of excellent quality, with good finish, no pooling and no streaking. The stylus tip is the highlight of the Matrix as far as I'm concerned. It's large, conical shape is deceptively accurate in use probably because the Matrix itself is easy to position in the hand and grip without fatigue. Even after a rather long session with Handmark's Yahtzee on my Clie TH55, I had no trouble accurately tapping an onscreen counter/tally area design that demands careful acuity when tapping selections (they're too narrow). Text entry on the silkscreen was a breeze and my Graffiti speed and accuracy improved dramatically compared to input with the emaciated, collapsible stylus supplied by Sony.

Cons: We could wish for a retractable stylus tip (but see below). The pocket clip needs a bit more hinge extension to accommodate thicker pocket material. It proves to be accurate in use, but the conical stylus tip can be disconcerting at first. The mini ballpoint refills have a short duty cycle, so when the Matrix becomes your favorite you'll be wise to stock up (3-pack for $5 from Cross; less from office supply retailers like Staples).

Pros: Even when we deliberately subjected the polymeric stylus tip to drops, nervous tapping on meeting tables and a variety of other abuses, it's always-exposed tip did not suffer any ill effects and continues to provide excellent contact and Graffiti control on our PDA screen. The stylus tip is at the end opposite the pocket clip so the tip-down carry usually protects the tip nicely. Extremely smooth stylus tip makes Graffiti a breeze. Remarkably good control from an oversize pen - rivals the control offered by good quality fountain pens from Cross and others. Wide variety of writing tips available. It's the only multi-pen with a fountain pen option on the market right now. Easy on the fingers and grip during frequent daily use. The Matrix is designed to be used day in and day out and has writing tips that do consistently well in a variety of environments. Good stuff. Highly recommended.




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