Faber-Castell Duo Ballpen/Stylus for all PDAs

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, February 2005, send e-mail
Published by: Faber-Castell, go to the web site
Available from: StylusCentral, go to the web site
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$39.99

One of the oldest names in fine writing instruments has been around in one form or another since 1761. The company is Graf von Faber-Castell and it has been refreshing its product lines in recent years. The results are a natural progression in the company's motto "Luxury in Simplicity" and the actual products represent, in my opinion, some of the best examples of functional design you'll find anywhere. My opinion is infinitely biased because I've been a Faber-Castell writing instrument user, on and off, for about 25 years—ballpoints, pencils and of course the venerable fountain pen. Faber-Castell is competing head-to-head with the best in the world across several categories of writing instruments now, including stylus/pens.

The Duo model is typical of the new, sleek Faber-Castell designs. Polished stainless steel front and rear barrels with a high quality twist mechanism and a cleanly designed pocket clip provide a very well balanced feel. The Duo remains comfortable in use, particularly when taking notes during long meetings. A left twist extends the ballpoint; right twist for the stylus. The lower third of the front barrel, above the tip, is covered with a firm, non-slip silicone grip which blends perfectly with the polished steel. The grip itself is very easy on the fingers and provides terrific control and comfort without the squishiness of typical padded grips. The pen uses a Faber-Castell mini-ballpoint refill, providing a smooth, clean line with drag noticeable only on very poor paper.

In keeping with what we've done thus far in our series of reviews of high quality stylus/pens, I used the Duo for two full weeks, uninterrupted by trifles like the OEM stylus supplied with my Palm Zire 72 or the four writing instruments I normally use at home and at the office: a Waterman ballpoint, a Faber-Castell ballpoint, a Faber-Castell mechanical pencil and a Caran D'Ache fountain pen. In the first hour of the first day I was impressed by the ease of use and comfortable feel of the Duo. How Faber-Castell achieves this feat in such an unassuming design is a mystery and necessarily the reason why the company has such a pre-eminent position in the industry. For note taking, general marking and signatures I doubt you'll find anything better at this price point.

But the Duo also shines—really shines—as a stylus. The long stylus refill is mounted high up in the twist mechanism which results in almost no discernable flex or extension angle when the stylus is in use. That's a notable improvement over many other good quality stylus/pens on the market and it provides very accurate tapping and Graffiti writing on any PDA. Combined with the medium diameter cylindrical pen barrel, letter forms on every screen and screen protector material I tried were easy to create accurately and consistently. If you think this observation is somewhat trivial, then you haven't tried very many stylus/pens. In fact, poorly balanced instruments are a constant struggle to control. Instruments with a stylus tip extended out-of-true are frustrating because taps are inaccurate making it easy to miss icons, small scroll bars and other objects on screen (and you end up staring at the tip when writing Graffiti, instead of what you're supposed to do—watch input appear in the entry field). Instruments with poor quality composite stylus tip materials formed in an uneven configuration tend to drag, skip or slip on screen. The Duo has none of these deficiencies.

All in all I was surprised by the Duo. At $39.99 I expected a half decent, not great, stylus/pen. Then, considering the design effort and quality of the barrel, grip and clip, I expected some significant quality sacrifice in ballpoint and stylus tip. What I got was a very good stylus/pen without any design or writing quality differences from instruments costing significantly more (including other models in the Faber-Castell line). It's a terrific value that should serve you well for years.

Cons: The Faber-Castell logo and logotype are printed on the upper section of the rear barrel, which is just fine except for the fact that the logotype started to disappear after the first week of use. "Fab" is now missing, "ell" isn't long for this world, and my favorite part of the logotype— "Since 1761" —is also just about gone. Even at the distinctly non-luxury price of $39.99, I still expect a non-disappearing logo. We'd prefer to see a higher capacity ballpoint refill.

Pros: Excellent balance and comfort. The silicone covered grip area accommodates any hold, provides excellent feel, a very secure grip at any angle, and a clean looking, elegantly simple design. The Faber-Castell Duo ballpoint refill is top drawer with very smooth, clean output, positive control and a very natural feel. The twist mechanism is easy to operate with one hand. Tip selections lock positively in position and the center/retracted position is easy to find without actually looking at the instrument. The design is simple and elegant but not ostentatious which makes the Duo very usable without being a theft target (well, maybe a small theft target!). Highly recommended.

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