Rotring Initial Data Rollerball for Palm OS & Pocket PC

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, September 2004, send e-mail
Manufactured by: Rotring, go to the web site
Available from:
StylusCentral, go to the web site
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$65.00 (available from StylusCentral for $59.95 as of August 2004)

Habits are hard to break. The habit of using only the stylus supplied with your PDA is a good example. Every time we think about buying a replacement for the awful metal toothpicks or slippery plastic cocktail skewers shipped with most PDAs, we get all goofy about the fact that all real writing instruments—something useful and non-fatiguing which provides the ability to write or print comfortably for long periods of time—are larger than the silo storage space provided in PDA cases. Well that's just too bad isn't it? Because if you take even the most casual glance at actual usability studies or assess the information provided by your own observations, you'll find that there aren't any regular PDA users who can get by with just a stylus in the first place. All those people need pens too, for document signatures, checks, notes, memos, lists, instructions and a host of other things. I use a PDA (Sony Clie TH55) for all of my appointments, meetings, contacts, general utilities (converters, calculators, portable dictionary, and so on). But I spend at least two days out of every working week glued to the paperwork in my office: purchase orders, checks, contracts, leases, research, notes and you name it. I can't take care of it all with a stylus and PDA alone, and I can't take care of it all with just a pen. So my quest for the perfect pen/stylus combination continues with the Rotring Initial Data Rollerball.

Rotring is a German company that has been designing and manufacturing remarkably good writing instruments since 1928. That said (and with all the usual blessings about German design and manufacturing quality as well) there's no doubt the company has a solid reputation for good products for all the right reasons, not the least of which are superb materials, thoughtful design, beautiful styling and usability. The Initial Data Rollerball is no exception.

This model is a heavyweight that is designed to be used and used and used. The large cylindrical body is brushed steel for good tactility over all of the grip area, with a polished steel snap-fit cap for the fixed rollerball, and a polished steel twist tip for the stylus. The rollerball refill is full size with a high capacity reservoir for a long service cycle and features the smooth flowing Rotring rollerball tip. The refill is backed by a coil spring mount inside the upper barrel which provides just the right amount of cushioning to prevent you from ruining the ball by overpressure. The barrel to tip taper on the stylus end is about 2.5:1 and the tip is medium size, so you've got a good combination of strength, PDA screen visibility and tapping accuracy. The instrument is a little over 5.5 inches/14.3 cm long (5.25 inches/13.5 cm long without the cap). The top of the polished steel cap features the traditional inset red ring (in German: Rotring) which is the company's trademark. It's a large, good looking stylus pen with ultra clean lines.

I used the Initial Data Rollerball for two full weeks, exclusive of all other writing instruments and styli. Although the weight and balance demanded a few days of adjustment, in no time at all I was clearing my desk and briefcase of all the other stick pens, ballpoints, styli and fountain pens I could find because the Rotring really commands your attention. I also rapidly developed the habit of removing the cap during use to prevent over balancing when using the stylus tip. I found that the pen demands that you assume a classic right-handed penmanship grip: forefinger on top of the barrel, thumb below, 2nd finger in support, 3rd & 4th fingers curled, relaxed hand, pen against top knuckle and pointing at your right shoulder, wrist almost parallel to the writing surface and not resting on it, pivot from the elbow. With the classic grip, you can write or tap for hours with the Rotring without significant fatigue as long as you relax and let the Rotring's weight and form factor work for you. The Rotring rollerball feeds ink beautifully with no skips no matter what your speed, and has a clean finish on all strokes, accents and dots. Needless to say, you won't see any clumping or tip buildup of any kind unless you're using absolute bottom of the barrel recycled junk paper. It's a good design that I would put up against any other rollerball on the market. The ink dries fast and has good smudge resistance. The stylus tip is a joy to use; very smooth, but with just enough residual bite to help form Graffiti letters quickly and cleanly even on the slick surface of the newer screen protector film. I also found that the stylus tip diameter and configuration seemed to improve the accuracy of my taps especially when selecting entries in AddressBook and when playing games like Handmark's Yahtzee which has an onscreen counter/tally area design that demands careful acuity when tapping selections (they're too narrow).

Cons: Designed for medium size and larger hands so users with small hands may find the instrument unbalanced. Fine for everyone else.

Pros: Fit and finish is superb. I am a big fan of protected stylus tips and this Rotring has a twist out stylus tip which is fully protected when not in use (your PDA screen, with or without screen protection film, will thank you). Despite the cushioned rollerball tip, I was still able to easily and clearly fill out 4-part NCR forms. Absolutely one of the best pocket clips in the business - curved steel channel with a high arch and mounted on a single leaf spring attached to the top of the clip. The clip itself doesn't bend but rather hinges against the spring at the top. The weight and balance of the pen rests comfortably in the hand and provides its own writing, Graffiti and tap pressure which is sufficient for most tasks. Very nice looking—clean, sleek lines—and a definite statement in meetings. Writes well; taps well. It's a workhorse too. Highly recommended.

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