Caveat emptor, keep your expectations at bay, and the devil is in the details. These are three of the advise I give to friends who would purchase fountain pens either from brick and mortar stores or online. Even from reputable sellers, it is healthy practice to keep a few dose of skepticism when buying fountain pens. This brings me to Ali Express. There are some sellers who are true to their advertisements and accommodate customer's request and complaints (provided that in the former it is reasonable, there is always a border on the customer is always right), that they send a great product at an affordable price. What makes these pens, as the title would suggest, is attributed not to the seller, rather to the manufacturer.
These are (from left to right) the Deli A907, A908, and A915. These pens are made by Deli, a stationery manufacturer from China. In the country I reside, they along with M&G are one of the plethora of choices in the stationery section of shops and malls, and they have almost every stationery and office supplies available. It is surprising that such stationery company also produces fountain pen, when all you can see in their aisle are ball points, staplers, cutting mats, and cutting instruments.
Reading the product description for this pen, it also looked plausible. It appeared from the pictures of the advertisement that they are made from plastic, as to the kind, I do not know. Also, from the price of each pen, around $3, I have expectations that it would be similar to the ones I bought from other sellers, where it is encased in a plastic sleeve and no branding, and I was scammed. An Add to Cart, submission of payment, and half a month later, I was about to be given a treat beyond the advertised price of each pen.
Between the pink and the blue color choices, I chose the pink because the shade was really beautiful.
This is one of the surprises of this fountain pen. For that aforementioned price, the whole pen was encased in a hard plastic case, held inside by a plastic molded tray specifically designed for the pen. I was in disbelief when I opened this inside the car, and reviewed the listing price for the whole lot. While there was no converter included, it was nice of them to include a cartridge. The cartridge was similar to a Hero cartridge.
The pen measures around 137 mm, which is a good length for a pen.
So there are three things in this photo that I want to discuss: the cap, the nib, and the section.
The design of the cap for this pen and in fountain pens is unique and a first. The eye loop design is usually seen in pocket ball point pens and is meant to be an attachment next to your ID. Seeing this feature in a fountain pen is ingenious yet alarming. Ingenious because it offers another possibility to having a fountain pen handy as an attachment on an ID lanyard. Alarming because the pull off cap mechanism can wear out after repeated use and the pen can slip out with the proper set of movements. I do not know the specifics on how this cap was manufactured, but I think that the rubberized finial was over molded on the plastic giving it a solid anchor to hold on. I see a possible disadvantage of this rubberized finial would disintegrate after some time and interaction with skin oils. The feel of this rubberized finial is similar to those of the power tools with a rubberized grip. While with the power tools, its interaction with skin oils are a sure event therefore its fast disintegration; on this pen it may be less since it is not everytime one uncaps a pen does the finial interact with skin oils.
The section has the same rubberized over molding and a diagonal groove for finger placement. Some people who do not like the grip of a plastic section, may find this kind of section suited to their taste. I have seen some fountain pens made from plastic in which they sand the section with a 1000 girt sandpaper to have that grip.
As for the nib, I have the same sentiment as I had in the M&G AFPY 1706. While this one has the Deli name engraved, it does not defeat the idea that it was based on the Lamy design. In almost every point it looks exactly a Lamy nib but with a different name. I think that the Lamy nib design really uses less steel than the traditional nib design, and would be applicable with the feed as well.
This photo inside the cap is a big plus points for this pen and for the two pens. While the cap lining has no indication that it cannot be removed, I applaud the idea of having a cap lining that fully encloses the nib when capped. This is great for two reasons: keeping the nib moist for writing, and if there would be droplets of ink or an ink spill, cleaning would be an easy task.
What sets this pen apart from the two is the form factor: the entire pen is triangular, from the cap to the barrel. I could have wanted this pen to be in pink, but red was the only color available (a black and pink color combination might be nice, with a little modification here and there...).
With the same hard plastic case, I am baffled by the fact that this pen is $3.
The pen is around 132mm in length. While posting may fail at times, given the triangular shape of the pen.
As with the section of the A907, this pen has a rubberized section for the grip, ideal to some users who finds the smooth plastic section problematic. The shape of the barrel gradually narrows which could be an issue when it comes to some converters. When screwing the section into the barrel, the threads were designed that the section would be plane to the three faces of the barrel; a great consideration in design by Deli. I can imagine the problem when it would not be at the same plane with the faces of the barrel; it would make for an awkward handling of the pen. Also, aside from the section being in the same plane as the barrel, there is also a noticeable feedback when the barrel is in place.
With the A908, I see two issues. First is the capping of the pen. Given the triangular shape of the pen, there are times that you would not be able to fit the pen properly with the cap. It is not as simple as that of a cylindrical pen. The other is the lack of a clip. While the shape lends to the stability of the pen preventing it from rolling down the edge of the table and falling, a clip would be ideal for placing the pen on a shirt or the edge of a jeans pocket. Without a clip, having this pen move freely on a jeans pocket or a bag pocket would introduce some scratches on the pen or may be difficult to find when you are blindly reaching it in your bag. Typically, when a pen is placed inside a bag, having it clipped on the pocket, presents an ease of locating the pen in case you need it. Finding a suitable clip similar to the Kaweco Sport cilp would be near impossible, unless you have the means and skill set to manufacture one specially for this pen.
Another plus points for the cap, similar to the A907.
Well, there is really a trend with the Lamy style nibs.
Among the three Deli pens featured, the A915 could possibly be the embodiment of a bang for your buck scenario. Unlike the first two, this pen is not encased in a hard plastic case. It would be a better value or maybe made it into $5 if the pen and its contents came in that hard plastic case. Inside the cardboard box of the A915 is the pen, a screw piston converter, a pack of 6 cartridges, and some stickers to label the pen on the cap. Presentation wise, its a 10. This can be a contender, in terms of retail packaging, when you place it side by side with the packaging of the Platinum Plaisir, with the latter not having a converter included.
This may be one of the two issues with this pen (apart for the nib, of course). When I got this pen, and placed the cap, the first thought was I did not place the cap right, so I pushed a little but the gap did not disappear. It may be that during the manufacture and design of the tool for the cap, they might have misread the specifications. This could have been a good pen with a great design, the gap may trigger some people with closure issues.
Luckily when I was taking a picture of this pen, I was cleaning it after its use during my exams. The feed and the nib, and it also applies to the first two pens, are friction fitted to the section. When removing it from the section, it is possible that the nib may be pulled off and the feed would stay or the feed may pull off and the nib may still be attached to the pen.
The cap has this design feature where you can place a sticker and place your name or the ink inside. I do not really know a practical purpose for this design feature other than that, because when it comes to the ink inside the pen, I have a small notebook and log the ink used for that particular pen. If this design feature is to prevent the pen from rolling over the edge of the table, it is a poor design. The space of that channel is the ideal place to attach a clip similar to the Kaweco Sport. As to the inside of the cap, plus points for the cap lining. Also, I do not understand the purpose of the cut out on the edge of the cap. On the other hand, this does not affect the nib moisture due to the cap lining.
The writing experience in all three pens were all right: reasonably smooth, lubricated, and hints of feedback. A good thing about these pens is that, they all write consistently without any problems of hard starts and skipping out of the box. Upon inking these pens, they immediately wrote without fail, even when it is not used for a week. When it comes to the A907 and the A908, the rubberized section when dipped in ink, may be difficult to clean. It is recommended that when dipping the section in ink and filling it via a converter, one uses a sample vial with your desired ink to prevent contamination with the ink in the bottle.
Would I recommend these pens? Are they good entry level pens?
As to the A907 and A908, I would not recommend them. While what you get for the price is more than what appears, as an pen for everyday use, it is not a good pen. The reason: rubberized material. This material tends to degrade after multiple use and interaction with skin oils, only time and amount of skin oils you excrete will tell the durability of this material.
On the other hand, I would recommend the A915 for a great bang for your buck fountain pen and reliability. There are grooves for your fingers on the sections to aid in the handling of the pen, while smooth, the grooves flair out to nib which further contributes to prevent losing your writing position. Also, it would not be a trial and error session when it comes to finding a compatible converter for this pen, since it is already included. The only downside of this pen is the gap between the cap and the barrel, upsetting to some but if you can ignore such design failure, go and add it to cart (subject to the availability, of course).
All three pens are good entry level pens for their price. However, each will have their own advantage and disadvantages, and would depend if you are ready to compromise one for the other.