Pen Review: TWSBI Go
TWSBI is a popular brand in the budget fountain pen category. In fact, one of their most popular pens, the TWSBI Eco, is consistently recommended as among the best options for new fountain pen users. So when TWSBI introduced its newest pen last week, I had no choice but to give it a go.
Materials & Construction
If you’ve handled a TWSBI Eco, the Go will feel quite familiar. Both are made of lightweight resin that’s befitting of the pens’ budget price points. Unfortunately TWSBI’s resin has earned a bit of a reputation for being prone to cracking. I’ve not experienced any issues with my Go (or my Eco for that matter), but the thin walls of the pen’s cap do give me some cause for concern.
Certainly the most intriguing aspect of the Go is the rather unconventional spring-loaded plunger filling system. Filling the Go is about as straightforward as you can get: simply unscrew the barrel, insert the nib and feed into a bottle of ink, depress the plunger, and voila! It’s uncomplicated and actually kind of fun, and I suspect it will appeal to new users and experienced fountain pen enthusiasts alike. What’s also great is that the Go has pretty ample ink capacity (~1.6ml), just barely shy of what you’d find in the Eco (~1.7ml).
One thing I feel compelled to point out is that the Go isn’t exactly as easy to fill with one hand as you might think. Let me explain. At first, you may be tempted to think that you can use the Go like a syringe, meaning that you’d hold the barrel of the pen between two fingers and depress the plunger with your thumb. However, because the body of the pen doesn’t have any wings or flanges like you’d find on a typical syringe, it’s harder for your fingers to find purchase when holding the Go this way. In fact, to get a sufficiently secure grip on the pen to use it like a syringe you have to place your fingers quite close to the nib, but that creates problems of its own. Specifically, now your knuckles will be too close to the mouth of the bottle that you’re trying to fill from, which means you’ll either risk getting ink on your hands or, worse yet, block yourself from being able to dip the nib and feed deep enough into the bottle to get a fill.
The better approach is to grip the pen between your middle finger and thumb and use your index finger to depress the plunger. If you look at TWSBI’s marketing materials, you’ll see that this is how they actually depict the process themselves. While this method does work, it’s still not totally elegant, and I found myself getting a little paranoid about knocking over the bottle when I was applying downward pressure on the plunger.
Perhaps it’s wrong of me to place so much value in one-handed filling. At the rate I fill my pens, it’s really not a big deal for it to be a two-hand operation. In fact, as I think about the times I’ve filled my Eco, I can’t remember a time I thought that it would be nice to have one of my hands free. Still, if this was part of the appeal of the Go for you, then you may want to temper your expectations.
In terms of build quality I don’t have any real complaints. The cap snaps with a satisfying click, and the pen’s components pair together tightly. If I do have a nitpick it’s that the barrel takes over 5 turns to remove. With that said, you’ll be removing the barrel far less frequently than you will the cap, so the snap cap on the Go may actually make it more convenient to use than the Eco.
The Go is available in two colors: a translucent gray that’s aptly named “Smoke,” as well as the “Sapphire” blue version seen here. The color scheme on the Go is the inverse of the Eco: whereas the Eco features a clear demonstrator barrel with a colored cap, the Go pairs a clear cap with a colored barrel. The shape of the barrel on the Go is rather interesting. Though it appears to be cylindrical upon first glance, in actuality there are three subtle facets that add some flat sides to the barrel.
The section on the Go also has a bit of subtle character to it. Though it generally has a traditional hourglass shape, there are facets on the end of the section that provide a triangular grip area near the nib. If you look closely at the section on an Eco, you’ll notice these same facets, but they’ve been exaggerated on the Go. The facets on the Eco feel like more of a design element, whereas the facets on the Go have a real impact on ergonomics. The result is a section that affords a very comfortable grip. In fact, I find that I actually greatly prefer the section on the Go to the one on the Eco. The Go’s section is longer, wider, lacks threads, and I prefer its hourglass shape to the tapered design found on the Eco.
The cap on the Go repeats the same “faceted cylinder” design of the barrel. The cap is completely clear but features an internal cap liner that does add some opacity. Like the Eco, the TWSBI logo is embedded in the finial, but there’s a nice colored accent ring that surrounds it.“TWSBI GO” is embossed on the side of the cap next to a lanyard loop.
Let’s talk about that lanyard loop for a second. Though I get that it accentuates the Go’s ‘hyper portable’ marketing angle, I don’t see myself using this pen with a lanyard. If you do plan to, I should note that the lanyard hole itself is quite small, so you’ll need to have rather thin cord to thread through. On the plus side, the lanyard loop does function as a roll stop which is a bit of a blessing, as without it the pen would be prone to rolling. Ultimately, however, I think I would have preferred a more traditional clip.
It’s safe to say that the design of the Go won’t be for everyone. I’ve seen numerous opinions from others online who feel the metal spring looks cheap or chintzy. I can understand that perspective, but don’t know that I agree. Personally I would describe it as playful, and I appreciate seeing something new and different.
In the Hand
The Go weighs in at 12g uncapped and 17g capped. It’s a very light pen and that lightness translates into a very comfortable writing experience. At around 125mm uncapped, the Go is also shorter than the Eco, but not uncomfortably so. For those who may prefer a longer pen, the cap does post and does so securely. Plus, because the cap only weighs 5g, posting the cap doesn’t make the pen back-heavy, and I enjoy using the Go either way. Perhaps the most prominent difference between the Go and the Eco in terms of ergonomics is the diameter of the pens. The Go has more girth than the Eco (14.7mm vs. 12.8mm), and I find myself preferring the Go.
Material & Design
The stainless steel nib on the Go appears to be identical in appearance to the nib on the Eco, with one minor exception: the scrollwork on the Go’s nib doesn’t seem to be as defined as the Eco’s. This observation is most apparent when comparing the TWSBI logos that appear on each. On the Eco, the TWSBI logo is crisp and distinct with each of the intersecting arcs prominently stamped into the nib. On the Go, the logo is faint and hard to discern. This may just be the result of some slight variation in quality control. Apart from that quirk, though, the nibs are virtually identical.
I’ll cut to the chase: the nib on my Go is a bit of a disappointment. This comes as a surprise to me, as I’ve had nothing but positive experiences with TWSBI nibs in the past. For example, in my review of the TWSBI Eco I note that the nib writes consistently and without issue, but the same simply can’t be said of the Go. I’ve had numerous hard starts with the Go, even when the pen has only gone unused for a few minutes. Moreover, when the pen is uncapped, the nib tends to dry out rather quickly, which only exacerbates the hard start issue. The nib also writes quite dry.
I suspect the above issues are a result of the nib’s tines being too tight. When I hold the nib up to a light source, no light passes through the nib slit, and I suspect that’s one of the first things I’ll try to change when I tune this nib. I also think there are some imperfections with the grind. On my pen, downstrokes generally perform as expected, but side strokes are noticeably finer and put down less ink. It’s nothing I can’t fix with a little tuning, but is a bit unfortunate nonetheless.
Finally, the nib writes finer than what I would expect from a medium. In fact, when I do side-by-side writing comparisons with my TWSBI Eco fitted with a fine nib, the line width is practically identical. Again, I feel like this may be a result of the tines being a bit too tight out of the box. Once I open them up a bit to increase the ink flow, I suspect the line width will increase accordingly and I’ll end up with something closer to a true medium.
As of the time of this writing, the TWSBI Go sells for $19 at most popular fountain pen retailers. That’s around $10 cheaper than the Eco, which already offers great value itself. At under $20, I suspect the Go will be quite popular, and it's easy to see why. For the money you get a pen with ample ink capacity, good build quality, and great writing ergonomics. Sure, I do wish the nib wrote a bit better out of the box, but with a little tuning I'm confident I can address that, and the other aspects of the pen easily justify its price. It's basically an impulse buy, and one I think many won't regret.
Final Thoughts & Score
- unique design with unconventional filling system
- under $20
- comfortable ergonomics, especially the ample section
- nib doesn’t perform as well as other TWSBI nibs I’ve used in the past
- not as easy to fill one-handed as you might think
- lanyard loop is of questionable utility