Reviewed by: Howard Carson, September 2006
Published by: Inka Corp.
I own some so-called instrument wristwatches: a Kobold Endeavour, Omega X33, Tissot T-Touch, Breitling B1 and even a low end (but extremely durable) Casio G-Shock Protrek, along with a few others. Big deal. What's the attraction anyway? For sure it's not the annual insurance premiums. A $50 quartz Timex keeps perfectly good time, and how often do I really need a stop watch function, elapsed time indicator, barometric pressure, digital compass, an altitude reading, or even the day & date? Is there ever any need to spend literally thousands of dollars on high-end mechanical and electronic marvels? The answer has to do with the complexity of these sorts of instruments, and the degree to which designers, craftspeople, engineers, machinists and materials specialists have to collaborate in order to develop a clearly refined vision into a remarkable end product. I absolutely love the creative and engineering skills and the craft work that go into the development of this stuff. And that, my friends, is also the real reason I'm reviewing the Inka Pen/Stylus: pure technical interest.
Greg Adelman, president and chief engineer of Inka Corp. is a very patient guy. My first e-mail exchange with him, after receiving the Inka Pen/Stylus, was a bit of a complaint on my part because I basically did not understand the whole point of the design. Greg carefully explained that the Inka Pen/Stylus is not an everyday writing instrument. In fact, it's purpose-designed and built for use in difficult, messy, wet, cold, travel and other non-office circumstances. It's meant to be hung on a key ring or clipped to a ring on the outside of your camera bag or snapped onto a carabiner and attached to outdoor gear, equipment vests, and so on. The Inka is designed and built for adventurers in business, nature and extreme environments alike. Ultra fine tolerances are used in the manufacturing process. In order to achieve such refinement, materials which can actually be worked to that degree have to be used. Some of the physical materials and technical details are interesting:
- Outer Barrel—Grade 304 stainless steel. 304 is the standard 18/8 stainless and remains the most versatile and most widely used stainless steel, available in a wider range of products, forms and finishes than any other. It has excellent forming and welding characteristics. The balanced austenitic (alloyed) structure of 304 enables it to be severely deep drawn without intermediate annealing. That means the outer barrel of the Inka is a perfectly uniform gauge with consistent strength throughout its length and circumference, and that its end threads are extremely strong without cutting into or damaging the threaded carbon fiber head and ring caps.
- Outer Barrel Machining—Computerized Numerical Control (CNC) process. It's a form of robotics based on computer control over material handling, cutting, rolling, forming, welding, machining, and lathe actions.
- O-Rings—Viton, a widely specified fluoroelastomer from Dupont Performance Elastomers, well known for its excellent (400°F/200°C) heat resistance and excellent cold weather performance. Viton offers excellent resistance to aggressive fuels and chemicals and has worldwide ISO 9000 and ISO/TS 16949 registration. It's doubtful that you'll wear out the o-rings even after a decade of regular use. You'll find Viton o-rings in an huge range of high grade applications including Nitrox SCUBA gear, military/weapons grade heat shrink tubing and so on.
- Stylus—Virgin Delrin, machined and polished. Delrin has excellent lubricity and toughness while remaining extremely kind to PDA, Smartphone and Blackberry screens. Virgin Delrin also tends to shed dust particles, slides easily on handheld screens, but still retains some grip which makes it relatively easy to control when tapping, drawing or writing on screen.
- Ring Cap, Inner Barrel, End Cap—Carbon fiber in what looks like a unidirectional configuration, pre-impregnated with high temperature cure epoxy resin. The result is extremely light weight with ultra high tensile strength. It's extremely difficult to crack, chip, cut, bend, snap or damage in any way.
- Machining Tolerances—Although standard machined tolerances are 0.005”, the Inka Pen fittings are manufactured to 0.001-0.002”. In most circumstances we could come up with, it's impossible to cross- or mis-thread the ring cap, the front cap or the inner barrel.
- Design—The Stylus design is based on a dual reverse taper. The stylus holds its position when used in pen mode (the sealed and pressurized ink cartridge is mounted into the drilled and flanged end of the stylus), but changing ink cartridges remains quite easy. A ribbed taper on the forebarrel of the pen provides a good grip while writing. The o-rings embedded on the top cap and end cap form a watertight, dustproof seal. The ink cartridge writes at any angle, hot and cold temperature extremes, and when wet.
If you think that the Inka is over-engineered, you're right, because a lot of the features of the pen came out of designer Greg Adelman's engineering background. When he set out to build a pen for these environments, he really didn't know any other way to do it. He designed and developed optical instrumentation for use in marine environment, worked on the U.S. National Science Foundation’s UV monitoring network located in Antarctica and Barrow, Alaska, and also worked in the mine clearing equipment manufacturing business for the military.
On a recent photography trip in east central Ontario (north of Fenelon Falls to be specific—nice area, look it up), I used the Inka to take notes and, in one somewhat awkward shooting situation (I left the tripod in the car) also used the Inka to steady the camera at the correct angle on a rock in order to grab a low light shot of some squabbling blue jays. Despite being dropped in a creek, stepped on and generally abused (I did most of it on purpose), the pen and stylus performed perfectly. When I got back home, I just disassembled the Inka, rinsed everything, dried it, and put it back together, just like new.
During a normal work week, I use the Inka top ring to hang it on one of the loops on my jacket or vest. It's so light, I never notice it and it's always handy to sign credit card slips, jot a quick note, sign a document, etc., etc. I don't do a lot of hand writing during the course of my work, so I haven't felt the need to carry a regular pen or stylus/pen since receiving the Inka. It's too short in its quick configuration to use in the office. The writing quality is quite good, with a smooth feel, without any grit or unusual drag. Ink flow is even with consistent width, looks respectable, and looks almost identical to the output from a Cross mini refill.
Fully assembled, the pen balance is comfortable, but at only 0.5 oz (14 grams) is too light to maintain good control when writing anything more than a couple of sentences. I prefer a dedicated writing instrument (my current favorites are the Cross Tech 3 ballpoint and the Pelikan Souveran fountain pen) to use on a stack of paperwork or for note-taking at meetings and events. Once out of the office though, I'm sticking mainly with the Inka. The stylus is designed primarily for quick use and works well for navigation on your handheld. Taps are accurate. Using the stylus with BugMe Notepad worked well for taps and text, but drawing (shapes, layouts, etc.) was awkward due to the shortness of the stylus. Effective Graffiti writing with the short stylus takes a bit of practice, but once you've adjusted to the feel, works well.
The Inka Pen is built like a fine tool. If it gets soiled, it can be taken apart, cleaned and reassembled. If a component is damaged by abuse, it can be replaced. Inka resellers abound—Lee Valley Tools, Lighthound, etc.—and are stocking spare parts. Genuine Inka refills are available in black or blue ink, come with a new stylus and cost ~$4.00. You can also use a standard mini refill, so the stylus, which also holds the cartridge in place, can be reused and will accommodate refills from all the major manufacturers. Extra ring bases with a key ring cost $4.00 and are available directly from Inka Corp.
Cons: Using the Inka Pen/Stylus requires some momentary focus when you start disassembling or reassembling the device into its various configurations. It only takes a moment to start using it properly, or through inattention drop one of the parts. Take care and the Inka could conceivably last for decades. Because the pen tip is exposed when using the stylus, we were frequently left with pen marks on our hands just at the knuckle between the thumb and forefinger, so it took a few uses to adjust the hold so that the pen tip rests on the middle knuckle of the first finger. The stylus can only be used in one short configuration.
Pros: We don't often see products this well made. It's meant to be used, repeatedly, daily if necessary for many, many years. Inka cartridges have a 600 meter capacity. Unless you crush the Inka under some enormous weight or heat it with direct flame (e.g., from a welding torch), hit it with extreme force (e.g., a heavy hammer strike, direct electrical current through an accidental short circuit by the steel barrel), nobody at Kickstartnews could figure out how it could possibly be damaged in typical use under even the most extreme and dirty sorts of outdoor or indoor conditions. We couldn't even figure out wear points under normal use. I'm getting lots of use out of this one. This thing is seriously built. It's also an unassuming and unobtrusive piece of tech gear that no self-respecting business, photography, urban and rural adventurer should be without. Recommended.
KSN Product Rating:
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