I had been thinking about getting the Zebra M301 for a few weeks. It reminds me of a combination of the Uni Kuru Toga and Pentel Sharp, both great “minimalist” pencils. Here’s how it shakes out.
The M301 is a fine example of what happens when a company shaves a tool down to its essential components. The design is basic, but is very sturdy. The body is steel with a steel clip and a textured plastic grip. It is slightly thinner than most mechanical pencils. The fixed lead sleeve is about two thirds the length of a normal drafting lead sleeve.
The eraser under the cap is small and is not as high of a quality as a classic Pentel drafting mini eraser. It is very similar to the Uni Kuru Toga eraser.
I really like the pocket clip on this pencil. Pocket clips have this tendency to have really sharp edges on the “curl” that can make them hard to remove from something. This isn’t pocket safe anyway, so it’s not THAT big of a deal, but I find this clip to be better than the Pentel Sharp, GraphGear 1000 and many cheap pencils. The Pentel Graphgear 500 and Alvin DraftTec/Retrac have clips more like this and suited to my taste.
The click action of this pencil is very satisfying in it’s sound and feel. About 0.1 mm of lead is released per click.
The pencil feels very light in the hand. I am normally bothered by hard plastic textured grips, but this one doesn’t bother me.
For the price (3 USD, mine came in a two-pack for six), this may be one of the best mechanical pencils that is readily available at most stores. The Uni Kuru Toga is the closest design, albeit slightly more expensive. This model obviously doesn’t have the Kuru Toga anti-bevelling “engine”, but in most other respects I find it comparable or better. The lead sleeve length is the same, it gets the edge on the metal body, and overall looks classier than the all-plastic see-through Kuru Toga. It is also shorter and slightly thinner, making it slightly more “portable” (a stretch, I know).
I give it high marks for a pencil of its price range and is, arguably, a top entry in the very broad, highly represented “dirt cheap” bracket.