HERO-100 Innovation Edition Review: One-dimension Compromise – FrankUnderwater

Hero-100 is a great pen. It is still a default model to choose for ordinary Chinese people who want an upscale daily writer. In the west, it has already been well addressed by Binder decade ago, and two days ago, it just scored a hefty 9.1 out of ten during Chris’ video review thanks to its being a good writing stylus.

However, there has always been a minefield lying in front of anyone who wants to try this iconic vintage model out, and that is the hard work it’d take if the plastic hood of your pen begins to crack, due to either lousy recipe of plastic, or the negligence of the assembly process(sometimes both). Coupled with the fact that the recent years’ surge of Chinese fountain pens that have better quality and design, there just lacks a real incentive for the general stationery community in the west to take part into the Hero-100’s narrative, one that dates back to its predecessor “100-Hero” and the faithful days of the Great Leap Forward campaign and has become quite a theme for Chinese pen community.

Picture credit to Yunshen Tmall store

However, now, in the year 2018, things changed a lot for the Hero-100. Not only did the pen maker revive two of the most iconic vintage colors, but also curated something I have never anticipated before–a full steel flighter Hero-100 that has got rid of the plastic hood and finished itself brushed texture almost everywhere. Alone with it also came a modern filling system, a new structure for the nib section, and the highest price tag I have ever seen for a modern Hero-100.

The name of this full metal fighter? The Innovation Edition.

For years fans of Hero-100 have been waiting for the cure to the cracking issue of the hood of this model, and the company made the response with three test batches with better molding method and plastic mix. While the updated version did face the market this past June, the anticipation had already dissipated by that time. Then, from nowhere news broke out that the Hero-100 line is going to have a whole new member, one with a full stainless steel hood.

It is a bold decision to move on with an alternative material on the hood to grapple with its elusive cracking syndrome. Hero-100 has been well known among pen users in China for its warm and smooth nib section, even if it’d crack and sometimes leak, thus, for the previous flighter or anniversary variants of this pen, no attempt was made to change that part of the design package.

Let’s start with the first impression. Before uncapping the pen, the first thing you’d pay attention to this Innovation Edition is its super texturized body finish which is reminiscent of what we have seen from other classic fountain pen models, namely the Lamy 2000 and some of the Aurora 98. Even after unveiling the metal nib section, the most visually appealing part of this pen is still the end-to-end brushed texture. While physically it shares the same low-profile design as any other standard Hero-100, this modern looks made it much more recognizable among other Hero-100s, including the revamped and resurrected Beige and Pale Turquoise ones, which are already an appealing piece of instrument. Because the metal material extends to the front end of the pen, the Innovation Edition doesn’t seem as subtle as the standard versions—it just wants to be straightforward. It’s absolutely killer for resting one of this pen on your desk and making it a style statement.

The upgraded nib-section/hood on the Innovation over previous models are significant. This brushed hood makes the plastic hood look amateur most of the time, and it feels good in the hand.

The hood on the Innovation Edition is probably made from a single piece of steel block since it feels heft in hand and doesn’t ding when hit with other hard objects. This hood feels quite similar to the Lamy 2000’s nib section’s front end: a slick grabbing area which features deeply brushed channels. However, the pattern here on this hood is more complicated than the ordinary 2000 since the contour at the end of this fully hooded design is more dramatic than its semi-hooded counterpart, thus from a certain angle, I can see some justification touches probably done by hands. The Arrow shape and the Sputnik-inspired model logo also add more points to this super badass look.

Underneath the surface, this hood is also different from the previous ones—rather than sustaining type-100’s iconic center screw design which uses many layers of threads and proprietary bolt to seal the innards, it has opted for a one-piece design to secure the back of the hood, consolidating the center band at the same time, which means there are fewer components now in this hood. To enable a design like this, you have to say break the original non-detachable metal sleeve of the sac in the previous models. Now, a removable LAMY style converter inserts there.

The Innovation Edition thus would be the first Hero-100 to be entirely free of cracking, while also be the first one to come with an official converter filling system out of the box. That’s a milestone moment, a highly anticipated goal, finally realized by this model.

However, is that an appraisal or a revealing? It took Parker little time to get the Parker 51’s plastic right and transit from old-school filling mechanism to a modern cartridge/converter one. In comparison, Hero achieves the same level late, and to be honest, still full of compromises.

The brushed finish, together with the stainless steel hood set the Innovation Edition aside from any other Hero-100, but they also came with three significant side effects:

The barrel and cap are mostly the same as any modern Hero-100 full metal flighter, and after being heavily brushed, there is a flimsy touch in them, especially when the nib section is a single piece of heavy stainless steel, which is terrible news for the overall consistency of the product. Each time I picked up this pen, a discrepancy of density would be easily recognized and quickly turned out to be annoying. I have touched many many of Hero-100s, and the Innovation doesn’t have the most pleasant weight distribution and haptic feelings.

There is also a severe airtightness issue happening inside this Innovation Edition since every morning I picked it up to jog my mooring notes down, I had encountered issues like hard start and ink starvation, even if it ended up in a smooth and wet writer the night before. Sometimes this nib starts well if the frequency of usage is right, but most of the time it does not. It is heavily possible that the manufacturer forgot to implement a better material or shape for the inner cap to address the extra wrinkly texture on the hood, which for decades has been a glossy part, which is easy to seal.

Then comes the most unacceptable drawback from the Innovation—the stainless steel nib section simply killed the remaining flexibility of this classic hooded gold-nib pen that is famous for its subtle amount of springiness. I bought this pen to the regular fountain pen meeting earlier this month in New York, and without my clarification, most of the people who tried this pen was assuming this is a steel-nib pen beside its slick steel body. It is almost a waste of gold when you surrender it with a chunky piece of metal, rather than the softer plastic. What physics decides is what Hero must accept, and there’s no way for Hero to add extra flexibility unless a newer design of the opening cut is adopted.

For a little rise in price (now usually $58 inside China) compared with regular models, there’s a lot to appreciate for the efforts its maker has paid here in the Innovation Edition. A big a change for a product that is nearly 50 years old was indeed pulled off, and if you can do with its three major trade-offs, then it could be your first Hero-100 to go. However, for people who care about the flexibility and happen to have parts and tools to fix cracked hood, the resurrected model with nostalgia colors would be a better alternative–the later is also much easier to find on eBay.

Judging on the stage of Chinese fountain pen market, and the state-own pen factory’s tradition of making tweaks to decades-old models, the Innovation Edition still has the chance to be the most impressive Hero-100 in the modern pen world. We shall see.