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Instrumments 01 measuring tool: Our first take

Can this sleek pen replace your ruler? We used Instrumments' 01 to measure everything in sight

There’s a finite limit to the number of ways you can measure an object, but some are more labor intensive than others. Take a tape measure, for instance: You’ve got to grab hold of one end tightly and extend the retractable end, all the while trying to maintain a semblance of perpendicularity against the fixture you’re trying to measure. It’s enough to give even the most seasoned contractor an ulcer.

But technology’s here to help. Enter the 01, an ultra-compact, pen-shaped measurement tool by Canadian startup Instrumments. It has an enticing promise: The ability to measure the sorts of obtuse angles and contoured edges that conventional rulers and calipers can’t.

It’s a lot to deliver, but in our short time with a pre-production 01, we were impressed by what the little measuring tool could do.

It may look like a pen, but it does a lot more

A little background: The 01, which doubles as a refillable pen, packs a high-tech multi-sensor capable of recording the surface profile of objects. A rubberized wheel on the topmost axle handles measuring duties, and a red laser near the tip serves as a visual alignment guide.

Instrumments put a lot of care into the measuring pen’s design. The 01’s aluminum frame feels solid in the hand and comfortable in the palm, and that polish extends down to the packaging. The 01 ships in tightly padded foam casing, and comes with a hard-cover instruction manual with graphics that explain the setup and pairing processes. The attention to detail isn’t terribly surprising — Barbaric founded the design studio Pearl, and served as the industrial designer for the Misfit Shine fitness tracker and Empatica Embrace seizure detector.

Those measurements get sent to your phone. The 01 pairs to an Android or iOS device via Bluetooth and populates the Instrumments companion app with real-time length data, producing a reassuring, audible clicking noise as it rolls. The minimalist app lets you switch between metric (millimeter, centimeter, meter, kilometer) and U.S. (inch, foot, yard, and mile) measurements, and saves those measurements in a log for later perusal.

A paid, $10 a month subscription will soon unlock additional capabilities. The 01 will gain the ability to capture the curves of a 3D object and save that data in a format that modeling programs can understand.

Setup is a cinch. Once the 01’s tiny cylindrical battery is removed from its foam enclosure and placed in the 01’s battery receptacle, the unit powers on right away. We didn’t have any trouble activating the 01’s Bluetooth pairing mode or getting the companion app to recognize it. Minutes later, we were measuring every office nick knack within reach.

A new way to measure with a few quirks

We put the 01 through the wringer, rolling the diminutive measuring tool over a table, computer monitor, several chairs, smartphones, and our reviewer’s arm and palm. Subsequent measurements of the same objects produced results within millimeters of each other, and impressively, the 01 never once crashed or lost Bluetooth connectivity over the course of a workday afternoon.

We found some of the 01’s features particularly nifty. The laser can be programmed to blink at predetermined increments to help space measurements equally. The app can automatically translate scaled quantities on a map or drawing to real-time units, which is presumably useful if you’re working with blueprints.

If the 01 has a fatal flaw, it’s consistency. It may be accurate to within 01.mm, but the 01’s rubber wheel is extremely difficult to keep on a steady trajectory. It’s impossible to roll the wheel in a perfectly straight line. Barbaric said that the 01’s software compensates for errors by straightening out wavering lines, but for ultra-precise applications where millimeters matter, it’s probably best to break out a meter stick.

Ultimately, the 01 doesn’t clear the sky-high bar set by its advertising, but when it comes to a measuring tool that can get around angles and curved edges, there may not be a better — or more cost-effective — solution out there.

The 01 raised $464,000 on IndieGoGo, and in February, the 01 went on sale in London. It starts at $150, or an additional $30 for an optional leather case.

The 01’s replacement batteries, which last up to six months, are $20 for a two-pack, and Instrumments is selling non-proprietary ink and lead refills in three-packs for $16. You can read all about it and order one on Instrumments’ website.

Highs

  • Polished app with useful features
  • High build quality
  • Works as advertised

Lows

  • Expensive for what you get
  • Requires a subscription to unlock additional features
  • Produces inconsistent results