It's an interesting thing, this little pencil community. Without it, I wouldn't have touched the Casemate pencils that are sold at Walmart. I would have thumbed my nose at yet another "stupid store brand" taking up space where something good could be sold. I would've scoffed at the thought of someone buying those instead of a pack of USA Golds (still the best pencil you can get there). But when the Casemate hit the shelves, and the pencil community started to compare them to some better quality pencils, I took notice. They released the Casemate Neon and they looked like the Nataraj Neon. They released the Casemate Premium, and they were a dead ringer for the Apsara Platinum. Word got around that these were most likely made by Hindustan, if you made sure to check the package and buy the ones Made in India. It's nice to know that everyone that buys these things because they're cheap are getting a quality pencil, even if they didn't know about it.
Everything I say in this review pertains to all three of these pencils: the Apsara Platinum, the Apsara Platinum RT (rubber tip), and the Casemate Premium. There is also the Nataraj Platinum, which is exactly the same, but I did not have those at the time of review. If I need to call one pencil out specifically, you'll know.
LOOKS / HANDFEEL
I really like the lacquer and stripe pattern on this one. It's got a silver / gray base with a black top-and-bottom side of the hex. The two "sides" which are silver, are separated by a thin black stripe that runs along the edge of the hex. Think Staedtler Noris, except silver and black instead of yellow and black. The Platinum has a black end dip, the other two have generic silver ferrules and white erasers. All have a silver foil imprint, but the Casemate is extremely simple: unbranded, just says "No. 2 / HB". The Platinums say "Extra Dark" in a reverse pill and "for good handwriting" towards the top. These are well painted and put together pencils for the price, especially the Casemate.
WOOD / CORE
I assume Linden here, and all 3 are the same. There is just that generic treated pencil wood smell, no real pungent or tell-tale odor. It sharpens well and I have no problem in picky sharpeners. The are hex-shaped, and sit in between Musgrave sharp and General's dull. The Platinum is billed as Extra Dark, however the Casemate Premium is stamped as HB. All are the same core in my testing. Walmart probably figured they couldn't sell a pencil if it wasn't listed as a No.2 and had that printed for their Casemate stock. Regardless, these aren't HB, but closer to B...maybe 1½? Is there a grade between B and HB like "F" is between HB and H? The core can be brittle when whittled to a long point, and I found that the Platinum cores were a little more brittle than the Casemate core, at least in the initial sharpening. The Casemate came pre-sharpened, so any chips or roughing of the ends in shipping of the Platinum could have been the culprit. They seemed to get better after subsequent sharpenings. Point retention is good; you'll get best results on smoother paper. These look great on toothy paper, but there will be ghosting, smearing, and smudging.
The Casemate and the Platinum RT both have erasers. The regular Platinum doesn't. The erasers look the same, but the Casemate eraser was better. I think, however, this is a symptom of age: my box of Platinum RT is from 2012. That's not super long in eraser years, however if they start out crappy, time isn't going to make them better. The RT eraser is very dusty and hard. It smeared more than it removed until I got a few layers of eraser off. The Casemate eraser gums up a bit better, but it's still not the best. Luckily, both of the Platinum boxes include a non-dust eraser, so you're set there. I wouldn't recommend using either attached eraser if what you're writing needs to stay somewhat tidy.
I think it's cool that these Hindustan pencils have made it to the US in the form of Casemate. It's not as nice as them being available how they are in India, but if it means that some pretty decent pencils get to sneak into the big box stores here, I'll take it however I can get it. It seems to be working: the SiVO brand (Hindustan's western market brand) colored pencils have made it into Walmart. Maybe a few SiVO graphite pencils will follow? Then I could have my dream of SiVO-branded Absolutes being available in every Walmart coast-to-coast. Well, that's not my DREAM, but you know...a secondary pencil dream. If you've tried any of the Casemate pencils, Neon, Yellow, or Premium, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Available on Amazon, $6.99 for 2 boxes of 10, both with eraser and sharpener.