Introduced at the 2013 NRA Convention last May, Beretta’s new Pico is a very small concealed carry semi-auto initially chambered for the .380 ACP, with a .32 ACP version scheduled to follow. A caliber conversion can be accomplished by merely swapping barrels, which will be offered by Beretta as accessory items. Like many recent guns of its type, the double-action-only Pico has a polymer frame and a stainless steel slide and barrel, but it also provides several features not commonly found on other pistols of its class.
The Pico follows Beretta’s successful introduction of the slightly larger 9mm Nano in 2011 and shares many of the Nano’s design characteristics, but not all. Unlike most small DAOs, the Pico is fired by a conventional hammer instead of a striker, has restrike capability and does not have a magazine-disconnect safety. By contrast, the Nano is striker-fired with a slide-activated pre-load and does not have a restrike trigger mechanism. The Pico’s DAO system does not store any energy until the trigger is pulled, eliminating the potential of accidental discharge if the pistol is dropped.
When the Pico trigger is pulled, the trigger bar rotates the hammer to the rear. As full trigger travel is reached, the chassis cams the trigger bar out of engagement and releases the hammer. The hammer travels forward under tension and strikes the firing pin. The firing pin travels forward under inertia. After the firing pin reaches its full forward position, the firing pin return spring rebounds the firing pin to a neutral position. Thus, the Pico does not require any drop safety built into the trigger itself to stop the trigger from traveling rearward should the gun be dropped onto a hard surface.
The Pico has the same cam-ramp, tilt-barrel, recoil-operated mechanism any John Browning fan will instantly recognize. When the pistol is fired, recoil energy causes the barrel and slide assembly to move to the rear. After a short distance, the barrel is forced down and stopped by the operation of the barrel cam and disconnect pin interface. The slide continues its rearward travel under inertia, extracting the fired case from the barrel and kicking it out through the ejection port. The recoil spring then pushes the slide forward, feeding the next cartridge from the magazine into the chamber. Continued forward movement causes the barrel cam to raise the barrel into its locked position.
Beretta makes something of a big deal about the fact the Pico’s barrel only tilts up 1.4 degrees when the handgun is fired, which is claimed to increase feeding reliability for cartridges coming from the magazine into the chamber. Company engineers will also tell you that felt recoil is notably reduced because of this minimal barrel tilt. I can’t really speak knowledgeably to the physics involved on that point, but I do know that the Pico was remarkably pleasant to handle and quick to recover on target in my firing review, even with the hottest .380 loads.
Like the Nano, the Pico’s slide is designed to remain open after the last round has been fired. Unlike the Nano, however, the Pico employs a very low-profile slide-release lever for closing a locked-back slide, while the Nano has no external slide latch lever at all (requiring the slide to be pulled to the rear and released). The only way to lock open the Nano’s slide is by putting an empty magazine in the gun and pulling back the slide. The external slide catch is snag-free, adds no width to the gun and can be engaged manually to lock back the slide without a magazine.
The Pico has an easily removable single-column magazine that allows for rapid reloading. Standard magazine capacity is six rounds. Each Pico comes with two magazines, one with a flush-fit basepad and one with an extended basepad hook that allows an all-fingers grip on the gun. The magazine-release lever is fully ambidextrous and operates by a straight-down (not inward) push from the thumb of the firing hand, meaning it cannot be accidentally released from grip side-pressure or a misplaced finger on either side of the pistol.
The Pico’s grip frame is constructed from the same glass-fiber-reinforced technopolymer as the Nano, with rounded, snag-free surfaces to ensure trouble-free holster insertion and extraction. The ergonomic grip design features an optimal grip angle for sight alignment. It looks more “straight up and down” than the classic Model 1911 angle, but the deep curve of the upper rear part of the grip is contoured such that, in my hand, it points just as naturally for me as does a 1911. Both the front and rear grip surfaces feature a comfortable textured surface to ensure a firm hold.
The Pico also has what I consider to be “real” sights. Unlike many other small .380s, the high-visibility three-dot “Interchangeable Low Profile” system is designed for quick target acquisition and a crisp sight picture. The rear and front sights can be easily removed by a (supplied) 1.5mm hex wrench for replacement with other types (or heights) of sights. Trijicon is providing night sights for the gun, so standard — or tritium — sights will be available as factory options.
The Pico is one of the smallest, lightest, thinnest concealed carry .380s in existence. It’s less than three-quarters of an inch thick, with no protruding buttons or levers. It weighs only 111/2 ounces empty, including the flat-base magazine (a birthday-party helium balloon will float it). Overall length is 5.1 inches, and its height at the rear sight (with flat-base magazine) is just four inches. The Pico leaves no excuse for ever answering “No” to the question, “Is that a pistol in your pocket?”
The mechanical heart of the Pico is its stainless steel internal subchassis, which is the only serialized part of the pistol. This means, under federal law, that this little steel parts-mechanism holder is the only part that is actually defined as “a firearm” and is the only part of the Pico that is regulated by law. Not the barrel, not the slide, not the grip frame. This means that any other component can be exchanged or customized without affecting the serialized part. So you can swap barrels and have a different-caliber “gun.”
And you can swap grip frames. Entirely. Just by following the detailed instructions in the owner’s manual. Don’t like black? How about Flat Dark Earth, white, pink or even purple? Beretta offers them all as aftermarket accessories in three different styles. Want a laser? A weapon light? Beretta has designed two other types of Pico frames in cooperation with LaserMax. One integrates a laser; the other integrates a white light. By integrating the laser and the light into the frames themselves, the result is a much smaller and more carry-convenient package than an external accessory-rail laser or light could ever provide.
The Pico is designed to be fieldstripped quickly and simply, thanks to that well-illustrated owner’s manual, which also includes clear instructions for more advanced disassembly as well. Reassembly is easy and basically intuitive, since incorrect reassembly is, essentially, prevented by the distinctive, simple design. However, what you don’t want to do is go fiddling around inside the serialized subchassis or screw around with the trigger pull, because that will void the warranty.
The Pico is designed for unobtrusive carry, featuring a low-profile slide-release lever and a width of .725 inch.
A Pocket ProtectorI put our review sample through its paces as soon as I opened the box, firing a series of groups at 50-foot, street-width “defense distance” and reviewing its ballistics with five commercial .380 loads commonly used in small, concealed carry .380s. How did it shoot? Like you’d expect any Beretta to shoot: accurately and reliably. For a point-and-shoot, close-up crisis pistol, I’ve always figured that being able to dump a full magazine into a coffee saucer shooting unsupported at about 25 feet in a hurry was more than good enough. The Pico beat that standard in spades.
How did it handle? Very comfortably. The recoil-spring tension was less stiff than many other small pistols, making the slide easily operable for shooters of lesser hand strength without diminishing functional reliability at all. The grip fits my average-size hand naturally, and its sleek, projection-free profile and sides make it ideal for inside-the-waistband or inside-the-pocket CCW holsters. I personally prefer the extension-pad magazine for a full-hand grasp, but even with the “deep concealment” flat-pad magazine, the ergonomic configuration and mild recoil make the Pico easy to grab and shoot.
Made entirely in the USA (the “BU” in the official model name stands for “Beretta USA”), the Pico is scheduled to begin shipping to dealers in the fourth quarter of this year. In addition to the two magazines and the owner’s manual, each gun will ship with a soft-sided, zippered carry case and safety lock. For such a small gun, the Pico offers a surprising set of features at a very reasonable cost. And for not much additional cash, an owner can have a few extra frames; laser or weapon-light capability; night sights; or even swap calibers.
I liked the Beretta Pico better than I expected to. It is a minimalist concealed carry tool, no frills, no protruding levers, no bells or whistles. It’s slim and sleek in the extreme, with a clean, smooth trigger pull. It’s as convenient to carry as your wallet. When its $399 MSRP translates into real-world street price (once the world returns to normal), it’s going to give all the other palm-size .380s on the market a real challenge. I’d definitely carry it.
Oh, about that name. “Pico” is not Italian for “little,” though it might as well be. “Pico” is actually the internationally recognized metric prefix for one-trillionth of a unit (10 to the -12th power), as in a “Picometer.” A “Nanometer” is one billionth of a meter. So, in the world of science and engineering, a Pico-unit is one size smaller than a Nano-unit. And now you know the rest of the story ….
This review was originally posted by Dick Metcalf