About 18 months ago I backed a Kickstarter for the Hemingwrite, a distraction free electronic typewriter. This weekend I got back from London to find that it had arrived. I set about unpacking it with considerable excitement. I wasn’t disappointed.
The Freewrite, as it is now called, is basically a keyboard and a small e-ink screen inside a rugged metal chassis. It even has a carrying handle. It reminds me of an old-fashioned manual typewriter, albeit one with a modern twist. This machine connects to the cloud and stores your writing there.
The basic idea is that you can get down to writing with no distractions. You can’t surf the net. You can’t answer emails. You can’t play games. All you can do is write.
It’s just you, a keyboard and your words.
I’ve tried various modes of distraction-free writing in the past but they all suffered from the fact that I was using them on a laptop. The world of internet jiggery-pokery was merely a button switch away.I could always reconnect if I wanted to. With the Freeewrite, all I can do is carry it somewhere and just write. It’s what I am doing now, in my local Costa.
The Freewrite is striking looking rather than beautiful. The designers have gone for a retro-futurist look that makes me think of 50s motor cars– all metal and fins. It’s basically a keyboard in a metal case with a big red power button and a couple of dials. One of these controls the folder your work will be saved to. The other is for connecting to the internet. Buck Rogers probably typed his reports on something similar.
(The strikingness of the design has just been confirmed by the way. People keep coming up to me in the coffee shop and asking what the Freewrite is.)
It’s made of rugged plastic and metal– aluminum I think. It weighs about 4 pounds. It’s not as light as a modern ultrabook but it’s not heavy and it feels solid. I am not sure I would like to carry it around by the built-in carrying handle simply because I would prefer not to expose it to the elements but I certainly could.
The Freewrite is obviously going to live or die by its keyboard. Fortunately, this is beautiful. It’s a Cherry Keyboard with actual switches underneath each key instead of the modern pressure pad arrangement. The only modern laptops that can compare to it are a few very high end, very heavy gaming rigs. In some ways, it takes me back to the days of my youth, when machines like the Commodore 64 had proper keyboards that were a joy to type on. No worries here then.
This is a backlit e-ink screen of the sort any user of Amazon’s Kindle will be used to. It updates a little slowly, particularly when you reach the end of a screenful of text but this is what I would have expected. It serves its purpose.
The writing area is about the size of a large smartphone screen where your text appears. There’s a smaller area fenced off below where various other bits and bobs of information can appear such as your word count, a clock or a timer. You switch between these using the special button on the keyboard.
Astrohaus claims a battery life of about 3 to 4 weeks between charges. Unfortunately, this is calculated using the same weasel marketing-speak logic that Amazon uses for the Kindle. It will last for those 3-4 weeks if you write for half an hour a day. By my non-marketing department calculations, that means a battery life of 10 to 14 hours. Why not just say that? Oh yes, it sounds way less impressive. Still even 10 hours is a goodly amount for the purposes the Freewrite will be used for.
I’ll let you know whether it’s a true amount after I have tested it. The Freewrite as far as I can tell lacks a battery indicator, which is an oversight, I think.
The other big selling point of the Freewrite is that it connects to the cloud and saves your writing there. You can use Dropbox, Evernote or Gdrive for this.
In order for this to work you need an Astrohaus Postbox account. This is not a problem. You should basically get one when you order your Freewrite. Once this is set up, all you need to do is connect to the Internet and you’re good to go.
Connecting to the net is a doddle. On the right side of the Freewrite is a three position switch. This sets your wifi to off, on or new. If you choose new, the Freewrite scans the local networks, you choose one, type in the password if needed and you’re good to go. This has worked perfectly for me so far. And that’s really it.
Your files are stored in plain text but by some odd quirk marked as docx when downloaded. This is a sensible enough decision given the fact that most people will probably be opening them up in Microsoft Word but it’s a bit annoying to those of us who use markdown and would prefer them to be just plain .txt.
The Freewrite is really bare bones. There is no cut and paste. There are not even arrow keys for navigating your documents. The basic idea is that you will sit down and write your first drafts and then edit them somewhere else– Word, Evernote, whatever.
It’s a very different, very old fashioned way of writing, really rather like using a typewriter. It works.
Would I recommend the Freewrite? If you are in need of what it offers, yes. It is expensive for what it does but it comes from a very small company trying a very radical thing. I certainly intend to integrate it into my workflow. I’ll report back in a few months on how well it has performed over that time. Well done, Astrohaus. You have delivered.
Here’s a link to some pictures!
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