Astrohaus Freewrite First Impressions

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.

Appearance

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 Keyboard

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.

The Screen

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.

Battery Life

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 Cloud

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.

Distraction Free

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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Comments

  1. Need a photo of the Freewrite, please!

    • I was going to upload one from the Astrohaus kickstarter, Carrie but I was not sure as to the copyright situation if I used it. I am in the office just now and the Freewrite is at home so I can’t take any myself. If I had been thinking this would have been better organised but unfortunately I was at the dentist this morning and the anaesthetic was wearing off as I came into work. Things are all a bit confused at the moment :).

      Updated 2016-05-10– Here’s a link to some pics, Carrie.

  2. Damon Richard says:

    It does look very 60’s sci-fi-ish. Like something a “futuristic” hacker might use.

    Pretty neat. Now if only it could make all the other distractions go away. 🙂

  3. It does look like a old style computer with a small screen built in to it like the ones seen on Tomorrow’s World.

    If it came with a tough plastic cover you use to get for electric typewriters back in the 80’s then it could be more portable and protect it from the elements when traveling.

    BTW the link to the freewrite is in the 2nd paragraph, just click on the underlined freewrite to see more info on it (with pics)

    • The typewriter cover is exactly what I thought the Freewrite needs, Cameron. Just something that slides over the keyboard part. The rest of the case is metal on top or very rugged plastic on the bottom.

  4. George Douglas says:

    Having taken a look at the Freewrite, I have to admit it looks cool in a ’60s sci-fi way. It seems to combine the best of both worlds – lightweight, offers no distractions, no running out of ink, no jamming keys and has the ability to go back and delete. I do love typewriters – I own a beautiful old Hermes Ambassador – and it’s nice to see that they’ve come back into style, but with a modern twist.

    • Hey George, I always loved the look of typewriters but hated writing on them. Corflu, cut and paste in the very real sense, having to retype pages if they got too untidy -no,no no! Word Processors were the best thing that ever happened as far as my writing career was concerned. The Freewrite does seem to marry the best bits of both. I’ve done some experimental typing on it and coming back to my MacBook Pro was a huge letdown. And the MacBook Pro has a great keyboard by laptop standards.

  5. Alberto says:

    There is no cloud, it’s just someone else’s computer. Freewrite puts hyphe on freedom, but then it forces you to store your work into an unknown, misterious, little-if-any-guaranteed system. It depicts free thinkers and poets writing masterpieces in National Parks and faraway seashores, but the machine pretends to be used only in Starbucks, malls and other wi-fied places. Bummer.
    Moreover for me EUROPEAN being forced to give my work to an USA based system is not freedom, sorry.

    • I think the Freewrite is very much a work in progress, Alberto. I have had one or two issues myself but the team does seem to be addressing them. In the long run, I think it will end up being useful.

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