A few days ago, I made a post on Facebook about a new device, the Freewrite, I received this past week.
That device is made by an indie company called Astrohaus.
I have been able to spend a decent amount of time with the device, though, admittedly, far less than I have wanted, due to being so ill these past days. That being said, I do think I have the ability to give a review of the device, especially since a lot of folks asked for it after I made my post regarding it.
Let’s get a couple of things out of the way real fast.
First, the version of the Freewrite I received is the ISO or international version. This means the extra keys )Alt GR, pound sign, etc) are there, as well as the different placement of keys, and the shortened shift key on the left side, and reverse L shaped Enter key.
When I made the purchase, the ANSI, or American version, was sold out until at least June, and I did not really want to wait for it, assuming I would have not much trouble getting used to the keys.
This has been the case, as my fingers reprogrammed themselves pretty well to the new key placements and, though my first night spent with the Freewrite resulted in some errors, as time has gone on, they’e become fewer overall.
I am sure as I spend even more time with it, I will be as reasonably error free as I am with any standard ANSI keyboard.
Next, the top reason I bought the device was strictly due to my visual acuity.
For those not aware, I am legally blind. I was born with a genetic defect called Keratoconus, which is a malformation of the corneas. They are more of a pyramid shape than an egg shape, as normal eyes would be.
This leaves me very hard-pressed when it comes to writing, because I will usually have troubles with either seeing the screen or being able to do any kind of flow properly due to the limitations of the device I am using.
Take, for example, my PC. It works great, and is a powerhouse machine, but it does not serve my writing well, because in order to see the screen in any way, I must get within inches of the screen. This leads to exhaustion pretty rapidly, especially if I am doing a lot of typing.
Okay, with those things out of the way, let’s proceed to the specifics of the device and my review of it overall.
The Freewrite is NOT a computer. It is designed and intended for one thing only: drafting words. It is specifically engineered with the old style of using a typewriter to put words on paper in mind, and it does that task exceedingly well.
It has a large E-Ink screen, instead of LCD, and the back light on it is a soft white, instead of the usual harsh white or even green I have seen on some other devices out there. The E-Ink lends itself well to the idea of the device, and I think it was a good way to go.
The Freewrite is NOT capable of surfing the internet, getting on Facebook, checking your email, or anyh of the other assorted tasks your PC, Phone or Laptop can do.
This is, again, intentional. The device was designed to be a distraction free work environment and, with a laptop, phone, etc, you encounter the distractions in a big way.
Let me put things as best I can for you. Our brains are designed to do tasks well, but the same part of the brain that works with the flow of our creativity is the same part of the brain that helps us to stop ourselves from being distracted. With that being said, if you are on a laptop, computer or other “thing” and you know you COULD get on Facebook, check email, or what have you, you will actually be using some of your energy to KEEP YOURSELF from doing it. That’s energy that could be better spent toward crafting something better, story wise, right?
Also, with a device dedicated solely to writing, you quickly train your brain to know that when you sit down and turn that device on, you’re going to write. You go instantly into “writer mode” and start pouring words onto “paper.”
With one of your other devices, again, you have the ability to do other things, so your brain is always thinking there is something else it COULD be doing and that adds to yet more distractions you have to fight against.
The best way I can put this device is that it is a throwback to old school typewriters with a modern twist.
The Freewrite does have WiFi capabilities, but they are used for a specific purpose. It is there simply to get the words you have written off of the device and into a format you can make use of elsewhere.
When first setting the device up, you input your email address and user information. This is then transmitted to Astrohaus and used to set up your account through them. This account is done through a website they have established called “Postbox.”
When you have WiFi turned on, the device will connect to your Postbox account and automatically sync up what you are writing to your account, stored in a document there. Each time you start a new document on the device, a new one is correspondingly created on the website.
You can then set your Postbox account to do a few different things with that data. You can simply have it be a dumping site, which you then go to with your browser and copy and paste all of what you wrote into your favorite word processing program to start editing. (Personally, I used Scrivener and can’t swear by it enough)
This alone would be find, but they go a step further. You can also have the site automatically upload the document to Dropbox, Google Drive or Evernote, or all three, if you desire.
Now, notice I said above “copy and paste it for further editing?” There’s a reason for that.
The Freewrite is NOT an editing device. It is for drafting ONLY and if you go into the device expecting anything else, you are going to be disappointed.
They go with the idea that many, MANY, authors ascribe to (myself included) write, get it all out, and edit it later.
The process of editing takes away from the process of creating and you will have a hard time doing both at once. The Freewrite relieves you of that burden of deciding which to do by simply erasing one of them altogether.
Again, for my style of writing, it works amazingly well, and it does for most other writers that use the device, but your mileage may vary. It’s dependent upon you and how you write, entirely.
Another nice feature is a Send button at the bottom area of the keyboard. Again, if you have your WiFi on the device turned on, hitting that button will automatically send a backup of the document you are currently working on to the email address you have programmed into the device.
As you n see, there are many different ways they have integrated backing up and saving any and all fo the data you’ve created. They even have a USB cable you can attach into your computer and have it back up the files directly to there, if you wish.
Folks, I have to tell you, this alone was a big selling plus for me. I don’;t know if you have ever suffered the loss of stories, but I have, multiple times. I’ve gone through three periods in my life where everything I had written previous to that point was gone, destroyed, lost to the ether, and it DEVASTATED ME. I can never get back what was lost and, though I would love it if I could, it’s just never going to happen.
So having something like this, where everything I write is automatically backed up to multiple locations and services? Heck yes. I will jump right on that.
The Freewrite has 3 different folders, connected via a switch you can flip on the top of the machine, so if you have, say, your stories in one folder and your articles you write in another, it’s easy to separate them away from each other for organizing. You could even use the third one to store your ideas or story outlines.
Okay on to the meat and potatoes of it all.
The Freewrite has a mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX keys. This is a pretty standard format, but, for those unaware of the differences,, this type of keys have no audible “click” when you hit them, but they do have the noise of a key being pressed. In other words, it’s quieter than a standard mechanical “clicky key” type of device. I have one of those on my computer, a Black Widow Ultimate keyboard with illuminated keys. The Freewrite is almost dead quiet in comparison.
The keys, themselves, are extremely responsive. It does not take much pressure at all to get the key to acknowledge it was pressed, and, in fact, for the first couple of house of use, I had a good amount of errors while my fingers slid across the keys. I’m used to being able to do that with the Black Widow, and the extra responsiveness of the Freewrite took my fingers a little bit to get used to.
Now that I am, however, I do find myself actually a lot more productive with it than I am with the Black Widow, or my Alphasmart Neo2, which I used for a few months before getting the Freewrite.
It;s a very satisfying experience for me in regards to the key presses. With the Cherry MX format, as well, each key is designed for over a million key presses, so it should not be an issue lasting for a while.
So, here i find myself more productive with the machine, and I have yet to even get used to using the ISO format, as well? I’m in love!
The Freewrite is designed to be portable, so you can take it wherever you want to go. It has a battery life they claim will last a month, with “average use”. This is actually one I will ding Astrohaus about, because, for them, average use is considered about 30 minutes per day. For the average author, that’s just barely enough time to get into the swing of things.
Real world experience, I can charge the thing up (it takes about 3 hours to go from drained to full) and use it for a week without a problem. Again, however, your mileage may vary with this one, depending on how much in the day you write or want to use it, AND also whether you keep WiFi on while you write, or not.
If you do decide to turn it off while writing (I do), when you turn it on next, it will sync anything it has in its memory to the cloud for you, so you do not have to worry about losing anything.
As I said earlier, the E-Ink screen is VERY nice to work with, at least for me. I do not have to squint at all to see it, if I am close enough, unlike all other devices I have used. This is, for me, a massive plus. My eyes tire extremely easily, and the less I have to stress when I am writing, the better. I do not walk away from the Freewrite feeling like I just gave birth, and I do not feel I have to take a day or two off after using it to recover.
If I have to Give it a Con…
There is one con to the E-Ink type of screen with this type of device however, and I want to mention it for the sake of being honest with all of this.
There is a very minor delay between when you press a key and when it shows up on the device as a change. This is a restriction in the way this type of screen works, and for those of you that have used e-readers before, you know what I am meaning. There’s a small delay in the changes made to the simulated paper.
Now, this is a non-issue for me, except when I am attempting to delete a large amount of characters. It’s not very intuitive and might cause you to go too far back before realizing you have done so.
However, this is really only a problem if you are attempting to go back a large number of characters and it, otherwise, probably not really going to be noticed, unless you type extremely fast. I usually type 50-75 WPM, and can do more when I am really in the flow, and I do not notice it much. Again, though, for the sake of clarification I thought this issue should be mentioned.
There is a status bar sort of thing below the e-ink screen the words go into. This status bar can be configured to show a few different things. My preferred option is to show the amount of words in the current document, the amount of reading time the reader might take to get through the document, and how many characters have been pressed thus far.
You could also choose to show a timer of how long you have been writing in the current session, the current time, where you have your documents set to back up to, and a few other things.
It’s not elaborate but it can be a handy bit of reference and its presence is appreciated.
By the way, as for internal storage, the Freewrite, according to the manufacturer, has an upper limit of around a million pages of data, so there should be no issue with space any time soon.
The casing is made of a nice aluminum and the feet on the bottom have been rubberized to keep slippage to a minimum. The whole thing is quite solid and I have no worries about it keeping its integrity for a long time to come, especially considering I have no plans on taking it with me anywhere. It will remain in the spot I write in, and that’s about it. Again, though, your own mileage may vary with this.
The only true Con I can give the Freewrite so far is there is no apparent way to see when you have pressed the Caps lock key. There have been a couple of times where I did not notice for almost a paragraph or a few sentences that I have accidentally pressed the thing, and I have to decide to leave it for later edit or take care of it then.
The company is constantly working on the firmware for the device, however, and I am expecting this will be added to that status bar in the future.
So, with all of this being said, would I recommend this device?
I am going to go with the answer of “It Depends.”
The Freewrite is not cheap. Right now, the cost of it is at the $500.00 mark and, though I expect it will get cheaper as time goes on, it’s still quite the outlay,. It took many months of penny saving for me to afford to get it and, even with that, it was still a big hesitation on my part to decide to get it.
I am definitely satisfied with my choice and I know I will certainly get my value from it as time goes on.
For my specific needs, it was a Godsend.
However, again, that is primarily because of my vision problem, and if you are simply looking for a distraction free writing device that is as basic as you can get, there are a few other options out there.
I mentioned the Alphasmart Neo2 earlier, which I used for a few months and was happy with, other than the way the screen on it worked. For getting the words out, however, it definitely worked a charm, and might for you too. It’s also extremely cheapo, with the ability to find it in the $20.00 range on Ebay and Amazon.
The next “depends” for the device is how your own writing style works.
As I mentioned earlier, there is really no editing with the Freewrite.. There are no arrow keys to get you back up to a previous point to edit, though there are page up and down buttons to let you read what you’ve written before.
That lack of editing is enough to throw some people off, but if you write like I and many other authors do, with placing words on the page and just going on until you’re drained, that lack of arrows is not an issue.
If you have OCD or other issues like it, where knowing a letter is out of place or an extra couple of keys got pressed will keep your brain distracted, then the Freewrite is probably not for you.
The Alphasmart Neo2 and other similar devices would probably suit you better, since you can edit with those machines.
All in all, for this writer, the Freewrite was a great choice, and I have absolutely no regrets in getting it.
In another article, I will do a side-by-side comparison, as well as my own usage stats, of the various Alphasmart (Neo, Neo2, Dana) and the Freewrite by Astrohaus.
Until then, keep writing, folks!
(By the way, this whole article was written on the Freewrite in less than an hour)