Although the second generation version of the Freewrite distraction-free smart typewriter has been available for several months already, I realized that in that time I failed to officially note the presence of this update to Armchair Arcade‘s readership. As described in my review of the first generation version of the Freewrite, this unique product is a fantastic way to minimize distractions and get down to the business of writing. The second generation version is not only available in an additional color (Limited Edition cream), but also features several key improvements. These improvements include double the already super long battery life of several weeks and tweaks to the similarly already superb Cherry MX Brown-based keyboard.
While this is by no means an inexpensive device, it is a premium offering, and definitely a worthwhile investment if you fancy yourself a writer. This is a great tool for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), poetry, short stories, or any other type of writing where you want to generate a lot of content with as few distractions as possible.
COUPON: Get 5% off an Astrohaus Freewrite or Traveler by using coupon code ARMCHAIR at checkout
What’s old is new again? There used to be a product called the Alphasmart Dana, with the same “distraction free” feature. (https://amzn.to/2pGAgf5)
Unlike the Freewriter, the Dana used Palm OS as the OS, and embedded a customized version of the Wordsmith word processor from Blue Nomad software. Wordsmith was the best word processor for Palm OS, with a full feature set and all of the editing features normally required. (I ran it on my Palm devices with an external keyboard.) It saved to RTF files, which could be imported into MS Word on the desktop. Normal operation involved using Palm Hotsync to get documents to/from the desktop. I stored documents on an external card, and simply popped the card into a card reader and did direct transfers.
The Dana *had* arrow keys, because you *could* edit. While Wordsmith made it possible to *create* documents on the Palm device, my usual use was editing of documents already created on the desktop while on the go.
I look at things like Freewriter and wonder who the intended market is. The full sized clicky keyboard is a plus. The eInk screen is battery friendly, and readable outdoors, (but so were LCD screens if you could turn off the backlight entirely.)
File storage as plan text has the advantage of being readable by just about anything, but has the disadvantage of being plain text. Want markup? Add it after the fact.
Every writer has a different workflow. This would have been a good product for the late Isaac Asimov, who was a 120 wpm touch typist. Isaac composed and edited in his head, and submitted first drafts because they said what he wanted to say. I’ve encountered too many other writers who can’t do that – they must edit and revise while composing to get a coherent manuscript. Freewriter’s “compose only/edit after in something else” simply won’t work for them. *Most* folks I know need to edit as well as compose, and want products that do both. (There *are* a class of text editors intended as distraction-free – boot them up and you get a full screen display with a cursor. No menus, toolbars, or the like – just type. (But basic editing features are there and a keystroke away if needed.)
And since this product seems intended for on-the-go use, the amount to be carried becomes an issue. If you are on the go, you likely have a laptop or Chromebook. You’re going to carry this *too*? I doubt it.
My current solution for this sort of thing is a 10″ Android tablet. I use it with an external keyboard. There are a variety of word processors, text editors, and tools intended for writing in Markdown for Android, some of which are free and open source. The tablet is used in local mode, working on locally stored files, with Wifi normally off. And Androids “one thing at a time” orientation means distractions are minimal. And my solution casts about a quarter of the Freewriter sells for.
I wish the folks behind Freewriter the best, but the question is “Are there *enough* folks who need this to create a profitable product?” I tend to doubt it, but since this as another iteration of an extant product, I may be wrong.
I’ll respond to this in a bit of reverse order…
I think the market for this is definitely small (niche), but sizable enough to be profitable. The original Kickstarter was a big success and they’re already in a revision 2 on the hardware. You generally don’t do that if you’re in trouble. There’s also talk of the company expanding into other areas, like a cost-reduced, lighter model that forgoes the mechanical keyboard and weighted base.
I don’t think this is really meant to be taken along with other stuff. You basically take this to write and perhaps your phone. It’s a completely different mindset than a lot of us are used to. It’s very focused.
The point of this device is to edit on some other device. This is more of a brainstorming, just write type of mentality. Again, most writers would have to adapt to this, not the other way around. It’s probably a better way to write some type of content (mostly non-fiction), but does require some adjustment. I know I’m a writer who often tends to agonize over every word/sentence. This type of device can break you of that habit.
As I pointed out in the review, there were tons of these types of devices in the past, but nothing that I’m aware that is still actively produced and has a modern workflow/support. All of the past solutions require some type of hack/compromise to integrate into a modern workflow. In any case, as you say, the star here is the nearly full-size mechanical keyboard, which, paired with that heavy base creates a dream of a typing experience. I love mechanical keyboards, but even the best ones I currently use don’t feel quite as substantial as this unit does.
And yes, it’s definitely pricey, even with the $25 off coupon. You can also write distraction-free in other ways (see this article I wrote for TechRadar for some examples: https://www.techradar.com/news/can-apps-really-eliminate-distractions-and-help-you-focus). Again, though, this is its own thing. I don’t think it can QUITE be compared to anything else before it.