35 years after the birth of the laptop computer and 25 years after Wi-Fi was invented, someone finally may have built the ultimate word processor.
The Freewrite, which was called the Hemingwrite when it was introduced to the world in a very successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2014, is a portable mechanical keyboard with a small e-ink display on it. You can save your documents directly to Freewrite’s onboard storage, but it also has Wi-Fi connectivity that allows you to save to the cloud. Dropbox, Evernote, and Google Drive are supported at launch, with iCloud coming soon.
The thing you can’t do is browse the web, and that’s by design. It’s just you, the Freewrite, and a blank piece of e-paper.
The thing you can’t do is browse the web, and that’s by design.
At a time when our gadgets are supposed to do everything, the Freewrite may seem like a technological step backward. For most people, the prospect of spending hundreds of dollars on a throwback device seems foolish. But if you’re a writer, you probably get it. Writers are a sensitive lot; it’s why they move to remote cabins. With all the distractions on the Internet, sometimes it’s hard to exercise self-control. Exhibit A? All those open browser tabs. They make writing on a web-connected laptop as easy as trying to meditate in a casino.
“We are quickly seeing people becoming more disenchanted than ever with the nag of constant consumption,” explains Adam Leeb, cofounder of Freewrite manufacturer Astrohaus. “Everyone, particularly the millennial generation, understands that we now have to fight for our own attention from the outside world. Instead of allowing it to be a general purpose computer, we focused on one purpose, making the best possible writing experience.”
The experience starts with a full-size mechanical keyboard, one built on top of wonderfully clacky Cherry MX Brown switches. Right above it, a smartphone-size e-ink display. It’s a durable machine, with an aluminum body and an honest-to-goodness handle that flips out from under the display. You don’t need to upload to the cloud; you can also save “over one million pages” of documents in plain text format to the Freewrite’s internal drive.
Just Your Type
Freewrite weighs four pounds—about halfway between the weight of the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro. But you won’t need to bring the Freewrite’s charger to the coffee shop, because get this: It gets more than four weeks worth of battery life from a single charge.
That unbelievable battery life is due in part to the low-power e-ink display and in part because the Freewrite isn’t always connected to the web. Its Wi-Fi controls are entertainingly analog: There’s a little switch to the right of the Freewrite’s display that lets you turn connectivity on and off, as well as another switch to the left of the screen for selecting your target folders for saving documents. Leeb says those analog touches help make the machine immediately intuitive. There’s no extensive setup process.
“We tried to push as much configuration off the device to keep the writing experience as pure as possible,” Leeb says. “The steps to get to writing are as simple as opening the box and turning it on.” When it comes time to sync with the cloud, Leeb says, the user simply connects to Wi-Fi and inputs their email address. All their writing uploads to the cloud and will sync from that point forward, until they disconnect.
One thing that’s missing from the Freewrite experience is a built-in printer, although it can be configured to work with an external printer, according to the Freewrite FAQ. Of course, many old-school word processors had built-in printers, but Leeb says the user experience would have likely suffered. “We didn’t feel comfortable introducing the first smart typewriter to the world AND building a printer that isn’t terrible.”
Cool as it sounds, the Freewrite’s $500 price tag seems about $200 to $300 too high. According to Leeb, that’s due to the fact that the company used high-quality materials and name-brand components—things like the aluminum body, Cherry MX keyboard, and E-Ink screen. The high price and narrow use case will certainly limit the Freewrite’s mainstream appeal, but he’s hoping the machine develops a cult following. With nearly $350,000 pledged by more than a thousand backers on Kickstarter, the potential is clearly there.
“As a professional quality tool, it’s not for everyone,” Leeb admits. “But once people experience using a dedicated writing tool like the Freewrite, the value will become clear.”