Got a Freewrite by Astrohaus? Want to Write a Review?
When the much anticipated Freewrite retro word processor launched last month, I expected that we would soon have the chance to read several user reviews of the $500 glorified typewriter.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.
I’ve spent the morning combing the web, but I can’t find any user reviews. The few reviews I did find were based on a few minutes spent with the Freewrite. Flavorwire, for example, talks about using it, but their piece was based on a brief visit to the Astrohaus offices. It was about as deep as the hands-on report I wrote at CES 2015, and both could do a better job at helping potential buyers decide if the Freewrite is worth the high cost.
So if you have one, or bought one and returned it, I’d like to hear from you.
I’m inviting reviews of the Freewrite, or just comments if that’s what you’re comfortable with writing. Send me an email, or leave a comment, and we can discuss the matter.
For those who didn’t follow every bit of gadget news over the past year and a half, the Freewrite (formerly the Hemingwrite) is a new and expensive take on the word processor. It features a mechanical keyboard, a 6″ E-ink screen, Wifi, storage for a million plus pages of text, and not much else.
It’s running software that is intentionally limited so that the Freewrite can only be used as a word processor. Sure, it can upload your docs to cloud services like Dropbox and Evernote, but the Freewrite lacks even a backspace key or cursors (and I’m not even sure it can download docs, either).
Many writers, including George RR Martin, keep a second computer on hand to fill the same need as the Freewrite. Those machines usually have their connectivity disabled (and most apps deleted) so that the writer can work without distraction.
For example, you could copy the idea of a Freewrite by taking a $150 Chromebook, installing a distraction-free writing app, and then leaving the Wifi turned off. Or, you could get an Alphasmart Neo for $30 on Ebay and use that.
And with that kind of competition, is the Freewrite really worth it?
I would tend to agree with Teleread and say that at $500 the Freewrite is not worth the expense, but then again I have not spent any serious amount of time with one.
I have ordered a Freewrite, and I plan to post a review, but if you have a Freewrite everyone would still like to hear from you.
I have a bunch of questions, but I don’t want to deluge you with queries so let me ask the most open-ended one:
What do you think of the Freewrite?
Mackay Bell March 19, 2016 um 5:13 pm
It’s all about the keyboard for me. If the keyboard was really terrific, it might make sense. Otherwise, as you say, you might as well simply have a laptop with connectivity disabled and few apps for distraction. Battery power used to be an issue, but decent laptops these days have solved that.
And what, George RR Martin has two computers, one disabled from the internet, and he STILL CAN’T GET HIS BOOKS WRITTEN ON SCHEDULE!
Nate Hoffelder March 19, 2016 um 5:42 pm
It’s a mechanical keyboard which uses Cherry MX switches that the KB snobs love for the physical impact.
I don’t really care. I mean, I like working with a full-sized keyboard but I am just as happy with a $5 KB as with a $50 KB.
Sharon Reamer March 20, 2016 um 7:49 am
Your last line was the first thing I thought of when I saw that.
Nate Hoffelder March 20, 2016 um 8:49 am
Karen Ranney March 19, 2016 um 5:48 pm
Sounds like an updated Alphamate. I loved the Alphamate, but it wasn’t even $500.00.
Nate Hoffelder March 19, 2016 um 6:18 pm
Well, I would think that the Alphasmart was better, but the Alphamate looked like it could be handy. Could you use it to take notes?
One key difference from the FreeWrite is that the Alphasmart can be found on Ebay for under $40, and weighs a lot less.
Chris Meadows March 19, 2016 um 6:39 pm
It takes an awful lot of chutzpah to name something costing that much money "Free" anything.
Nate Hoffelder March 19, 2016 um 6:45 pm
Chris Meadows March 19, 2016 um 8:28 pm
"I don’t understand. You expect me to pay for this Freewriter? Isn’t that false advertising?"
Ellis March 19, 2016 um 9:49 pm
The fact that you’ve scoured the internet and cannot find a single user says just about all that needs to be said.
Nate Hoffelder March 19, 2016 um 9:55 pm
I don’t know what it says, other than there aren’t very many units (production was in the low thousands).
Peggy C. March 20, 2016 um 1:42 am
I’m looking forward to your review when it comes, I’ve been doing the same, and scouring the web for reviews. Two points about the Freewrite that make it different to a chromebook and the other solutions you offered, the mechanical keyboard and the daylight readable screen. E-ink is a great idea for a display on a writing device, the more light that falls on it, the clearer it gets, even in direct sunlight. Mechanical keyboards with cherry MX switches are never cheap. I own two and they are world’s apart from membrane keyboards when it comes to touch typing.
KS Augustin March 20, 2016 um 1:47 am
I’m still waiting on mine and hoping the SDK has operated well enough for me to install a backspace/move-around hack. That was always my beef with the Free/Hemingwrite and the creators were, imo, stupidly obstinate about something so basic. I’m also wondering about *downloading* documents to it as well.
Katie March 21, 2016 um 3:19 pm
It’s not even an opinion. They were stupidly obstinate about having an arrow key/navigation function. They lost a lot of backers because of that (myself included). What good is such a device without a navigation function? Even the Alphasmart does that. And it hasn’t limited my productivity at all.
Nate Hoffelder March 21, 2016 um 3:49 pm
I hesitate to use the word stupidity, but what we have here is the situation of an owner planning to program in a basic and obvious feature that the makers refuse to add.
You’re right. That’s just stupid.
Syn March 20, 2016 um 5:34 am
I’M a keyboard snob, I admit it. I love Gate Ron blue switches much more than Cherry blues. Free write uses cherry browns which Is just ok to me.
And for your 500 dollars Nate, you have 30 days to send it back for refund. Also the warranty is only 30 days. Yes that’s right, I have written confirmation this 500 dollar device is covered for 30 days. You might Want to pick up a service contract if you keep it.
Syn March 20, 2016 um 5:36 am
That’s Gateron* blues. My spell checker trying to help me out again and failing.
Michelle Louring March 21, 2016 um 4:24 am
Guess I have been living under a rock(usually I only hide there temporarily), ’cause I haven’t heard about this thing.
My method is connecting a $10 Micro USB keyboard from eBay to my phone(that I hate using for all the things I usually let distract me) and then write in Google Docs. With that small a screen as on this thing, I figure it’s pretty much the same experience in the end.
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[…] post on the Freewrite reminded me that there are more options for distraction-free writing than that $500 retro word […]
Katharine Coldiron April 14, 2016 um 11:58 am
I went to AWP a couple of weeks ago, went to the Freewrite table, and typed on one. I am extraordinarily picky about keyboards, and this one is AMAZING. It’s like a much better IBM Selectric – satisfying, clacky, just the right amount of resistance.
I am a writer, but my writing process means that I have no real need for a Freewrite. I ordered one anyway. The aura (and the feel of that keyboard) was too irresistible. Sadly, it won’t come until July or later, so I won’t be helpful as a reviewer; by then, all the Kickstarterers and many other buyers will have gotten theirs.
Aisha May 3, 2016 um 9:36 am
I just got a text message today that it should be delivered on the 5th. The main reason I ordered it is because I got the super earlybird Kickstarter and because of the battery life. I have a laptop that’s on the way out (it’s about seven years old) and it can barely keep up with the speed that I type not to mention, untethered, I get maybe two hours before it has to be plugged in. In a way, my lappy does help because it’s so slow that even going online is cumbersome so I don’t unless it’s story related and then stop because I want to punch it. I figure the Freewrite shouldn’t be so laggy and I’m hoping, since it’s minimalist in its functions, that it would last for a longer time than me buying a new laptop. …plus, the keyboard! 😀
Borgel May 3, 2016 um 12:46 pm
Sounds like Aisha and I are in a similar boat, though I took delivery of mine yesterday.
It’s a very strange device. It definitely does exactly what it says on the tin, so to speak, but nothing else. Keyboard is great (Cherry MX Browns, so you get what you pay for), screen is fine. Very slow refresh rate, and no control over the frontlight though (it’s on when the device is on, and that’s it). The metal parts of the cassis are AWESOME quality! They feel super super good (as do the switches), but the bottom plate has a strangely hollow feeling. I haven’t figured out how to actually get content /onto/ it, only how to sync it off. If you try to edit the files it produces on another system (via Dropbox in my case) it doesn’t sync them back, they just conflict. There is no charging or battery indicatory anywhere, in hardware or software. You can create new documents in each of the 3 'folders', but you cannot navigate between them. So if you start a new document in a folder…. you can’t ever go back. There are no arrow keys – which is fine for writing early drafts – but also means you can’t really leave yourself notes at the bottom of the document or anything (which I like to do).
Overall, a mixed bag. For a hardware Kickstarter? I’m sorta impressed! Not only did they actually ship what they promised but it fundamentally works too! Though this is more of an MVP level and needs time to mature. I’m waiting with bated breath.
If anyone has questions, holler and I’ll see if I can answer them.
Nate Hoffelder May 3, 2016 um 1:09 pm
Thanks for the early review, Borgel.
I have a question. What is the FCC ID?
Borgel May 3, 2016 um 1:18 pm
Looks like it’s Z64-WL18SBMOD
What are you looking for?
Nate Hoffelder May 3, 2016 um 1:32 pm
That lead me to the FCC paperwork. It also told me that the electronics was designed by Texas Instruments.
Borgel May 3, 2016 um 1:55 pm
Haha, no only that, but it might just be a Gumstix module in a box! In which case it would be supremely hackable. I’ll have to look into cracking it open and having a look inside.
Nate Hoffelder May 3, 2016 um 2:01 pm
Yes. But it’s really not clear whether that is a Gumstix module or if Astrohaus (maybe) copied someone else’s FCC ID. (It happens sometimes.)
If you do open yours, please send me the photos. I’m not the only one who is interested.
David May 7, 2016 um 6:23 pm
Mine is on its way – I’m expecting delivery soon. I see some negative comments in this thread about lack of navigation, arrows, backspace, switching between documents etc. If those aspects are considered a disadvantage, then this product is not for you. It is not trying to be a small computer. Think of it as a typewriter with immediate transcription into electronic form. If that is what appeals, then this product is the right one.
Nate Hoffelder May 7, 2016 um 6:27 pm
I got a request a couple days ago to update my shipping info. I am ever hopeful that this is a sign.
Nguyen N November 28, 2018 um 12:11 pm
The problem is that this device only allows you to draft in one very specific way when there are many different ways to draft (chalk it up to the designers' asinine hipster philosophy on what writing "should" be). If you’re drafting a 100 chapter book and need to reference something in chapter 1 to draft chapter 99, then what?
An alphasmart neo 2 does the job perfectly and only costs $30 on ebay – if you don’t mind not having a cherry mx keyboard or an e-ink screen (the only two advantages the Freewrite truly has over the Neo). If there were a hack to replace the Alphasmart keyboard with a mechanical one, the Freewrite’s as good as dead.
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[…] is usable, this could be a ideal take anywhere writing tool, it would kinda be a better version of the Freewrite, that $500, five-pound retro word processor which many have heard about but few have […]
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thad May 11, 2016 um 8:49 pm
love mine!! see the review in the atlantic, it describes my experience…
The Vintagewriter May 13, 2016 um 3:07 pm
Received the device today – friday the 13-th was a perfect day to receive such device, when all it delivers is a pure form dissapointment.
I even don’t know where to start – two hours later I’m still tinkering with sync PostBox settings, it has managed to crash 6 or 7 times, full reboot required, by holding power button. Writing itself is not better – e-ink screen has terrible lag, and keyboard is overresponsive – a very very ligh keypress is already registered, so I make twice more errors than typing on other devices (with mechanical keyboards, by the way) I will post an in-depth review in my blog soon, but I’m really tempted not to use Freewrite for writing it.
Someone really does not understand what "sync" really means – there is no "syncing", just tansferring files to deopbox, google+ or evernote. No way to get the files back on the device, which is a really big "No" for me.
There is no direct data sync as well – only by Astrohaus managed Postbox account.So, if for one or another reason Astrohaus would cease to exist, you loose all data transfer options.
PC connection not working as well, although it was listed as a possible way for data transfer.
Sorry, Astrohaus, for 500 USD device with only 90 days warranty you could have done better.
If anyone is interested in more details, just drop me a note – however, I hope to finish the review this weekend!
Sebastian Masarani May 20, 2016 um 5:46 pm
Nate, sounds like your a hater. Do you have anything more important that you can accomplish in life other than putting a product down that you have hated from the get go? #toomuchtimeforbs How did that FCC ID checkout?
HillaryJo May 29, 2016 um 7:04 pm
I received the Freewrite as a gift from my husband, it started up well enough, took a bit more than it should have to sync though. The Freewrite boasts that with wifi off and normal use, the battery should last 3-4 weeks. My battery died almost instantly without any use. (I’m in planning stage and wasn’t able to immediately use the device.) After having it plugged in, in three different outlets, the device has yet to recharge, it’s completely dead in that regard.
The design is great, I mean, it’s light and portable, the keyboard is nice – since I’m not a fan of laptop keyboards. It looks like it should be a home-run for people who want a portable transcription device with a sense of design flair, but… clearly, there was no quality testing done here, and given that they had nearly two years to modify this device, I’m skeptical of even getting a replacement since how do I know I won’t get one with another flaw? Youtube videos are already showing syncing problems and key mapping failures – HUGE flaws for writers.
It’s so much so, that for my time and money, I just want my money back at this point unless they can guarantee me a tested, flawless machine with a year’s warranty at the very least.
Needless to say, I’m immensely disappointed. I had very high hopes, I wanted to test the Freewrite against my hand-written work for time differences and I was mailed a dud. If they want to make this right, they need to return my money and fix this machine for me to consider their company a viable enterprise, since they had so much time to get it right originally, they owe the kickstarter backers big time for their defective devices.
Richard September 10, 2016 um 2:57 am
With the greatest respect to the sneering millennials who reviewed this for Mash I don’t think this product is aimed at you.
I’m a professional writer in my mid 40s, I learned my trade on mechanical typewriters and on early word processors. I didn’t get my first laptop until 1996. Now I own a top of the range MacBook and several monitors, laptops etc all of which are used frequently for various tasks, the MacBook lives in my camera bag with the Fujifilm, the iPad and the Samsung galaxy edge and a load of expensive weather resistant lenses.
I also own several typewriters including a Remington Portable from the 1920s and an Olivetti Lettera.
So why is the Freewriter a good idea?
Firstly… The keyboard. What made some mechanical typewriters cost several hundred more than other mechanical typewriters? It was, in part, the quality of the keyboard. Those of us who learned our trade on mechanical typewriters were particular about the typewriter we used because of the keyboard characteristics, the travel of the key, the effort required etc. An experience which has seen many of my generation return to typewriters. In fact I converted my Remington, a machine that us 94 years old, into having the capability to record my keystrokes on an SD card and also to type directly onto a USB monitor by fitting a kit, and much swearing. It’s ingenious but I wouldn’t want to impose it on a coffee shop, the clatter of the machine, the carriage return thumping and the ting' of the bell would have the hipsters of generation Snowflake (as they are becoming known in the UK) reaching for their monkey poo lattes and turning up their headphones.
The makers of Freewriter make a big deal about the keyboard used… I will be interested to try this. You simply don’t get the same typing experience on a MacBook despite its superb keyboard and as for the Apple Magic Keyboard…. Well…
The next point about the Freewriter is the eInk. This means it can be used easily outdoors, it also means the battery life is a million years. To those of us who live in the middle of cities, power is something we take for granted. I do a lot of my writing in the sticks, relying on the ability of my car 12v to charge kit.. A painful process even with kilos of power packs and legions of Camera batteries (modern professional mirror less cameras eat batteries like my lab eats slippers)
The ability to digitize my thoughts without relying on a power supply is a major win, important to me as my handwriting is that of a drunk, limping spider. Yes you can dictate but in my experience the software doesn’t cope with a cigarette and booze enhanced Scots accent.
Then there is the linear nature of working. Something was lost when the word processor emerged. In the mid 1980s I can recall a word processor arriving at the offices of the newspaper I worked at. A large machine with an integrated desk. It was used to write property particulars and to wordsmith ads. No journalist used it. Why? Because these guys were taught to compose in their heads as they worked. You didn’t have the luxury of cutting and pasting. These days, like everyone else I use a WP and it’s a very handy tool for writing reports, studies and editing but the ability to edit as you go can be a curse to a writer who is trying to find their voice.
Lastly there is the price.. There’s a lot of moaning about the cost of this machine. It relatively costs what a quality portable typewriter would have set you back 35 years ago. Those who talk about sticking an old phone to a bit of ply are missing the point. The components, especially the kb don’t come cheap, this isn’t a mass produced item for a mass market like an iPad, it’s aimed at a specific niche, because of this, the manufacturing costs are higher because the production batches will be much smaller. Economics, snowdrops, economics.
I’m ordering one and will give it a whirl. I’ll come back to you…
Secondly there is the
Andrew Lossing December 5, 2016 um 10:49 pm
Any more experiences out there folks want to share? I read the comments with quite a bit of interest.
Also, was that review mentioned in the original post ever completed?
Nate Hoffelder December 5, 2016 um 11:35 pm
Here’s a review:
And here’s a couple more:
Jason Smith December 16, 2016 um 6:48 pm
I think most reviews of the Freewrite miss the boat. Most comments are from people who "would never buy one" (which is hardly a review).
Others complain about the price. But of course, there is nothing else quite LIKE a Freewrite, so it is hard to say what a rare item should cost. Many things cost a lot because they are rare, and that does not make them inherently good or bad.
To me, this thing reminds me of my visits to a monastery. The narrow path. The idea that through limitation comes inspiration. That by doing less, you can go deeper.
It is not a word processor, but a piece of mental exercise equipment. It won’t make you strong all on its own, and just going outside and lifting logs would COST less, but, well, it has its place.
Minimally, it looks very nice on once’s desk. How much do we pay for status symbols? Probably a lot more than this.
Frankly, this thing costs less than the vintage Mac Classic I had restored to enable distraction-free writing. And is easier to grab files off of, to boot.
I think this gizmo is here to stay…popular in the niche for which it was designed, and no other.
Nate Hoffelder December 23, 2016 um 8:05 pm
"there is nothing else quite LIKE a Freewrite"
Yes there is. It’s called Alphasmart.
This was a company which made a bunch of writing devices which are little more than a keyboard and a small screen. I have the Alphasmart Neo, and it is a fun little device which can be bought for less than $30 – less than a tenth the price of a Freewrite.
Steve January 17, 2017 um 8:56 am
I’ve now had my Freewrite for about six weeks. I’ve avoided writing a review until I had time to absorb all that this gadget is and does. Since it arrived, I’ve written about 5,000 words on it, so I’ve now had time to form some opinions.
Yes, it’s expensive. That’s why I dithered around for several months despite lusting after the device from the days of the Hemingwrite kickstarter campaign.
At this point, it’s a simple matter to list pros and cons. The cons are few, so I’ll offer them first. There are three.
Con #1: I mentioned the expense. Damn, Astrohaus. I get it that a Cherry MX brown keyboard is worth at least $100, and I’ll give you another hundred for the bitchin' aluminum case, and another hundred for the guts of the thing, which seem to me about the equivalent of an Amazon Kindle. So, $300-350 seems reasonable to me. $500 isn’t, and aside from weirdos like me who are willing to spend a lot on something because it’s beautiful (And the Freewite is.), I don’t see you folks selling a lot of these things for half a grand apiece, plus another $30 for shipping within the United States.
Con #2*: You may think, gentle reader, that I’m going to mention the lack of arrow keys, but I’m not. Con #2, for me, is that Freewrite doesn’t dump my shitty first drafts directly into the word processor of my choice. Instead, I must copy my text from Postbox and paste it into, in my case, Scrivener. Mind you, this isn’t a big deal. It’s easy to do. But…why? Take the extra step, Astrohaus, of integrating the software into popular word processing applications. Why force the cut-and-paste drill on us? We have deadlines. We’re impatient. Fix this, please.
Con #3: Battery life and charging level indicator. About battery life — it isn’t great. My Kindle Paperwhite’s battery lasts for weeks with the wi-fi on. Why shouldn’t the Freewrite’s battery last as long? There’s a lot of space inside this gadget for a bigger battery, so I suppose weight was a consideration, but isn’t there some software update that could eke a few more hours out of my battery?
And following that, I’d like the ability to monitor the charge level. As it is, the device issues the warning, "Low battery. Please plug in charger." Yet I have no clue how much time I may have left at that point. A minute? Another hour? It would be helpful to see a standard battery graph or charge percentage displayed, perhaps as one of the "special" key options to keep it out of sight until needed.
The pros are many. By far, the best thing about the Freewrite is the Cherry MX keyboard. It’s the best thing I’ve ever typed on, and I’m addicted to the sound and feel of it. I love it so much that I recently replaced my Apple keyboard, which I’ve always enjoyed using, with a Rosewill Cherry MX brown mechanical keyboard, because I want to have the same tactile experience while editing that I get while cranking out a draft on the Freewrite. I expect to use mechanical keyboards for the rest of my life. This discovery alone, and the improvement in the experience of typing, prevents me from regretting the expense of the Freewrite. My fingers fly over these mechanical switches.
This thing is, as I’ve mentioned, a beautiful device. It’s retro look, combined with the sturdy (4 pounds) aluminum case, make it an instant conversation piece, which may be a good thing or not. In my case, I keep it in a laptop case when I’m carrying it in public to avoid such attention. I’m not the "hipster" type some reviews have mentioned, and I don’t sit around in coffee shops with this thing, though if that’s where one writes, so be it. Anyway, it’s a good-looking machine that serves as a cool desk ornament when I’m not using it.
Overall, the acquisition of a Freewrite device has been a boon to my writing life, and if I accidentally dropped the thing into Tampa Bay today, I’d order another immediately.
*The inability to stop and edit is integral to the concept of the Freewrite, and _it works._ I’ve just about doubled my daily word count using this clunky, gorgeous monstrosity, and I’m thrilled. If I were constantly going back to edit myself, as I’ve had the bad habit of doing for so very long, I’d still be trundling along at the glacial pace at which I’ve always worked. This device enforces a Damn-the-torpedoes approach to writing that results in an amazing word count and the inability to delete "bad ideas" as one types them. It’s all in there, and you can edit it later.
Steve January 29, 2017 um 7:22 pm
I wrote a review. Find it here: https://steventhomashowell.com/2017/01/17/six-weeks-with-the-astrohaus-freewrite/
Nate Hoffelder January 29, 2017 um 7:30 pm
Robert J. Sawyer May 19, 2017 um 6:09 pm
Very useful initial post and comment thread, folks. Thank you very much. I’ve been a fan of these sorts of devices for decades — I own a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100, Epson Geneva PX-8, Tandy WP-2, and others. I was initially quite tempted by the Astrohaus Freewrite because of its modern Wi-Fi connectivity (and do recognize the quality of its keyboard), but ultimately did as many others have, and got a used Alphasmart Neo 2 (which connects via USB), for a tenth the price. Liked the Neo 2 so much, I picked up a second one to keep in the car.
Nate Hoffelder May 19, 2017 um 6:45 pm
Thank you, Robert.
Indira July 6, 2020 um 11:06 pm
Astrohaus is a SCAM!
This company/ product FreeWrite is a scam. Please save your money. I paid over $380 on pre-order in the fall of 2019. It’s now summer 2020 and I still did not receive my order. I’ve reach out to them to no avail. This is just a hack for a company or a person to get money, I do not recommend. They will take your money and give you nothing. Buyers beware.