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The Hemingwrite Wants to be Your Retro Word Processor on the Go

hemingwrite 2 Up until my younger brother disassembled it, one of my cherished possessions was an Alphasmart Neo. Powered by AA batteries, this keyboard-sized word processor was a handy way to take notes in meetings where I wouldn’t be allowed to open a laptop (or lacked a table to put the laptop on.)

The Neo came to mind again today when news of the Hemingwrite crossed my desk. This gadget wants to pick up where the Neo left off and be a portable word processor with weeks of battery life.

Sporting a 6″ E-ink screen, the Hemingwrite has Bluetooth, Wifi, a 78-key keyboard, storage for a million plus pages of text, and not much else.

The mechanical keyboard is designed to offer a satisfying tactile feedback when your fingers hit the keys, and thanks to the Wifi users will be able to sync their work with their favorite cloud apps (Evernote and Google Docs integration will be supported, at a minimum).

It’s a pretty cool idea and while I am not sure that it will have much market success, the prototype looks great:


I have yet to see one in person myself, but according to the website the switch on the right above the keyboard lets you turn the Wifi on and off, while the switch on the left lets you choose one of three local folders to store your work.

As you can see from the fact that a prototype exists, the Hemingwrite has been under development for some time. It only broke cover in September, and really only started getting attention last week when it was selected as one of the finalists for the Engadget Insert Coin Contest. (I heard of it via MobileRead.)

The Hemingwrite will be on display with the other finalists next month at Engadget’s conference, Expand NY. I plan to be there and get a first-hand report.

So what do you think?

I think it’s a pretty nifty idea, but as I sit here writing about it I can’t help but remember that the Alphasmart Neo can do pretty much the same thing (aside from the wireless connectivity) . What’s more, the Neo weighs less and can be had for under $30 on Ebay.

I’m not trying to poo-poo the Hemingwrite; I think it has a much more practical design than the Fusionwriter I wrote about a couple weeks ago. But I also don’t think there is much of a market for the Hemingwrite, not when there’s a cut price competitor (not to mention the comparably priced and more capable laptops on the market).

I would buy one, in a heart beat. But I also know that I don’t really have a use for it.


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William D. O’Neil October 19, 2014 um 7:25 pm

Approximately a million years ago (in the mid 1980s) I had a similar gadget. It had a Z80 chip, ran CP/M, weighed about 6 lbs, and had only 64kB of storage. Did I mention that it cost more than $2k in a day when that wasn’t pocket change?

But I was traveling all the time and crude and expensive as it was, it was a lifesaver then.

Today? I wonder. How about a small tablet with an add-on keyboard for travel?

If you’re going to be using it for serious writing in a more stable environment the Cherry MX key switches make a big difference. (Blue is the one you want.) A PC keyboard with them will set you back enough to make the Hemingwrite seem a bit less expensive. Still it seems like a pretty narrow niche.

fjtorres October 19, 2014 um 9:00 pm

Keyboard quality is going to determine whether this sinks or swims.
It’s a niche product but if the keyboard is good enough it’ll find its little corner of the market.

Kaz Augustin October 20, 2014 um 4:07 am

Yes, with meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

CJ October 20, 2014 um 8:14 am

I agree. The keyboard feel and speed to screen are paramount in a device like this.

David William Edwards October 19, 2014 um 7:26 pm

I’ve been a huge fan of the Neo and found it great for just firing it up and start writing. Never having to worry about operating system, saving files, etc. However, the major market for the Neo was for teaching keyboarding in the classroom. It was also used for administering tests. I’m not sure a device just being marketing as a writer’s tool has a chance. Having a mechanical keyboard is a big plus, but the design seems odd. The Neo’s use of a button each of the 8 files seemed much better. These little switches seem odd and prone to breaking.

Thomas October 20, 2014 um 1:45 am

I remember back in the eighties, some journalists were claiming that dedicated word processors were going to take the place of PCs. They mostly sunk without a trace.

I don’t really see a dedicated portable word processor having much luck now, either. For a portable device, most people want the one that can do the most things. This is just too limited.

Tristan October 20, 2014 um 2:54 am

That’s pretty neat. I wonder how much it would cost. I could see myself getting one if it were around $300 or less. More than that and I don’t know if I could justify the price. Looks like the perfect thing for George R.R. Martin, though…

Are there any e-ink tablets that you could pair with a Bluetooth keyboard? The Apple wireless keyboard and an e-ink tablet would be just about the perfect writing setup for me.

Loïc October 20, 2014 um 8:17 am

As the demand for such a product is bound to be really low, it would probably be expensive (lack of economies of scale). So far, the only advantages this got over a cheapo laptop is:
– battery life
– no multitasking
– proper keyboard ? (no chicklet)
These are hardly enough to open a whole new market. But I cannot see any advantage over the existing used and cheap standalone word processors. Am I missing something?

Basem October 20, 2014 um 11:31 am

Nice idea but that screen is too small, though it is OK for note taking (it also looks bulky and heavy). If it is to be a dedicated and distract free typewriter, then a 10 inch e-ink screen would be better; may be a transformer type device, like Asus first introduced, but with an e-ink screen. I think a device like that is possible for under $300.

Nate Hoffelder October 20, 2014 um 11:39 am

Small, yes, but the 6″ screen is the cheapest option (unless they actually have the same screen as on the Voyage, in which case it’s the most expensive option).

Basem October 20, 2014 um 12:44 pm

Yes, but they can cut costs by going for e-ink pearl with a high contrast 167 ppi and no frontlight (see, e.g., the entry level Kindle). In other words, keep it functional and work on e-ink refresh and ghosting issues. A 10.1 inch 167 ppi, with no audio, is very much possible with a decent enough docking keyboard. If customers want something more, than a premium option can be offered.

Basem October 20, 2014 um 11:36 am

Forgot to add that this is a genuinely innovative product.

Also, it may be a niche product but I can see there being enough demand for a small company, to make this work; providing they specialise in these type of products and don’t take on other devices.

Loyd October 20, 2014 um 1:08 pm

The big attraction here is eliminating the distractions. Of course an author who wants to go retro can buy a $30 pen, an $8 bottle of ink and a $3 notebook. It’s hard to beat that on price or for the fewest distractions, it’s silent, highly portable and never needs recharging.

Natalie Goldberg insists on using a pen for creative writing in her seminal work: Writing Down the Bones. Several modern, noteworthy books were written with pen and ink (it slows production but produces a different product) and even NaNoWriMo has an unplugged division. Naturally the author has to get it digitized at some point but little thinking is required at that stage.

The Rodent October 20, 2014 um 5:07 pm

Finally! An e-ink gadget with a real *keyboard* so I can take it into the jungle for weeks without needing a battery charge. The key factors are: e-ink for super-long battery life, big memory, modern connectivity, all packaged with a usable-sized keyboard. Probably a niche market, but I would anticipate some people really liking this combo of features.

The Hemingwrite Retro Word Processor Hits Kickstarter ⋆ The Digital Reader December 10, 2014 um 3:52 pm

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Spouky December 18, 2014 um 9:02 am

$499 and less writing options and files slots than my Ebay $35 Alphasmart Neo… No way I will buy it.

It will last 20 years? Exactly another reason not to go for it because within 5-10 years it will probably become uncompatible with newer Internet protocols…

This company will be dead within 3 years once first fans drop them.

If one is too lazy to plug a Neo USB cable to a PC for files transfer, than I guess he will be too lazy to write a book.

Nate Hoffelder December 18, 2014 um 9:11 am

Did they actually say it would last 20 years?

That’s nonsense; the battery won’t last that long, nor will the electronics or the screen. (And you’re absolutely right about the internet protocols).

And I think you’re over estimating how long the company will be around; my guess is that the Hemingwrite will be effectively abandoned about a year after it ships. This was created for such a small niche that there won’t be enough sales to keep development going for much longer than that.

Zamiel December 27, 2015 um 12:21 am

Problems with the Hemmingwrite:

* No arrow keys. No way to navigate around and make minor corrections. Even someone who is completely forgoing editing during their first draft might want to go back a bit without deleting to correct an important typo. This is a big problem with Hemmingwrite.

* No local connection to save files. The ONLY way to get your data off of the Hemmingwrite is to upload to the Hemmingwrite Web Service, which then sends it off to your Dropbox. If Hemmingwrite goes under, there will be no way to access your files. They’ll be stuck on the Hemmingwrite. Yes, there’s a USB port, but they’ve confirmed it’s only for charging; It doesn’t handle data transfers at all.

* Battery is a concern. It’s a rechargeable device and gets a few weeks from a charge, but that battery will wear down eventually. Then what? You’re going to have to hope you can get it replaced. Meanwhile, most of the alternatives use AA batteries and last longer.

* The price is outrageous! $350 – $400 for this thing seems way too high, especially when alternatives exist for much less. The Hemmingwrite screams "hipster accessory" with that high price tag.

* Availability is questionable. As of this writing, the darn thing has yet to ship to backers, and this is a year after people threw $400 at the Kickstarter. They’re outsourcing the construction to some factory in China, and must wait for units to be fabricated and built, and then shipped to the backers. I’ve seen way too many Kickstarters send a belated product to backers, and in most of these cases the product they got didn’t live up to expectations.

It’s a neat idea, but they did SO much wrong with it, I can’t justify getting one. If they’d delivered a device that uses standard rechargeable AA batteries, has a USB connection so you can transfer files locally without being dependent on WiFi or the company’s web service, and has arrow keys on it, then priced it somewhere around $150, they’d have my attention. As it stands, this is a toy for people who have $400 to burn, and I fear it will become a pretty paperweight after the company folds or moves on to something else.

Nate Hoffelder December 27, 2015 um 7:55 am

Yes, there are a number of shortcomings in the design.

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