For the past few days, I’ve done all my daily writing, which is extensive because I’m both a freelance writer and an indie author, on Astrohaus’s marvelous writing device, the Freewrite.
The Freewrite was designed to be the perfect drafting tool. It won’t let you go online or check Facebook or Tik Tok or YouTube. It won’t let you go back and edit your writing. It only allows for forward movement through a first draft.
I’m pretty sure I’ve fallen in love with my Freewrite, but today I want to focus purely on the physical aspects of the machine.
The Freewrite has a unique design, to be sure. It looks like a manual typewriter, straight out of the 1960’s or 70’s. But it isn’t old fashioned when it comes to technology. The Cherry Mx Brown mechanical keyboard is a dream to type on. The screen is e-ink and glorious. It auto-syncs over wifi every few seconds, so you never have to worry about losing your work to a freak accident.
So what do I love about the outward design of this retro writing device? What bugs me about the design? Let’s look at different aspects of the Freewrite’s design and talk about what I see as pros and cons.
The Freewrite’s body is mostly seamless, black aluminum. There are little sparkles in the paint finish. The overall design is purposefully simplistic, fitting with the theme of distraction-less writing.
Pro: The body is sturdy. When I first took my Freewrite out of the box, I knew I’d purchased something sturdy and well-built. Nothing about this machine feels flimsy or cheap, which is what you’d expect from something that costs north of 500 dollars.
Pro: The plastic base is sturdy (as well) and rubberized. The only part of the body that isn’t aluminum (except for the keyboard, of course) is the bottom base, which is white plastic. From the product photos, I’d assumed that, if any part of this device would be cheap or flimsy, it would be the base. Boy, was I wrong. The plastic is thick and hardy, and it is rubberized, making it fun to feel with your fingers and, more importantly, nonslip. That way, your Freewrite doesn’t try to slide on a table or counter as you type.
Pro: Let’s talk about the handle. This feature, which many users probably will rarely use, myself included, is a delightful added detail. The handle is firm and snappy, so it stays tucked in when not in use. And it’s perfect for carrying your Freewrite around, especially if you want to turn heads and show off that you’re a serious writer.
Pro: This thing just looks and feels premium. You know how MacBooks just look carefully crafted and premium? I have a Surface Pro and it is the same. (In fact, I like Surface products better than Apple ones, but that’s a discussion better suited for another time.) Well, the Freewrite is that level of premium in look and feel to me. You immediately know that someone put a lot of care into this thing’s design.
Con: The Freewrite isn’t light and it’s a bit bulky. Okay, so while I’m comparing it to a Macbook or Surface Pro, I have to say it: The Freewrite is heavier than any laptop you’ll ever own, and it takes up a lot more space. It is the size and shape of a classic typewriter. If that’s a deal breaker for you, well, there you have it.
Con: There is no clamshell protective cover. The Freewrite took a lot of hints from the manual portable typewriters of yesteryear, but there is one design feature I find is missing: a cover for the keyboard and screen. I throw my Freewrite into my backpack and take it to the coffee shop, and I’m constantly afraid of damaging it. I wish there was an optional clamshell plastic cover you could snap on, like many old manual typewriters had.
Buttons and Switches
Aside from the mechanical keyboard, which I’ll get to below, the Freewrite only has one button and two switches. There is the red power button at the top, a switch to define what of the three folders you’re writing in, and another switch to turn on and off the wifi.
Pro: The buttons and switches are also metal and sturdy. Astrohaus could have cut corners here and given us a cheap, plastic power button and switches. But they went that extra mile. I have zero fear of the folder and wifi switches falling apart any time soon.
Pro: A minimalist design. When deciding what buttons to add, the team at Astrohaus could have opted for so, so many options. But all those options were disregarded in favor of a minimalist design. There is not a single word or switch that isn’t completely necessary, making the Freewrite as simple and distraction-free as possible.
Con: Might I accidentally turn this thing on? Okay, I know I’m getting nit-picky, but this is my review and I’ll say what I want. The red power button is in what I guess I can call a recess in the external shell of the device. So you have to push with a finger to turn it on. Great, but I still have this fear of turning it own by accident when I put it in my backpack. In fact, just the other day, I came home from the coffee shop where I do most of my writing, and I must have had the Freewrite turned on in my backpack as I walked. I ended up with a few thousand K’s added to the end of one file. I don’t know if just forgot to turn the device off when putting it in my backpack or if it somehow was turned on while I walked.
Ah, the screen. I could talk/write for hours about the Freewrite’s screen. It’s just the right size, and it’s a high-contrast, low power e-ink display. The screen is actually divided into two, the main screen and a smaller, secondary screen, where extra information can be displayed, such as a running word count.
Pro: The e-ink is beautiful. I first discovered e-ink screens last year when I bought my first Kindle, a Paperwhite with a screen that just begs to be read. The e-ink screen of the Freewrite is just as glorious.
Pro: The screen resists glare. A side, perk of the e-ink screen, as opposed to LCD, or whatever they put in laptops these days, is the ability to go outside to write.
Remember outside? That place people used to enjoy visiting, before the sun started causing glare and getting in the way of our watching cat videos on YouTube? Yeah, you can write at a local park bench on a pretty day, if you want. How great is that?
Pro: The backlight front-light is optional. Of course, you may also want to write in the dark. I love having the option of a lit screen, but, to tell the truth, I keep it off most of the time. I love having the option to turn the light off, saving battery and giving the e-ink that natural look I love to see.
Con: The screen has ghost letters from time to time. When you’re typing away on your Freewrite, you may notice the ghostly remains of past lines of text from time to time. This is annoying, although you can just switch to a new folder and back. This forces the screen to refresh and the ghost lines/characters disappear.
Con: Okay, the elephant in the room, the constant delay. Because the e-ink has a refresh rate much slower than just about any other screen out there, you are going to experience a delay between what you type and what you see on the screen. Most of the time, the delay doesn’t bother me all that much, but when I mistype a word and backspace to correct, I often backspace either too much of not enough, because of the delay, causing me to mistype the same word a few times before I remember to be patient and make corrections slower than I normally type. If you’re trying to keep up with a certain rate of words per hour, this can get frustrating and will slow you down.
Of course, you could decide to leave any and all errors for the editing stage, and truly FREEwrite, but that’s totally up to you.
Ah, now we get to the star of the show, at least in my opinion. The keyboard on the Freewrite is clean and white and clicky, sporting Cherry Mx Brown Switches.
Pro: The keys are a complete joy to type on. You won’t buy this device if you don’t like mechanical keyboards, Cherry Browns, to be exact. You’ll spend more time interacting with the keyboard than any other part of the device, since you have to (duh) type to write anything.
For me, these keys are the bee’s knees. They beg to be typed on. As a result, I write more daily than I ever have in the past. I also produce more words in a single session than before.
Pro: The keys are snappy and clicky. If you’ve spent a lot of time around keyboards, as writers often do, you’ll know that all keys and switches are not created equal. That’s even (or, perhaps, especially) true when it comes to mechanical keyboards.
These keys are crisp and clean and snappy. They are the keyboard equivalent of biting into the first Pringle chip from a fresh can. that crunch is satisfying, isn’t it?
Con: Okay, and yeah, the keys are a little loud. If you plan to write a particularly curmudgeonly library, you may get some stares, and you might even be asked to leave.
I have to be honest. I read other reviews of the Freewrite before buying one, and, from the loudness complaints, I thought this keyboard would sound like a marching band on steroids. So, with my expectations set so low (or high, depending on how you look at it), I was pleasantly surprised at how “not that loud” the keys are. That said, there is a constant clickity-clack. On my model, for some reason, the space bar is louder than all the rest of the keys, which does irritate me at least twice a writing session.
There are dampening rings you can buy and add under the keycaps. I haven’t tried them, but I’ll probably do so one day soon.
Con: The Keyboard is unprotected. Okay, I know I already whined about this above, but it is something I think about a lot. there is no protective case that fits over the Freewrite. I’m afraid the keyboard will get damaged one day. Especially with me walking around with it in a backpack.
Right now, the keys have hardly any wobble. They are well-made. But that could change is they get knocked around in my backpack. Is an optional case too much to ask?
Okay, I’m getting off the soapbox now. I promise.
So, all in all, at least for me, there are a lot more pros than cons for this writing device. I’m convinced that the Freewrite doesn’t just give me a better writing experience; it will help me produce more words in my first month owning it than any other month of my life.
As for the design, the focus of this article, the Freewrite is well-built and excellently designed. It’s sturdy, promising to last a long time, and it will always turn heads when I’m at the coffee shop, typing away on a new novel or blog post.
After thinking, and writing, deeply about the Freewrite’s design, I’m more convinced than ever that it’s the perfect writing tool for me.
What about you, dear fellow writer? Well, you’ll have to make that decision for yourself.