Standard vs. Portable Typewriters

How to solve the old fashioned writer’s dilemma

Davis Wilton Bader
Nov 21 · 6 min read
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Photo by Felipe Furtado on Unsplash

My fingers are typing on a MacBook Pro, but my mind is on my typewriters. I have two: a 1958 Olympia SG-1 (standard), and a 1946 Royal Quiet Deluxe (portable).

Even though both of these machines have the same basic function, to print words to paper, they offer very different writing experiences. It made me wonder — Is one better than the other?

The Dilemma

“Which kind of typewriter should I get?”

The first thing I recommend to anyone that asks me this question is to decide between a standard or portable sized typewriter. I liken it to choosing between a desktop computer or a laptop. There are pros and cons to each.

There are also ultra-portable (aka laptop) style typewriters worth considering, but I don’t own one to give you first hand knowledge on. I also think that either standard or portable laptops are a better machine to start with, especially if you’re a dedicated writer looking for a daily creative companion.

Unlike some in the typewriter community, I am not a collector.

Even though I am fascinated by these old machines, and I have played around with dozens of models I see in thrift shops, I prefer to only buy things that I will use. These are my tools that I use on a daily basis.

As a result, I only have two typewriters. My goal is to help you choose one.

The Typewriters

Standard vs. Portable — My Olympia SG-1 next to my Royal Quiet Deluxe
Standard vs. Portable — My Olympia SG-1 next to my Royal Quiet Deluxe
Standard vs. Portable — My Olympia SG-1 next to my Royal Quiet Deluxe

While matching an Olympia SG-1 up against a Royal Quiet Deluxe is hardly a perfect comparison, I find that these two models each represent their class well.

They’re both described as workhorses that provide pleasant typing experiences. They’re each rich in features for their time. And, both typewriters have avid fan bases that argue they are the best typewriter models ever made.

However, we’re not here for the similarities. Let’s take a look at the differences between standard and portable typewriters worth considering.

The Obvious — Size

In corner number one, measuring 19.5 x 16 x 8.5" (W x L x H) and weighing a mighty 40 pounds; it’s the pinnacle of German typewriter engineering, it’s the green machine, it’s… the Olympia SG1!

And in corner number two, measuring 12.5 x 11.5 x 5.5" (W x L x H) and weighing a mere 12 pounds; it’s the proud American, the glass key king, it’s… the Royal Quiet Deluxe!

The most inherent difference between standard and portable typewriters is their size. Standard machines are larger in both dimension and weight.

This is important, because the size of machine you choose influences just about every aspect of the typing experience you will have on them including…

Portability

Ask yourself: do you want to take your typewriter places?

Even in the midst of a pandemic, you may find yourself wanting to take your typewriter to the park, outside a pub or to a coffee shop.

Portable typewriters are more… you guessed it.

Most portable typewriters like this Royal Quiet Deluxe are not only small enough to easily carry, they often come with a case. A good case makes transporting that much easier and it offers added protection to your typewriter.

If you are a stationary writer, like me, a standard (aka desktop) typewriter may work perfectly for you. I bought the Olympia SG-1 specifically to keep on my desk as my go-to typewriter. All it takes is lifting this thing once to realize it’s not fun to move.

Cost/Maintenance

One would think that because standard typewriters have more parts and cost more to make, they would cost more to buy.

However, these are old machines that are almost always getting bought second hand. This means the price of a typewriter is more often reflected in their functionality and in how much they are desired.

Because portable typewriters are more popular, and becoming less and less available, they are becoming more and more expensive. It has gotten to the point that just standard and portable typewriters cost about the same, even with some standards costing less.

The other thing to consider is maintenance costs.

Because standard typewriters are often older, replacing their parts can be more challenging and more expensive.

Even with this generalization, the age of the typewriter is what effects the maintenance fees more than the make itself.

The Typing Experience

Both the Olympia SG-1 and the Royal Quiet Deluxe are high quality, snappy typers. That being said, they offer very different typing experiences.

Standard

While a standard typewriter like the Olympia lacks in portability, it has a sturdiness that no portable machine can possibly offer. On the right surface, a desktop typewriter will not move on you. As a result, you will have unbeatable confidence when typing.

Standard typewriters also put your paper at eye level, setting you up for better neck and back posture.

The rise of the keys on a standard model are often steeper, meaning that moving from one letter to another may require more effort. However, because standard machines have more space afforded to them, the mechanics are often smoother, resulting in a fast and responsive type.

That size often means more noise. Unfortunately, there is hardly a quiet standard typewriter, and the Olympia SG-1 is no exception.

The Olympia SG-1 is the most feature packed typewriter out there. It has everything, including a fighter jet-like paper injector shift, multiple line spaces, an 8-gear key sensitivity adjuster, multi-tabulator, fraction keys, and so much more. It even has a key for an exclamation point (you laugh, but the RQD doesn’t). Portables rarely have this kind of versatility.

Portable

In contrast, portable typewriters can be taken anywhere, meaning that your typewriting experience can occur wherever you’d like.

This can come at the expense of stability, as the lighter weight allows the machine to move on smooth surfaces. This is easily fixed with a good typewriter mat, which I recommend no matter what kind of machine you go for.

Unless your desk height can be adjusted, portable machines often require you to look down at them. This can mean bad neck and back posture that over time can become strenuous.

In the case of the Royal, “Quiet” is this typewriter’s middle name. It’s pretty amazing, actually. Something about its build, mechanics, and platen make this quiet enough that it can barely be heard behind a closed door.

The Quiet Deluxe has more features than most machines, including its infamous Magic Margins, but it doesn’t have anywhere near the control or functionality of the SG-1. This is the case for most portables compared to their standard counterparts.

Final Thoughts

Is one model better than the other?

I would be hard pressed to choose between my Olympia and my Royal. As a standard model, the Olympia is my daily typer. I use it much more these days than the Royal, but the Royal was my first machine and I can take it anywhere.

They each serve better under certain circumstances, which is why I decided to buy a portable and a standard typewriter.

My goal wasn’t to tell you to buy both, though, was it? How about this workaround:

Get a portable first, then move on to a standard model if you want. Portables come in a wider variety of styles, are easier to integrate into your daily life, and are simply fun to type on.

At the end of the day, any typewriter is better than no typewriter.

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Davis Wilton Bader

Written by

Guitarist (Lumet) and writer based out of St. Louis, MO. DavisWiltonBader.com

The Innovation

A place for a variety of stories from different backgrounds

Davis Wilton Bader

Written by

Guitarist (Lumet) and writer based out of St. Louis, MO. DavisWiltonBader.com

The Innovation

A place for a variety of stories from different backgrounds

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