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The Freewrite Traveler is a retro word processor that’s fatally ahead of its time

The Freewrite Traveler is a retro word processor that’s fatally ahead of its time
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The Freewrite Traveler is a retro word processor that’s fatally ahead of its time

The Freewrite Traveler is a retro phrase processor that’s fatally forward of its time

Gadget crowdfunding is nice for fulfilling area of interest calls for. Most individuals, for example, would by no means purchase a $599 Wi-Fi-enabled typewriter. However in 2016, a Detroit-based startup referred to as Astrohaus proved that not solely might such a factor exist, however it could possibly be a pleasant and unusually satisfying system. Now, Astrohaus is attempting to seize the identical expertise in a smaller and extra handy bundle — however sadly, its {hardware} can’t again that promise up.

Astrohaus is the creator of the Freewrite, a chunky phrase processor with a contemporary mechanical keyboard, wi-fi syncing choices, and an E Ink display. At this time, the corporate begins transport the Freewrite Traveler, a lighter laptop-like different. The Traveler is briefly discounted to $429, however it is going to in the end retail for $599, the identical worth because the Freewrite. For that worth, you get a 1.6-pound pocket book with a single objective: letting you kind phrases and ship them to a Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote, or devoted Freewrite cloud storage account.

If the unique Freewrite is a high-tech typewriter, the Traveler is an up to date AlphaSmart or Psion Collection 5. It’s simply large enough to accommodate its full-sized scissor-switch keyboard and low-power display, about half the width and weight of a 13-inch MacBook Professional — sufficiently small to slot in a reasonably sized purse.

The {hardware} feels gentle however not fragile, with a black plastic high that’s a magnet for fingerprints however closes firmly over the brilliant white inside. Its unobtrusive design feels extra like a late-’00s netbook than a contemporary laptop computer, and that’s really a welcome change from the fragile glass and steel slabs I’m used to carrying.

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I obtained an authentic Freewrite for Christmas a number of years in the past. Whereas it’s billed as a distraction-free expertise for all types of writing, I principally take pleasure in utilizing it to jot down fiction with out the temptation of self-editing. (Full disclosure: I didn’t write this evaluation on a Freewrite or a Traveler.) Most of all, I hold coming again to Astrohaus’ strong and distinctive design. It’s removed from needed, however it’s a intelligent and well-made splurge for people who find themselves simply actually, actually into phrases.

The Traveler has two key benefits over the Freewrite: it’s simpler to hold, and you should use it in public with out feeling criminally pretentious. In any other case, its writing workflow is fairly related. Paperwork are organized into three folders, so you possibly can swap between three drafts at a time. If you happen to’ve turned on the system’s Wi-Fi, it is going to periodically sync these to a cloud storage inbox which you could entry from an peculiar laptop. You too can hit a “Ship” key to electronic mail your presently energetic draft to your self as a wealthy textual content file. It’s practically seamless and infinitely simpler than transferring an precise classic phrase processor file to a contemporary laptop.

The Traveler provides a few new software program options — primarily the choice to maneuver your cursor round a doc, slightly than forcing customers to both erase errors with the backspace key or forge straight forward like they’d do on a standard typewriter. It’s nonetheless inconvenient sufficient to discourage heavy modifying, and you’ll’t copy and paste textual content, solely insert or delete phrases. But it surely’s useful for going again to repair typos or add a thought to an earlier paragraph.

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The interface doesn’t really feel fairly as elegantly easy as earlier than. The cursor is managed by hitting W, A, S, or D along side one of many “New” keys, which is a barely unusual mixture when the keyboard contains extra intuitively labeled “particular” and “alt” keys. (I learn the right mixture within the handbook and it nonetheless feels incorrect.) The unique Freewrite used a satisfying bodily toggle to swap between folders, however the Traveler makes use of three tiny buttons that don’t point out which draft is presently energetic.

The Traveler doesn’t have the luxurious heft of the unique Freewrite, both. Its scissor-switch keys really feel completely nice for a laptop computer — particularly in case you’re used to Apple’s shallow butterfly keyboard. However they’re not as a lot enjoyable to hit because the Freewrite’s Cherry mechanical switches. In the meantime, its light-weight design is nice for carrying, however it doesn’t sit as firmly in your lap.

The general Traveler expertise feels, effectively, like a ‘90s phrase processor as an alternative of a typewriter. It’s somewhat extra sophisticated and rather less charming. However its attraction would nonetheless be clear, if not for one factor: the display.

The Freewrite’s E Ink show has at all times been a trade-off. It’s decrease distinction and has a a lot slower refresh charge than an LCD panel. (To get a way of the delay, think about typing on a desktop laptop with its reminiscence overloaded.) But it surely lets the system final for weeks on a single cost, and in case you’re a proficient touch-typist — mainly Astrohaus’ exact goal demographic — it’s possible you’ll not want to look at the display when you’re typing anyway.

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Even by that commonplace, although, the Traveler feels particularly compromised. Astrohaus eliminated a backlight that was constructed into the unique Freewrite display, and in low gentle, you’re caught peering at a dim gray-on-gray window. In the meantime, the unique matte end has been changed with a pane of extremely reflective plastic, so utilizing it in vibrant directional gentle is sort of as dangerous.

Astrohaus says it lower the backlight to maintain the display skinny and the value down, which is smart, since $599 is already pushing the higher limits of reasonability. However the restricted display undercuts the take-anywhere promise of its new design. The Traveler will get its specific job finished, however it usually doesn’t really feel good — and for such an costly, specialised system, that removes a serious a part of its attraction.

With a greater display and a completely lower cost, the Freewrite Traveler can be an ideal little experiment in single-purpose electronics. Because it stands, it’s an attention-grabbing experiment, however one which Astrohaus simply can’t pull off with its present technical limitations. The Freewrite Traveler might have retro attraction, however paradoxically, it feels fatally forward of its time.

Images by Adi Robertson

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