Back in the heady (and pre-pandemic) days of October 2018, Facebook recommended a sweet, distraction-free writing tool, called the Freewrite Traveler by Astrohaus. The Traveler is portable, like a small laptop, and boasts mechanical keys for a tactile typing experience and a small E-Ink display.
As I'm unable to resist the lure of anything writing-related, I backed the Freewrite Indegogo campaign and looked forward to receiving my Traveler in the summer of 2019. That summer came and went, and the Traveler never shipped. It's the summer of 2020, and I'm still waiting.
I attended a writing conference in March of 2020, and Lo and Behold, the Freewrite team had a booth displaying their wares. Being a ball-buster from South Philly, I decided to head over and hassle them about the Traveller's delays. I could tell by their weary replies that I wasn't the first person to question them about the constant date slippages. Even worse, they didn't have a Traveler demo model. What they did have was their older product, The original FreeWrite.
While I was at the booth, I decided to give the Freewrite a quick test run--this was about a week before the country shut down for COVID, and had known that was about to happen, I wouldn't have touched the germ-infested thing! I didn't spend much time with FreeWrite, but I was immediately impressed with how solid it felt both in weight and while typing.
A few weeks later, the pandemic caused another delay with the Traveler. When I saw that Astrohaus was running a deal on their original Freewrite, I decided to order one to give it a try.
I've had the FreeWrite for a few months now and figured it was time to write a review. I recently wrote a review for the Neo2, another distraction-free writing tool. I may do a comparison review in the future since both devices strive for the same distraction-free experience with wildly different results, but for now, let's focus on the Freewrite.
The Writing Experience
My favorite feature of the Freewrite is the keyboard. For those of you who hate those crappy, laptop keyboards that provide no sound or feedback when you type, the Freewrite is for you! The Freewrite has a mechanical keyboard made of Cherry MX Brown switches that go clickity-clack, annoy those around you, and make typing an enjoyable experience!
But, there's a caveat.
For some bizarre reason, there's a delay between the keystroke and what appears on the screen. It's the slightest of delays, but dammit, it drives me crazy when I'm typing. As someone who looks at the screen while I write and not my fingers, the delay drives me crazy. When I use the Freewrite, I have to train myself not to look at the screen.
The Freewrite is a solidly constructed and feels like it could take a beating. The body is durable aluminum, and it's heavy when you compare it to today's laptops. It has a handle on the top, but I wouldn't take it out to a cafe, maybe if it had a cover to protect the keys or a case. There's no way that it will fit comfortably into my Nutsac. Of course, Astrohaus will sell you felt sleeve for the small price of $50, but I doubt that would make it any less awkward to haul around.
Considering its typewriter-like design and weight, I don' think Astrohaus intended for writers to take the Freewrite out into the world. That's probably the impetus for creating the portable Traveller.
Still, I've done a lot of writing with the Freewrite sitting comfortably on my lap. It fits nicely on a desk, and it delivers a pleasant writing experience if you can deal with the delay. The E-Ink display looks tiny at first glance, but I don't notice the size after a minute of writing. The screen is easy on the eyes, both with or without the backlight. Even better, it's easy to see in direct sunlight, which is where most laptops fail.
The Cloudy Cloud
The Freewrite can connect to your wireless network for cloud storage. Also, the Freewrite has three folders where you can store your files locally. The Freewrite boasts the ability to store over a million pages of writing, but please, don't write books that long! Fantasy writers, I'm looking at you!
If you don't want to store your writing in the cloud, you can connect the Freewrite to your computer with a USB cable to access your files.
Freewrite uses a cloud service called Postbox. I've had mixed results with it. For instance, whenever I try to log in with Safari, it often will not load the page. I've tried it on Firefox and have received messages about lost connections. You can sync your files with Google Drive and Dropbox, but from what I can tell, you still have to sync to Postbox first. It gives me a headache just thinking about it.
The Final word
My overall impression of the Freewrite is a resounding, "Meh." It has a few things that I love about it, mostly the construction and the keyboard, but it lacks in so many areas. It doesn't have arrow keys to allow you to move through your document or a spell checker. I get that it's a distraction-free tool meant for pounding out your first draft. The Freewrite accomplishes that, but for the hefty price of $549, it contains almost none of the quality of life features that the Neo 2 had over 5-10 years ago. And the fact that you can get a Neo2 for $40-$50 for almost the same distraction-free writing experience minus the mechanical keyboard makes the Freewrite hard to recommend.
As I write this, my Freewrite Traveller still has not shipped. The current forecast is Fall of 2020, but I have a gut feeling that I'm going to be waiting a long time. In the meantime, when I need a distraction-free writing session, I'm more likely to reach for my NEO2 than my fancy-schmancy Freewrite!