Astrohaus Freewrite Traveler Review: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
I'll admit it. When I'm into a hobby, I'm always all in. Whether it's writing, painting, guitar, or art, I take my hobbies seriously. When I'm into something, I want to know everything about it.
When I first became interested in writing, I bought every book on the subject. I devoured titles ranging from Stephen King's On Writing to my favorite, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. I purchased stacks of journals, every kind of pen or pencil, and tried several different word processors, because, you know, I wasn't satisfied with Microsoft Word or Pages.*
With this in mind, you don't have to think too hard to figure out why I'm attracted to distraction-free writing tools. I've previously reviewed the Freewrite and the Alphasmart NEO2. Believe it or not, I ordered the Traveler years before purchasing the two devices mentioned above, but because it was a crowdfunding purchase, I only received it a few days ago!
It's been a long journey from backing the Traveler to getting it into my hands. I won't bore you with the details, but the Traveler suffered many delays from the original ship date, then COVID hit, which messed with the manufacturing. I even managed to accost some unwitting Astrohaus employees at AWP earlier this year about the long wait for the Traveler. Surprisingly, they didn't have a demo model on-hand, which made me concerned about whether it would ship in 2020.
The Traveler is finally in my hands. The question is, was it worth the money and long gestation period?
The Freewrite is sleek and lightweight, coming in at less than two pounds. It's made of hard plastic and feels solid in my hands. The Traveler isn't much larger than your standard laptop keyboard, and it fits nicely into a small bag.
There's been much speculation and concern over the display's size, roughly 5 x 3 inches. Yes, that sounds tiny and appears too small in photos, but the screen is fine. Once you start typing, I doubt you will notice the size. What you will notice is the simple beauty of the E-Ink screen, which anyone of you who own a Kindle or Nook will recognize. The screen is easy on the eyes and pleasant to use in broad daylight. Unlike the original Freewrite, the Traveler does not have a backlit screen. You will have to use reading light if you write spooky tales under cover of darkness.
The typing experience on the Traveler is adequate, being only slightly better than my MAC Book Air. As someone who enjoys mechanical keyboards, I'm not thrilled with the keyboard, but it's clear that the designers chose portability over typing comfort. At some point between the original campaign and delivery, the Traveler's design changed to make it thinner. Given a choice, I will take the new version of the Traveler over the original, which had a thicker, boxier look.
The Traveler boasts a four-week battery life, which I can't comment on at the moment since I haven't owned it for that long. I will update this post in a few months if I find the battery life lacking.
The main selling point of the Traveler is that it's a distraction-free writing tool. The Traveler connects wirelessly to the internet with the sole purpose of being able to upload your files: no Facebook, no Instagram, no Twitter. I am a massive fan of distraction-free writing tools, and the Traveler comes through in that regard. It's nice to take it out into the world, flip it open to write without the continuous bombardment of notifications from a connected world vying for attention.
Flip it open and write.
The most annoying thing about the Traveler is the delay between keystroke and the screen. When you type, the Traveler's screen is always a second behind, and let me tell you, it's annoying. It may seem like a minor complaint, but I will bet that it's going to be a dealbreaker for some writers. The original Freewrite has the same issue, which I understand is a limitation of the E-Ink display.
Is it a dealbreaker for me? Not quite. While I find it annoying, I realize that the Traveler is meant for writers to bang out their first draft quickly. It's not built for editing and obsessing over misspelled words. Get your first draft done and export it into your word processor for editing. If you want a distraction-free writing tool that is also a fully functional word processor, get yourself a NEO2 Alphasmart.
The Traveler has three built-in folders that can hold multiple documents. When you finish writing, you tap the Send key to upload your work to their cloud service (PostBox). You need to create an account to upload your files. Frankly, Postbox is a bit clunky, but it serves its purpose. If you don't want to use their cloud service, you can plug the Traveler into the USB port on your computer to retrieve your work.
The price-tag might be the biggest turn-off. I paid roughly $350 for it during the Indiegogo campaign, but it retails for $599. It's currently on sale for $429, but even that might be too steep for most, as you can buy a full-functional Chromebook for that price. Let's be honest, though; the Traveler is a boutique item for those of us who obsess over our hobbies.
My business parter did not have the same luck as I did with her Traveler. Her Traveler will not connect to WiFi or hold a battery charge. She has contacted Astrohaus, but has not heard back from support as of the time of this review. We will update the review after the issues are resolved.
Overall, I like the Traveler for its portability and distraction-free experience. It's nice to be able to pick it up and jump right into writing without the burden of logging in and distractions. Whether it's a good value for the price can only be determined by you. My advice would be to think hard about whether you will use it once you own it. I'm personally guilty of buying devices that look cool, only to have them gather dust on the shelf a few weeks after purchasing them. If you decide to buy a Traveler, I would recommend keeping it within reach to write whenever the mood strikes!
Do you own a Freewrite or another distraction-free writing tool? If so, hit us up in the comments and let us know what you think!
Full Disclosure: The Travelers used in this review were both purchased by the individuals associated with Loud Coffee Press. We did not receive them from Astrohaus as review copies.
*Ulysses is my jam.