The Freewrite does not free your writing after all


Remember the Freewrite, nee the Hemingwrite, the Alphasmart-wanna-be that promised to make the writing life simpler? As it turns out, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. The Digital Reader is carrying writer K.S. Augustin’s review of the device in which she effectively defenestrates it from start to finish. Meanwhile, writer L. Penelope has posted the above video unboxing and review on YouTube, comparing it to her AlphaSmart.

The hardware part is nice, Augustin writes, but the software that comes with it is terrible. The good news is, it has an SDK that should make it possible for third parties to create more useful software for it, but for $500 it seems like the device should be more functional from the very beginning.

When you’re writing, there’s no way to go back to what you’ve previously typed and fix it. The Freewrite isn’t meant to be a word processor, it’s meant to be a digital typewriter. You can backspace, but you can’t jump up to the previous line or back to the beginning to retype a word.

The words appear on the screen with a slight delay. Freewrite nags you about connecting to WiFi if you’re not connected. Sync service is one-way—you can move documents off the Freewrite for further work, but you can’t put them back on it. There’s no way to differentiate between different versions of what you type. You can’t even delete a document you’ve started except by backspacing all the way through it. There’s not even an easy way to obtain the WiFi’s MAC address short of watching your router control panel to see what address pops up when you connect it.

Nate Hoffelder echoes Mashable’s preview of the device, calling it a pretentious “hipster typewriter,” and that  seems about right to me. There’s no way I’d want to pay $500 for a device as crippled as the Freewrite turns out to be. Perhaps it might become more useful down the road once developers use the SDK to fix some of its shortcomings, but it seems unlikely. There are plenty of better, cheaper devices out there, such as the Alphasmart Penelope shows in her video. If I were going to want to write on such a device, I know which one I’d choose.


  1. Buying the Freewriter is foolish given that the much better Alphasmart Neo and Neo 2 sell on eBay for about $25-30. For those who aren’t aware, there’s no difference between the Neo and Neo 2 that matters to a writer and at that price, there’s no reason to buy one of the earlier version of Alphasmarts. The Neo can hold more words than the earlier models, about that of short novel. And you can’t really beat 700 hours of use on three cheap AA batteries. There’s no need to pay more for the rechargable battery version. No real need to buy one with a cable. You probably already have the USB cable it uses to connect to a computer. It’s the standard A-B USB cable that most printers use.

    The Neo is great for drafts done almost anywhere. It’s great on sunny days outdoors, when tablet and laptop screens get washed out by sunlight. You can’t use it in the dark though. The LCD screen is not backlit.

    The Neo is less great for editing than drafting. The small screen means you can’t see much of the text at a time. Editing is doable though. You just have to be a bit more patient and use the cursor keys.

    This link should show you the selection on ebay:

    Schools seem to be abandoning the Neo for tablets. For teaching writing and typing, I’m not sure that is a good idea. The Neo has a real keyboard and is perfect for learning touch typing.


  2. […] In diezelfde periode bedacht acteur Tom Hanks, verzamelaar van oude typemachines, een app die van een iPad weer een soort ouderwetse typemachine maakt. Bij elke toetsaanslag met de Hanx Writer hoor je het karakteristieke geluid. De gebruiker kan zelfs een nieuw vel papier in de machine stoppen of er een beschreven vel eruit trekken. Ook kwam de Hemingwrite uit: een typemachine met eInkscherm en een mechanisch toetsenbord, al was niet iedereen erover te spreken. […]

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