- The Freewrite Alpha is a lean, mean prose-cranking machine.
- Just don’t try to edit on it.
- It’s currently crowdfunding for $349 on IndieGoGo.
The new third-gen Freewrite Alpha is like a typewriter without the paper.
Writers used to have it so easy. They’d take another sheet from the ream of paper, thread it onto their typewriter’s roller, knock back a couple fingers of bourbon, and hammer out a great novel. What could be simpler than that? Today’s poor writers have it so much harder. First, they have to choose a distraction-free writing app, then they have to run the gauntlet of Twitter, Insta, and TikTok notifications on their iPad or phone before they can even open it. But there is hope in the form of the Alpha.
“When I’m writing a novel, I spend a lot of time staring at the screen, trying different combinations. I find there is less eye fatigue with the LCD screen,” award-winning novelist Robert Redinger told Lifewire via email. “There’s just something about the LCD screen that seems to encourage me to write. I associate it with the whole writing process. With these computer screens, I just feel like writing emails. Writing a novel on a laptop just doesn’t feel right for me.”
A laptop or iPad with a keyboard case is the ultimate writing machine. You can plan, write, and edit in amazing, purpose-built apps and rearrange your words with an ease in a way undreamed of by the novelists who banged out their novels on typewriters. And yet that's not enough.
Somehow, the general-purpose computer isn’t up to the job. Back when the iPad first launched, there was a rash of ‘distraction-free’ writing apps that claimed to help you focus by hiding everything but the blinking cursor and your words (or, more likely, your blank page).
The Freewrite Alpha, successful enough to have made it to the third generation, offers a similar promise, only in hardware form. It has a nice chunky mechanical keyboard and a basic LCD display that is viewable in sunlight, all housed in a two-pound, half-inch thick body. And while distraction-free software is a joke on a device that is one push notification away from procrastination, a hardware unit makes quite a bit of sense.
There's something to be said about technology that is always ready for you. A piece of paper is so appealing and accessible that you can cover one with doodles during a phone call and not even remember doing it. A computer, on the other hand, needs to be opened or awakened, and then you navigate to the app, and then you find the document you were working on.
That's not hard to do, of course, but when it comes to creative pursuits, we can form significant mental barriers over nothing. And that's before we get to font customizations and the like.
The Alpha is laser-focused on getting your words down. Keyboard, three-line LCD, powered by a 100-hour battery that lets you leave the thing switched on while you think, pace, look out the window, or whatever helps you write. Switch it on and type; switch it off, knowing it will be in the same spot next time.
“I’ve been using the Freewrite Traveler for over a year, and it’s helped me eliminate the biggest barrier to getting writing done: DISTRACTIONS! SO MANY DISTRACTIONS!” says fantasy writer Austine Decker on Twitter.
In fact, the Alpha is so focused that it might only really be good for long-form fiction. I would never write an article on such a thing because that three-line display would make it impossible to reference earlier paragraphs, for example. But that's the whole point of a purpose-built tool. It does one thing and hopefully does it better than anything else. For general purpose computing, we have computers.
That’s not to say this is stuck in the past. If you try to use old tech, like the venerable and still-cool Psion Series 5, for this kind of task, you’ll enjoy the battery life and outdoor-friendly screen, but as soon as you want to share or export your work, you’ll discover the joys of RS232 or infrared connections.
The Alpha uses Wi-Fi, and it can automatically sync to Google Drive, Dropbox, and Evernote. This is good for backups and further cements the purpose of the Alpha in your mind as a writing-only device.
This split between writing and editing is another key aspect of the Alpha's appeal. You simply cannot edit. You just have to write. Move forward, increase the word count, and think about it all later. If you're a novelist, it's hard to think of a better thought-out alternative to the typewriter. And the other bonus is that the new v3 is the cheapest yet.