Between our laptops and our phones, we’re more connected than ever to what’s going on in the world, to what our friends and family are doing on social media and to information in general. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for creative types looking to hone their passion, the internet can be as distracting as it is inspiring. This might be especially true for writers.
When you’re sitting in front of a blank page on your laptop screen, it’s far too easy to open up Facebook, go down a Wiki hole or even play a game instead of focusing on writing. Enter: the $649 Freewrite, a digital typewriter-esque writing device that helps writers steer clear of distractions by eliminating the internet and offering tools to help you focus on writing and writing alone.
I spent the past three months with the Freewrite to find out if it’s worth it. Writers who write fairly often and want to increase their word count will get a lot out of the device, but it’s a little too pricey for those who plan on using it only once in a while.
Distraction-free writing in a well-designed shell
If you’re a writer who’s often distracted by social media, too many open tabs or the internet in general, the Freewrite is a beautiful, well-built (albeit costly) device that encourages distraction-free writing.
Above all else, the Freewrite wants you to write a lot and to write often; therefore, the typing experience itself should feel as comfortable and responsive as possible. Thankfully, the device delivers this in spades. The keyboard, which feels like a mix between a typewriter and a mechanical keyboard, is punchy and clicky in a way that makes typing so, so satisfying. The clickiness (courtesy of Kailh Box Brown switches) is a little too loud for quieter settings like coffee shops or libraries, but in my opinion it’s not loud enough to bother, say, a roommate in another room.
The individual keys feel soft and comfy, with slightly raised sides that hug each finger. There’s no place to rest your wrists, as on a laptop, but this never bothered me, even during extended writing sessions. If you’re comfortable using a standard mechanical keyboard, you shouldn’t have any issue typing on the Freewrite, but it might be uncomfortable for those who experience arthritis or carpal tunnel. Overall, typing on it is so tactile and fluid that it makes going back to typing on a laptop keyboard way less fun.
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The keyboard features all the standard keys you’d expect, plus a row of Freewrite-specific keys next to the spacebar: two red New buttons as well as Pg Up, Pg Dn, Alt Gr, Send and Special buttons. These are used to perform special functions, such as starting a new draft (New + New), cycling through keyboard layouts (New + Shift), deleting whole words (New + Backspace), cycling through console screens (Special), sending drafts to email (Send) and more. It’s a lot to remember, but the user manual lists everything the buttons do, and if you use the Freewrite often you’ll catch on quickly.
I also wanted to test the responsiveness of the keyboard and writing canvas (the screen that displays your writing), so I transcribed a few thousand words onto the Freewrite. I can type 98 words per minute (humblebrag), and the Freewrite never once stuttered. Every word I typed showed up nearly instantaneously, even when I was typing as quickly as I possibly could. It’s great to know that when you get in the writing zone, the Freewrite will capture every word, every sentence and every idea you throw at it.
Top-notch design and build
The Freewrite is a beautiful, modern-looking device that would look great on any desk, and it’s sure to draw the attention of anyone who catches a glance. The unit we reviewed has a black aluminum body with mostly white keys, save for the two bright red New keys that add just a small pop of color. There’s also the Freewrite Hemingwrite (Ernest Hemingway Freewrite Signature Edition) that’s arguably even more attractive, with a silver chassis and dark green keys, but it’ll cost you nearly $300 more.
The device feels sturdy and well built but also relatively light at just 4 pounds, which makes carrying it around not only possible but also easy. It even has a built-in retractable handle for this purpose, a small detail that adds a lot of value to writers who enjoy writing on the go or in different locations of their house.
Above the keyboard you’ll find the square backlit writing canvas, which displays the most recent copy you’ve typed. It’s large enough to show you approximately your last hundred words, or about a paragraph of text. That may not seem like a lot, but as someone who’s constantly self-editing every sentence he types, I found it extremely useful in pushing forward with what I was writing rather than going back and agonizing over every word choice. It’s made with the latest-generation E Ink panel, and I had no problem reading my writing on it indoors or outdoors, day or night, thanks to the always-on frontlight.
Below the writing canvas lies one of my favorite features of the Freewrite: the console screen, which is a fraction of the size of the writing canvas. Here you can toggle between six different screens: two screens displaying the date in different styles, a reading time/word count/character count screen, an analog clock screen, a timer screen and a blank screen. I found the word count and timer screens to be especially helpful, as sometimes I like to write for a designated amount of time (usually an hour) and other times I want to write a minimum number of words (usually between 300 and a thousand). The blank screen is also a nice touch for those who truly want no distractions at all while writing.
Finally, there are two switches on either side of the Freewrite: the Folder Selector Switch for toggling between A, B and C writing folders, and the Wi-Fi Selector Switch for turning the Wi-Fi on or off/setting up a new Wi-Fi connection. You likely won’t mess with these too often, but their placement on the device offers a nice symmetry and they’re satisfyingly clicky to use.
Overall, the Freewrite is chock-full of super-smart design decisions and feels solid enough to last for many, many years.
Daniel Toy/CNN Underscored
At this point, you might be wondering what happens to all your writing once you’re done with a session. Well, thankfully, there are many options for transferring your files from the Freewrite to another device, and it’s all relatively simple.
First, you need to establish a Wi-Fi connection using the Wi-Fi Selector Switch. I was able to connect to my home Wi-Fi in under a minute with no issues. Then, upon first setting up your Wi-Fi, you’ll follow the on-screen prompts to enter an email address to establish a Postbox account. Postbox is Freewrite’s simple, no-frills cloud application used to adjust device settings and access your drafts. No matter what, your files will always automatically sync to Postbox and be safe there, but you can also sync them to popular file storage apps like Google Docs, Evernote and Dropbox. (I prefer syncing just to Google Docs, but I had no problems connecting to both Dropbox and Evernote quickly and easily.)
What’s more, you can also press the Send key on the Freewrite itself at any time to receive both a .txt and PDF file straight to your email. This is a great, easy way to access your copy from a computer without having to first log in to Postbox.
If the Freewrite’s promise of distraction-free writing sounds interesting to you, then this may just be the writing device of your dreams, because it’s truly effective. Sure, you can turn off your laptop’s Wi-Fi or find other workarounds to limit distractions while writing, but the Freewrite pushes you to keep writing without self-editing in a way Word or Google Docs doesn’t really allow. The combination of the satisfyingly clicky keys, the console screen special tools, the small writing canvas and the typewriter design just works, in a way that made me laser-focused and my word output skyrocket.
One reviewer on the Freewrite website says, “It works! Since I started using [the Freewrite] two days ago, my daily word count has tripled. No distractions, just fingers on the keyboard, writing till I can’t see straight anymore!” I whole-heartedly agree with them, and it might just work for you too.
The Freewrite is perfect for writing straight prose, but I was a little bummed that there weren’t specific writing modes for formats such as poetry and scriptwriting. I can’t imagine trying to write poems with complicated line breaks and spacing on the Freewrite, or any type of script, which requires a very specific format. The Freewrite is ideal for fiction and nonfiction writers as well as journalists, but for writers who dabble in other forms, it may be a bit of a disappointment. I’d love to see a version of the device in the future that has built-in templates for a wider range of writing forms.
Not including any kind of dust cover, case or sleeve with the Freewrite is a big miss. The brand does offer an attaché case ($149) or felt and leather sleeve ($45, originally $50) separately, but I strongly believe some kind of protective option should be offered with the purchase of the device itself since you’re already spending $649 on it. Aside from the case options sold separately, I really just wish there were a hard-shell cover that could click onto the device itself like my old-school typewriter has, so whenever it’s not in use it’s protected.
There’s no getting around it: $649 is a lot of money for such a niche device. You could get a decent laptop for around that price that would allow you to write on it and do much, much more. Even the most serious writers might gawk at the cost, but if you care about your writing output and want to add a stunning modern typewriter to your desk, it might just be worth it.
However, there’s also the less expensive Freewrite Traveler ($529) for those on a budget and who care more about portability. It boasts a clamshell design and weighs just 1.6 pounds, ideal for throwing in a backpack and carrying to a coffee shop. It doesn’t have the same typewriter-esque design — it functions more like a laptop — but it could be worth it to save a couple hundred bucks.
Casual and serious writers alike will find a lot to love in the Freewrite, especially if they’re often distracted by the internet or other stimuli from writing on their laptop. It fulfills its promise of delivering a distraction-free writing experience while also providing helpful writing tools such as word count and timer screens, seamless file connectivity and a super-satisfying clicky mechanical keyboard, all wrapped up in a durable, beautiful aluminum body. I found it extremely easy to set up my Wi-Fi connection and manage my files from the cloud once I was done writing on it, and most importantly the Freewrite helped me stay focused on my writing, increasing both my output and focus.