Monday, March 20, 2023

A Noir Review of the Astrohaus Freewrite

 I arrived home after a long day's work. It was an unseasonably cold day for what was supposed to be the beginning of spring. When I stepped through the door, I was greeted by my prize--a large box from a shipment I had from UPS.

Inside, I was greeted by a tasteful white box containing the subject of my review--a Freewrite Gen 3 by a company called Astrohaus. I had always fancied myself as a writer, but seldom lived up to it as I grew older. My lack of discipline was a major factor--not aided, of course, by the ease at which I could distract myself with a bevy of electronic entertainment from my modestly equipped gaming PC.

I had a device for writing prior--a modest little AlphaSmart 3000. It was a perfectly capable machine, but it had faults I could not stand. Its LCD display limited the times of day which I could use it, on account of its requirement for a light source. Its keys felt as if I were forcefully mashing them down each time I was attempting to input any text into it. And the resolution of its display meant that I could not see with any significant perspective what I was actually writing. I had wanted something more modern, similar in function but superior in the specification.

Thus did the idea of the Freewrite entice me. It styled itself as a "Smart Typewriter", a bespoke word processor like the machines of ink and electricity that had once dominated writer's rooms of eld. But in place of paper and ink ribbons, this machine would use an e-ink display, with its latest model including a front light for ease of use at any time of day.

What a marvelous machine, I thought. A modern digital equivalent for a typewriter! That sounded like just the type of device for my purposes. But for a while, I was but a silent admirer of the device, its price making it ever elusive for my wallet. That was until I bit the bullet and decided to use the extra paycheck I was afforded with the five Thursdays in March. Though I lamented the ~$600 USD I had spent on the machine, I viewed it more as an investment in my productivity first and foremost.

When I unboxed the machine from its cardboard prison, I was greeted by the machine's logo on the display, with a notice to charge the device. A minor inconvenience, at worst. Once I had pressed the power button, the machine spent about 30 seconds booting. To some, this would be a detriment, but to me--someone who currently owned a relatively recent model of the Kindle Paperwhite, this initial boot was an acceptable concession. As was the delay between each key press and its output on the display. The screen displayed eleven lines worth of text in its default state--a noted upgrade from my prior machine. I could see proper paragraphs on my display with ease! And the feel of these kailh box brown switches and tasteful white keycaps! The feeling was blissful, natural, and addicting. The 4lbs aluminum body felt nice and weighty in my lap, and the screen was at just the right angle for me to read without a strain on my neck. There was even a secondary screen to display vital information, such as reading time and word count, a clock, and even a timer--perfect for employing the Pomodoro productivity method.

Of course, I could not sing the praises of this device without giving countenance to the flaws. The price was of course an obvious turn-off. $600 was a tall ask for many people. A $500 alternative in a clamshell, laptop-style form factor was also available, though at the cost of the front light and trading the mechanical keyboard for a scissor-switch board. Though with that also came the benefit of improved portability. There was also an upcoming $300 model known as the Alpha, designed to be a "budget" model styled after the godfather of portable word processors. Though with that device also came the drawbacks of its predecessor--no backlight, and a display that necessitated an external light source to see. The lack of obvious cursor keys also makes correcting mistakes unwieldy--but the recent model has since addressed this with a hotkey-like function to move the cursor. Lastly, with the e-ink display came the famous drawback of latency--though power-efficient, e-ink displays had a telltale delay that, while acceptable for e-readers, may dissuade the type of writer that enjoys making sharp corrections on the fly.

But, I reasoned that such was not the idea of this device. It was a digital typewriter--a device meant for writers to draft heedlessly and without pause. It is a device purpose-built for the sole exercise of writing, and many authors swear by its efficacy and function. And to someone like me, who was often given to being distracted, having a dedicated device separate from my computer for the task of writing helped me to create a separation between work and play, and from the inefficiency of multitasking that our modern lives often brought upon us.

Thus did I write this assessment of this device on the very device I had purchased to review it. The very assessment you read now.

Here's to you, Astrohaus. Your device is a marvel, and I hope that I can continue to produce many works with it. And to you, dear reader, who have clicked upon this article to see my take on it. I thank you for your time and hope my review may yet draw your eyes to this unique device. And now, I set this device back on my desk, leaving it until the next my creative demons take me. Perhaps I shall play a journalling RPG with it, using one of the folders as a journal. Or perhaps I will finally write the novel I always wanted to write. Only I know what I will do with this machine.

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