freewriteIf you fear distractions while writing and have more money than common sense, boy do I have a deal for you.

We’ve mentioned the Freewrite, formerly known as the Hemingwrite, a couple of times—effectively a $500 reimplementation of the AlphaSmart keyboard-and-screen stand-alone word processor, which you can easily find for under a tenth the price on eBay. Well, as news sites like TechCrunch and Engadget are reporting, the beastie’s finally come off the production lines and is now available for pre-order. The price is $449 for the first 24 hours (which you’ve probably already missed by now), then $499 through the end of March, and $549 thereafter.

It frankly puzzles me why anyone would want to spend $500 and up on this boondoggle. I’ll grant that it looks very stylish, and I have no doubt the mechanical keyboard that accounts for part of the ridiculous price tag is a joy to type on. And it’s got various nifty bells and whistles, such as the ability to sync to Dropbox, Evernote, and Google Drive, that the AlphaSmart doesn’t. If someone took it into their head to give me one (Hey, Freewrite, are you sending out review units?), maybe I might be able to use it, but I’m certainly not going to go sink half a grand into it.

Do you seriously want distraction-free writing time, in the form of a portable solution you can take anywhere? Take a $50 Fire tablet (or whatever other Android tablet or phone you prefer) and a $30 Bluetooth keyboard (and optional ten buck Bluetooth mouse) to your favorite coffeeshop or wherever. Turn on do-not-disturb mode, with notifications off, so you don’t get bothered while you’re writing. Then open up your word processor of choice and write. Since Android doesn’t multitask so well, you won’t have other windows around to distract you, and without notifications on you won’t keep getting buzzed every time someone pings you on Facebook. Plus, you can actually use the device for other things when you’re not writing.

I suppose it’s always possible that the Freewrite could be so handy if I actually had a chance to use it that I might decide it’s worth $500, but the possibility seems vanishingly unlikely. There are lot better things for impoverished writers to spend their money on as far as I’m concerned.


  1. I fully agree. Why spend $500 for something when you can get a gadget as good or better for about $30?

    I only use my Alphasmart Neo 2 occasionally, but for distraction-free writing it can’t be beat. There’s just you, a keyboard, and the text on a LCD screen that can be easily read in the brightest sunlight. Designed for elementary school kids learning to write, it’s rugged and gets 700 hours off three inexpensive AA batteries. For those who use Macs, it has the same special key combinations for unusual characters.

    A series of different models were sold over the years, but given that the best of the lot, the Neo and Neo 2, are selling for about $25-30 on eBay, there’s little reason to buy one of the older models. (One vendor is currently selling Neos for $13.65.) The Neo series has more text memory space (about that of a short novel) and a longer battery life.

    Some tips.

    * The Neo and Neo 2 are virtually identical. The only new features are perks for school teachers that don’t affect writing. Either is fine, although if you buy a Neo 2, it may be newer and thus in better condition.

    * There’s no need to pay more for the rechargeable battery model. When you can get 700 hours of use off regular AA batteries, it’s not worth the hassle of recharging.

    * When it comes time to transfer what you’ve written to your computer, the Neo attaches like a USB keyboard and sends the text to your word processor much like someone typing very fast. For that, you’ll need a USB cable. Some sellers charge more for providing that. You probably already have the cable you need. It’s the A-B cable usually used to attach printers to computers. The connector at one end is the usual, large USB connector. The one at the other end is square.

    * To learn more, check out the reviews on YouTube.

    They’re great for writing in a park on a sunny day since the screen doesn’t disappear in bright sunlight. They’re also great for trips or writing while commuting. Since you’ve only got about $30 invested, there’s less reason to worry about snatch-and-run thieves. Google the name to read comments authors have made about them.

    I mostly write in my quiet little home office, so I see a different purpose for mine. At times, a hurricane or tornado might take out my power for days. In such a situation, my desktop and laptop wouldn’t be of much value. With that little Neo, I can just keep writing away.


    Finally, if you absolutely have to have something new and particularly if you write in both English and Japanese, you might find this odd little $250 gadget from Japan worth looking at:

    It is much more like a word processor and has far more features than the Neo, including a backlit screen. According the the reviewers, you can switch from writing in English to Japanese with but a single keystroke. Just keep in mind that it is a for-Japan product with little support of users outside Japan.

    Since it emulates a Bluetooth keyboard, it may be a better option for those who lack a computer and need to transfer their files to a tablet or smartphone that has no USB keyboard option. Youtube has some reviews. Just search for “pomera dm100”. They’ll explain all the features as well as how to get around the device’s Japanese inclinations.

    Here is one Amazon review:

    My Pomera shipped directly from Japan and arrived within a week in rural NM, many packages within the US take longer. Just spent an hour with it and it is all what it claims to be: a simple, featherlight word processor running on 2 AA batteries. It can easily be switched from Japanese to English and the screen is decent, only the keyboard was a bit of a letdown – it is noticable smaller & less comfortable than an Apple Wireless keyboard. Otherwise the perfect solution for distraction-free writing on the go – party like it is 1985 !!

    Not for me, but some might find it interesting and it’s half the cost of the Freewrite. Those who make the Pomera should give serious consideration to creating a version for the U.S. and European market.

    –Mike Perry, Inkling Books

  2. I was on the fringes of the Kickstarter (paid $5 so I could talk on the forum), and one thing that caused backers some consternation — to say the least — is that the Freewrite was not designed to have either backspace or cursor keys. I would like to see more reviews mention that.

    I too have an AlphaSmart Neo. I used to write on a TRS-80 Model 100.

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