This Thing Rules

The Astrohaus Freewrite is the e-paper typewriter of my quarantine dreams

Finally, a way to write in direct sunlight.

So far my time spent in quarantine has resembled the following: Wake up, read the news, Slack, email, Zoom call, write, Slack, Zoom call, read the news, Slack, write, Zoom call, write, drink aggressively at the TV, sleep, repeat. Oh, and pepper in a few hours on Twitter reading about something horrible and maybe a depressing phone call with a family member in peril. Did I mention all of this is happening in my tiny one bedroom apartment? It is! Did I mention that my husband is doing the same thing all day next to me, silently? Yes! We just got married! This is our honeymoon!

Then came the Freewrite.

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The Freewrite is an electronic typewriter equipped with an epaper display, USB-C, and some simple switches which allow you to navigate its rudimentary options. It’s built like a typewriter one might see on Mad Men or that Amazon show about the Jewish family who yells. It is what Mashable called “pretentious hipster nonsense” in 2016, back when Hillary Clinton was about to be president and it seemed clever to dunk on hipsters for being so earnest. Now that the world has been plunged into a global pandemic thanks largely to the mistakes of a man who lives in a golden tower, sneering at people with beards who jar their own jams and spend a lot of money on high-quality handmade products seems kind of... quaint.

Anyway, the Freewrite’s stated purpose is drafting — this is not an editing machine like a laptop — and to that end it focuses on typing, organizing your work, and syncing backups of those drafts to one of a handful of cloud services. At these tasks it is masterful. If you’re expecting more bells and whistles, go forth and get an iPad.

But these are precisely the things I, an adult with ADHD trapped under a house arrest order, needed solutions for. The Freewrite isn’t just a Chromebook with fewer features; it’s so much more. To understand the magic of the Freewrite is to take it outside. As I write this draft, I am in Central Park lounging on the green having what could generously be described as a picnic. Thanks to the change of scenery and the assistance focusing, in one day I’ve made progress on three pieces I’d been struggling to punch out on my MacBook while staring at my bedroom wall for two days.

The reasons the Freewrite have unlocked my brain are fairly straightforward. The device’s battery life, which lasts about a month, means I don’t need to worry about needing to find an outlet. The ePaper display means I can lay in the glorious spring sunshine and my display, if anything, looks better. The device allows me to sort my drafts into three simple folders, so I never need to worry about my work mixing with my personal musings. And when it comes time to edit, I only need to connect my Freewrite to my iPhone’s Wi-Fi to start the editing process in Google Docs. The device’s rock solid build (I compared it to a Packard when showing it off over Zoom to our EIC Josh) means I can toss it in its case, grab its handle, and be on my merry way.

The keys themselves feel exactly how a keyboard should feel—somewhere between a typewriter and a modern mechanical keyboard. If the click ever bothers me, which it will not, I can use the included dampeners to lower the volume.

Maybe the Freewrite isn’t the solution to your problems—the price, even for the cheaper Traveler version, will be daunting to people who don’t make their living on the content farms — but it's been the silver bullet for my current predicament. There is value in higher-quality, single purpose devices that you can depend on to execute their tasks without stealing your data, nipping at your attention, and requiring constant maintenance. Find the single-purpose gadget that you need and let it do what it does best. eReaders work beautifully. The Analogue Mega SG and Super NT work beautifully. The Freewrite works beautifully. What more can you ask for?