Recently I have bought a Freewrite Traveler, a portable distraction-free writing device with an e-Ink screen. Here are my first impressions regarding that purchase.
The initial configuration on the device itself was simple and straightforward. However, I have encountered problem when trying to set up a Postbox account, which is necessary to unlock the true potential of Traveler. There was simply… no option to create a new account on a Postbox main page! I had to switch to Springer, a website distraction-free interface, and only there, when I clicked on a status bar at the bottom of the screen, I was able to see an option to sign up to Postbox. It definitely was not an easy feat, and this is something that Astrohaus could definitely improve.
Nonetheless, the rest of the configuration process was fast and easy. It took me about a minute to connect to my home Wi-Fi and log into Postbox. Not to mention that one can start writing on the device immediately after the booting up is complete. Postbox, while enhancing the functionality of Traveler, is absolutely not necessary to use it.
One of my biggest concerns before I got Traveler was the quality of its keyboard. Unlike the Smart Typewriter, Traveler lacks mechanical keyboard and uses scissor-switch keyboard, which is standard for middle and upper tier laptops. The keyboard is honestly not that bad. While it is not as good as a mechanical one (I use Keychron Q3 Pro as my daily driver), it is more comfortable than my MacBook Air, mostly due to fairy deep key travel, significantly improved over standard scissor-switch keys. Naturally, I cannot say how the keyboard performs in the long run just yet, but my first impressions are surprisingly positive. The only thing that could further improve Traveler’s keyboard (save for using low-profile mechanical switches, of course), is the option for purchasing a device equipped with ISO layout, which is pretty standard in Europe, yet practically unheard of in the USA. I got accustomed to an inverted L return key and I miss it a bit in Traveler. Yet I do understand why Astrohaus abandoned the idea of selling two versions of device with different keyboard layout after the second generation of Smart Typewriter (which one could purchase with ISO keys). It is simply cheaper to develop one version of hardware.
When it comes to an e-Ink screen, watching countless YouTube videos about Traveler I was afraid it would be too small for my liking (at least that is how it looked in many reviews). I was surprised to find it a perfect size for Traveler’s form factor. It gives me enough space to not feel claustrophobic and at the same time it does not distract me with too much of the previous text visible. One of the first things I changed in Traveler’s settings was font size, of which I picked the smallest. It makes approximately two paragraphs visible on the screen, which is absolutely enough to not get lost in the general flow of my thoughts. The clarity of the e-Ink display is superb. For someone who spends most of the time staring into backlighted displays, an e-Ink screen brings much needed rest for the eyes. As for the lack of front light that Smart Typewriter has, it turned out to be not as much of a hinderance as I expected. Because I always write while sitting at a desk or table of some sort, I can use the overhead light or a desk lamp. I have also bought a small book lamp with adjustable brightness, which works perfectly with Traveler.
I know that many people find the delay of the e-Ink screen distracting. I understand why it can be an issue, especially for touch typists. The delay between pressing a key and letter appearing on the screen is in the range of 0.5-0.7 second. For me it is perfectly acceptable, since I do not look at the screen when typing, and once I finish writing a sentence and look at the screen, it just about finishes updating. One should keep in mind that many people noticed increased lag as their documents are getting longer, so I will have to update my review once I reach that state. Still, I do not expect screen delay to be an issue for people who do not touch type.
The overall build quality is pretty good, although not perfect. My device has few rough edges where the white plastic meets the black one in the upper lid, and I have seen in few reviews that people have similar issues in other places. It is only noticeable when I look for it, though, and I do not care all that much. As a portable writing machine I expect to take Traveler in many places where it could get scratched or worse. I will let you know after a couple of weeks or months how it is holding up. One comestic thing that bothers me just a little bit is the way the label
new is printed on two red keys at the bottom of the keyboard. I have noticed that already in a couple of other users’ photographs that the print on the red keys is a bit fuzzy and not as crisp as on the white ones. From up close I can confirm that this is true. The labels on
new keys seem to be printed in a different technique or with a different paint than the rest, which gives the text a bit more glossy, yet unsharp, look. Since I have only been using Traveler for an hour or so, I cannot comment on the durability of the labels, but again, I will get back to that topic after a longer period of using Traveler extensively.
One thing is certain, though: it does help one write faster. Without distractions of my computer or iPad I am 100% focused on what I am writing and how I am writing it. Because there is no web browser, no e-mail, no apps with notifications, nothing bothers me when I pour words onto digital paper. Interestingly, when I got some notification on my phone lying nearby I instinctively chose to ignore it, as if I knew at subconscious level that this is the time for writing and writing only. I did not extend such restraint when working in a text editor on a computer or tablet. It is still too early to say whether this positive effect will persist, and whether I will actually improve my productivity in the long run, but looking at how I enjoy this device, I am optimistic.
There are still many things I need to learn about Traveler, and the more I will use it the more refined my opinion will be. For now, I am happy about my purchase and I believe there are many joys of writing awaiting me.