Last December I bought Freewrite Traveler, a smart typewriter with an e-Ink screen, in a laptop form factor. I have spent six weeks with the device so far. How did it change my writing habits?

During those six weeks I was using Freewrite Traveler on a semi-daily basis. It became my go-to device when preparing new articles for this website, mostly because it was easy (and fun) to write using a device with an e-Ink screen. I sticked to the distraction-free rule, meaning that when working on Traveler I avoided using my phone or computer, unless it was absolutely necessary for some research related to the article I was writing. It worked really well for me, making it noticeable easier and faster to finish an article. Something about Traveler and its single purpose makes words flow much easier than when I am sitting in front of a computer, with many other programmes open in the background, besides the word processor itself. Having said that, I have to note that it was still a challenge to find time to write with my current work schedule. So, while Traveler makes it easier to write, it does not magically makes it easier to find time to write. There were a few occasions on which I simply decided not to bother with opening Traveler, however chances of me using a computer to write something were even slimmer on those days.

The simplicity of turning Traveler on and its readiness to accept any words I might type within a few seconds makes it almost a perfect device for writing things down in a moment of inspiration. My experience has not been frictionless, though. On two separate occasions I found Traveler completely unresponsive, despite it working normally the previous evening and having its battery sufficiently charged. Both times Traveler froze and did not accept any keyboard input, nor did it acknowledge plugging the charger in (the battery indicator light simply did not turn on, like if the charging circuit within the Traveler was inactive). Initially I was worried, and couldn’t quite understand why this had happened. But once I referred to the manual prepared by Astrohaus, I noticed a short tutorial on what to do in such situation. By simply keeping power button pressed for 15 seconds one can force Traveler to restart regardless of the status of its software and indeed, it prompted my device to “wake up” and start working normally, including a detection of the charging cable being plugged in. During such restart Freewrite Traveler performs a cold start, so it can take about two minutes before the booting process is complete and one can start writing. In contrast, putting Traveler to sleep by simply closing the lid makes it boot up almost instantaneously after the lid is opened again, allowing for a faster beginning of the work. On the other hand, even in sleep mode Traveler’s battery slowly drains, so if one wants to put Freewrite away for prolonged period of time it is best to turn the device off completely.

Fortunately, once Traveler was working again after the freeze I noticed that none of my texts were missing, and the device was synchronised with Postbox. I would not have lost any progress anyway, because I always send my texts to e-mail as a backup, but it is reassuring to see that even in the event of device’s software freezing no work is lost (or no work has been lost in this particular case; your mileage may vary).

The second freeze happened two days later, in similar circumstances. I finished my work for the day and closed the lid, and once I opened Traveler on the next day it was unresponsive. Again, I was forced to use the trick mentioned in the manual to restart the device, and after booting up it was back in working order. No files were lost.

Both incidents happened sometime at the end of December, and I have not experienced any troubles with Traveler ever since. I do not know what caused those issues in the first place, but the fairy close interval suggests some problems with either the firmware or Astrohaus servers. A couple of days before, Traveler’s firmware caught up to date after a series of updates, so maybe that caused both freezes? Or maybe it was due to some issues with the server to which Freewrite devices connect? I can only speculate, but what is important in such case, is that the fix described in the manual works and no files are lost1.

To be honest, it did make me feel uncomfortable to experience such software freezes so quickly after purchasing Traveler. However, the problem had little consequences and did not impede my workflow that much. Naturally, I would prefer my writing device to work all the time, but considering the experimental nature of Freewrite, I can forgive Astrohaus a mishap or two.

Going back to my experiences with writing on Traveler, I can say that it works well. The e-Ink screen is a delight to look at, and the lack of built-in light is compensated by commonly available external light sources (I use Traveler either at work or in my home office, so I can comfortably use additional light in either of those locations). The delay of an e-Ink screen is no factor for me, because I look at the keyboard when writing. And the keyboard itself, while not mechanical, is the best scissor-switch device I have ever typed on. Key travel is deep for a scissor-switch keyboard, keycaps are comfortable and sturdy, key size and spacing is very close to a normal-sized laptop. I only wish there was a variant with ISO layout available, but as I have mentioned before, Astrohaus decision to get rid of different physical keyboard variants is understandable.

For me Freewrite Traveler is everything it was promised to be. Nothing more, but at the same time, nothing less. It is not a fully functional word processor, but it was never advertised as such. It is not a replacement for Word, or Pages, or Scrivener, but again, it was not expected to be. It is a piece of hardware with fairy narrow functionality, but within its limits it performs really, really well. After almost two months I am still satisfied with my purchase and I can say with all certainty that without Traveler I would not have written nearly half as many words as I did. Distraction-free writing just works.

This is article no. 7 from the 100 Days To Offload series.

  1. with a big asterisk, since two cases of an issue on a single device are hardly representative for the whole population of Freewrite devices