Astrohaus Freewrite – Two Weeks In!

Okay, this is about the half way stage. Almost two weeks ago, Astrohaus were generous enough to let me have a Freewrite to test and review. When I first received it, I was very happy, mainly because it looked good and felt delightful to type on (if you want the original review, it’s here). So how does it strike me now, almost two weeks later?

A little history, then: I acquired this loan Freewrite with the aim of giving it a good run for its money. I am in the middle of writing a book, and it’s a good time to try out the device in a “live” working environment. Astrohaus were kind enough to offer me a trial of the machine for a month so I can give it a good hammering. It is getting just that. I’m currently up to about 5,000 words a day on it.

The puppy – also known as the Alligator or Tiny Terrorist!

At the same time, more or less, my family and I picked up a Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy. She was 8 weeks old, and sleeping moderately well through much of the day, but had to be monitored. Puppies do things as soon as they wake up, and I don’t like cleaning up. In two weeks she has suddenly become a more wide-awake little hound, which means that for me, to go and sit at my desk is just not feasible. Which gives me a perfect opportunity to test the portability and effectiveness of this little device.

That’s the Freewrite on top of my MacBook!

I say “little” with good reason. My normal laptop is a beautiful little Apple MacBook Air, which is incredibly thin and measures about 11.75 by about 7.75 inches. It may be about 0.75 inches high at the thickest point. I think it weighs in at about two pounds. It is ridiculously beautiful and tiny. The Freewrite is nearer 11.75 by 9.5 inches, and is much deeper. It’s about 2.5 inches high at the back and 1-1.5 inches at the front (without or with the height of the keys). It weighs at least double – about four and a half pounds.

MacBook Airs are gorgeous. I am on my second. The first suffered an undignified death dealt by my teenaged daughter, who discovered that glasses of water and computers do not mix well. I knew I would need another. It is delightful, light, compact, and highly functional. In essence it will do about everything my iMac on my desk will do, but in a portable package. The only problem is, what I really want is a simple typewriter. I want something that I can type on when I have to go away on signing tours or when I’m sitting on a train. I don’t need email and all the other comms stuff. That is all on my phone already.

Which means, all in all, my MacBook is a hideously expensive typewriter. Still, just looking at the size, the MacBook wins – it is more portable.

Well, yes – and no. It isn’t.

There’s no denying Apple invent pretty machines.

The MacBook will fit into a backpack. But so will the Freewrite. The Apple has a good, flat, level keyboard to keep it so thin. The Freewrite has an old-fashioned, individually-sprung keyboard. The keys move farther – up to 3/16ths of an inch (4mm), although each key registers at 3/32nds of an inch (2mm). This means it is infinitely more comfortable to use while, as I am now, standing at a kitchen counter to keep an eye on the puppy through the window. This worktop is 35 inches high. I can type here on the Freewrite at my usual speed. The MacBook keyboard is brilliant – but it needs to be higher – a good foot higher – for my fingers to hit the keys comfortably. It is something to do with the Apple needing my forearms to be near to horizontal. With real keys like those on the Freewrite, it feels easier to type with my arms well off horizontal.

Further, if I sit in a chair with the Apple, the weight of the screen makes it ungainly and uncomfortable to use. I am always aware that it rocks with each keystroke, as though it’s about to tip over backwards. This Freewrite, with its lack of a tall, glass screen, is a great deal more ergonomic because it has a low centre of gravity; it rests on my thighs easily and is stable when typing. I have, for the first time in my life, taken to typing up new stories while sitting on comfortable chairs (one is an ancient, low nursing chair that is getting a new lease of life), or at the kitchen counter. I simply could not do this before with my Apple laptop.

Beautiful and usable.

So, for portable usability the Freewrite wins hands down.

What about the other side of things? The Freewrite is only an electronic typewriter, after all. People who deride it complain most of the fact that it’s just a “word processor”. I have news for them. They are wrong. It is not a WP box. I should know: I sold tons of dedicated word processors in the 1980s, from Olympia systems to Wordplex and then Wang Laboratories. After that I used Word Perfect, Word and now Scrivener. I know what a word processor is – and this isn’t one.

A dedicated word processor will have a dedicated keyboard with words like “Delete” and “Insert”; it’ll have cursor keys; it’ll have a big disk; it’ll have the ability to print your letters after you’ve formatted your words in the way you want.

The Freewrite doesn’t have any of these: not even cursor keys. It cannot print directly from the machine, and it doesn’t format. In terms of deleting I cannot, for example, go to the top line on my screen and delete a word. If I want, I can backspace and delete any number of letters, words or lines, but only from the end. It’s like using a correction tape on a typewriter. All this box does is allow the author to write. Forwards. Like a stream of consciousness? If you want, yes. Personally, I plan which scene I’m going to write, and then write it.

How do I get to edit my work? As I type, the Freewrite saves my words, but also sends a copy over the web (yes, it does have wifi). My scenes appear in my Dropbox, Evernote or other account, and I can open the file straight from there and copy it into Scrivener. If I want, I will open it straight into Nisus Writer Pro. If it’s an article like this, it goes there. Book scenes go straight into Scrivener. From that stage it’s a case of editing like normal.

I have always written forwards, scene by scene. The Freewrite works perfectly for that. I am finding that I can write faster (a function of the keyboard, the lack of interruptions and the comfort of working where I want) and if anything I am writing as effectively as ever. The most common problem at first draft is silly typos, but they can be fixed in the WP editor on my iMac.

Some complain that this is hideously expensive for a machine without email, internet, communications or anything else. It’s a piece of “Hipster Bait”. Reviewers have pointed out that a sensible person could buy a new laptop, a tablet, or even a phone for this price. They reckon that only wealthy, aspiring authors in Islington or Greenwich Village will want to buy one – because of the street cred they’ll win when they turn up at the local Starbucks with something looking so funky.

Yeah, right. I’m a “hipster”. It’s a device simply to make me feel good. It’s for street cred.

No. That kind of comment says more about the reviewers than the product. The people who denigrate this machine are missing the whole ruddy point, and I can only assume are not professional writers. I am. This device is designed to help authors like me. It does so by removing all frills and unnecessary bloatware. It is a computer cut back to the bare minimum for drafting new work.

What does this mean?

To me, it means the Freewrite does not have stuff I don’t use, don’t want, and have no need for. I do not want spreadsheets, email, or web-browsing on my main computer. Almost any professional author with money will already have two computers, one for writing on which has nothing, NOTHING, that could get close to the internet. We cannot afford a hacker, a trojan, a virus or a moronic Apple programmer having a bad day. Things that would be bloody irritating to the average user would, for me, represent a catastrophic business failure. I once lost over 40,000 words on a book. That was a disaster. When you are writing to tight deadlines, so your publishers can get your manuscript to copy editors and proof readers on time, so that the book can go to the printers in that brief window they allocated for you, suddenly having to rewrite a third of the novel is a calamity.

This little device has become my goto input machine. I can rely on the fact that it is vanishingly unlikely that the thing will fall over because of a glitch caused by an operating system being altered to suit a specific application. And I’m not taking a pop at Apple – I had infinitely more problems with Windows before I moved to Apple. But the fact is, the more things that the computer is designed to do, the worse it will be at something. A phone may be superb at calls, messaging, certain games – but then it’ll have a less good camera; another may have brilliant camera tech, but be rubbish at surfing the web. Nothing can excel at everything. And that is why this simple little device is so good. It is designed to give authors a fast, effective means of inputting words to produce a novel. And at that it excels.

Is it worth the money? Can you justify it?

For people who are looking for their first ever machine and who can only afford one device – no, it isn’t. If you want to write a novel, or a bunch of short stories, or even a letter, you still need a conventional computer. Although I am using this Freewrite, I still need my iMac. That machine has Scrivener, my writing software of choice (which is the best software for writers, bar none); it has Nisus Writer Pro, because when editors send me manuscripts with all their corrections, amendments and suggestions, Nisus allows me to see their remarks and track their changes. I also, ahem, have my email and other interesting packages on it. So no, if you can afford only a single device, this isn’t for you.

However, if you can afford it, if you are a professional writer, I would heartily recommend this. It is ridiculously easy to use. I find that I will fire it up for brief writing sessions of 10-15 minutes simply because it is so quick to turn it on and start writing. My iMac takes time to wake up. Okay, the MacBook Air is fast – but that’s so damn uncomfortable to use. This Freewrite is infinitely better.

It is more comfortable to use. It works as a genuine laptop for authors, which is not the case for normal devices. And the best thing of all, is that it is utterly hopeless at work displacement activities. You cannot go to a new screen to look at photos of little Johnny on Facebook, or quickly check an email from a delightful young lady from Russia who is seeking love, or a shady Nigerian banker whose multi-million client has sadly died and would you help repatriate some of his money – it is precisely because it is designed for the one function and one function only, that it is quickly becoming my essential tool for drafts.

So let’s just think about the money side.

Is it expensive?

This thing is £390 or so. I’d assume it’ll last at least 3 years, so £130 a year. In that time I would expect to write 9-10 books, so it’ll cost about £40 per book. I think that’s a reasonable investment because I think that this device will make the writing so much more straightforward. And I expect it to last considerably longer – nearer 5 years would be my guess.

VAT will be charged on top – that’s fine, I am registered for VAT and this is definitely a business expense, so I can claim that back, as well as offsetting the cost and transport. Of course other authors may not be VAT registered, so cannot claim it back, so let’s just assume that this thing will cost about £500. Yes, that is a fair sum of money. However, what else will you buy? A MacBook Air, at about £1,000, or a MacBook Pro at  about £1,500? For someone who really intends to write, it would make more sense to buy a Chromebook and a Freewrite. Chromebooks need not cost more than £200 or so – so you could have the Freewrite and a computer for less than £700. And you will have a great writing environment.

I have another couple of weeks to use this device. And then, I think, I’ll have a problem. Because I will have to send it back.

That will not be easy. I think I will have to buy one.

Advertisements
Comments
One Response to “Astrohaus Freewrite – Two Weeks In!”
  1. very interested in seeing how you go with parting with this little miracle machine. I will certainly be looking into it.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: