Laptops Versus Typewriters Versus Freewrite


As writers, we start with pen and paper, and then we move on to devices that help us write, revise, and edit faster. Our parents had typewriters; we have computers. Computers are, or at least seem to be, less wasteful than typewriters and have many useful features, but they also happen to have tiring and glaring screens, and distracting Internet connections, too. Now there’s a new device for writers that promises us the joy of a typewriter-like keyboard without the distractions of a computer, and without depriving us of the convenience of paperless, digital documents – the Freewrite Smart Typewriter.

The Quest For Less Screen Time

For quite some time now I’ve been looking for a viable alternative to my laptop. I know I cannot just throw my laptop out the window, but I’d desperately want to use it less. I yearn for a more authentic writing experience for my creative compositions. I’m writing this on my laptop of course and laptops are great writing tools. But because I write for hours every day, I find the screen of my laptop tiring and headache-inducing, especially at night. I feel I would be more mindful, more relaxed with less screen time every day.

You could say that if I hate screens so much I could simply handwrite. I do handwrite and love it, but it’s so much slower than typing, and revising and edits are a pain. Besides, handwritten documents have to be typed on a computer at some point anyway. Not to mention that papers can easily get lost or misplaced.

The Smart Typewriter Alternative

I’ve been thinking about buying a typewriter, but hey, what about the trees? I wouldn’t want to torment trees with my writing. And there’s no backspace key either, is there?  Another inconvenience of typewriters is that nowadays, pages have to be converted into a digital format, and not only does this take time, but it makes a typewriter feel a little redundant.

We are sending rockets into space, so surely some bright mind somewhere must have invented some kind of modern typewriter. Indeed, such a device seems to have been invented. Originating as a crowdfunded project on Kickstarter, Freewrite is a “distraction-free tool for writing composition” combining “ the simplicity of a typewriter with all of the modern conveniences of 2016”, that is to say, an e-ink screen with a frontlight and document cloud sync through WiFi .

Freewrite has a “full-size mechanical keyboard, an internal capacity for over one million pages, and a rugged construction with an aluminum body ”. The four pounds it weighs seem to be manageable with the stowable handle.

Potential Disadvantages of the Freewrite

The Freewrite looks promising and the emphasis on simplicity is wonderful. The screen may seem peculiarly small, but then that’s probably just because we’re so used to our laptops. Since it’s an e-ink screen (like the screen of your Kindle ebook reader if you have one) it’s not fatiguing for the eyes, and since it’s a no-glare screen, it can be used outside as well.

One inconvenience of the Freewrite is that there’s no cursor, so that you cannot edit text on it – you would still have to open and edit documents on your computer. In terms of composition and flow, this can actually be an advantage. Unlike a classic typewriter, Freewrite doesn’t waste paper, and there’s no need for time-consuming transcriptions, either, because documents are saved online and can be opened right on your computer.

Oh, and there’s another inconvenience – Freewrite costs $500+, taxes and shipment fees to Romania not included.

I’d really like to try the Freewrite. It’s the one gadget out there I’m really enthusiastic about. But it’s a new device, it’s (a bit) costly, and we don’t know how it performs. So before I rob a bank or two I’ll wait for the first reviews to come out and see what people make of it.

Now let me ask you a question: when it comes to your creative writing, would you trade your laptop for the Freewrite or some other similar device?

9 thoughts on “Laptops Versus Typewriters Versus Freewrite

  1. Hi Vincent, I like your post and I can relate to each stage of writing. I started at the old style typewriter, used the very first electric typewriter at the high school, continued with a very simple computer and software (T602) and now I am using a laptop. Though I went through all stages of writing I love my notebook and any kind of pen or pencil. The device you mentioned above seems to be a nice one for writing but I could not trade my laptop, because I need it also for my photo editing and a big screen is something what helps me a lot. But I would definitely prefer something that would more considerate my eyes. 🙂

    1. Yes, the new device is intended as a complement to a laptop, not a replacement. One day we may have e-ink screens on our laptops and that will save our eyes, or not. 🙂

  2. Great post Vincent. I just erased my first response, by mistake! Damned computer! So I’ll start again.

    My writing life began with pencil and paper. Then a tech leap to the manual typewriter. One erased errors with a pencil eraser that had bristles on top to brush off the residue. If you erased too hard you put a hole in the paper.

    Onto the electric typewriter with an eraser ribbon. You backspaced, smacked the error with the eraser ribbon then backspaced again and typed in the correction! This was great unless you skipped a whole word…hell to pay then. I remember typing a ten page paper for a college class, finding a mistake on page two. I had to type the whole thing over. Oh, and footnotes were a special hell.

    So you can imagine the joy of my first Word Processor. It had a six inch flip-up screen. It was made by Singer, the sewing machine company. It used a ribbon as well but you could edit on screen and save material on a tiny four inch disc.

    The TRS-80 came out–via Radio Shack. Pre-windows. We called it the Trash 80. It was a big, gray box with a blank screen, and a cursor blinking at you. One saved material on discs encased in hard plastic. I had tons of those things. And operating discs were these huge pancake-size floppy discs. They were actually floppy. Then of course Bill Gates came along! Windows changed the world forever.

    My first computer-with the clunky TV monitor-was an HP 386. It was nothing short of a miracle. I had windows. I had WordPerfect 3.1 with that lovely blue screen. I had email. OMG!

    When a message came through from someone, you saw it one letter at a time, and it made a wonderful clicking sound. (American movies picked up on this…for suspense purposes. Now you have the red completion bar.)

    Suddenly this machine, this computer, became a life-line. It wasn’t some dead hunk of metal–like my poor Word Processor. This “computer” connected me to life…to people. My Word Processor was pushed aside. I never looked back. Now I use a laptop that’s hooked up to a 25″ screen. I LOVE the big screen. For trips, a Microsoft Surface.

    Interestingly enough, I still pick up a pencil and write on paper. How soothing it is.

    1. What a wonderful comment Paul! Thank you for taking the time to write it. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to move from pen and paper straight to a computer… I remember reading that handwriting makes us more creative… Perhaps typewriters have a similar effect, in spite of their inconveniences. I’m thinking that apart from digital documents, another advantage of computers is their effortless support for Japanese fonts… 🙂

  3. Nice article. I wrote one very similar back when the device was still going by the name Hemingwrite. I often find myself asking how cool it would be to have a machine like this, but then, like you, see the price tag associated with it. I used to do all my writing on a manual typewriter (no I’m not that old) and loved the experience. BTW they do have backspace keys. However, once finished then it would have to be transferred into a digital format. So for the most part, I’m going to stick with my laptop.

      1. I’ve seen some things in the past. I even saw one that hooks up to an iPad. I’ve even seen where people use the old glass keys and attach them to keyboards. As cool as all of that looks I’ll stick with the laptop. If I ever get the hankering to use the typewriter, that presently collects dust, then I will write a letter.

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