If you’re intrigued by the high-tech Freewrite typewriter but put off by the price tag, then the new design from manufacturer Astrohaus (maybe) is for you. Astrohaus is opening pre-orders for the Freewrite Alpha, a lower-profile version of the first-generation device. Like the original Freewrite, it’s billed as a distraction-free writing tool that syncs wirelessly with services like Google Drive or Dropbox, but for $349 (or $249 for early orders) instead of Freewrite’s original $649 price tag. A Indiegogo campaign launches today with a July 2023 ship date.
The Alpha looks very different from the giant original Freewrite or the $499 portable Freewrite Traveler 2020, both of which are still being sold post-release. At 1.9 pounds, it’s slightly heavier than the Traveler, but about half the weight of the original. It has a round, gritty look instead of the Traveler’s original black or smooth white. It swaps out the E Ink screen for a reflective monochromatic LCD and Astrohaus promises a dramatically extended 100 hours of battery life. (Previous generations offer a somewhat sketchy four-week battery life based on 30 minutes of daily use.) Like previous iterations, it charges over USB-C and syncs over a cable or 2.4GHz Wi-Fi connection.
Astrohaus thankfully brings back mechanical switches for the Alpha keyboard, something it left for the Traveler. The third-generation keyboard uses Kailh choc V2 low-profile switches, a slimmer alternative to the first-generation Kailh Box Brown switches and an upgrade of Traveler’s scissor switches.
Astrohaus announced the Alpha earlier this month, and I was skeptical at first, in part because of its obvious resemblance to a Formica worksheet. While the Freewrite is primarily billed as a distraction-free writing experience, most people don’t spend hundreds of dollars on a typewriter unless they really enjoy typing, and part of the appeal of the first-generation Freewrite is how unabashedly luxurious it is. feels. The Traveler suffered a lot from compromising that experience, and I’m not sure a model at nearly half the price (even if it’s still a splurge) can capture the original feel.
But the mechanical switches are a step in the right direction, and ditching the E Ink screen might not be a bad idea; while it was nicely glare-free, the delay could be viscerally distracting. Fortunately, the Alpha also allows you to move your cursor freely around a document, a feature that Astrohaus added with the Traveler. I even get by on the gray pebble pattern, though it’s hard to judge without seeing it in person.
Overall, the Alpha’s design is basically a high-end AlphaSmart, a loved but discontinued line of portable word processors. Astrohaus doesn’t shy away from this comparison: In addition to the obvious similarity in the name, it bought AlphaSmart.com as a landing page, and the press release quotes AlphaSmart co-founder Ketan Kothari with some tentative praise. (“We’re honored by the Alpha name and could see Alpha pick up where AlphaSmart products left off in education.”)
Am I obligated to inform you that eBay sells used AlphaSmart keyboards for a fraction of the price of the Alpha? I believe so. Despite owning a functional, first-generation Freewrite that I love but rarely use, am I still somehow tempted to shell out money for the Alpha? I will guiltily admit that I am.