If you’ve been intrigued by the high-tech Freewrite typewriter but put off by its price tag, manufacturer Astrohaus’ new design is (maybe) for you. Astrohaus is opening preorders for the Freewrite Alpha, a lower-profile version of its 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 the original Freewrite’s $649 price tag. An Indiegogo campaign launches today with a shipping date of July 2023.
The Alpha looks starkly different from either the gigantic original Freewrite or the $499 portable 2020 Freewrite Traveler, both of which will still be sold after its release. At 1.9 pounds, it’s slightly heavier than the Traveler but about half the weight of the original. It’s got a rounded, sandy look rather than the original’s forbidding black or the Traveler’s slick white. It swaps the E Ink screen for a reflective monochromatic LCD screen, and Astrohaus promises a dramatically extended 100-hour battery life. (Previous generations offer a somewhat nebulous four weeks of battery life based on 30 minutes of use a day.) Like previous iterations, it charges over USB-C and syncs via a cable or a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi connection.
Astrohaus is thankfully bringing back mechanical switches for the Alpha keyboard, something it abandoned for the Traveler. The third-gen keyboard uses Kailh choc V2 low-profile switches, a slimmer alternative to the Kailh Box Brown switches from the first generation and an upgrade from the Traveler’s scissor switches.
Astrohaus announced the Alpha earlier this month, and I was initially skeptical, in part because of its marked resemblance to a Formica countertop. While the Freewrite is billed as primarily a distraction-free writing experience, most people don’t spend hundreds of dollars on a typing machine unless they really love to type, and part of the first-gen Freewrite’s appeal is how unabashedly luxurious it feels. The Traveler suffered significantly from compromising that experience, and I’m not sure if a nearly half-price model (even if it’s still a splurge) can capture the original feeling, either.
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, its delay could be viscerally distracting. The Alpha also blessedly lets you move your cursor freely around a document, a feature Astrohaus added with the Traveler. I’m even coming around on the gray pebble pattern, although without seeing it in person, it’s difficult to judge.
Overall, the Alpha’s design is basically a high-end AlphaSmart, a beloved but discontinued line of portable word processors. Astrohaus isn’t shy about this comparison: on top of the obvious similarity in the name, it’s purchased AlphaSmart.com as a landing page, and its press release quotes AlphaSmart co-founder Ketan Kothari with some tentative praise. (“We’re honored by the Alpha name and could see Alpha picking up where AlphaSmart products left off in education.”)
Am I duty-bound to inform you that eBay sells secondhand AlphaSmart keyboards at a fraction of the Alpha’s price? I believe so. Am I still — despite owning a functional first-generation Freewrite that I love but rarely use — somehow tempted to put down money for the Alpha? I will guiltily admit I am.