The Freewrite Alpha is a portable device designed for folks that want a distraction-free writing experience, but prefer a keyboard to pen and paper. It has a full-sized mechanical keyboard and a 6.5″ x 1″ monochrome LCD display that’s just large enough to display between 2 and 6 lines of text at a time, depending on the font size.

First unveiled earlier this month, the Freewrite Alpha is expected to ship in July, 2023. It has a retail price of $349, but it’s up for pre-order through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign and early backers can save as much as $100 off the retail price.

The Alpha is the latest in a line of Freewrite devices from Astrahous. It’s the cheapest to date… but that’s likely because it also has the smallest, cheapest screen of the bunch.

Other members of the Freewrite family have E Ink displays for a more paper-like viewing experience, while the Alpha has more of a black-on-gray screen. The good news is that it’s a reflective display that should be easily visible outdoors and it has a higher refresh rate than E Ink, which means text should appear instantly as you type. The bad news is that this is basically the kind of display you’d find on an old-school digital watch or calculator. It’s serviceable, but that’s about the best you can say for it.

But maybe serviceable is all you need from a portable word processor. The point isn’t to relish in the display or other features, but to have a comfortable, distraction-free typing experience anywhere you go.

The Freewrite Alpha supports WiFi 4 wireless connectivity so that it can automatically sync documents to the cloud. But it’s not meant for web browsing, media playback, or anything other than writing.

Astrohaus says features include:

  • Instant-on: You can start writing as soon as you turn the device on.
  • Auto-save: Documents are automatically saved to internal storage and synced to the cloud when WiFi is available. There’s enough built-in storage to save at least a million pages of text.
  • Cloud sync: There’s support for services including Freewrite’s Postbox as well as third-party services including Dropbox, Google Drive, and Evernote.
  • Basic editing: You can move the cursor using WASD/arrow keys and backspace for simple editing. But there’s no spell checker, no support for copy & paste, and no text formatting. This is a device for getting your ideas out. You can worry about formatting once you’ve synced your documents to another device.

The design of the Freewrite Alpha draws heavy inspiration from classic devices from the 1980s and 1990s including the AlphaSmart, Cambridge Z88, and TRS-80 Model 100. But it has modern features including a USB-C port for charging, 802.11b/g/n WiFi support.

The Freewrite Alpha weighs 1.9 pounds, offers up to 100 hours of battery life, and has a USB-C port for recharging the 4,200 mAh battery. The mechanical keyboard features Kailh Choc V2 low-profile switches, but they can be swapped for other MX compatible keys.

For now AstroHous is only planning to offer an English International keyboard layout and language support, but if there’s enough demand the company could offer other language options in the future.

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  1. FYI they confirmed today that within that category of switches mentioned, they are specifically brown switches.

  2. I love the idea of a product like this, but I’ll admit I’m pretty picky when it comes to keyboards.

    I find that I don’t type very well on these kinds of flat keycaps that try to make the top surface of the key larger, by filling in the gap space that traditional keys have. They’re sort of a psuedo-chiclet key design.

    I find I type best on keycaps that use the more traditional “Cherry profile”, or “OEM profile” shape. The newer “MT3 profile” is also pretty good. Most typists and mechanical keyboard enthusiasts agree that “sculpted” keycaps are vastly more typist-friendly than flat chiclet keycaps.

    I think if someone wants a dedicated device for typing text, they are probably more conscious of what makes a keyboard ergonomic for them, and I don’t hear much fanfare from many typists regarding these wide/chiclet keycaps on mechanical keyboards.

    I know the creators of this product are saying that the switches used here are “MX compatible”, but I’d like to see some proof of that first. In the past, there have been other low-profile switches with MX stems, and they were not compatible with any existing MX keycaps, as the lower profile of the switch resulted in the bottom of the keycap colliding with the plate or PCB that the switches were mounted to, when the keycap is fully pressed. Like Cherry’s own “MX low-profile” switch, it can’t support the majority of MX keycaps.

    1. Alphasmarts don’t connect via wifi, use crappy switches, and aren’t as sleek a profile. Plus many other advantages with this new model. Just fyi right back to ya, slugger.

  3. In these chaotic times, I suppose this screen side-steps some price and supply issues related to the display.

    Does the display technology really matter for pure writing (i.e. no editing)? Should it?

    By the way, great article Brad.

    1. Pure writing still requires you to review what you’ve written occasionally, for example to refresh your memory if you were interrupted or to let you spot typos. I would also say to double-check something you wrote a while ago, but even that seems to be difficult given you can only navigate a line at a time. That level of review could benefit from a screen that’s clear and large enough.
      I can’t say I get the purpose of this device, though. Maybe someone who values this over a similarly good keyboard connected to an editor of their choice would have different opinions on how often they’d use the screen.

      1. This was designed by someone who has a VERY specific writing style–free form flowing of text and no review. The original versions didn’t even have arrow keys. It’s the designer’s way of saying “this is how you should be writing. You’re wrong if you don’t write like I do.” I’m not a fan of this design concept.

        I have done some writing on an Alphasmart Dana. It’s not bad because you can at least see a full paragraph or so. I’ve also used the Dana as a USB keyboard for a Fire tablet with WriterPlus. But honestly, the closest anyone has gotten to what I’d like to see in a dedicated writing device is the Kingjim Pomera… an e-ink screen and keyboard, and little else.

        I really wish someone would just release a laptop/word processor with an 11″ E-Ink screen, an excellent keyboard, and the ability to save TXT or maybe even RTF files. I think that would suit a lot of writers looking for a “distraction free” experience.

        1. Given the context of all the other available things you could get to write something on, many for cheaper, I’d like to imagine their idea with this was a bit less hostile than “You’re wrong if you don’t write like I do”.
          But I could see a present day user of a Freewrite, or a typewriter, thinking something like that. Funny thing is, you can get new typewriters off Amazon for cheaper than a Freewrite.

          1. Good grief, those who relish forward drafting don’t think you are “wrong” if you don’t fit in their boat. Someone who claimed that misinterpreted the point. Think of it (just one example) as a novelist’s dream for distraction-free first draft typing. Zero editing during the session.

        2. PineNote with its 10.3″ e-ink display would be best option when it be ready and someone do a mechanical keyboard attach for it.

          You will can to choose between a lot of excellent editors for it.

        3. “I really wish someone would just release a laptop/word processor with an 11″ E-Ink screen, an excellent keyboard, and the ability to save TXT or maybe even RTF files. I think that would suit a lot of writers looking for a “distraction free” experience.”
          My idea is to take an existing eink tablet, make a case with a keyboard and a path for an internal USB cable, and just write a locked-down editor. That would probably be a lot less expensive since you wouldn’t have to custom-design the screen or firmware. I still don’t know how many people would choose to buy that since they could just plug in their own keyboard and have a similar product.

  4. Somebody should bring the Cambridge Z88 back using cheap modern parts and £89-99 price range.

    1. The problem is it would sell even much worse than original Z88, so it could not maintain that price. Creating plastic molds for small production is very expensive.