The 1990s were a special time for personal computers.
Computers were bulky and laptops were massive. They had all the processing power of your child’s scientific calculator (not true, a modern scientific calculator probably has more processing power than the average computer from 1990). PC games are born. And unless you needed something specific like spreadsheet capabilities, using a computer was more of a pain than anything else if all you wanted to do was type.
When I left for college in the fall of 1992, I was given a choice between a PC and a word processor, and without hesitation I chose the word processor. Essentially an electric typewriter with storage capabilities, they were strange, transitional devices that existed in this liminal space at the dawn of the computing age.
But they were good at what they did. Even better, they didn’t let you do anything but write. Ex-Apple engineers Joe Barrus and Ketan Kothari saw the usefulness of this and started AlphaSmart. The AlphaSmart Neo was an inexpensive educational word processor with a unique design. Instead of looking like a typewriter, it was basically a flat keyboard with a small monochrome screen on top. If you were a K-12 student in the mid-to-late 1990s, you saw piles of them in your school’s computer lab.
AlphaSmart was acquired in the early 2000s, but distraction-free typing enthusiasts have carried the torch for Neo and its brethren for decades (you can still buy used models on Amazon). It’s easy to see why. The form factor is ridiculously portable, but still fully functional, with a full keyboard and a screen big enough to keep you in the loop.
That’s why it makes perfect sense for Astrohaus, maker of the Freewrite and Freewrite Traveler (essentially new school versions of old-school word processors), to revive the AlphaSmart with its latest Kickstarter campaign, the Freewrite Alpha.
Go to AlphaSmart.com today and you’ll be taken directly to the freshly created Indiegogo campaign for the Freewrite Alpha (don’t worry, they’ve got the blessing of at least one of AlphaSmart’s founders). At first glance, you can see exactly where Astrohaus got its inspiration.
Alpha is basically the size of a sheet of paper and is about half an inch thick. But encased in that modest footprint is a full-sized, low-profile keyboard, a three-line LCD display, and a kickstand should you need to use it.
The keyboard is fully mechanical, sporting low-profile Kailh Choc V2 switches (I’m assuming red switches, given that this is a sophisticated drawing tool, not a machine gun shooter). The LCD screen isn’t backlit, so you’ll want to write in a well-lit environment, but it should be able to keep up with fast typists much better than the Freewrite Traveler’s notebook-style e-ink screen. The screen has an anti-glare coating, so it will be easy to use in full lighting.
Alpha has a memory capacity of up to one million pages. It can also sync your documents to the cloud (either Evernote, Dropbox, Google, or Astrohaus’ own Postbox). Its rechargeable battery (no more AAA!) lasts an amazing 100 hours.
Basically, it’s all you need to buy whatever you’re working on, but without the distraction of your computer, tablet, or phone.
Another big advantage the Freewrite Alpha has is the price. The early bird special is $269. The retail price will be $349. Other Freewrite devices range from $499 (Freewrite Traveler) to $999 (Gen 3 Freewrite, Hemingwrite edition).
That price, almost more than the form factor, makes the Alpha worthy of the AlphaSmart Neo’s legacy. Neo was built as an affordable alternative to expensive personal computers. The Freewrite Neo is the first Astrohaus device that flirts with real affordability.
But the Alpha doesn’t skimp on the minimalist design that makes other Freewrite devices stand out. However, I wish there was a finish other than the “recycled plastic” look. I suppose it’s a bit much to hope for a typing-focused design that’s cheaper and it has the glossy piano finish and chrome accents of the other Freewrites.
Part of the charm was once again the brutalist plastic covers of the AlphaSmart Neo. I wouldn’t say no to a 90s inspired clear plastic cover as a stretch goal. While unlikely, you can still pick up a more stylish Italian felt or leather cuff to take your Alfa with you.
Why do you need it?
Not you. You already have two or three devices on which you can compose documents and write text. If you’re a writer, you probably have half a dozen specialized word processing programs that all offer a distraction-free environment.
But even the best app is still software running on a device that is dripping with potential distractions. Swipe out of an app or click on another browser tab and your brain will run free, taking you down random rabbit holes and holding you back from finishing your design.
So the Freewrite Alpha is the solution. Put your phone on silent or turn it off, pull out your Alpha, turn it on, and start typing right away. There is nothing to attract you. No warning or error message informing you that it can’t find WiFi. Alpha doesn’t care. It stores as much typing as you throw at it, and uploads things after you’re back in network range.
If writing can be thought of as driving down a dark highway, your words illuminating the story, the Freewrite Alpha is the closest real-life emulation of this axom. Only a part of what you write is visible. Enough to keep me on task. But you are not distracted by what you have already written or the blank page to come. You can edit, but they are limited to the WASD arrow keys, so you have to really you have to commit if you want to fix this typo.
It’s the tool you need if you’re trying to stay on task. It helps speed up the design and editing processes, which can make a big difference when it comes to creativity. We use different parts of the brain for each task.
If you’re nodding along to all of this, you should at least check out the Freewrite Alpha crowdfunding page on Indiegogo. Just launched today, with 31 days left in the campaign, it has already surpassed its original goal. With a proven track record of delivering reliable hardware on time, you can trust Astrohaus to deliver the Alpha when it says it will.
You can find all the details on the Indiegogo page.
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