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Inviting Freewrite to our Community

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Singletona_82 says:

In the interest of offering an olive branch in the face of what i feel was an advertising attempt that hit the wrong tone I'm directing the guy that's been answering email I've sent to come to our community to try discussing our concerns, their wants, and see if there's anything that can be done to bring them closer to feeling less like an antagonist that swooped in when Alphasmart died, and more as valued partners giving people an option to fill a niche we see that is under-served.

While our emotions and tempers can run high? It would be good for all of us to remember this isn't a large faceless company. These are people and this is a person that wants
6:35PM, 7 December 2017 PDT (permalink)

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adamleeb says:

Hi all, Adam Leeb from Astrohaus here. People love to remind me about how the Freewrite reminds them of their favorite AlphaSmart or TRS-80s. If anyone would be interested, I'd be happy to do some kind of Reddit style AMA to discuss how we arrived at the Freewrite's seemingly crazy design decisions and how we could possibly provide something that is more interesting to folks on this forum.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Singletona_82 says:

I'll start off,

First off thank you, Adam, for dropping by especially in the face of how defensive niche communities can get when 'thing A' is not doing so well and 'Thing B' is in the same ballpark... but not The Thing. I will try to be polite, but at the same time, I also prefer to just outright speak instead of spending a paragraph trying to tapdance. Please do not feel this is personal I have a few bits of confusion I wish to have clarified

I'd like to know why AstroHaus decided on the knobs and lever design of the Freewrite? It feels very 'I wish to be seen doing the thing' rather than 'I am here doing the thing.' Then again I'm the sort of guy that has been trying to figure out how to slap a raspberry pi on a keyboard and slam a cheap LCD onto that. I am very 'function trumps everything' sort of person yet understand aesthetics are important for generating buzz and potential sales.

What has been your experience in dealing with e-ink displays? This is a thing I wonder about because there has been off and on discussion over the pro v con of e-ink, mostly constant swapping between 'it's fragile and there's a chance of character burn-in and it doesn't refresh fast enough' vs 'the power savings and readability. Pls prices WILL come down if it's done in bulk.'

Who do you see as your core audience? I might be overstepping but a large sense of issue this community has with the freewrite seems to be 'this is so very close to being a thing we want... but it seems to have been designed without asking us what we would like to buy.'

Less 'the freewrite' question and more the business. How do you manage to keep your head financially above water? I've had friends run brick/mortor stores and others doing freelance work and generally 'work for yourself' has impossibly thin margines and at times it feels like the smallest stumblingblock is the end of the grand experiment. Getting a bead on how you've managed to persevere would be insightful.

Again, thank you for taking time to stop by.
35 months ago (permalink)

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H0OK is a group administrator H0OK says:

Welcome, Adam. Appreciate you stopping by. I think folks here (myself included) would be interested in discussing the latter topic you mentioned.
35 months ago (permalink)

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adamleeb says:

It was pretty hard at the beginning to have released a prototype for something that we thought was really cool but then get a lot of angry letters saying that is dumb or that it missed the mark. Now 3 years later and my skin is pretty thick. It's all fine!

The design mantra for the Freewrite was to allow writers to write with as much focus as possible. Functionally this means lowering friction in the writing process so the cognitive burden of thinking about anything other than putting words on the page is minimized. From that philosophy, I wanted to put all of the controls in the face of the user and make them unambiguous. One of my pet peeves are buttons or switches where you can't tell which position they are in from a glance. The switches on the Freewrite reflect this mantra and is similar to how interfaces are designed in planes, for example, because the pilot shouldn't have to spend any additional brain cycles thinking how to change a setting or trying to figure which position the switch is actually in. Just about every aspect of the design can be explained through this philosophy. Take the power button for example. It's on top instead of the side or back because then you only need one hand to operate it and I imagined people pressing the button while they are sitting down, cutting off a second or two between having the desire to write and actually doing it.

I can see how all the above would sound ridiculous but this is the design process I went through. And I think the experiment worked because once people try it, they have about 5 minutes of pain while their brain switches from word processor mode before they enter flow mode and they are off to the races. Writing without the temptation of editing or formatting or button pressing feels almost liberating. That doesn't make the writing good but if you buy into the notion that you have to write more to get better, the Freewrite should help people become better writers because it helps them write more. That's the idea!

E Ink is an interesting animal. I absolutely love it when it is used for the right purpose. An ebook reader is ideal. We thought it would work well for writing too, especially since we didn't plan to put a full editor on the Freewrite. If we had done a full editor like some people wanted, we would have reconsidered alternative screen technologies. This is also part of the reason we have resisted adding a lot of editing functionality because even though people say they want it, would they really like it on a screen that can only refresh at 5 Hz? I think most people would find it frustrating. That is one of the challenges with product design. Do you add functionality knowing that it will satisfy some but complicate for others? That is a very tough thing to balance and the only way I know how to answer that question is by having a very clear vision for what the product should be.

Prices coming down in bulk is a bit of a myth. From 1 to 1000 pcs, there is a big jump down. From 1000 pieces to 10,000 there is more of a discount, maybe 10%. But the discount diminishes quickly. We are already in the volumes where we have *most* of the discount and any additional discount from larger volumes end up going into overhead to manage the bigger volumes! The real cost savings come when we redesign and change the architecture for lower cost components. But it is very hard to justify the development costs when we haven't recouped the development cost from the first cycle. Such is the life of a consumer electronics company!

Our core audience are what I call part time professional writers. These are folks that typically write in their 'spare' time but are published authors. However, we have writers of all kinds. There is a surgeon in south america that takes notes on his Freewrite. There are lawyers that write briefs on their Freewrites. We have a lot of screenwriters too. There are parents that buy a Freewrite for their kids who have attention deficits. It's really all over the place.

How do I manage? Good question! I remind myself that I am super fortunate to be able to invent things and turn them into reality. That's the best job in the world for me! Everything else is just noise.
35 months ago (permalink)

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H0OK is a group administrator H0OK says:

It's always interesting to see the thinking behind a piece of technology. The hardware design philosophy doesn't sound "ridiculous"-- it's Gibson's ideas of "affordability." It's also pretty much a description of the design of the Alphasmart Neo. I like the Freewrite and really wish I wanted one, but my rejection of it has nothing to do with your hardware design per se, but with disagreements with your assumptions about two functional aspects of your device.

First, while internet syncing is a nice-to-have (I'll set aside for now the complaint about having to go through your servers to access internet syncing), I want easy to access local storage. Alphasmart came up with a perfect answer to this in terms of not having local storage pull the writer away from her work. Writing is saved letter by letter in one of 8 "filespaces" that are instantly accessed by a single button press. No save or open menu items, no naming of file, no interrupting dialog box at all.

Second, this lack of arrow keys. Arrow keys do not an editor make, but the lack of them means that you are making assumptions about my writing process (including my "flow" writing) and then forcing me into your process. If I'm writing longhand on a pad, I will often make a quick review of what I wrote and may even add something in the margins for later. If I come back to that writing the next day I may even review a couple of paragraphs. Again, Alphasmart hit a sweet spot (for me) of arrow keys with a small screen. You are not going to edit on a screen that small, but having the option to review is useful. Not really sure why you insist in making this decision for us. I have no trouble flow writing on the Neo and that is mostly what I do with it. All editing happens on my ultrabook.

I don't begrudge you your choices. Apparently I want a slightly different machine than you want to make, and that's life. The Alphasmart Neo is lighter, probably more rugged, with much longer battery life, and reliable local storage which means that when I spend a week in that cabin on a lake with no electricity, plumbing or cell signal I can continue to flow write all week. That's what I'm looking for if I'm going to replace my Neo. I'd love it if you were interested in a machine like that. :-)
Originally posted 35 months ago. (permalink)
H0OK (a group admin) edited this topic 35 months ago.

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Singletona_82 says:

HookMT put it far better than I could have so I'll just leave the freewrite portion of anything I have to say at I do not feel the freewrite was designed for me which is a source of aggravation as the market niche has few devices currently being produced, but would be highly interested in something along the lines of the dana in terms of 'you have a fairly large e-ink screen, put it in landscape orientation and put that with a keyboard. Solve the issue of demanding a cloud service and i'd totally be on board with something 'so boring everyone forgets you're using it.'

You show a lot of conviction and energy, which seems to be nessicary to keep any momentum going when trying to get a business off the ground and keep from gettign dragged under. Regardless on any other feelings i might have the fact you're willing to come here to talk, especially when you probably have many other things that need tending to, is something I have to show respect for.

So on to the design process, and this is purely because as an indavidual with interest in 'hey maybe i could build one of these thigns' I'd hit roadblocks sourcing parts... how hard was it for you to find suppliers that fit your needs? Again, this is me as an indavidual as opposed to a company, me just looking through the things I was most interested in (displays) seemed to cost far FAR more than I would have thought given what is being sold (in this instance I was looking for LED displays roughly on par with the neo's display. Turns ot at least at a consumer level nobody sells decent sized black/white LCD screens.) E-ink after a bit of poking around always felt like a non-starter since unless you were amazon the price per unit seemed to be 'arm and leg.')

Just general curiosity realy. Also trying to reduce the costs ofa device down to it's component parts. Then again I am no engineer or economist or anything that has specialist knowledge enough to go 'OK we can save a few dollars per unit if- or 'what if THIS instead of THAT.'

From a pure aesthetics perspective, did you base the freewrite off of any specific typewriter model, or did you pick and grab diffrent elements you thought either looked good or served an overall purpose?
35 months ago (permalink)

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antquinz says:

What have you learned from the AlphaSmart products and the community?
35 months ago (permalink)

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Andrey___S says:

+1 to what HookMT wrote.

When I think of a device for writing, I think of two distinct modes: writing and editing.

For writing, I typically write stream-of-thought style, lightly editing as I go. Freewrite probably wouldn't be so bad at this part as long as there's a backspace (although arrows would make this process even better). After I'm done writing, I take the parts I like (among a whole bunch of text that doesn't ever need to be seen again) and copy/paste it into my Outline. Then I import a chapter and integrate all the changes from the Outline into the chapter. Neo makes this easy in two ways: first, the search feature where I can easily jump to the place in the chapter I need; and secondly, the sections feature, with which I can fold and navigate the massive Outline with ease.

I do love Neo's 700+ hour battery life and the total disconnection of the device from the Internet. This makes for a self-contained distraction-free experience and I do take it out with me to write in nature either on a day trip or when camping.

Spellcheck and Thesaurus are also great to have on the same device so I don't get distracted.

The editing element is key for me, because a device that only supports stream-of-thought style of writing is not very useful for the writing of a novel—the bulk of work being done in various forms of revisioning.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

@adamleeb

I don't have particularly strong feelings about this subject, but had been aware of the Freewrite in the past and found the idea interesting!

It's interesting to read the design goals behind it.

I like:

* The mechanical keyboard.
* The quirky looks - I really quite like it! Not sure I like the red keys though.
* The unusual screen shape.
* The quirky buttons / levers that you can instantly see the position of - I totally get the design goals you've just stated and think they are great.

I personally don't value:

* Cloud storage.

I don't like:

* The stated battery life. 4 weeks at 30 mintues typing a day with no wifi means about 14 hours of typing, unless I've misinterpreted the specs. My ancient Dana gives me about twice that now that I've put modern batteries in it.
* The fact that you *need* to use cloud storage. For me, that's a distraction. I have to think about where I am when I am using the thing, to feel confident I'm not going to lose my work. To be fair I feel a bit like that about my Neo, and prefer the Dana so I can save to SD card wherever, whenever for peace of mind.
* The price. I guess there's not a lot that can be done about that.

I would prefer:

* Reasonable ability to correct / change things. Even people who use a notepad and pencil use an eraser or cross things out, and people who use a typewriter have tippex. I'm prepared to believe that there is some zen-like flowing state that a writer can get into, but that's never happened to me and I don't think it needs to. If I knew I needed to change something a couple of paragraphs up, but couldn't, I'd find that very distracting. Sometimes I have ideas that I like while typing, they require a change to recently-typed words, and I don't want to forget the idea.
* Reasonable ability to manage a project in the early stages. The Neo can give me a decent shot at that with its multiple file slots, quickly switching between e.g. an overview, or notes or research, and the current file. But the Dana is even better once the right software is on it.

Overview of my ideal writing device:

It should all be about producing words, wherever I want to, whenever I want to, and for whatever purpose that suits me. For example, why force someone into drafting mode? Once you've got decent hardware, the ONLY limitation on the software should be: if it has nothing to do with producing words, then don't include it. So my ideal device would have the following features:

* In order to let me write anywhere, it should be portable, durable and light, with great battery life. I want it to stand up to being put in a backpack when hiking. I'm prepared to carry a fair bit of weight if that's in return for a full-size decent keyboard. I don't know of any device that is perfect for this. My Psion 5 is excellent for taking hiking in its hard-case, but the keyboard, though great in its day and for its size, is no match for a full-size one. The Dana/Neo are perfectly tolerable in terms of weight given their full-size keyboards, but not ideal in terms of being bashed around in a rucksack. Their unusual shape means a small, solid, lightweight case is not easy to find for them.
* A great screen, again so I can write anywhere, at any time. It should be easy to read in bright daylight and in the dark.
* It should allow me to edit.
* It should allow me to spell-check.
* It should have a thesaurus.
* It should allow research to a limited degree. A pipedream would be to have Kiwix (offline wikipedia) on an SD card in it, searchable at tolerable speeds. Research is all about producing words - the right words - so this is not outside the design goal by any means, though definitely lower-down on the list of features required before the device becomes desirable.
* For me, it should even allow project management to some degree. Again, this is all about producing words - the right words in the right order and with a coherent structure. I'm really digging the Alphasmart Dana at the moment. It really can be used for planning, writing and editing an entire novel. It's not as ideal as it could be due to the thin screen, but once you find workarounds such as certain software and creative use of bookmarks, it's amazing what you can do with it.
* Local, removable storage for peace of mind.

Frankly of all the portable devices I've ever used, the old Psion 5mx comes closest to this ideal. The Dana is a close second, and currently I prefer it because of the much better keyboard. Still think I'll be taking the Psion when I expect to be writing in a tent up a mountain though.

Basically, I want a device with me which gives me confidence that, should I wish to work on any piece of writing in any way, so long as I have that device with me, I can do it.

Imagine walking into a remote wilderness, setting up camp for a month and writing a novel. Build me one device that would allow me to do that, and I'll happily give you $500. The frustrating thing is, the technology is SO there, just not all pulled together in one device!
35 months ago (permalink)

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Justin_T_Call says:

Roginald speaks much truth here, so I'll add my two cents to what he's said (and to which I only differ on small spec preferences). In fact, I agree 100% with all of this:




I like:

* The mechanical keyboard.
* The quirky looks - I really quite like it! Not sure I like the red keys though.
* The unusual screen shape.
* The quirky buttons / levers that you can instantly see the position of - I totally get the design goals you've just stated and think they are great.

I personally don't value:

* Cloud storage.

I don't like:

* The stated battery life. 4 weeks at 30 mintues typing a day with no wifi means about 14 hours of typing, unless I've misinterpreted the specs. My ancient Dana gives me about twice that now that I've put modern batteries in it.
* The fact that you *need* to use cloud storage. For me, that's a distraction. I have to think about where I am when I am using the thing, to feel confident I'm not going to lose my work. To be fair I feel a bit like that about my Neo, and prefer the Dana so I can save to SD card wherever, whenever for peace of mind.
* The price. I guess there's not a lot that can be done about that.



Personally, the battery life is a HUGE deal for me. I'm the guy who obsesses over having his devices charged and carries a big portable battery pack just in case I am on the road and a device dies (sometimes it's not even my own device). With my NEO, I don't ever have to worry about that. I don't EVER charge it. On my birthday, I replace the AA batteries...maybe. Even then, they may still be good since I mostly only use my for drafting, and more than half of my time is spent editing.

I'm not concerned about storage so much on the Neo because I've got the cables that allow me to dump everything I've written into a google and/or word doc on my phone (or Markup, or Scrivener, etc). I do that periodically when I am traveling, so I never have the anxiety of feeling like I will lose what I wrote (because of a hardware/software malfunction), and I never have to worry about not being tethered to the cloud (because my phone can locally save the text I dump on it, so I'm never not without a way to save my writing). Freewrite looks amazing and fun, and I love the keyboard and design...but it gives me too much anxiety wondering how I'm going to sort through everything on the cloud later (or not even having access to the cloud).

I love that the NEO is basically future proof because it can be used as a keyboard when I plug it into any smart device (my phone, my iPad, my Mac, etc). Freewrite doesn't have the functionality, which is fine, but that also means it's not future proof. I mean, if all my files are in the cloud, and that cloud is owned by Freewrite, I'm crossing my fingers that the company is around in 20 years and is still servicing its products and providing cloud storage. With my NEO, I don't really have to worry about that (Renaissance Learning may be gone, but it's product will outlast them and many other writing tools not-yet on the market). Roginald tips his hat to this by saying he'd like removable storage, which is fine (that's basically what I'm using my phone as when I hook up my NEO to it), but I don't necessarily need something that accepts my flash drive (which, again, is another tech that isn't future proof). AlphaSmarts are quirky and take some getting used to, but you quickly realize their benefits once you start using them.

So that's what I love about the AlphaSmart that is not consistent or compatible with the Freewrite. Oh, that and the fact that I can actually EDIT on the damn thing. I was fully going to buy a Freewrite before I saw that it had no arrow keys (and that the only way I could fix a typo from two sentences ago was to delete both of the aforementioned sentences). I understand the concept of wanting to encourage "flow" for writers, but I write big novels (600-800 pages), and if I make an error in my story 2-3 sentences back, I don't want to delete all of those sentences just to fix it. Moreover, I don't want to have the anxiety of knowing that error is there and *hoping* I catch it on my round of revisions. I shouldn't have to worry about either of those things because it can kill my "flow."

NEOs are also great because they are rugged and light, so I can pack mine around just about anywhere (i'm going to mod it soon so that it had a built-in light source, and then I really can lug it around anywhere). Freewrite seems solid (but not light-weight), and it has a great advantage in its e-ink screen being visible during day or night . . . but if given the choice between that and a long-life battery, I will take the longer battery every time. I can always pack around a book light if I need to write at night (which is what I do now), but the best of both worlds would be an LCD screen that capitalizes on it's long battery life, plus a built-in light source so that I can write at night (ideally with separate batteries so I don't have to stop writing entirely in the eventuality that my writing light accidentally gets left on and drains my batteries dry). Once I mod my NEO, I will have that. I don't see any way of modding a Freewrite for a longer battery, though. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I think Roginald wants a few more features than I do. For example, I don't want a thesaurus or a spellchecker because I'm confident in my own writing and can use my phone if I really, really, really MUST use one of those tools...but 99% of the time, I will not bother. An offline research component would actually be pretty sweet, but I basically use Scrivener for that, and it's not "essential." Still, it'd be nice to have something that works as a robust kind of notebook (not just another empty document that you can't search through). Honestly, though, this is like Cloud Storage. Neat concept, but not critical.

I second Roginald's example of walking into the wilderness for a month and walking out with a finished book. That's what we all kind of want, I think. Independence, portability, durability, reliability . . . and the ability to write. Freewrite's inability to edit is a stigma that I can't get past, though I would have happily shelled out $500 for one if it had possessed that simple ability and nothing else. You stipulate that this decision was made (at least in part) because allowing editing with arrow keys would have significantly reduced typing speed on the e-ink screen . . . and I actually understand and empathize with this argument. The tiny delay I see on my AlphaSmart is tolerable enough that I don't mind. The delays I've seen on the Freewrite gave me anxiety, so increasing the length of that typing delay would have been even more anxiety inducing. Short of having e-ink technology catch up with that problem (so that you can edit without causing the device to lag behind the person typing), I think the only viable solution for me would have been what I mentioned above: use something other than an e-ink screen and extend the battery life in the process (and hopefully include an independent light source). Not having an editing function, though, is perhaps the greatest possible sin (I could possibly forgive a lagging screen and a ho-hum battery life if everything else is there...though I doubt you'd sell me on the Freewrite with those flaws). If you can keep what you currently have and edit those three things though (long, long battery life + editing with arrow keys), I might be able to overlook some other cons (like the high cost or the reliance on Cloud Storage).

On the other hand, if you can give me everything I currently get from my NEO plus a cool aesthetic design with an e-ink screen . . . well, I'd be throwing my tax return at you. For now, though, I'm getting by with my AlphaSmart, so I don't see myself switching things up till Freewrite comes out with a different product.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Boczkowski says:

Could have sworn I replied to this last night - anyway - essentially 'what Hook said' plus my take on the price (how much!?!), lack of arrow keys (whyyyyyyy) and battery life (nope).

It'd have to be half the price it is retail to make me even look at it seriously.

I like the keys/keyboard and what Adam said on the design aesthetic/brain cycles makes sense.
35 months ago (permalink)

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theyachtinglife says:

Adam, thanks for popping in!

I bought a Freewrite. I'm glad I did, even though my requirements limited the use I could get out of it. Anyone who makes tools dedicated to writers is all right in my book, arrow keys or not.

My Neo doesn't see much use these days because I used Neo Manager to transfer files many times. I would write part of a letter on my office machine, transfer the work in progress to my Neo, and finish it over lunch, for example.

I believe I've affected the course of legislation with my Neo. Such is the nature of words. They can rise from humble beginnings. Paraphrasing Archimedes, give me a lunch break at Taco Bell and a Neo and I can move the world. Or something like that.

As you consider future products, and I hope you are, look back on your posts here. You may have posted directly from your Freewrite. Few writers could have done that. I would not be able to write thoughtfully and at length in final form on a Freewrite, but I have done so many times on a Neo.

Whether or not the Freewrite fits my writing needs, one thing is certain. Adam, you're a thorough gentleman and a writer's champion. I look forward to your future efforts.

Oh, and to follow up on an email I failed to answer, I don't sail anywhere near as much as I'd like. It's still in my soul. Life's a little in the way right now, but I shall return to the water. Thank you very much for asking. You brightened my day.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

@theyachtinglife,

Nice to see such a positive post here:)
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

@adam,

And in the spirit of positivity, I'll just say that your baby is beautiful, it's just not the baby that I would have created, had I made the effort to create a baby, but I haven't, and you have, so well done!

Inevitably there is going to be a clash here, you want to talk about your beautiful baby, everyone here is going to talk about the baby that they would have preferred it to be, they will forget that it's your baby, not theirs, and that they can make their own damned baby if they feel so strongly about it, instead of petulantly telling you that your baby is ugly:)

I'm sure we'll all muddle through, however, so long as we take a deep breath every now and then!

Now please make me my baby and I'll give you some money because I'm too lazy to make one myself.
35 months ago (permalink)

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theyachtinglife says:

@Roginald - Back at ya - one of the things I've always liked about this group. It's polite and considerate, even to the wild-eyed and unwashed, such as myself. :-)

We live in very fortunate times, all considered. We mourn the decline of tools like the Alphasmart, or, like George R. R. Martin, feel the questioning looks if we like the simplicity of Wordstar or whatever antique he writes with. The most humble tools at our disposal are modern miracles.

I think about that every time I write with a ball point pen. Then I whine about compromises in Scrivener Version 3 to accommodate writers who get the hives from style sheets.

Charles Dickens was said to be a fanatic about his equipment. His desk had to be perfectly arranged, and his supply of quill pens for the day had to be perfectly trimmed for use. He may have been so enamored with the draught and dottle of his writing instruments nothing would have been a worthy replacement.

Whether he would have adopted them or not, even the simplest of today's writing tools would have shocked him. Go back in time with a fistful of Bic Cristal pens and he would have been gobsmacked. Fly back to 1850 with a laptop and a copy of Scrivener and he would have either wept for the surcease of secretary's sand and capsized inkwells or he would have run screaming for the most senior exorcist he could find.

My guess, the exorcist, and on similarity of name alone I believe he would have ratted out Melville to the Grand Inquisitor for his association with the fictional Bartleby.

'Course, Scrivener is pretty awesome. You'd have to expect something like that.
35 months ago (permalink)

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vrf is a group administrator vrf says:

As others above has said, there are no good display options out there. It would be pretty easy to design an improved and superior next-gen Neo these days, what with all the small, low-power system options out there. But, as Freewrite discovered, you still have to shoehorn an off-the-shelf display in there, and there aren't any good choices for a widescreen monochrome display.

Now if only we could reverse engineer Dana's display without the touch layer...
35 months ago (permalink)

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d_b_cohen says:

Still reeling from @roginald’s baby metaphor here... ;-)
35 months ago (permalink)

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antquinz says:

@vrf, I guess you have to work with what you have and that puts limits on what you can make. Still, there’s room from improvement. Lower cost, lower weight, more modern/muted aesthetics, local data transfer, more inclusive/less polarizing marketing. I’m looking forward to what the future may bring.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

I've been thinking about what real devices come closest to my ideal writing-only device.

I had an old Thinkpad with 15 hours battery life (matches the Freewrite) when just used for word-processing. It weighed about 1.5kg and was not much bigger than a netbook. Lovely keyboard and full-on screen. It would be easy to remove the wifi card from it and uninstall all distractions, then install an offline Wikipedia on it, together with Scrivener.

So that's quite close, just the power requirement is the problem. I could take a solar charger to my fantasy wilderness writing hut though:)

But I would greatly prefer the form-factor of things like the AlphaSmarts / FreeWrites however, i.e. no lid to open and close, and loooooong battery life would be great.

Or would I? One advantage of the lid is that you get a very big screen, which becomes particularly useful when editing.

Oh I don't know, so many angles to consider.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Boczkowski says:

I've been watching a few youtube videos on the Freewrite and I must say I am warming to it.

I've specifically been looking for people who have posted a 'oooh shiny' review and then a second review a month or three down the line. This period of usage/hindsight makes for soe good reviews.

There are a couple in this guy's playlist that make me feel warmer about the device. I'd be interetsed to know if this writer has ever used an alphasmart
www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLWjlaDhHCQbmXy97cq62hP9s9v...

that price though


As for the 'ideal device' debate that this has descended into - there ain't one.
Shangri La innit.

I like my Chromebbok for its instant on ability. I can set the homepage to writer.bighugelabs.com/ and away I go in seconds (if I dispense with a user log in page on the device). Would love a better, bouncier keyboard though.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Singletona_82 says:

Mostly for me the freewrite is 'close, but feels like it spent money looking flashy.' I've got a Neo, ad like it. I do know it will /EVENTUALLY/ at some point not work so constantly eyeballing potential successor devices.

Any disagreements with the freewrite to one side? The people running up astrohaus have been fairly easy going about everything.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

Just a reminder, Adam's first post here did end with "how we could possibly provide something that is more interesting to folks on this forum"!

Seems like thinking of one's ideal device is a good way to build up such a picture!
35 months ago (permalink)

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Singletona_82 says:

This is true! The thing is I don't know if we're going to agree. Some of us like the flashy 'LOOK AT THIS THING' approach. I'm in the 'so boring you forge it's a thing so you focus on pounding words out' camp.

However, I think we all agree that we would like it if freewrite handled files like the neo does in some fashion. a few 'instant on' filespaces and have online synching be a secondary to that.

I'm at this stage mostly trying to figure out what drives the freewrite's cost as high as it is where sacrifices can be made and where a firm stance has to be made where 'this will not change even if it is the more expensive thing.'
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

Thinking from the other way around, then, i.e. starting from what the FreeWrite currently is, what kind of changes could make it much more appealing...

I like the fact it has a mechanical keyboard, I like the funky levers and I like how it looks in general. So:

* Get rid of all the internal hardware, and make it into nothing more than a bluetooth keyboard.
* Get rid of the screen and replace it with a clever way of slotting in phones of various shapes and sizes, to hold them very securely - something which any bluetooth-keyboard-with-slot-for-phone that I've ever seen or used lacks. I'm thinking so securely that you can turn the whole thing upside down. With the phone slotting in at the angle the Freewrite's current screen is at.
* Make the levers send keyboard signals via bluetooth.
* Optionally, write an app for the major smartphone OSes that works with it, e.g. interpreting signals from the levers, on/off button etc. Also a basic text editor app that doesn't allow editing, for those who genuinely value that aspect of the FreeWrite.

That would hopefully give you something which:
* Will satisfy current fans of the FreeWrite
* Is lighter
* Is far more affordable
* Lets people use the phone, OS and apps of their choice for their writing - and everything else, which would widen its appeal for anyone, not just writers, as people are doing more and more with their phones. E.g. the Samsung Galaxy now supports virtualisation and running windows 10! You could put full-blown scrivener on that thing.
* Is cool as hell

For hardcore writers, they could also buy an old phone, not put a sim-card in it, install writing apps and so they get their distraction-free writing device.

That would also satisfy my desire for having an offline wikipedia - you can fit Kiwix on an SD card and put it on the phone.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

It could also have a big power store in it, which not only lets the bluetooth keyboard stay powered for months (that actually requires very little power these days), but could charge any phone, if it also had a usb port, and the way of attaching the phone allowed a wired connection to be made. Frankly I wouldn't care if the wire was visible, but it wouldn't need to be if the way of slotting the phone in was clever enough.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

I love the idea of using an app to customise the response to the levers. You could have different positions launching / switching to different apps. Flip to the left to browse wikipedia, to the middle to go to Dropbox if you like cloud storage, to the right to go to your writing app.

And it would not be too hard for someone to write a nice text editor app just for it, where the levers on the other side switch between documents, alphasmart style etc.

You essentially have a programmable, expandable device because all the smarts are on the phone, and you could write some quirky apps to match the quirky hardware. Heck, *I'd* be excited enough to write an app for it.
35 months ago (permalink)

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H0OK is a group administrator H0OK says:

@Roginald

First off, this is just my opinion so I'm only speaking for myself. ;-)

I think we already have most of what you are talking about except maybe the keyboard that you can turn upside down with the phone attached (they do have that for tablets and since I prefer not to write on something as small as a phone that's fine with me ;-) ). We have Cherry MX BT keyboards, you can get cheap business card holders at staples that will put your phone at the right angle and Bob's your uncle.

And frankly, to my perception , you are adding layers of distraction and complexity. And whenever you are designing for other devices, you introduce quality control issues. The appeal of both the Freewrite and the Neo are their simplicity because they aren't kluged together but are integrated and therefore easy to carry around with you. I disagree with the execution of some functions on the Freewrite, but both are designed to free you from thinking about the device or the software that runs it and thinking purely about your writing. Adam has invented his vision of this and it's the first thing since the Alphasmarts that is tempting, which is probably why some people are frustrated that it doesn't quite make it for those of us who like what the Neo does. That doesn't change that it's exciting to have someone investing in tools for writers.

I think it would be interesting to think about both what would need to change for you to consider the Freewrite and what would an updated Neo produced by Astrohaus look like and need to be.

Finally, with regards to the price discussion, in my opinion, $500 is not a bad price for the Freewrite. The Neo 2 was $256 new and it had an established market. A new version of the Neo for $300 would have me looking. We've been spoiled by having massive numbers of a used device made available, but you can't expect a company to produce something new that cheaply.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Singletona_82 says:

A $250 device I can see just fine. A New Das keyboard is something like $150 and it's on the expensive end of mechanical keyboards. You can get decent no-frills mechanicals for like $50 now. So having an 'all in one' for $250 as a new replacement is pretty noteworthy. For me, $500 is a flat 'No.' That gets into 'could buy a new laptop' territory so I can't justify it at all.

Yes, we are a bit spoiled with the ebay aftermarket, but to go that the freewrite deserves its price feels a tad overreaching if not an outright apologist. No offence meant but the freewrite is in a different time than the neo was. The neo was in a point in time when the cheap option for a laptop was $500. Now? I could go pick up an amazon tablet for $50. Yes, the tablet is designed for consumption rather than production, but that alters the public perception of 'value.' There is also the fact chromebooks have largely filled the niche an alphasmart might have in the educational market outside of special needs (please do not get me started on how overpriced feeling ANYTHING special needs feels. Then again looking back what you're paying for is ruggedness.)

I could see a typewriter esque bluetooth keyboard being sold by astrohaus. It'd be kinda neat as a thing to have in their catalogue, plus while it isn't something I personally want, it's going to find an audience. The unfortunate thing is going to be how much it would cost to get permission from apple to sell for the iphone market. I wouldn't want one but I'm a weirdo that uses a flip phone and would feel like I'm intentionally drawing attention to myself if I pulled out a device like that from my bag at wherever. However, I've got about five or six friends that would be all over it in a heartbeat if you could keep it at the $100ish price point (I'm not sure if that's realistic.)

I am wondering how much astrohaus would have to charge for something that uses the dana's overall aesthetics with the same sized screen the freewrite has (flipped horizontally to fit the form factor) no touch screen and something like a neo/dana hybrid in that larger screen, but it is purely dedicated to writing. $300?

One last thing the neo has made me appreciate in, terms of design. It's a device that can run off of batteries I'm able to easily get replacements for. My last tablet had a battery that just up and died. I spent enough money on a replacement I could have gotten a replacement tablet (but I wanted /MY/ tablet to work dagnabbit) and then had to undo about twenty screws (and count myself lucky it /HAD/ screws rather than sonic welded and glued plastics) to get at the battery to replace the thing, and no it wouldn't work straight off of AC power. No Battery an android threw a fit at me. So 'oh the battery is dead. Plop in replacements and continue on' is a bit of a big deal when you're dealing with devices that have longevity as a selling point.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

@Hookmt,

Agreed we have all the bits to cobble together the kind of thing I'm thinking of. I have three bluetooth keyboards for just that purpose now and I've ended up finding them so frustrating. Just the *one addition* of being able to solidly physically attach your phone to it, so you can move it around, tilt it, lie back with it etc would be so welcome. I keep having ideas about making my own attachment method for them but I've found it surprisingly difficult to come up with one! I regularly browse eBay for things like this.

As I was writing my previous post I did indeed think about buying a mechanical bluetooth keyboard and making my own wooden case to hold it and a phone firmly together in the way that I want.

I agree about layers and complexity, and can see the kind of device I was describing being off-putting to people that don't like tinkering:) I like tinkering, but I also like tinkering in such a way that the end result gives me something that I can just get on and use.

@Singletona_82

The easily replaceable batteries is a good one. One reason I like the AlphaSmarts and my old Psion 5mx.
35 months ago (permalink)

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theyachtinglife says:

Syncing is nice, but I would be fine with USB storage instead of cloud connections. A Freewrite that acted like a Neo would be a fine tool, and I'd buy (another) one for $500.

I never understood Mashable's kitschy "pretentious hipster" complaint. Unfortunately, that was catchy and it took hold. It was bullying, and I don't appreciate it. Or, I have no fashion sense. That's possible, too, but if I have a keyboard and a minimal word processor, I can create. What I create is more important to me than what I create it on, even though I do love my gizmos.

I may have to get an iPad. i've already got an Apple wireless keyboard. I think I'll want to figure out how to keep my work on a USB drive.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Ms. Kudzu says:

I've lurked here off and on for about two years, and am thankful there's a forum for Alphasmart users. I have three Neo 2s, as well as other types of electronic gadgets (phone, tablet, several computers, ereader). I don't have a Freewrite, but I've followed their progress and get emails from them.

There are several things I'd like to see in a new Alphasmart or a new version of the Freewrite. The mechanical keyboard sounds great, and the display looks good to me overall. I like that it has a light, which is something I wish the Neo 2 had as my Mighty Bright keeps my spouse awake, so I can't write at night in bed. Like many have already mentioned, I need arrow keys. I like to be able to move around in the document to add notes for changes to be made later. I have to do this when I think of it, or I'll forget to do it (yeah, I'm getting old). I like the cloud synching, but would prefer to be able to just link it to my Dropbox (or choice of other cloud storage) without going through an intermediary service. The option to transfer text to computer with a usb cable would also be handy, as would the ability to use flash drives and sd cards for additional backup.

I, personally, don't want to attach my phone or tablet to a device for writing, because I lack the self-discipline to stay off the Internet (kudos to those who can stay off). I'm also contacted for freelance work via email, so I can't turn off the wifi. Plus, my cell phone is my actual phone, and I have elderly relatives who have to be able to reach me, so all the calls, whether relatives or people trying to sell me new windows, come through. The only way for me to keep from surfing the web or watching cat videos is to keep my connected devices across the room during writing time.

Again, it's good that a company is paying attention to the niche previously served by Renaisance.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Singletona_82 says:

@theyachtinglife

The 'kitschy hipster' complaint is because the freewrite is a very 'loud' device, a very attention-grabbing design compared to basically anything and everything else you might come across either as a laptop or phone/tablet keyboard. It has a very 'LOOK AT ME DO THE THING' aesthetic in my personal opinion, and to me, that is very offputting because not only does it feel like i"m paying for the added 'flash' of how it looks, but the device's own 'loudness' is a distraction in of itself (to me.) I'm glad the freewrite serves people, especially those that come here as I recognize I can get off in my own little bubble and not see the other sides of a debate. It's just for me that flash comes at a premium that I frankly can't justify on a personal financial level.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

Welcome Ms. Kudzu,

I totally agree that it's nice to know there are company's serving this niche. I wonder if we've scared Adam off though!? Hopefully he's just busy selling Freewrites in the lead up to Christmas and he'll be back eventually:)
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

@Singletona_82

"I am wondering how much astrohaus would have to charge for something that uses the dana's overall aesthetics with the same sized screen the freewrite has (flipped horizontally to fit the form factor) no touch screen and something like a neo/dana hybrid in that larger screen, but it is purely dedicated to writing. $300?"

I love the Dana's aesthetics.

After starting seriously considering cobbling together my own "Freewrite" with plywood, a mechanical keyboard and a smartphone, I'm now thinking that taking the screen out of a Dana and sellotaping a smartphone in its place, and a bit of wiring to power it from the Dana's USB port, and using an OTG cable to send keyboard signals to the phone, could be a workable idea. If I rooted an Android phone I could make the Dana's function keys etc to whatever I want. Oh dear, now I really have derailed this thread. And any chance of getting any writing done for the next few weeks!
35 months ago (permalink)

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theyachtinglife says:

@Singletona_82 - the keyboard noise, I hadn't thought of that, and I guess I haven't read the criticism closely enough.

I can see a minor problem there, although most of my writing on the Neo was done where no one could see me. I always felt self-conscious.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Andrey___S says:

"After starting seriously considering cobbling together my own "Freewrite" with plywood, a mechanical keyboard and a smartphone, I'm now thinking that taking the screen out of a Dana and sellotaping a smartphone in its place, and a bit of wiring to power it from the Dana's USB port, and using an OTG cable to send keyboard signals to the phone, could be a workable idea."

It might be easier to get a Raspberry Pi, connect Dasung Paperlike Pro via HDMI to it, get a USB keyboard of your liking and a battery pack. Rewiring Dana stuff is pretty complicated—there's a thread here about it. eInk Carta has pretty excellent refresh rate these days. I would prefer a smaller screen than 13"—perhaps a 7" and one that costs less than $800, but the basics are there to be put together without too much niche technical knowledge if you have the money and desire... and plywood :-)
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

@RevAndrey,

Thanks for that. There even appear to be quite a lot of sites with instructions along those lines. A friend keeps encouraging me to get a Raspberry Pi, he's been having a lot of fun with his. Could be an interesting project...
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

Thinking of the Raspberry Pi, it wouldn't be a bad idea to release a Freewrite with that kind of hardware in it, or at least something that could handle firmware updates.

That way, Astrohaus could give people a choice of "firmware" which would be easy to update - just plug the Freewrite into your PC via a usb cable and press a button in some software. A reset button on the machine in case things go wrong.

I'm guessing people here who want the ability to edit would be okay with the keyboard as it is? I.e. use a special combination of keys to move a cursor around, no *need* for arrow keys?

If it was very flexible, open-source software as well, or maybe a published API, then those who LIKE to tinker could also write their custom firmware.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Singletona_82 says:

OK, the quickest way to get me on board with the freewrite that only requires firmware patching:

* Have a series of instant-on file-spaces that can be hot-swapped between at the key combo press. This is one of the biggest things with the alphasmarts. Being able to send these to computers/tablets/anything plugged into the USB would be a fairly sizeable thing since 'being able to use for decades' is a selling point.

* Prioritizing those file spaces above needing to connect online. As in even if you aren't connected to a cloud you still have those and can send those to a computer much like how alphasmart does.

* Define some cluster of keys (WASD, ESDF, Whatever as 'arrow' keys if you hold down the same key that has filespace controls so you can go through and edit the word you saw a few lines up.

* Batteries of all sorts eventually die. It'd be great if instructions were posted on how to replace the freewrite's battery.

* If at all possible through firmware make the freewrite able to run off mains even if the battery is stone dead since, well the biggest decider on if a device is good or not is if I can actually use it. Does bring to mind, if the battery goes is the internal work saved to non violate storage or if the main battery goes are you hosed?

Do these things and I will be on board with the freewrite. I feel it is a bit on the expensive side, but this would show that you have taken what good you can from prior devices and integrated that into your own after listening to feedback.

Now then if a freewrite 2/Revision B ever happened:
* Dedicated row of keys for file-spaces, spellcheck search, and sending (maybe make a few of those knobs or a switch to keep with the freewrite's current aesthetic) as well as a dedicated cluster for arrow keys.

* Have an easy to access user serviceable battery compartment since, again, being able to replace the battery is important.

I do not see this happening since it is expensive to retool production lines. However a man can dream, can't he?
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

@Singletona_82,

This is good stuff.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Andrey___S says:

@Roginald,

As another alternative, here's a video that shows someone typing on an upcoming (later this month) Boox Max 2 eInk Carta tablet to give you an idea of what the latest eInk tech is capable of: www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IXNe9Wuw1w

The setup could be as simple as a bluetooth keyboard with the tablet. It'll have all the editing capabilities people here are looking for and a 13" eInk screen with better refresh rate than Freewrite. I'd prefer that the keyboard connected via USB, but it's pretty close. Also, you can use the stylus to help with the editing process.

I love the dormant potential of Freewrite, but with Neo covering the pure distraction-free writing base and these new eInk tablets coming out for those who want more features, I suspect Freewrite might get left behind unless some major improvements are on the way.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

@RevAndrey,

That screen looks lovely. I like that it's black and white, as well. Not only for aesthetic reasons, but also a black and white screen with a less-than-great refresh rate, to some extent, solves some of the distraction problem. You're less likely to see the web as entertainment with its youtube and its funny cats, and more like a tool for quickly checking facts etc.

I'd prefer it in a device where the screen and keyboard are solidly locked together. I really value being able to adopt funny angles when writing, or putting things on your lap in the car, all that sort of stuff.


@Singletona_82,

I think you should tell Adam to come back here. Tell him we've "reined things in" and "things have just got real", and other phrases like that, and to look at your post.
35 months ago (permalink)

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adamleeb says:

Wow, this became one epic thread. I'll try to see how I can respond best to the novel you all have written!

First, I definitely understand where you all are coming from. There's no surprise that a group of people on the AlphaSmart forum want something like an AlphaSmart! But I do want to chat because the Freewrite is just one thing and even if we keep the Freewrite how it is, that doesn't mean we couldn't make another thing that at least attempted to please you all.

Regarding price, the majority of the product costs come from three things, the screen, the mechanical keyboard and the 'computer' required to run the screen. The rest of it is small stuff that all adds up. Yes, we make money on the Freewrite but no the margins that are required to sell in retail, which is why we sell direct. Then there is the whole cost of development that needs to be amortized and I can tell you that we are still far from recouping our entire investment in the development. And we ran a very lean approach.

One thing that I want to address is that the large folder switch on the Freewrite *does* do what you are asking in terms of giving you quick access to files. We only have 3 slots whereas the AlphaSmart has 8 though. But each one of those 'folders' has documents in it that you can access with the flick of the switch. You press both of the red keys at the same time to make a new draft within the folder. The folders also correspond to real folders that would be in your Dropbox or Google Drive if you sync to those services. You can even use some hotkeys to go up or down within the folder and access newer or older drafts. There is no 'file tree' but it does allow you some flexibility to move around.

We have had big dreams to allow people to map folders to specific workflows. For example, everything you write in folder A would be saved as a draft to your wordpress blog. We still haven't got around to that type of integration but there are some basic things you can do now like map folders to cloud services individually and also choose to have a folder save as fdx for screenplay formatting.

Sorry, not trying to sell you but I wanted to let you know that I like the AlphaSmarts method of choosing documents and tried to do our own twist on it with Freewrite!

It sounds like there are two camps:
1. Bluetooth mechanical keyboard plus phone/tablet holder
2. new version of Alphasmart that is all in one. Maybe it has E Ink, maybe it just has a regular backlit LCD.

I hear that a lot of people don't like relying on the cloud. I understand the fears but the cloud is just another name for the internet and well, we all trust everything else these days to the internet like our email, personal information, and buying history, etc. I am not saying we all shouldn't be vigilant but having the Freewrite connected to the cloud to seamlessly sync documents is oh so useful! And one thing that I want to clarify is that this is a sync service; documents are still saved on the device. So it is completely fine to write offline for as long as you want and then the next time you connect to Wi-Fi, all the documents sync. Also, the Freewrite does connect with USB to a computer and you can easily access all your drafts since it shows up as a mass storage device with text documents. This is designed as a backup to the cloud but it works just fine.

Instead of pulling the Freewrite in a completely new direction, I would very much like to create a new product that responds to what you all want. Whether it is a Bluetooth mechanical keyboard with some additional writing features or a new dedicated writing tool, it's still unclear what would have the most interest. Either of those things could be done. We have actually been working on some stuff internally around both of those areas but they are very much works in progress.

I realize I didn't respond to everything above! Sorry about that. It just got to be a lot. But I will if anyone wants to point me to something specific.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

@Adam,

I wish I'd bothered to read the faq on your website rather than just what other people say! I think there may be some confusion. I think some people think that they have to sync to YOUR servers, but that's not true from what you are saying, is it?

I don't think people have a problem with cloud services so much as thinking that they had to use servers provided by a (with all due respect) small company!

There are many other things, based on what you've just written, that are also not the impression I had, but then I'm lazy and hadn't checked the details on your website and I'm beginning to wonder how many people have!

Anyway I suspect you've just made it a little more appealing for some people.

Speaking as the person that raised the idea of bluetooth keyboard with a way of attaching a phone, I think I can safely say that it's not that idea people are most intereted in.

I think an updated, ultra-simple device like the Neo is more what's exciting people here!
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

@Adam,

For your next creation, would you consider using something like the Raspberry Pi for the 'smarts'? It would mean you could hopefully write the software you want, but I can imagine it also getting a hell of a geek following, with people buying the device just to tinker and write their own stuff; even a text editing app of their liking if they don't like the way yours works.

As far as I can tell, most of the criticisms here could be solved through software changes, e.g. if people wanted to edit, that doesn't mean they need arrow keys, so the hardware could stay the same.

Power source is a big hardware change a lot of people would want, however. Much longer battery life and even replaceable common batteries.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Singletona_82 says:

'we all trust everything else these days to the internet'

I don't. At all. I've had enough network outages happen to prefer to see the Internet as a backup rather than 'assume it will be there. Apologies for the confrontational tone but... No the internet 'is not always there' and no I do not trust it.
So it kinda sounds like we're flipflopped on wanting which thing to be the 'first' priority (I prefer offline to be a priority you seem to prefer online to be the priority.) At this stage, the fact it having offline should be a better selling point as I'd gone in with the express thought that you NEED cloud synching.

Maybe work with the pi foundation to create a system? There's the compute module that you can plug into a custom PCB that has the input/outputs you personally want, which would give the freewrite future proofing in that 'oh hey people have come up with new functions and or you want to do something new.' Slot in a newer stick.

Then again I don't know if that is a thing that would add expense.

Even though I like the alphasmart, it isn't being made and the freewrite is. So I'm trying to figure out a way to help. So I'm hoping at least some of what I've had to say is useful, or at least not pants on head stupid from a business perspective.
35 months ago (permalink)

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adamleeb says:

The fact the that Freewrite saves locally and then syncs to the cloud is definitely lost on a lot of folks so I am not surprised it was lost on many here. We chose to focus on the cloud syncing but that isn't what everybody cares about. Such is the trouble with marketing. We basically just keep honing the message until it gets as strong of a connection as possible.
By using E Ink, we were basically forced into a microscopic ecosystem of components that are able to drive it. Hence the cost. The chip we use is the same that is used in the Kindle Paperwhite which is more expensive than the entire compute module at cost. And we aren't buying at Amazon quantities either. It's a tough one. Should we have dropped E Ink which would have given us a lot more options? Maybe but I really do love E Ink for this application!
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

@Adam,

Can the Freewrite back up to a phone? With a USB OTG cable I can plug a pen drive into my phone and access & copy its contents using an app (on Android at least, not sure about other phones). I gather from what you are saying it looks just like a flash drive when connected to a PC, so I'm thinking that should work.

If so then that would satisfy a lot of people's desire to back up locally wherever they are, as most people carry a smart phone these days.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Justin_T_Call says:

Yeah, I've been poking around the Freewrite forums, and I'm seeing that many of my thoughts about the Freewrite were incorrect (like not realizing it has an internal storage for your documents). I've heard horror stories of people saying they had tried to upload/sync to the cloud, they thought they were successful (maybe they had auto-updates on, so they assumed everything had been transferred correctly when they had actually been without wifi), but then they went to check their cloud storage of choice and found no documents had been transferred. Then (according to the stories in the forums and in some user reviews), they had to rewrite their entire document. That was a total no-go for me . . . but it sounds like you are saying I missed half of the story. I mean, if the Freewrite has local storage, it sounds like the person narrating that horror story made the error of deleting their document from their Freewrite before checking to make sure it had uploaded correctly. Does that sound accurate to you? Otherwise, I'm not sure how the narrator would have accidentally lost their document. Is there a feature where the Freewrite will shred local documents after it has uploaded to the cloud? If so, I'm thinking that person had the feature turned on and inadvertently lost their file when the Freewrite failed to sync. Just curious if this is an actual think that can happen and, if so, how it can be prevented.

There were two others problems that made buying a Freewrite unlikely (based on what I saw in the forums):

(1) Battery life. Many folks said that the battery life on their Freewrite was not as high as they had hoped or expected. It's advertised as getting 15+ hours of writing time (which is still pretty good when compared versus computers and not versus the AlphaSmart Neo), but it seems like some people were getting far less usage out of their battery. I'm guessing this is because they had wifi settings turned on (and any other setting that drains the battery), but I don't know the details (maybe they had a defective battery?). In any case, one of the nicest things (for me) about the AlphaSmarts that I use is that they have a reliable battery. I can't charge them with my USB cable and a wall outlet (like I can with the Freewrite), and I can't charge them with my portable adapter (like I can with the Freewrite), but having 3 AAA batteries that last a year or more is actually better in this instance (ironic as that may be). I suppose I'd still be able to survive with a 15+ hour battery life (especially if I have my portable charger and/or a wall outlet nearby), but if I am getting half that amount of battery life, I would definitely skip buying the device for fear that it simply would not be able to keep up with my "road warrior" routine.

(2) Lag between typing and text appearing on the screen. This is actually a really, really big issue for me. I LOVE the e-ink screen (it was one of the cool factors that made me want to purchase a Freewrite), but I've heard many folks complain about how the e-ink screen lags behind their writing, particularly after their document gets longer and/or their storage fills up. I write epic fantasy novels for a living, and I'd be delighted to be able to draft an entire novel on a Freewrite...but having files between 20K and 200K words seems like I would be waiting an AWFULLY long time for the screen to update (I saw people talking about waiting times as short as 7 seconds to as long as 3 minutes). That's insane. If I am writing "in the zone" on a large document, and it is taking more than two second for my text to appear on the screen, I am instantly going to hate that machine. If I'm having to wait 7 seconds (or, God forbid, 3 minutes), then I am going to sell said device and pick back up my AlphaSmart (or even my laptop computer). I'm not sure how true this is, but the reviews I see online all seem to be from people who are not drafting large documents (whereas the posts I see in your forums tend to be from people who are using the Freewrite as more of a workhorse for their drafts).

I'm thinking that the first problem I mentioned (the worry about losing local files on the Freewrite after supposedly having synced with the cloud) is related to third problem I mentioned (the e-ink screen lagging a lot whenever large documents are being written and stored locally on the Freewrite. The two problems seem to be at odds with each other when (A) I can't leave large documents on my Freewrite because it makes the screen lag, and (B) I can't rely on syncing with the cloud and then shredding local documents because sometimes the files get lost in transit and then I might have to rewrite the entire document that failed to sync and was consequently shredded.

To be fair, if the Freewrite still has the feature of saving locally to its hard drive, and then uploading to another local device (like my phone or computer), I don't technically NEED to rely on the cloud syncing (so I can avoid the problems of shredding local documents and then not seeing them in the cloud). I do more or less the same thing with my AlphaSmart Neo documents: I click "SEND" and upload the text to an App on my phone, and then the text is typed directly into my Scrivener document; then I will often (though not always) delete the local document so that I have a clean "digital desk space" to work with. The files on my Neo are also unlikely to get longer than a chapter apiece, which means an average of 5-30 pages, and the Neo can handle that file length but nothing longer. So I usually type up a chapter (most often 8-12 pages) in a single folder (one of the eight stored locally on my Neo), and then I transfer the file to my Scrivener document when I have finished drafting that chapter. I know that I can store multiple documents in each of my 8 folders . . . but realistically, I just keep everything to a single document per folder. Most of the logic for that is because I can't easily see the contents of the "digital folder" on my Neo, so I just prefer to keep single documents in each of the 8 local folders. With a Freewrite, though, it appears that I could use the hotkeys to quickly toggle between documents . . . which is a feature I might use more often (particularly since I'd only have 3 folders on the Freewrite). In theory, this would mean that I'd have several documents/chapters averaging 1500-6000 words stored in Folder A, then Folder B would have my writing notes, and Folder C would have my miscellaneous writing (like my journal or blog posts). Does that sound accurate? If so, how easy is it to see the files stored in each folder? Does each file get a name and/or a preview of what it contains? I'm not sure I've seen what the Freewrite's screen looks like when you are using the hotkeys to toggle between documents within a folder. If those files are easy to identify, I'd be more inclined to use create multiple documents and then let those documents live locally on my Freewrite (perhaps as a backup to Scrivener), and then only delete them when I am done drafting my entire novel. Do you foresee this as something that would potentially cause the e-ink screen to lag? I guess I'm asking whether creating and storing several smaller documents (rather than working within one large document) would prevent the screen lag. I've seen folks say something to that effect in the forums (that, if they keep their documents at a manageable size, the lag is less of a problem), but it was unclear whether this work-around still functioned when using multiple small files within a folder that adds up to a total size of 200,000 words. Does that make sense?

If the screen lag is less noticeable (2 seconds or less) when I keep my local files to no more than 6000 words, and if I can easily find these smaller files within the Freewrite's three larger folders, that would theoretically assuage half of my concerns about lag, using local storage for "larger" files, and/or losing files during cloud syncing. If I'm wrong, though, and I'd still be experiencing long periods of lag while drafting my chapters, then I can't see myself every justifying the purchase of a Freewrite. If there is a viable solution to these problems, though (and the battery life is actually around 15+ hours without needing to be charged), then I could see this being a niche tool that one day makes its way into my office. If the battery life were dramatically increased AND the screen lag was solved (and I never had to worry about losing local documents whenever cloud syncing failed), then I'd probably justify the purchase of a Freewrite right now.

Let me know if I've been misinformed about any of these things, Adam. If so, please tell me where I've gone wrong.

Cheers, Justin
35 months ago (permalink)

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dutch_garvey says:

To me, the effort/expense and annoyance (for some) of including an e-ink screen in the device is completely at odds with the forward-ratcheting, don't-look-back, just-keep-spewing, couldn't-edit-if-you-wanted-to ethos of the thing. I don't see the point of wanting that output to be beautifully rendered on screen. Who cares? For revisions, sure, you'd like a reasonably pleasant display to look at, but by that point your text has been moved to a different device.

Nicholson Baker drafted his book A Box of Matches on a laptop in the pre-dawn darkness of his living room in Maine. He'd turn the screen's brightness all the way down and lower the lid so that it hovered just above his knuckles.

If a writer really wants to silence the internal editor and free himself from the tyranny of second-guessing, how about a device with no display at all? Maybe just one small, soft blue LED to indicate that the machine is on and capturing the magic. :)
35 months ago (permalink)

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H0OK is a group administrator H0OK says:

dutch_garvey:

Lol, Dutch. No, probably not interested in that extreme either. Maybe if they invent interruption free writing, something that I have not yet found possible. ;-)

But the fact is, while I want to kick the editor out, I don't want to blind the writer not so he can edit (I'm not that OC about misspelled words in a rough draft) but to allow the interrupted writer to review a paragraph back or to correct the character's name which he just got wrong and knows he got it wrong even without seeing the words. :-D So while Adam has done a lot to make me think more positively about the FreeWrite, the lack of arrow keys will always be a deal breaker for me.

Maybe TheYachtingLife, the only one of us who has his hands on a Freewrite, could address some of the more detailed questions. Just a thought.
Originally posted 35 months ago. (permalink)
H0OK (a group admin) edited this topic 35 months ago.

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Roginald says:

@dutch_garvey,

"If a writer really wants to silence the internal editor and free himself from the tyranny of second-guessing, how about a device with no display at all? Maybe just one small, soft blue LED to indicate that the machine is on and capturing the magic. :)"

I have to say, speaking as someone who really values being able to edit at any time, that's the first time an idea for a "you-can't-edit" device has really appealed to me! Something about the extreme. I mean, if you're going to do it, then do it!

Just imagine how small and cute and portable the device could be, and the phenomenal battery life. Literally just a keyboard, or a mini keyboard, with an LED. It could be so affordable, too!

I'd want the meaning of the led to be very reassuring though. I'd want the device to have a built-in dictionary, and for it to check my entered words against that dictionary, and if say 7 out of the last 10 words were recognised, to stay on. Otherwise turn red or even bark at me.

In fact, for once, I can almost imagine this alleged zen-like state people get into when writing without looking back. Instead of looking at characters, the part of the brain which interprets shapes would be turned off, and I'd almost be visualising the scene I was typing about.

Now I'm off to tape over my Neo's screen!
35 months ago (permalink)

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dutch_garvey says:

Ha! Careful with that tape, Roginald. :)

You know, even though I proposed the idea of a no-display device as a silly extreme, I could see its utility for certain kinds of writers. Talk about keeping you in the flow! You're either flowing or you set the thing aside and go do something else. There's no fiddling to be done, and no middle ground. And yes, you could build some rudimentary signaling into that lone LED (or maybe add another one or two) to keep you abreast of certain conditions and contingencies. Proposed product name: DarkWriter™

It's not the device for me, though. I've never been good at working in don't-look-back drafting mode. I'm a fiddly writer, and, in fact, as much as I love and use my Neos, their small screen real estate and rudimentary editing capabilities cramp me up sometimes.

I'm with Hook--the arrow keys are a must.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Je119 says:

This discussion reminds me of the old typewriter with display... just a few characters to show what you typed.

And also the pocket scientific calculator... you can buy one for a pound in the UK... a basic word processor would be about as sophisticated... could have the same processor, same screen, just with qwerty and saves your work. It could also function as a reader... using that speed reading method where only a few characters are displayed at a time. And be a calculator and have a clock and the batteries would last weeks. Pocketable... and in fantasy land everyone would want one... and it would cost the same £1...

This but landscape/qwerty/bit wider for comfort, same 12 character display, saves to sdcard

www.poundland.co.uk/scientific-calculator
Originally posted 35 months ago. (permalink)
Je119 edited this topic 35 months ago.

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dutch_garvey says:

Very interesting, Je119. The last typewriter I ever owned had that capability. As I recall, it would show perhaps the last 6-8 words typed, and they wouldn't be committed to paper until you moved on and they scrolled out of the window--i.e., you could do some immediate fixing in that small window if you caught your error in time, but that was the extent of its editing capabilities.

And come to think of it, I do use a no-editing device to capture thoughts on the fly; I just have to retype them: my Olympus VN-7200 Digital Voice Recorder, which accompanies me whenever I'm out for a walk. While I rarely get into a flow-like state at the keyboard, I often do so while I'm out getting some exercise, and the Olympus is useful in those situations.
35 months ago (permalink)

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H0OK is a group administrator H0OK says:

Je119:

I had one of these, complete with the printer. It was a lot of fun.

oldcomputers.net/trs80pc1.html
35 months ago (permalink)

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Singletona_82 says:

> By using E Ink, we were basically forced into a microscopic ecosystem of components that are able to drive it. Hence the cost.

I know the pi has eink hats, and there are testpads beneath the pi zero/w that would mean you could straight up drop in situation and those thigns are cheap as hell. The biggest downside is the fact it uses an SD card.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Je119 says:

@ Hookmt

Awesome... if you feel like being nostalgic, you can get one again on Ebay for a few $.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Je119 says:

I don't understand the going for E ink... The Pomera DM10/20 had a really good hi-contrast screen, without a backlight... the contrast may be a little better with E ink - but that's all. A single line hi-contrast display would be fine for a drafting machine... for minimal cost/power consumption.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Singletona_82 says:

I can see why if your last memory of black/white LCD are of say the gameboy or cheapo calculator screens or cheapie translator things with hard to read screen glare going on.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

A thought just occurred to me:

When you look at the swings backwards and forwards between complexity and simplicity people are talking about in this thread...

It all averages out to an AlphaSmart.

What's wrong with them, again?

How about tackling this for a question:

Take your favourite AlphaSmart, Neo, Dana or whatever, imagine handing it over to a technical whizz and giving them $250 to make modifications to your spec. I use $250 just because it's half the asking price for a Freewrite, but still a fair old whack of money, so you'd have to really want the mods.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

I've just gone through that thought process now. If I handed my Dana and $250 over, I'd want back:

A replacement screen. Low power consumption and very high contrast with decent update speed and great uniformity, ultra-low reflection and great viewing angles. Backlit. Black and white preferable otherwise I'd waste time tinkering with colours. Yes, in some ways a quality screen is the least important thing, but I find a poor one can be very distracting. I don't want to have to think about illumination angles and light sources.

File management software which has some of the elements of Scrivener: Being able to sort files in a tree structure quickly and via keyboard commands. Being able to tag files with meta-data, so you can, for example, see all scenes in which a certain character appears. Search for words across all files in a folder. Get word counts per file or all files in a folder. It doesn't need to be remotely as complex as Scriviner - tree structure file storage, meta data storage, search capabilities and statistics generation are pretty straighforward. I want to handle all project management and editing on the Dana, and with a screen that size I don't see why I can't.

I could add all sorts of other desires, but that's where the $250 comes in. I'd be very happy with that for $250.
35 months ago (permalink)

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H0OK is a group administrator H0OK says:

Roginald:

Having chosen the Neo 2 over the Dana (I have both), I have more minimalist tastes. Again, the fun of your exercise, which is really the key exercise to be doing here, is that we are all different kinds of writers with different kinds of workflow and so are going to want different things. It's also why the ideal device is one that allows maximum flexibility.

I like your screen, as long as it doesn't give me a real OS like PALM OS to deal with, the major reason I dropped the Dana. I don't really want a file system. I really like my one-key file spaces. The only things I want besides the screen is a mechanical switch keyboard, and maybe wifi if it could be set up to send any filespace as a .txt file directly to Dropbox or the cloud service of your choice. Even better if it could be set up to send the .txt file to the SFTP address of your choice (I have access to a private Linux server). And there *must* be arrow keys! :-D

Ultimately, this exercise makes me realize that the Neo 2 as is comes pretty close to my ideal machine already. I don't do any non-local (within a few sentences) on my Neo 2. I do all my editing on my computer with many many tools available including the internet. Personally, I need distraction free writing, not so much distraction-free editing. So I just need to write and be assured that my writing is reliably being saved and backed up and very long battery life. Everything else is gravy, but not needed and, if distracting, not wanted.

As I say, fun to see all the differences in our needs and wants.
Originally posted 35 months ago. (permalink)
H0OK (a group admin) edited this topic 35 months ago.

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Roginald says:

@Hookmt,

"Ultimately, this exercise makes me realize that the Neo 2 as is comes pretty closee to my ideal machine already."

Exactly what I'm thinking. We have our AlphaSmarts, whatever model that may be, and really, they are so close to "ideal" for us that anything new isn't likely to be much closer to ideal, just different. Given we aren't going to each get our own customised machine - anything new will not please everyone - can we expect it to meet our own idea of "ideal" any more closely than what we already have?

Considering AlphaSmarts are education tools and not designed for drafting novels for example, it's remarkable how close to ideal they can be for that purpose.

Anything costing $250 is going to have to be pretty special to please the majority of AlphaSmart users enough to jump ship.
35 months ago (permalink)

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muskndusk2 says:

Where Astrohaus fails with the Freewrite is not following the Bauhaus principle of "form follows function". The Alphasmart is a perfect example of the Bauhaus tradition, from the comfortable keyboard to the screen design and arrow keys. The function, writing, is perfectly catered for and the shape of the models follow the need to type, make small edits, but only see a small amount of text in order to keep moving forward.

Astrohaus seem to have based the Freewrite around design desires which have nothing to do with what the user would want to do with the machine: type away from distractions, easily carry it, and make small edits. Instead they appear to have decided to use an e-ink screen regardless of whether this would work for the purpose.

E-ink technology, though great for e-readers, isn't advanced enough to handle fast moving text and editing; hence no arrow keys. The insistence on doing everything the Hemingway way is ridiculous. If he were alive now, he'd be using a laptop and Word/Scrivener etc like everyone else. Astrohaus could have randomly chosen Shakespeare and be trying to sell quills and ink pots (using these is a legit hobby amongst many, but you wouldn't seriously write a novel this way).

I like the idea of a mechanical keyboard and love the modded Alphasmart 3000 which has been pointed out elsewhere in this group. But I've seen reviews on youtube such as this one: www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8xvU29PONc where the owner hated the keyboard. Maybe mechanical keyboards are an acquired taste. They're especially inappropriate when writing in a public space, like a library, or even at home where the family might complain about the noise.

The general design of the Freewrite calls attention to itself rather than just making the job of writing easy. The big red knobs take up space which could, possibly, have been used for the screen. And what (insert rude word) thought it would be a good idea to send documents to the cloud instead of to a computer via usb? Including wifi on the device leaves it wide open to surfing the internet, if some techie modded it.

Form follows function? Not in this case.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

@muskndusk2,

Just one technical note based on what you say: It turns out that you can in fact send the files to a computer via usb. And I'm also thinking that probably means you could back up anywhere to a phone with an OTG cable and the right software.
35 months ago (permalink)

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Justin_T_Call says:

I totally agree with this bit from Roginald:

"A replacement screen. Low power consumption and very high contrast with decent update speed and great uniformity, ultra-low reflection and great viewing angles. Backlit. Black and white preferable otherwise I'd waste time tinkering with colours. Yes, in some ways a quality screen is the least important thing, but I find a poor one can be very distracting. I don't want to have to think about illumination angles and light sources."


And this bit from Hookmt:

I like your screen, as long as it doesn't give me a real OS like PALM OS to deal with, the major reason I dropped the Dana. I don't really want a file system. I really like my one-key file spaces. The only things I want besides the screen is a mechanical switch keyboard, and maybe wifi if it could be set up to send any filespace as a .txt file directly to Dropbox or the cloud service of your choice. Even better if it could be set up to send the .txt file to the SFTP address of your choice (I have access to a private Linux server). And there *must* be arrow keys! :-D [. . .] So I just need to write and be assured that my writing is reliably being saved and backed up and very long battery life. Everything else is gravy, but not needed and, if distracting, not wanted."

And I would add one of the other things I like about the Freewrite: the ability to see at a glance what my word count and/or page count is. I use apps for those things when I am drafting, and I'd like to not have another reason to pull out my phone and get distracted. l especially like the dedicated space on the Freewrite screen for this information and how you can toggle between that and viewing other things that folks may find useful (like a file tree or battery percentage or how a typing timer).

Both the Freewrite and the AlphaSmart have multiple ways to back up my files (including by having them be automatically saved as I type). The Freewrite has the advantage in being able to save things wirelessly, but the AlphaSmart has the advantage in being recognized as a keyboard that can "type" whatever you've written into an existing text field (or a word doc, or a Scrivener file, or...etc). So the former is futuristic/modern, and the latter is future-proof. Given the choice between the two, I'd like both, but I lean towards something that is future-proof (and even a little retro) if it means more reliability. Like I said, though, both would be great.

And something that has sort of been mentioned in other places (so I'll loop it in here): I like having a non-bending, non-flipping, non-folding monolithic device...but I'd also like to have some way to snap a case over the keyboard/screen to protect my investment when traveling. Oh, and let's toss in an SD card and/or USB slot while we are at it (for additional backups).

So if you take all of that, you'd have:
>> Freewrite's keyboard (or some other mechanical keyboard)
>> Freewrite's cloud storage (as a backup to automatically saving files on the device), but with the option of turning off wifi to conserve battery life
>> Freewrite's dedicated "info" screen at the bottom of the typing screen (which folks could turn off if it suited them)
>> AlphaSmart's super long lasting battery
>> AlphaSmart's durability and lightweight design
>> AlphaSmart's ability to double as a keyboard for attached devices (like my phone), plus the ability to "send" text via cable so that it can be dumped into any app (and doesn't need to be copied and pasted from a separate file folder or file tree)
>> AlphaSmart's ease of locating files stored on the device (with a tiny bit more visibility/complexity for navigating file trees on the device); nothing too much more robust than what we currently have on the AlphaSmart
>> A screen that is somewhere between the Freewrite and the AlphaSmart (something that is black and white and backlit, but perhaps this can be turned off when it is not needed to conserve battery life; clearer/more crisp text and better (less finicky) viewing angles
>> A monolithic (non-folding) device that is comfortable to type on, has good viewing angles, won't slide off my lap when typing, and is equally comfortable to type on when sitting at a desk, on the grass, or on a plane
>> A reliable way to protect the device when traveling (a hard case is one solution, but perhaps there are others)

I think that covers it for me. I'd buy that for $250. Easy. Heck, a mechanical keyboard alone is worth about $100-250, so that's a steal.
34 months ago (permalink)

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Je119 says:

this is very close to the work processor without a display discussed here ha... the BBC micro:bit its got a 5x5 lcd display which can display one letter at a time. Add a keyboard

www.multiwingspan.co.uk/micro.php?page=kboard

You can also attach a proper little lcd display

www.multiwingspan.co.uk/micro.php?page=serlcd

Not sure whether you could make a functioning text editor from it though.
34 months ago (permalink)

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Roginald says:

dutch_garvey:

It was a long time ago now, but I had to hunt down this thread where we were discussing a device without a screen, i.e. basically just a keyboard, and which just gives you feedback so you can be confident it is capturing the text you enter, and warns you if you are mis-keying by beeping if you make n spelling mistakes in succession.

I've accidentally bought an old device like that recently, and just realised how it works now! It's an old electronic typewriter I bought for a song. It's got a dictionary built in. I had no idea how that could work since it's not one of those old electronic typewriters with a little LCD display that shows a line or two before it prints it. This one prints as soon as you type - no screen at all.

What happens is, as soon as it detects a sequence of characters that it thinks can't be right, it beeps (even before you press space). It also has its typing line on the paper horribly recessed and hard to read, so I found myself drifting into a state where all I did was occasionally look at the keyboard and occasionally not look at the machine at all. I.e. I gave up even trying to read the text. It suddenly occurred to me "I'm sure I was discussing something like this on the AlphaSmart Flickr group!"

It's a pity that it doesn't seem to have auto carriage return (it may, I'll look into that) so you do need to keep an eye on where the print head is up to, even if you can't comfortably read the text.

Not that I'll be using it - I'm using the Dana now - but it's fun to play with these things.
27 months ago (permalink)

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