Is Alphasmart STILL the ultimate writers' tool?


I've written about the Alphasmart before, but David Kadavy explains succinctly why it's so good: the creative focus of a typewriter, and you get a text file.

The things that are crappy about this piece of “technology” are the things that make it great for writing. Productivity is all about mind management, not time management, and this pile of plastic helps me keep my mind in the right brain state for writing – and writing only. 1) It doesn’t connect to the Internet. 2) It has a tiny, nearly useless, screen. 3) Editing on it is a pain in the ass. 4) It doesn’t connect to the cloud. (It hardly connects to your computer.)

There's still not much like it. The Freewrite (formerly the Hemingwrite) is a new gadget which is functionally similar, but it's $350, significantly larger, and looks very silly indeed.

There are various other instant-on writing gadgets like the Alphasmart, lurking in the vintage no-mans-land between "focused" and "maintenance hell"—the Cambridge Z88 has a cult following, and folks out there are still obsessed with their Portable Tandys.

pomeraThe Pomera Note DM100 appears to the best current answer to all these devices, but I haven't had a chance to give it a whirl. The NEC MobilePro 780/900, an instant-on Windows CE device similar to these but with a more traditional display, was my favorite writing gadget until it died. It has a cut-down Microsoft Word. The email and web browser are 15 years old and so useless at this point they should not distract from writing. But … maybe they will. It's got plenty on it to let you noodle around not writing.

Kadavy even praises the Alphasmart's crummy operating system, which makes editing so difficult you won't bother. More focus on creative dumping!


He's got a point, but there's a place for something more refined. No more features—just well-designed.

Here's what I would like: a compact bluetooth keyboard with a full-width e-ink display and an open-source OS. Turn off the BT and it goes into word processor mode. No fuss: just bluetooth, USB and at least one actually nice typeface.

It would look an awful lot like this Logitech keyboard. Imagine a nice high-dpi e-ink display instead of the solar panel. It would also come in green.


Notable Replies

  1. Rob, I have to give you some corrections:

    1) It's not the "Hemingway," but was the "Hemingwrite."

    2) The developers recently changed the name to the "Freewrite" (seems to be something they discussed with the Hemingway estate).

    All that said: I'm a backer of the Hemingwrite Kickstarter and I own an Alphasmart Dana Wireless 2.

    It's horrid. Battery life is crap, there's no easy way to transport it, the screen is horrible to read in sunlight, and I absolutely loathe the keyboard (and I drafted a 70,000 word novel on an iPad with an Apple wireless keyboard!). We won't get into the fact that I can't get the ancient PalmOS 4 software to do much more than sit there and stare at me.

    No, the Alphasmart served its purpose 10-15 years ago, but my needs are far beyond what it can serve up now. I'm happily awaiting my Freewrite in a couple of months.

  2. jlw says:

    I have a hemmingwrite on order..silly looking things are my style.

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