Dedicated Writing Device Suggestions
September 7, 2018 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Writers: what are you using to write with? I don’t like writing on a standard computer or laptop because the screen strains my eyes and the internet connectivity is so distracting. I need my writing to be saved digitally so old school paper and ink are out, although something almost as basic as that is the goal. Are there any good dedicated writing devices on the market right now? Like a kindle but with a keyboard? E ink and portability are pluses.
posted by RingerChopChop to Technology (22 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
A couple of thoughts: check out Ommwriter on the Mac. Also Google the Alphasmart Dana, which you can find on eBay.
posted by 4ster at 1:46 PM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Alphasmart Neo is great—nice and easy to get work off the device (you just plug it in and it becomes a USB keyboard, at which point you can press a button that will "type" the entire document into your computer) and the battery lasts long enough that you don't really have to worry about it. (Think weeks/months, not days.)

Perhaps just as importantly, the keyboard is perfectly good; feels like a full-size keyboard from the pre-chiclet era.

I did not like the Alphasmart Dana, which I had first; Palm OS is kind of a dead end at this point, and the battery life was significantly worse, so that it felt less like a pen and a notebook and more like a Device I had to keep charged. The Neo does less, but the thing it does is almost completely future-proofed.
posted by Polycarp at 2:03 PM on September 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

Electronic typewriters and word processors (machines, not programs) are still out there:

Example 1
Example 2
posted by slipthought at 2:06 PM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

+1 million for the AlphaSmart. I've owned a 300 and a Neo2, and they are wonderful, plentiful (about $20-$40 on ebay) and run for months on a few AA batteries. No internet, no distraction, no worries.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 2:22 PM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Polycarp is correct re the Dana vs the Neo. I got the two confused.
posted by 4ster at 2:32 PM on September 7, 2018

I use iPad mini with an external Logitech case keyboard, and I use either Ulysses or Scrivener. So wonderful, so portable, so light. I bring this everywhere I go.

I can still use the internet and browse apps, but it is difficult enough that it is enough of a deterrent from procrastination. iPads are not great multitasking devices, unlike a laptop, and this is actually a good thing.

As for screen lighting, the writing app has Light mode and Dark mode, which helps ease the strain.
posted by moiraine at 2:39 PM on September 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Apparently there is such a thing as an eInk tablet now. Has anyone here tried one?
posted by chromium at 2:46 PM on September 7, 2018

I think you are describing exactly this gizmo: The Freewrite Smart Typewriter, (formerly known as the Hemingwrite).

For what it costs though, I'd spend a long time looking at reviews before buying (I have no experience with the thing myself). Here's some positive ones from The Atlantic, The Guardian, and Gizmodo
posted by rollick at 2:58 PM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Another vote for the Alphasmart Neo 2. I bought one a year ago and it’s a great device. Very lightweight, comfortable keyboard, and it spits out your text via USB into your favorite word processor on your computer.
posted by The Deej at 3:38 PM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I need my writing to be saved digitally so old school paper and ink are out

If that's really the only reason you are avoiding paper and ink -- not because you prefer typing on a keyboard, not because you like the ease of editing, not because you want to copy and paste text easily -- just that you want to save digital copies of your work, you can take photos with a digital camera and upload them to any number of services for saving photos.
posted by yohko at 3:53 PM on September 7, 2018

I know absolutely nothing about this, and it doesn't appear to be an actual physical thing yet, but passing it along: Traveler.
posted by WCityMike at 4:36 PM on September 7, 2018

Freewrite was designed for this, and is the best looking and most supported option available on the market right now. Try and find a New in Box Alphasmart...
posted by oceanjesse at 5:08 PM on September 7, 2018

True but you can buy 5-10 good condition alphasmarts for less than one freewrite, and we already know the alphasmarts are tanks that can last decades, which remains to be seen for the freewrite.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:14 PM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Similar to moiraine, I use Scrivener, but on an Asus Transformer with a keyboard dock. They're larger than iPad Minis, but there's not enough screen real estate to tempt me to multitask like I would when I have a dual monitor setup going.
posted by blerghamot at 6:39 PM on September 7, 2018

+100 for the AlphaSmart Neo. Don Pepino bought mine, and is (I believe) very happy with it.
posted by lhauser at 8:29 PM on September 7, 2018

So I detest clicky keyboards and I am also interested in the same question as this Ask. There are other e-ink tablets for typing with other keyboards. This blog post is a couple of years old but I've been wanting to try some combo like this:
posted by twoplussix at 12:15 AM on September 8, 2018

I have an Alphasmart Neo and an Alphasmart Dana is on its way to me (from eBay) as we speak. They are really cheap and really good devices, which I highly recommend. I've bought the Dana to try out because it has a larger screen with a backlight, but it also has a way shorter battery life (20-30 hours between battery changes, instead of 600-700).

There is also a new version of the Freewrite in the works, in a clamshell format, called the Traveller. If it's sub-$200, I may think about it, but for the moment the cheapness and robustness of old Alphasmarts (plus the fact they run off AA batteries and run for hundreds of hours in the case of the Neo) can't really be beat.

There's also unusual imports like the 'King Jim Pomera' series from Japan, but they don't have English menus etc and they're comparatively expensive.

FWIW I think there's a real gap in the market for an eInk or LCD writing tool in laptop format, but so far it doesn't really exist. The Palm Foleo was closest, but was never released.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:51 AM on September 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I ordered anAlphasmart Neo and got a lemon. When I tried to find another, I couldn't get one for a reasonable price (shipped to Canada). I then ordered a batch of older Alphasmarts, but 4 out of 5 of them had something show-stoppingly wrong with them and they all had irritatingly loud keyboards.

I've since given up and now use a Bluetooth keyboard with my smartphone and Microsoft Word, which requires a Microsoft Online account. The account comes with 5gb of cloud storage for your work.

This doesn't eliminate the lure of the internet, but the internet sucks on a smartphone, so.
posted by matthewfells at 3:52 AM on September 8, 2018

Is there any reason not to get an old cheap laptop, disable the wireless, and keep it as a dedicated writing laptop?
posted by umbú at 6:02 AM on September 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

As someone who has a Freewrite, I caution against it.

It's made for freewriting and freewriting only. So for example, there are no arrow buttons. If you want to go back and edit something, you have to use the delete key to get back to it. It's not a machine made for editing at all.

It's also clunky usability-wise and the battery life is disappointing. I'm not sure you can see the community site without purchasing a unit, but most of the posts are complaints.
posted by 10ch at 3:20 PM on September 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have a BOOX Max2 e-reader which runs android and has Bluetooth. I've hooked a Bluetooth keyboard to it and it works OK. That setup is on the pricey end for what you seem to want but all you need is an e-reader with Bluetooth that allows you to install apps.
posted by rdr at 4:41 AM on September 10, 2018

Astrohaus just pitched their new more portable version of the Freewrite, called the Freewrite Traveler. They're funding the first production run partly with Indiegogo, which is offering steep discounts as backer rewards, bringing it to a pricy-but-bearable $250-350.

The RRP is a frankly ludicrous $599, so if you're interested I'd jump in now.

In other news I got my Alphasmart Dana from eBay and I really like it - the larger screen and optional backlight is perfect for me, and it runs dandy off regular AA batteries.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:49 PM on October 2, 2018

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