Hands-On: My First Week With the Freewrite Traveler

Distraction-free also means feature-light

Key Takeaways

  • The Freewrite Traveler is made to produce pure text with zero distractions.
  • You can't even edit documents with the Freewrite Traveler; its purpose is purely for writing.
  • The device has a long enough battery life that you can use it for several weeks without a recharge.
The Freewrite word processor sitting on a wooden table.

Thomas Hindmarch / Lifewire

Have you ever wanted an entire ultralight, pocket notebook that only runs Notepad? That’s the Freewrite Traveler experience.

The Traveler ostensibly "sets your words free" by eliminating most of the distractions that are built into the modern laptop experience. It doesn’t have a web browser, sound card, backlit screen, or even arrow keys; it’s just you and an open text window. No frills, no gimmicks.

It’s a brute-force instrument for writing, where every stray element is designed towards getting the words out of your head as quickly as possible. If you like to edit on the fly, the Traveler may drive you crazy, but if you’re just looking to eliminate all the distractions between you and finally producing that sloppy first draft, and you’ve got a few hundred dollars to burn for the privilege, this may be the not-computer you’re looking for.

"[The Traveler] does not allow you to rethink words, or burn precious writing time by going back to revise a past paragraph."

Dumbing It Back Down

It’s strange to have a laptop that’s dumber than my phone.

The Traveler weighs just under two pounds, and measures 1 x 11 x 4.5 inches or so, with a narrow LED screen above a full-sized keyboard. It’s got Wi-Fi, but only so it can regularly upload your documents to a cloud server of your choice.

It’s got a couple of bells and whistles, like a timer, a word counter, and a clock, but other than that, it features an aggressive lack of modern quality-of-life features. The Traveler is an artifact from an alternate universe where humanity decided the electronic word processor was the absolute height of computer achievement.

It’s taken a couple of usability shortcuts to get to where it is, though. Navigating between documents, for example, is done with three buttons above the keyboard, which is a pain in the neck.

The Traveler is also always just a little unresponsive, with a slight but noticeable delay between a keystroke and a letter appearing onscreen. I’ve grown accustomed to an era of computing where input lag is usually indicative that something’s about to go wrong, so I always feel like the Traveler’s about to lock up. It hasn’t so far, but it’s keyed in on some insecurities I didn’t know I had.

The Freewrite word processing device.

Thomas Hindmarch / Lifewire

The Productivity Struggle

The curse of the working writer is, I think, being in a constant power struggle against your own attention span. At any given time in 2021, I’m surrounded by an array of smart devices that are both indispensable workman’s tools and a series of candy-like distractions from what I’m supposed to be doing.

The inherent purpose of Freewrite’s "distraction-free writing tools" is to help you shut up, sit down, and just write for once in your life. The writers I know fall into two camps; they’re either tempted by Freewrite or have never heard of it. Naturally, I had to try the Traveler out.

It’s easy to carry around and deploy, with a nicely springy keyboard that’s a good fit for my hands. The battery is supposed to last for around four weeks from a full charge, and while I haven’t been able to fully test that yet, my Traveler’s only at 90% after several days’ work.

I’ve put about 13,000 words through the Traveler this week, including the first draft of this piece. The entire experience is geared towards raw output on a new project; you can’t add work in progress to the Traveler, or effectively edit anything that’s on there. You either type raw text right off the dome and fix it later from the cloud, or you don’t use the Traveler at all.

"The inherent purpose of Freewrite’s 'distraction-free writing tools' is to help you shut up, sit down, and just write for once in your life."

Here’s a weird coincidence: my Traveler arrived at around the same time that a number of writers I follow on Twitter were linking to this New Yorker interview with Simpsons writer John Swartzwelder. In it, he recommends doing your first drafts as quickly and stupidly as is humanly possible.

The Traveler could not be more perfectly designed for that approach. It does not allow you to rethink words, or burn precious writing time by going back to revise a past paragraph. You go straight through to the end or you go home, the Traveler says. It’s perversely refreshing.

It’s a handy gadget to have lying around. There are things I’d change about it—I don’t like its dependence on the cloud for uploading documents, particularly when it’s got a USB charger already—and it’s pricey for its purpose at an MSRP of $599 (though it's currently $449 on the company's website). As a boutique solution for my issues with distraction, however, the Traveler’s been more of a hit than miss.

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