Review: @Astrohaus Freewrite – the good, the bad, and the ugly

Note: See the update at the end of this post.

The Freewrite I ordered was at last delivered yesterday. Exciting! I’d been looking forward to getting it all week, so I was itching to get the box open and start playing with it.

The good:

There’s a lot about it that I like. The case is metal, solid, tough. The keyboard has a great feel – positive without being too click-clacky. Unlike a laptop, the thing sits nicely on my lap, even sitting in a comfy chair in the living room, without feeling like it’s going to tip backward, and the underside has enough friction that it doesn’t slide around on the knees. The e-ink screen is good and clear, with or without the backlight, and I had no problems seeing it clearly even sitting upright in said chair with the machine on my knees. The switches controlling the folder and wi-fi have a solid, positive feel. All in all, the mechanics of the machine are great.

The bad:

Anyone reading this who owns and loves a Freewrite will almost certainly disagree with me on this one, but I don’t like that it doesn’t allow any editing beyond the backspace and delete-last-word functions. Yeah, I know: part of the point is that it encourages you to work forward and think about editing once you have the first draft. I get that. My problem is that if I see a spelling error at the top of the screen, it’s like a big ugly zit that I have to do something about. Not being able to go back and fix it quickly is frustrating. Could I get used to it? Maybe. But that for me is a rough one. Even using my old Smith-Corona, there was always the Wite-Out option.

I’m not happy that certain settings can only be changed through the Postbox page on the web site. Want to change the font size? You have to change that in Postbox – so wherever you are, you need a device with internet access, and the Freewrite also needs to be connected via wi-fi so that it can pick up the change. I set the timezone on Postbox last night but the Freewrite didn’t get the memo until this morning . . . would a font size change take that long? I don’t know, but if so that’s pretty horrible. Couldn’t Astrohaus have put a settings screen in the machine?

The ugly:

Those couple of bad things are, at least, something I could get used to over time. But there are other things that are killers, to my thinking.

When I first switched the machine on, it flashed an Astrohaus logo; after a few seconds, that changed to a Freewrite logo. Then it went back to Astrohaus. Then back to Freewrite. And it did that for probably a couple of minutes before it came up with a message. “Booting”. That doesn’t look right. It smacks of something inside having a problem starting up. As a software developer, I’d say it smells wrong. But boot it did, eventually, so maybe it was just running some kind of self-test before starting the real boot process. It didn’t inspire a lot of confidence, though.

Once it was up, I checked the battery level; it looked like it was about 70%. Fine. So then I set up the wi-fi connection and started playing with it. This morning I checked the battery level and it was down around 50%, so I used the supplied USB cable with a regular charger (for some reason, even with a $549 price tag, it doesn’t come with its own charger) and plugged it in. It didn’t start charging (it’s supposed to show couple of little lightning-bolt icons in the status window, but it didn’t). I tried a different charger, and a different cable, and plugging into my laptop; no difference. For such a solidly-built bit of kit, that’s surprising and disappointing. It’s plainly faulty and will have to go back.

I hit the web site to find a contact form, and put in the details of the charging problem. Submitted. A couple of minutes later I got an email saying that they don’t do support at weekends so I wouldn’t hear anything until Monday at the earliest. WHAT. THE. ACTUAL.

So then I checked the Community forums to see if any other users had seen a similar problem, with the hope that maybe someone had a fix. But the Community is really badly named, because there are only two forums: Around The Haus, which is written by Astrohaus staff and read-only for everyone else; and Release Notes, with details about the various firmware updates. That’s it. No actual forum where users can swap tips and tales. No support forum where people can discuss problems and solutions. No actual Community.

Astrohaus: I find your lack of support disturbing.

So: hardware problem right out of the box, no support at weekends, no support forums, no community of users to consult with. That’s too many red flags for me, for such an expensive item. I’m sorry to say that on Monday I’ll be making use of the return label and sending it back. I’ll stick with my $180 Chromebook and Google Docs.

Update 25-Mar-19: I received not one but two responses from Astrohaus; the reason for the lack of support at weekends is that they’re a small company and don’t have the resources. The fact that they got on the ball first thing Monday makes me feel somewhat better. As such I decided to return the Freewrite for repair or replacement and give it another chance. Let’s see how this goes.

Long time no sea

I haven’t posted since November because of a major life-changing event that started in December and is still happening. I can’t say much more than that at the moment, except to say that as part of what’s happening…

  • I’ll be moving back to England, hopefully before the end of the summer but definitely sometime this year;
  • I’ll be Darn Sarf1, a short walk from the sea – something I’ve missed since moving to ‘Murika;
  • When that happens I’m planning on putting forty years in software development behind me and becoming a writer pretty much full-time.
Margate beach & harbour – credit Thanet District Council

Hey, get 5% off a Freewrite

Update: please read the next post in which I review the Freewrite (not very favourably, sorry to say) and check other reviews before spending the dosh.

On the subject of writing, I just bought a Freewrite! I wasn’t going to because $550 is a chunk o’ change to find in one hit. Then I found out you can finance it for $49/month (and if you make double payments so it’s paid off in six months, it’s interest free). Mine shipped this morning and I’m hoping to get it tomorrow. I can’t wait.

Now here’s the thing: I signed up for the referral program, which means that anyone who uses this link…

https://getfreewrite.com/discount/HG8EMZSXZXJ9?rfsn=2434446.cd73b71&utm_source=refersion&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_campaign=2434446.cd73b71

… gets 5% off the price of stuff from the store. (It also earns me gift cards that I can use to buy more myself – and of course if you buy something you can then enter the referral program and get the same benefits.)

That’s all I have time for right now, but expect a review of the Freewrite when I’ve had time to play with it some.

1 – “Down South”

#NaNoWriMo2018? Maybe.

A year or so ago I posted here about why I wasn’t doing NaNoWriMo 2017; basically, I didn’t have the time to map out a story and write a couple of thousand words a day and be able to hit fifty thousand words in thirty days.

This year was going to be the same… but then I had second thoughts.

Some background:

The last three or four months has been pretty rough; a family member has been through the wringer with medical problems and everything else has had to take a back seat, including writing (mostly because with all that going on, focusing on anything writing-related has been all but impossible). And then of course there’s been the downward slide toward hell that is the hallmark of the current political climate — not a day passes without yet another sign that we’re getting closer to living in a fascist state. It’s depressing, and makes thinking about writing and other creative things just that much harder.

Then things changed. The medical problems haven’t gone away but things have improved and continue to improve. On the political front, the last week or so saw the run-up to the midterms and the situation has looked a lot more hopeful.

And so a few days ago I decided to use NaNoWriMo as a boost to get some actual writing done. A small, new, stand-alone project just for this month.

Yes, I know, we’re already a week into November. That’s fine; I’m not worried about really, actually, religiously following NaNoWriMo rules. I’m just using it as a kick in the pants to get me writing again.

So: I thought up a story idea, and the last three days I’ve been slamming that into a timeline. It’s not big; only thirty-three scenes, which is half what it needs to be to have a chance of hitting the fifty-K threshold. But that doesn’t matter. It’s writing, and that’s all that matters. I’m using my own book, Finish Your Book, as my guide.

FinishYourBookKindle
Finish Your Book (Kindle)

This morning’s good news about the midterms has been cheering. It might not have been the Blue Wave we were hoping for, but we took control of the House, among other good things, and that means some of the dark clouds have dispersed. Overall, today is a much better day. Today is a good day to open that timeline and start getting scenes down. So that’s what I’m going to do.

More Progress YAY

For the first time in weeks I’ve actually hit a thousand words in a day, and I’m not done yet. That might not sound like much but given the problems I’ve had over the last few months getting back into writing, that’s a big thing for me. I got started, and it was slow, then something just kind of broke – the dam burst and suddenly everything just started to flow.

20151006_181845

I need to take a break for food, then it’s back to work. If I can make this a 2,000 word day, I’ll be really happy.

UPDATE: it’s about 8pm and I’m stopping. This has been the BEST writing day for a long, long while – 2,500 words, no less. One more scene and Chapter 4 is done. Man, does that make me feel good. Time for something to eat and a Dos Equis, and some Father Brown on Netflix.

Progress

It’s slow, but it’s some progress: work on Britannia One (sequel to Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia) is grinding along slowly. I set a personal deadline of the end of August to complete the first draft, but at the moment I don’t think I’m going to hit that mark; I’m averaging only couple of hundred words a day, and I need to be doing much better than that. It’ll be done when it’s done, I guess…

Too Many Projects…

I’ve been trying to work on too many writing projects at once. Some people can manage that. I thought I could manage that. It turns out I can’t. I’m paralysed by too many things in my head – while I’m working on one thing, thoughts about the other projects start to surface and get in the way.

Enough. I’m taking the rest of today off to sink a bottle or three of Dos Equis and watch a few episodes of Shetland. I need to take my mind off the writing projects and clear my head.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be working 100% on Britannia One. Nothing else will be allowed to intrude until I’ve made some serious progress.

That is all.

Ramble

Thanksgiving week meant all my time went to family things: cooking and cleaning mostly, but a lot else besides.

I took the week (actually more like ten days) off from pretty much everything else. I was already behind with my self-imposed schedule of posting here at least once a week, so that took another hit, and I deliberately avoided social media – as a result, I have pretty much no idea of what’s been going on in the news. The only thing I’ve used any computer for in the last few days has been playing games (The Talos Principle and Sir, You Are Being Hunted) and watching Netflix (I watched Cloud Atlas and Rogue One yesterday – the first pause all week where I was able to sit down and relax properly for a few hours).

Starting today, I’m getting wound back into the world. I took a few minutes earlier to send an email to my editor-in-chief to ask if there’s any news about the status of copy-editing on The Artemis Device, and whether she’s accepting Phantasms & Magicks for publication, and also to update a couple of pages on this site. I caught up a little bit with Twitter (and learned that Rance Howard died yesterday) and Mastodon (which I just started using a couple of weeks ago).

On the actual writing front, I’m planning on splitting the rest of today between doing some timeline work on the Untitled SF Project, and also writing a few notes for another project idea that I had a few days ago (it started as a short story idea, but as I thought about it it became bigger to the point where I think it’s likely to end up being a full-length novel).

On that note, I need to wrap this up; I have a couple of errands to run (the first time I’ll have left the house in three days) and then I want to get on that writing work.

Until next time…