From the department of Everything Old Is New Again comes a Kickstarter project called The Hemingwrite. From the pledge page:
The Hemingwrite is a distraction-free writing tool. It combines the simplicity of a typewriter with all of the modern conveniences of living in 2014: cloud documents, e-paper display, and full-size mechanical keyboard.
On the surface that sounds pretty cool, right? As a writer I am down with dedicated writing tools and tools that cut down on distractions. But I’m not down with the Hemingwrite.
Why? My objections start with the price, end with the functionality, and somewhere in the middle I get really hung up on the pretentiousness of it all.
The Hemingwrite is supposed to be a simple tool. Text documents, a small ePaper display, an aluminum and plastic typewriter-like body, and Wi-Fi. So far that’s fine. But at retail it’s supposed to cost $500. That’s the price of a netbooky tablet and more expensive than a Chromebook. Why does it cost so much?
I know part of it is because the company making this is small, and thus it’s hard to get parts and manufacture in numbers that make it possible to get bulk pricing. Still though, this seems like a pretty simple machine for that amount of money.
I know I think this because it’s impossible for me to look at the Hemingwrite without thinking of the various AlphaSmart models. That’s because the Hemingwrite is basically an AlphaSmart Dana or Neo with less functionality, more weight/bulk, and a hipster-cool name. Seriously. Even the AlphaSmart 3000 has more file slots (8 or 16 as opposed to 3) and weighs 2 pounds or less. Most AlphaSmarts didn’t have Wi-Fi, but some did. And all of them managed to cost less than $500–many were under $200.
And the design, while cute, makes the Hemingwrite bulkier than it needs to be, from what I can tell. Perhaps I’ll think differently when I get to try the keyboard, but the AlphaSmart keyboards were very nice, tactile-wise. They didn’t look like old school typewriters. They did have freaking arrow keys.
Yes, the Hemingwrite lacks arrow keys.
There’s old school, there’s distraction free, and then there’s limiting functionality for hipster cred.
There are some things I like about this product. The display is tall instead of wide, which I prefer, and shows more text at a time than the original AlphaSmart design. I like that it will continuously upload your files to a cloud service so you don’t have to physically connect it to a computer to get the text off of it. The typewriter shape is kind of cute, despite my snark about it.
I can’t deal with the weight and expense, though.
Currently, the Hemingwrite is fully funded and then some and scheduled to come out in the fall of 2015. If it turns out to be a hit or even a moderate success, I hope it inspires the company that used to make the AlphaSmart to reboot the line. Or maybe some enterprising entrepreneur will crowdfund the money to buy the patents for the technology, give it a bit of an update, and bring the AlphaSmart back into the world under another name.
After all, old AlphaSmarts still sell pretty well on Amazon and eBay. You can find the 3000 model, the Dana, and the Neo in good condition. Hell, I recently gave my original model away to a friend only because I no longer have a computer with a PS/2 port. It still worked just fine even after gathering dust on a shelf for years.
I’d be willing to invest in a used AlphaSmart before I backed the Hemingwrite the way it is now. But everything that survives evolves, and maybe version 2 or 3 will catch my eye. Meantime, I’ll keep my eye on this first model. Maybe I’ll be surprised once it comes out.