The Hemingwrite isn’t for me

Just for laughs I just bought a used Alphasmart NEO2 “keyboard computer” from eBay. I’m not entirely sure why. I think it might be a “I can do better for cheaper” response to the Hemingwrite. I had been following the Hemingwrite Kickstarter since it launched. I was mildly interested, but the overall workflow seemed contrived. I didn’t become a backer, and mentally “saved” myself about $400.

The most important difference between the $45 Alphasmart and the $400 Hemingwrite is: the Alphasmart will be delivered next week. Simply put, it exists. Big dollar Kickstarters1 seem to be a crapshoot. If custom hardware is involved, the delivery times are at best optimistic.

The Hemingwrite is the awkward combination of:

  1. Single-purpose hardware. Most of the parts are repurposed off-the-shelf items, like the keyboard and screen. It all has to be assembled, and things like cables, connectors, and boards will need to fabricated. They will have to build 834 units to fulfill all pledges.
  2. Custom firmware.2 They have a working demo, and hopefully this is close to done.
  3. A proprietary web service. This would be the glue that holds the whole project together. The Hemingwrite syncs to the cloud, and from there the text is sent to other services like Evernote. It is also the only way to get your text off the hardware.

I’m just not sure this will all come together and be delivered by the promised delivery dates. (August 2105 for beta testers, September 2015 for regular backers.) The creators have about six months to pull all this together and meet their deadlines.

While possible, I think it’s optimistic.

Why I didn’t become a backer

As I looked into the project one thing killed it for me. The Hemingwrite has a USB port for charging, and charging only. From the information available, it’s not possible to plug a USB drive into the Hemingwrite and copy files off of it.

In an online-all-the-time world this makes sense. Type on the Hemingwrite, and then open a laptop and the text syncs automatically. Done right, and with all parts working it’s as seamless as any other cloud service.

But the Hemingwrite doesn’t sync directly to the cloud services. It’s not a “typewriter for Dropbox” by itself. It talks to a web service hosted by the project creators. Only then the text is send on to the end-point service like Dropbox.

This was a single point of failure that I couldn’t look past. If something happens to the Hemingwrite cloud service3 the hardware is a digital typewriter. Without a local file transfer option, the text is stranded inside the Hemingwrite.

As the project description is written, the Hemingwrite isn’t for me.

What I did

This is where the Alphasmart comes in. I liked the idea behind the Hemingwrite. It’s a writing-only workflow that I wanted to explore. I’ll know more next week once I have the Alphasmart in my hands. If I don’t like it, I can always sell it this October. Someone always wants one for NaNoWriMo.

  1. This would be funding goals in greater than $100,000, or pledges totaling over $1,000,000.
  2. Supposedly open-source, but no details have been released.
  3. This could be something as simple as a billing error at the hosting provider, a DDoS attack, or it’s just abandoned.