Using the Atreus for "digital typewriter"

There is a product called the Freewrite which might be called a “digital typewriter” and aims to provide a distraction free writing experience. It comes in both ‘original’ (typewriter shaped) flavour and ‘traveller’ (notebook) form factor. Unfortunately, whilst I love the idea, these products use legacy staggered keyboards and I am now a columnar keyboard user on a Malt styled keymap (RSTHD).

As a prospective Atreus customer I am interested in the possibility of a “digital typewriter” by connecting it to an e-ink screen of some description providing a contraption that cannot be used for anything other than typing. A full featured tablet with e-ink display and even an e-reader contains distractions! The Inkplate 6 might be a candidate for achieving a distraction free environment.

Does anybody else envision this for their Atreus and given it any thought?

A basic Inkplate might work well but lack the refinement of the freewrite - and I think being able to spontaneously carry and use would be valuable for a digital typewriter. But since it is open source hardware, wouldn’t it be amazing if a case for its electronic ‘guts’ could be made that doubles as a protective cover for the Atreus? The whole thing would then be especially portable, compact and, above all, ergonomic to use.


Wow, what a cool product!

It says it has a USB-C data port, so maybe another keyboard could be hooked up to it?

Or could you just program a regular tablet to be distraction-free, or use existing software that does that, and then hook your keyboard up to that?

Something like the Atreus Deck?

Or the Ultimate Writer:

This one could work well with the Atreus, I believe. Less portable than the deck, but damn, it looks amazing.


The Ultimate writer is certainly interesting, but I don’t think it is the ultimate; I reckon that improvements can be made!. The Inkplate6 is a good starting point as a self contained system which should plug straight into the Atreus and we would be away.

Looking at the priorities of the Ultimate in turn:

  • Easily readable e-ink screen . You can read it effortlessly even in sunlight. Yup
  • Long lasting battery life . You can have a 3 days off the grid writing retreat (~20 hours) without having to recharge it. would the Inkplate battery have sufficient charge to run the atreus as well?
  • Easily serviceable design . Your typewriter is 40 years old and works just fine. You don’t want to change your writing device every 5 years. You want to be able to easily change the computer parts easily; and who knows, use something else than a raspberry pi. The ink plate is a recycled Kindle anyway, it has probably already five years under its belt!
  • Standard OS . You want to use your favorite console-based text editor. You also want a shell access to tweak your setup without reprogramming the device. Not a personal concern
  • Nice full-size mechanical keyboard . Yes

And a personal one representing my main concern:

  • Easy to carry, deploy and disassemble It should be possible to continue writing at a whim. The screen should stand up on its own, and there should not be too many cables.

Essentially, I am aspiring for a product that, whilst perhaps not as polished as those from Freewrite, are a bit more refined than those we have seen here. In the spirit of the other Keyboardio products, I am secretly hoping somebody might knock off the rough edges of some of this stuff from the open hardware scene and sell it commercially at a fair price.

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@arley recently hacked together something like this:

I will definitely try to figure out something similar once I have my Atreus in hand. Seems like something I would use a lot.

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For the record I was going to try a setup like this with my Model01, but this unused beaut was just the perfect width already, and under quarantine I’m going getting other supplies!

Thanks for sharing: your creation is a great solution if you are cooped up at home but can go and write in the garden. Something more lightweight would nonetheless be desirable such time as we become ‘free range’ creatures again!

I have heard of the Onyx Boox and it seems well enough regraded as a device with only one problem for my purposes: the Operating System. It runs Android, full blown smartphone distraction-ware. The forthcoming Remarkable would appeal to me more, assuming it is also keyboard compatible. But with its sophisticated features it wold probably be overkill in this task (as indeed is the Boox)

I already own a Kobo Aura One, a lovely 8" slate of high resolution e-ink loveliness and its cover even folds so as to prop it up on a flat surface. It has wifi and automatically syncs to Kobo and Overdrive accounts, and you can type search terms into it with the touchscreen. I am sure a Kobo could offer a rudimentary cloud synced typing app, should they be bothered. My only concern is if a keyboard was plugged into the device and it used for typing the battery would struggle big time.

According to a rumour site, the next Kobo device will go beyond a simple e-reader. Kobo are good at updating their firmware across the range so that older machines get features introduced on flagship devices, so I am inclined to watch this space.

Even with this, I still wish for an Ateus case or protective cover that happens to have an Inkplate-6, prop stand, and necessary cables built into it configured as a ‘digital typewriter’. This ought to offer portability and distraction free writing opportunity on par with the Freewrite Traveller- but without the legacy keyboard topology…

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Is the e-ink display critical?
I’m just wondering if a Linux window manager like i3 or similar could be set up to remove “distractions,” and used on something like a (hardware) hacked Pinebook Pro. That apparently has a USB keyboard so electrically it should be straightforward to connect an Atreus instead, if you can figure out how to repackage the other parts physically.

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It is certainly what I am looking for. I intend to be able to write outside in sunlight.

To be fair that is not far from where I am now. I have a 12" MacBook from 2017 on which I consider the keyboard to be usable in a pinch but nothing more, on the other hand it adds negligible weight and bulk to the machine. As with any other computer you can (and I do) plug in an external keyboard, and use distraction blockers too I suppose. The only issue here is the traditional LED screen.

The Boox videos I’ve seen make it seem like this device could be as distracting as any other modern smart device, but there is a chasm between what it “can” do, and what you will actually “want” to do. Maybe I should make a video. It’s good for long-form reading, and writing. I like it as a note taking device for an all-day conference.

My friend has the first remarkable. It’s fine, but we have found features frustrating. Not sure if you can type into it? Chapter controls for long books has been brutal.

I feel the same way about MacBook keyboards: “in a pinch”, and that is very much the same way you would feel about casual web browsing on this device. Except for things that would use a mouse, if it came down to “in a pinching” frequent mouse use on this device you’d be more likely to bury it in a hole.

Let me know what kind of distractions I could demonstrate in a video on the Boox!

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I thank you for your offer but think I understand the gist of what you are telling me. I read in other e-paper tablet reviews that Android operating system and its popular programmes are intended for products with colour lcd screen and they work badly with low refresh rate greyscale e-paper.

You haven’t managed to convince me that is a feature and not a bug! :smile: Joking aside, am I right in thinking Android OS nonetheless has high overheads in terms of system performance with implications for battery life?

I am not trying to rubbish your choice which clearly works for you, btw, I know the Boox is well regarded, I just think it is a sledgehammer to crack a nut as concerns my own needs.

Specifically, I have a nice 8" e-reader and I cannot really justify a Boox. Same applies to Remarkable, whether it is the current model or the imminent Mk2. Colour e-ink devices are coming over the hill, and I suspect that will be the game-changer that will make such a tablet interesting to me.

Well said! The price is the first massive hurdle; if it wasn’t for a concussion leading to desperation to make screen-time unpainful I’d never have gone this route :slight_smile:

Battery time on e-ink devices is measured in weeks! Any device that needs less sleep than me is good to go!

I’m sorry to hear about your injury, but reassuring to know that you have found a satisfactory solution as far as your computing goes.

It is good news that you get a couple of weeks from the Boox but I note that its battery to achieve that is 4300mAh rather than the 1200mAh of the Kobo series. But Kobo is a dedicated e-reader and it is more fair to compare it with the Remarkable 2 which states 3000mAh battery. It is clear that Android imposes much higher overheads than other firms running in-house OS, and as a (currently grounded) bicycle technician I strongly favour simplification and adding lightness. I don’t think the Inkplate6 has a battery in per se, it says that it has battery management circuitry in its motherboard.