Shareware Beach

Monday, 7 January 2008

DataHand Update

Filed under: Ergonomics,Hardware & Gadgets — Jan @ 17:55

Last August, I reviewed the DataHand alternative keyboard on my blog. My conclusion was that the DataHand is an excellent product that is let down by a very limited warranty. When paying $500 for a keyboard, I expect a full one-year warranty, not 90 days parts and labor. still advertises the same price and warranty today. However, my story with the DataHand didn’t end when I wrote the review, even though I had stopped using at that time. I’m writing this update on a brand new DataHand. At least, it was brand new last September.

After writing the review, I let the folks at DataHand Inc. know about it. When writing a review, I feel it’s fair to give the reviewed an opportunity to respond. The DataHand people never did.

A few days later I did plug in once more the unit that worked intermittently. And it worked again. I had observed in the past, and mentioned in my review, that leaving the unit unplugged for a few days would make the problem go away, usually for a couple of weeks or even a month.

Two weeks later, with the one unit still working fine, I found a reply from DataHand in my gmail account. My bad for not checking that account more often. I used it because DataHand didn’t seem to be able receive email from my regular address. I was told that DataHand’s email issues had been fixed. This turned out to be true, making communication much smoother. Calling is a bit difficult with a 14-hour time difference.

I was asked to explain the whole situation once more, which I did. I also said I was not interested in any further repair attempts. I depend on my keyboard, and it has to work 100%. I offered to send back the unit with the two permanently broken keys in return for a brand new DataHand. I would use the unit with the intermittent problem in the mean time, and keep it as a backup. I need only one DataHand, and I can understand that it’s hard for them to fix problems that even the customer can’t reproduce consistently.

After a phone call from DataHand having me run some basic tests on both units, with no results, DataHand agreed to take back the broken unit and ship me a brand new one. So I shipped back one DataHand at my expense. One month later, the new unit arrived. It was shipped at DataHand’s expense, and came with a fresh 90-day limited warranty. It took so long because the DataHand was temporarily out of stock. This was advertised on their website. I had no problems with this, as the unit with the intermittent problem was working fine. It kept working perfectly until the new one arrived.

Four months later, the new unit has continued working flawlessly. Hopefully it will continue to do so. The other two also worked perfectly for about five months. The one that I have left sits on the shelf. I guess I should box it before it collects too much dust.

Update: It’s January 2009 now, and the new unit still works flawlessly. I even used the old unit with the intermittent problem for almost half a year. Details on my new blog.

I still believe the DataHand folks could have saved both me and themselves quite a bit of trouble by offering a full one-year warranty. They obviously do try to help their customers. And I always felt that Lynn and Nancy, the two people I dealt with, are honest and try to do what they can within their company’s policies.

When I inquired once again about the short warranty, I was told that they did offer a one-year warranty in the past, when the cheapest DataHand cost just under $1,000. When they cut the price in half, they also slashed the warranty. I still believe this is a bad business decision in the long term.

Cutting the price in half surely raises sales. But even at $500, it’s still incredibly expensive if you compare it with a regular keyboard, and even most (so-called) ergonomic keyboards. In that light, I don’t believe that raising the price to $550 or $599 will have a dramatic impact on sales. And that would be more than enough to cover the cost of shipping out brand new units under a full one-year warranty. Imagine what I would have written in my review if instead of an expensive repair job, I’d have gotten a brand new replacement in no time. It comes up as result #6 in Google when I type “datahand review” in Google (#3 if I also type in the quotes).

They’re obviously willing to take care of their customers. I wasn’t ignored, and in the end I did get a new unit. So why not make it a promise? Good customer service goes a long way.

I often handle technical support requests from people who are using a trial version. Often, these questions arise more from the person’s unfamiliarity with the software that they could easily solve by looking at the help or even just all the available menu items, rather than an actual problem needing support. But such questions are usually quickly answered. When I do, the response is quite often that they’re surprised I replied at all–and a sale! Caring about customers isn’t a cost. It’s an investment.

Business practices aside, I’m once again happily using my DataHand. I still feel that the product itself is excellent. Or rather: I don’t feel it. That’s the whole point. When I use the Microsoft Natural Keyboard for a few days, my wrists and arms are sore every day. I’m not really in pain, but it dampens my mood and productivity. The DataHand requires no effort at all. Yes, there’s quite a learning curve. But now it happens all automatically.

Definitely worth $500 and the practice. Shame about the short warranty.


  1. Figured I should let you know that I’ve been following your adventures with the Datahand keenly. I’m closer and closer to actually purchasing a Datahand so it’s been very helpful to read your experiences thus far. Much thanks!

    Comment by Ted Jardine — Tuesday, 29 January 2008 @ 0:34

  2. It looks like Datahand has suspended sales while they look for a new manufacturer. Hopefully they will take this opportunity to redesign the keyboard for higher quality and reliability.

    Comment by Kaya — Friday, 1 February 2008 @ 6:55

  3. Ouch! Glad I have two.

    Actually, the DataHand’s design is just fine. My complaint is that they didn’t have the proper warranty to back up their product. There’s always going to be sample variation in the production.

    Comment by Jan — Friday, 1 February 2008 @ 17:18

  4. I happened to have two datahands (one at office, one at home) ordered last October, and both stopped working now. I only used them sparingly, so it wasn’t a over-use problem or anything like that. Just on some random day they stopped responding and only sent random characters (y, j, k, etc) to the PC. And yes, it’s beyond the 90 days warranty.

    Is this the same as what you called “intermittent” problem? If so I guess I just have to leave them unplugged for a few days before trying again.

    Comment by Paul Liu — Tuesday, 25 March 2008 @ 0:55

  5. In my case, I didn’t get truly random characters. I would get the character that I pressed, plus several additional characters related to the key I pressed (e.g. pressing J would get me K and L too or something like that).

    When discussing the problem with the DataHand folks on the phone, they explained it to me that the most likely cause for the behavior I was getting would be “a key that is (electronically) stuck in the open (depressed) position” (their words–words in brackets mine). They recommended trying to press all keys several times, one by one, in an effort to try to disengage the stuck key. My guess is that leaving the unit unplugged several days would also cause it to reset whatever key state the electronics remembered.

    The DataHand folks also stressed each time that the DataHand cannot be used in direct sunlight. Sunlight will cause the infrared receptors in the unit to send keystrokes at random. I never used my units in direct sunlight.

    Comment by Jan — Tuesday, 25 March 2008 @ 21:49

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