On my old blog I wrote about my experiences with the DataHand alternative keyboard, and six months later I continued my DataHand story. Only a few weeks later datahand.com announced they weren’t selling the DataHand any longer, due to their inability to manufacture the device. That was one year ago.
As the calendar turned over to 2009, datahand.com announces that the Pro II model is available again. The price has gone up from $650 to $995, though that’s still less than the $1295 it cost in 2004, before the 50% price cut. The Personal model, which is the model I purchased, is no longer available. That one cost $495 in 2007, and $995 in 2004.
The difference between the Personal and the Pro II is that the latter has a different controller chip inside. The Personal only has a fixed QWERTY layout. The Pro II can switch between QWERTY and Dvorak, and also allows individual keys to be reprogrammed. But the keyboards themselves are identical.
Would I buy a DataHand buy $995? If I didn’t already have two: absolutely! It may seem like a lot of money, compared with how cheap mass-produced PC hardware is these days. But even if you make only $25 an hour, if the DataHand allows you to type for one more week, it has already paid for itself. I’m sure I couldn’t work productively for 40 hours a week any more on a Microsoft natural keyboard. I tried, and my wrists couldn’t take it any more. After all, programming is mostly typing.
I asked the DataHand folks what they meant with the “limited number of units” phrase on their site. They replied that they’re still having issues getting enough units manufactured, and that the economic situation isn’t making things easier. They don’t know how many they’ll be able to manufacture this time around, but they do intend to stay in business, if they can manage to find a new manufacturer and find enough funds.
If you’ve been planning to try the DataHand, don’t hesitate and order one today. If, after a few months, you find that you don’t like it, you can always sell it on eBay. They usually fetch a good price.
DataHand Inc. themselves offer a 15-day return policy, but 15 days is not enough to get used to the DataHand. It took me about three weeks to get comfortable enough with it to use it exclusively, and several months to get the same typing speed as on a normal keyboard. Today I probably code faster on the DataHand than on a normal keyboard, because navigation and function keys don’t require arm movements.
Let me continue my story where I left off in January 2008. I had two DataHand units: a Personal model that I had purchased in March 2006, which developed an intermittent problem that it would send extraneous keystrokes with each key. The problem would go away for a month or even several months if I left it unplugged for a few days. The other unit I had in January 2008 was a Pro II model that DataHand Inc. sent me as a replacement in September 2007 for another DataHand Personal that I had purchased as a backup when the first one started to act up. I had really become to depend on the DataHand, and didn’t want to be without it while the first was repaired. DataHand agreed to exchange my second unit, which had two permanently nonfunctioning keys, after I had already paid to have both units repaired, only to get them back in the same state.
In March 2008 we packed up our stuff to move to Phuket. We stayed at a rental house while construction on our new house was being completed, and left most of our stuff at our old house near Bangkok. I decided not to risk bringing the replacement DataHand, which had functioned flawlessly for 6 months. Instead I brought the unit with the intermittent problem, because if a unit was going to be broken during a move, it should be that one. But the problem unit actually worked flawlessly for almost half a year. Then the same problem recurred. By that time we had already moved into our new house, and the Pro II replacement unit was sitting in a box. So I swapped the units. Today I’m still using the DataHand I received in September 2007. It works perfectly, and never experienced any kind of hiccup.
All in all I’m a happy customer. I have collected enough computer hardware over the years to know that every product has its issues. Last year I had to buy a new PC in a hurry because of yet another fried motherboard, and it took more than one trip to the store to get all the components to play nice together. (If you want an upscale PC in Thailand, you have to build it yourself.)
But for a $995 product, I would expect a better warranty. Ultimately, my problems were resolved to my satisfaction. I just feel that DataHand should do themselves a favor and promise the service that they do deliver. Since the price has gone back up a bit, I emailed DataHand with some questions. This is what Lynn Anderson had to say about the warranty:
You asked if our warranty period is still the 90 days. Yes it is. While we would like to be able to offer a longer warranty, we feel we can only offer the current 90 day warranty. Nonetheless, if an out of warranty keyboard were to come back to us for repair, and the trouble is not due to customer negligence, it is presently our policy to fix it without charge as long as the customer is willing to pay the shipping cost in both directions. We have done similarly in several cases. We are proud of our product, and so if something has gone wrong that is not the result of customer failing, we are often willing to assume responsibility. More often we see cases of gross neglect where the keyboard is very dirty with pet hair and other substances. We have even had keyboards come back with damage caused by animals; such as dogs or cats. When keyboards are dirty and badly damaged, we must charge to restore them to good working condition. As you will understand, the DataHand Keyboard needs to be kept clean so that it can function properly.
I was a bit shocked to read this. A DataHand is not some cheap toy for Fido to chew on! Of course the DataHand needs to be treated with care. I don’t allow anyone or anything to even touch mine! It’s not fragile, but it is more sensitive than a standard keyboard. That’s the whole point. DataHand keys need far less effort to push than those on any other keyboard I’ve used. When I come back from visiting family in Belgium, where I have no spare DataHand, it always takes a few minutes to get used to the DataHand’s soft touch again.