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Friday, 23 January 2009

DataHand for Sale Again

Filed under: Hardware & Gadgets — Jan Goyvaerts @ 19:50

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.

33 Comments

  1. The Painfully Expensive Ergonomic Keyboard…

    During one of my frequent searches for great innovative ergonomic products, I came across the DataHand ergonomic keyboard.  Innovative?  I’ll give them that.  Great?  Not so much.  I have not tried this product, but after seeing the demo vid…

    Trackback by Fight RSI — Tuesday, 14 April 2009 @ 2:40

  2. I hope to god that Datahand still will repair broken units… I cannot type even as much as I am doing now on my “microsoft natural” keyboard without pain, and unfortunately I have no spare datahand laying around. Definitely my problem is not due to gross negligence, I baby my computer equipment and won’t let anyone or anything so much as breath on it, much less chew or shed on it! Plus, even when the DataHand personals were on sale at half off, as a lowly ex-IT prog turned university student, I could never afford it. (Otherwise I’d have gotten a backup unit!)

    If they refuse to fix it, I’ve no idea what I’ll do. Voice recognition can only do so much. None of the other so-called “ergonomic” keyboards come anywhere near the excellence of the datahand keyboard.

    Comment by Chaos — Monday, 20 April 2009 @ 5:46

  3. > I hope to god that Datahand still will repair broken units

    You might also be able to find someone who’s generally handy with a screwdriver and soldering iron to fix yours. I’ve been nursing along a couple Datahand keyboards (can’t use anything else) for 10+ years, and have fixed various problems including broken keys, sticky keys, and keys that stop working because of broken solder joints.

    Comment by Geoff — Thursday, 7 May 2009 @ 8:05

  4. “We have shipped all the DataHand Pro II units available for sale. We are taking orders for backlog and if interested please contact DataHand sales at …”

    :-(

    Comment by Bob — Wednesday, 10 June 2009 @ 23:16

  5. If you want a DataHand, I suggest you contact them and ask to be put on a waiting list. Their main problem seems to be getting enough funding for a full production run, which the present economic situation does not make easier.

    Comment by Jan Goyvaerts — Thursday, 11 June 2009 @ 15:19

  6. My Datahand is experiencing the same problems as yours. I think the problem is related to the sunlight problem: random keypresses turn up, related to the actual key being pressed, but it is occurring even with drawn window shades.

    One thing I do is not turn off my computer at night, so the Datahand is constantly powered. Could this cause problems with the electronics (some sort of saturation effect)?

    Comment by Konrad — Thursday, 9 July 2009 @ 16:01

  7. In the past when I experienced the problem, it even occurred at night, and turning off all the light in the room except my LCD screen didn’t make any difference.

    I also think the problem is electronical. While I do turn off my PC, it remains plugged in, and it keeps powering USB and PS/2 devices like modern PCs tend to do.

    Comment by Jan Goyvaerts — Friday, 10 July 2009 @ 13:29

  8. I have been using the querty for years, and despite some botched attempted to learn to touch type I cam still a 4 or 5 finger typer. I know if I put the time in it would be better in the long run but have not been able to push though the frustrating slow period when learning. I tried the abkey for a while and still have 2 such keyboards stacked in the cupboard, but am still banging away on the querty.

    I know the reason you changed to the datahand was rsi. I do get this in my right mouse index finger. But I see you still have a mouse with the datahand. What’s your experience with the datahand in the context of querty? It looks like it would force me to use the right keys and get faster! A big investment to see if it works but like you say good resale value.

    Comment by boardtc — Monday, 10 August 2009 @ 19:03

  9. The DataHand is available in Qwerty and Dvorak layouts. It requires you to touch type correctly using all 10 fingers. There is no other way. With practice, one can touch type on the DataHand just as fast as on a regular keyboard. Also, because the effort required to move the keys on the DataHand is minimal, there’s no real disadvantage to using Qwerty on the DataHand. The benefit is that it makes switching between the DataHand and a regular keyboard much easier (such as when using a laptop while traveling).

    Comment by Jan Goyvaerts — Wednesday, 12 August 2009 @ 16:30

  10. Hi — How do you get the keys to unstick? I have one old & two newer professional IIs. The datahand mailbox is full, so I can’t email them about the main problem I’m having, which is with my older (& nicer!) unit — it seems to have swapped the NAS key permanently into 10-k & P mode. Does anyone know some magic to get it out of that?

    Comment by Joanna Bryson — Wednesday, 9 December 2009 @ 2:35

  11. Sorry, I’ve worked out my problem better with the datahand guide book.

    1) the function key & the NAS key are switched, and I can’t get them to switch back. This should be program-selection O, but it won’t work.

    2) I can’t reset it to the factory settings. This requires the NAS key, (hold it & the / down at the same time when you have the program-selection mode on), so maybe it’s unsurprising it won’t work given the NAS is wrong. But I couldn’t get it to work with the Function key either.

    Comment by Joanna Bryson — Wednesday, 9 December 2009 @ 2:59

  12. Joanna,

    I’m not sure if I understand exactly what you’re saying. If you mean that pressing the NAS key activates 10-K mode, the most likely explanation for that is that you’ve simply turned on 10-K mode. 10-K mode is permanent until you turn it back off. Switching to N or F mode does not turn off 10-K mode.

    To turn off 10-K mode, push down the NAS key with your right thumb until it clicks into NAS LOCK position, and hold it down. While holding your thumb down, press the right pinky west key, which is labeled 10-K off.

    To turn on 10-K mode, do the same, but use right pinky east instead.

    What is not described clearly in the DataHand manual is that you have to push down the NAS key into its LOCK position and hold it down to be able to switch 10-K modes. You cannot change 10-K mode when you’re holding down the NAS key in its normal position or engaging NAS LOCK without holding down the NAS key.

    Comment by Jan Goyvaerts — Wednesday, 9 December 2009 @ 8:32

  13. What are you (or other people for that matter) doing for a mouse. 50% of my RSI pain is from the mouse.

    Comment by Glenn — Saturday, 30 January 2010 @ 4:31

  14. I’m still using the Microsoft Optical Trackball I wrote about on my old blog.

    The DataHand has a built-in mouse but I don’t use that because it’s too cumbersome. You’re essentially moving the mouse pointer with arrow keys.

    Comment by Jan Goyvaerts — Sunday, 31 January 2010 @ 8:51

  15. I have mounted an ergonomic track pad with three tabs of velcro on the display area of my left DataHand unit (because I am left handed). To use it, I have to move my hand forward on the palm pad about an inch. It is better than any other mousing tool I have used with the DH. Mostly I have used track balls over the years to supplement the DataHand finger mouse which I consider too slow for most work and not user friendly enough. On the other hand, the cursor control arrangement on the Dvorak version of the DH is better that QWERTY version, so I use that a lot as an alternative to mousing (I have used Dvorak on the DH since the beginning about 18 years ago when I had to use conversion software on the original QWERTY DH two models ago). That was before DataHand Systems created their own version of the Dvorak layout. The best feature of DataHand Dvorak is the improved way it handles the cursor mover keys. The Ergonomic Track Pad works well even though it does have its own idiosyncrasies that take some adjustment time. The best part is the elimination of major hand movement to reach the track ball that I have put up with for years. I am thinking about possibly getting a second Ergonomic Touch Pad for the right hand, but that probably would be for use only when my left hand is typing something. I am not sure how it would work until I would try it. It could be only appealing to a symmetry instinct—or to the desire to be a two gun cowboy.
    If I need to look at the DataHand display, which I might want to do about once a year, the Touch Pad can be popped off. The three Velcro tabs are positioned so they do not block the view of the display once the Touch Pad is out of the way. More about the Ergonomic Touch Pad can be found here:http://www.ergonomictouchpad.com/
    It costs $30. I have no stake in the Ergonomic Touch Pad Company and earn no commission for promoting their product. I just like it. I am, however, a DataHand shareholder and I wish more people were, because that might help them overcome their manufacturing issues.

    Comment by Don Patterson — Thursday, 4 February 2010 @ 4:08

  16. My RSI is flaring up again and I am seriously considering a DataHand. I use my computer for Unix based CAD software (Perl, TCL, Csh). Is is correct to assume that you are still using your DataHand as your primary input device? I read through the DataHand manual. The layout of the characters seems a bit odd. I know that the datahand is different than a qwerty keyboard, that is to be expected. I also expect a learning curve. What I dont want to do is to learn a different but annoying layout. The DataHand seems to have quite a few modes (NAS, mouse, 10key, arrow). Special characters are spread across multiple modes (normal, shifted and NAS). It seems that to do computer programming that the user would need to move between Normal, shifted and NAS a lot.

    Do you find the mouse keys useful?
    Do you use the DataHand with Qwerty or Davorak?
    Do you find the layout of the DataHand to be efficient?

    Comment by Glenn — Tuesday, 9 February 2010 @ 1:18

  17. Glenn, I’ve now written a whole article about that: DataHand for Programmers

    Comment by Jan Goyvaerts — Sunday, 14 February 2010 @ 16:58

  18. Glenn — I’ve been using a DataHand for programming for the past decade. It took a while (a few weeks) to come up to speed (at first I was useless), but the keyboard now works well for me.

    At least with the “Professional” model of the DataHand, you can customize it a bit to move your favorite coding punctuation to convenient keys — I’ve moved the parentheses & curly braces to not need the NAS mode, for instance. I also use arrow keys a lot in coding, so I swapped the NAS and Function/Mouse mode keys.

    Are the mouse keys useful? No. Not at all, for me. I’ve taught myself to mouse with my foot instead, which still kind of sucks — but is better than having to “arrow key” the mouse cursor around. On the plus side, however, my hands never need to leave my keyboard.

    Qwerty or Davorak? Qwerty. It was easier to learn that way, as the DataHand is almost Qwerty to start with, and I had enough to chew on already.

    The major advantage I find in using my DataHand is that I can position the split keyboard in positions that are comfortable and natural for my fingers, wrists, shoulders. My keyboard halves are down by the sides of my chair, so I can just hang my arms down at my sides. It *might* be possible to do this with other types of split keyboards.

    — Geoff

    Comment by Geoff — Thursday, 18 February 2010 @ 13:14

  19. Glenn — To mouse, I use a (now discontinued) mouse cover called a FootRat. Here’s a photo: http://www.dinf.ne.jp/doc/english/prompt/gavin_files/textmostly/slide10.html

    Comment by Geoff — Thursday, 18 February 2010 @ 13:18

  20. I’ve owned a datahand since 2007 when I started receiving longer hours at my former programming job. Way less strain on your wrists and you don’t feel like you have carpal tunnel. The only real downside is the learning curve. You also definitely have to get used to the sensitivity. Overall, it’s a great piece of hardware that is worth the 950 :p

    Comment by Tim Alan — Thursday, 17 June 2010 @ 10:09

  21. I run a publishing company and am on my computer 70 hours per week (much to my wife’s horror). I switched to datahand 6 years ago and it saved my career. I love my keyboard and frequently google around for news about them becuase I’m obsessed with how it has changed my life and my productivity. Not to mention zero pain now, and unlimited typing. I have two spares now too that I wouldn’t sell for any amount of money unless that sum of money was greater than the amount I will earn in the rest of my career, since without these keyboards, I’d be applying for a job at McDonalds.

    Bryan – BioMed Publishing Group

    Comment by Bryan A Rosner — Monday, 28 June 2010 @ 14:02

  22. I forgot to mention – the datahand mouse sucks and the best solution I’ve found is a stylus from Wacom — a tablet mouse — it works wonderfully and just like writing, doesn’t hurt my hands.

    Comment by Bryan A Rosner — Monday, 28 June 2010 @ 14:03

  23. The perfect companion for the DataHand is the Contour RollerMouse Pro2. It’s as radical an improvement for the mouse as the DataHand is for the keyboard.

    Couldn’t rave enough about the RollerMouse. You will have the same ambivalence before ordering, like “will this work for me?”, then just like with the DataHand you spend some time getting adjusted, and in the end it turns out to be vastly better in every way. More precise, faster, easier to navigate, profoundly better for RSI. If you’re ordering a DataHand or using one with some other mouse, take it from a fellow DataHand user – the RollerMouse is as exceptional as the DataHand. It’s SO, so good.

    Comment by Jeremy — Monday, 13 September 2010 @ 17:36

  24. hello,
    would really like to buy this keyboard. As the price is quite important for me and because i don’t know the online shops in USA (I live in the Europe), could you give me an advice where to buy it (preferrably a discounted one, refurbished or so..)
    thanks
    Jakub

    Comment by Jakub — Wednesday, 20 October 2010 @ 18:38

  25. Jakub,

    I purchased mine directly from datahand.com. They ship anywhere in the world via courier (fast but expensive).

    If you want it cheaper I recommend you try your luck on eBay. Sometimes people sell used units.

    Comment by Jan Goyvaerts — Thursday, 21 October 2010 @ 17:36

  26. DataHand is gone. I’ve had mine since 2007-ish, and it is in desperate need of service. They don’t respond to e-mails, and the phone numbers are disconnected. What a HUGE loss! I’m dreading having to re-learn yet another ergo device.

    Any recommendations for a suitable substitute? This thing is dying fast, and I use it full-time at work.

    Comment by Susan Scott — Wednesday, 23 March 2011 @ 5:04

  27. Yes, datahand is still here doing repairs/cleanings. we don’t, however, have any new datahands. there have been issues with the new build that we are trying to fix. Our email address is: sales@datahand.com. all emails are responded to at this email address. Our new office is located in Mesa, AZ. Until we get the new batch of datahands in, we have limited access via phone, but we are here for email questions. All emails are responded to within 24 hours. Sales@datahand.com

    Thank you.

    Comment by James Cole — Thursday, 24 March 2011 @ 20:54

  28. After Susan’s comment I emailed DataHand Inc. inviting them to comment. James Cole just did. Seems they’re still in business, but at a new location.

    Comment by Jan Goyvaerts — Friday, 25 March 2011 @ 9:06

  29. I’ve been in contact with Datahand over the last 2 years to purchase additional items, support, as well as just misc. questions about Datahand and related industry thoughts and ideas. I’ve had a reasonable response time on all communication and excellent service for my purchases (accessories, not another Datahand).

    I believe there is a demand and an opportunity for a website to offer a “one-stop” place for all Datahand users for support, re-sell of units, customization, and related items

    Comment by Input Nirvana — Sunday, 4 December 2011 @ 0:06

  30. Hi! I was trying to contact datahand several tims last month (I’ve send about 4 mails) no response so far … :(

    Comment by Wojtek — Thursday, 28 June 2012 @ 4:00

  31. These guys need to consider crowd funding. It would be nice if I could get in touch with these people to tell them about it, but I just tried both their emails and they bounced.

    Comment by Chris Smith — Thursday, 6 June 2013 @ 2:50

  32. I agree with Chris Smith. The DataHand keyboard saved my PC life, as less expensive solutions would only allow me to work on reduced schedules and it is no mystery that many people suffer from unergonomic PC use.

    I’ll add that it would be interesting to understand the real reasons between DataHand’s continued unavailability and unresponsiveness. Whatever they may be, they are unrelated to the very real service DataHand can potentially give the PC users’ community.

    Love,

    Comment by Daniel Noel — Friday, 26 July 2013 @ 6:04

  33. Just emailed ‘sales@datahand.com’, undeliverable – mailbox quota exceeded. They look fairly dead at this point, quite a shame.

    Comment by Richard — Saturday, 10 August 2013 @ 1:19

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