Follow-up to It’s Dishwasher Safe! from March 2012
It seems I got lost in the shuffle. After some half dozen attempts across the last three months, the nice folks at SealShield finally and quite politely responded back to my request to have the Backlit Keyboard with Touchpad replaced. According to their company president, it seems they inadvertently sent me the first generation model, which was supposed to already be phased out and not shipped out any longer. It has since been revised to the new model (# SW90PG2), which they shipped to me for a re-evaluation. As with the previous rendition, it has a retail pricetag of $149.99 and has identical features to the original edition. This model number corresponds to the white edition, and they also offer it in black. I think white is better suited to healthcare so you can see the dirt accumulation and get it cleaned. That should contribute to the reduction of nosocomial infections and cross-contamination.
…it appears to have no apparent differences to the first gen model (I didn’t expect to see any). The keyboard is about as thick as a couple of tri-fold pamphlets, or about a third as thick as a standard USB 104-key keyboard. Attachment to a Windows 7 PC took less than five minutes (really, I think Windows Update was just being a little slower than normal, as the drivers are all generic HID [Human Interface Device]). From unboxing, you slide off the protective cap on the ~6″USB dongle attached to the top right corner of the keyboard. Then you attached the included USB Extension cable, which gives you another 3′ or so to move your keyboard. For the first installation, you wait for the drivers to install (Note: Windows XP usually recommends that you restart the computer, but Windows 7 did not). When that is complete, you start running the keyboard and touchpad.
The results of my test…
…were far better than for the first generation version, but don’t get too excited yet. My typing proficiency on Gen 1 was only 14 words per minute. On the Gen 2 keyboard, I just barely more than doubled that at 32 words per minute. Problems include constantly having to go back and remove double and even triple lettering (one keypress would yield two to three renditions of a single character, and it was inconsistent, so no one key seemed to blame. It was esentially an arbitrary error and I’d guess it happened about 10-20% of the time, which is about 3-5 words in every paragraph. The touchpad also displayed considerable improvement, except the mouse keys were no better. Mouse accuracy was much improved, and the tap-touch you would use on a laptop to left-click worked rather well. I don’t recommend having another mouse attached to the system at the same time as this keyboard, as my mouse would often not respond at all, and after I completed my evaluation and disconnected the SealShield keyboard, my mouse was inoperative until I restarted the laptop, so I was forced to go back to the laptop’s built-in touchpad (meh). I also noticed my external wireless keyboard gave me some trouble until the restart. Additionally, the SealShield keyboard’s touchpad seemed to almost go into inactive or sleep mode when it sat unused for a moment, so you had to drag a fingertip across the touchpad in a Z-like motion, then it would almost wake-up and respond fine.
The backlighting in the keyboard was so subtle that it was barely noticeable in a lit room (where you obviously don’t need it), but shined at just the right brightness in a dim/dark lit room. No problems there on either generation keyboard. I did not run this through the dishwasher myself. I’ve seen the demos and done it on other SealShield models before. I know it’ll handle that just fine. That is one thing that SealShield has down pat. You can also safely use bleach and water or any standard hospital-grade disinfectant solution.
Would I recommend…
…going out and dropping 150 bones on this model? I can’t really say yes. It wasn’t the worst keyboard I’ve ever used and I can see a ton of healthcare uses for this form factor and it’s features, but it still has too far to go. Any proficient typist will be very frustrated at the rate of typing errors and the lackluster touchpad performance, especially for that price tag. If you are a hunt-and-peck typist, then it probably won’t make a huge difference to you. Don’t get me wrong… I’m not expecting to see over 50 words per minute accuracy on this type of keyboard, but I got 32 words per minute with a significant amount of typing errors due to the double and triple letter insertion per keypress issue. I should have probably been in the 40’s without the problem.
Now as far as recommendations for future improvement, I’d suggest the folks at SealShield go to Panasonic’s Toughbook division and see what they do on their CF-19 Tablet’s sealed keyboard and emulate it. I never had any trouble with those once I got used to not having the chiclet-style keys. For the touchpad… get rid of the dedicated button setup you have now and replace it with something better. Again, the Toughbook has a great model to emulate. You also REALLY need to incorporate some kind of driver and option software, like Alps or Synaptics touchpad software. It usually handles great things like gestures and touch sensitivity. We’re coming into the Windows 8 generation of computers that demand multi-touch and gestures. You simply cannot get by with a touchpad that performs like it came from a 1994 laptop. When and if that happens, then I would wholeheartedly endorse it for EMS in-unit and clinical use (ER/ICU/Telemetry/etc.).
Readers, please don’t think this is a reflection on the quality of anything else that SealShield makes. I am totally sold on the quality of their mice and keyboards like the ones I reviewed in my previous post, It’s Dishwasher Safe! back in March. I recorded my record typing speed on one of those models and it was put through a soda bath and came out sparkling (performance and appearance, not electrically)! I really recommend you check them out. You may even see them at a public safety or medical trade show in addition to electronics shows like CES.
Now, this keyboard, and a few other items from SealShield they generously gave to me, are going to be included in a giveaway coming up this month. Please keep an eye out for a post on the giveaway, and, maybe, just maybe, you might want to follow me on Twitter and Facebook, in case that would count as extra entries in the giveaway that I haven’t announced yet.