Unotron Waterproof PC Keyboard

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, January 2006
Available at: Unotron
Requires: Any PC with an available USB or PS/2 keyboard port, Mac compatible although there are no Option or Command keys
MSRP: CAN$79.95 (wired), $109.95 (wireless)

The Unotron keyboard is a full size PC 104 Enhanced Key device with a full complement of utility keys, Windows hot keys and browsing keys, set in a conventional keyboard case. The keyboard itself is obviously well made, but isn't really distinguished by anything plainly visible. The keyboards real claim to fame is that fact that it's completely waterproof. At last, a safe place to spill your coffee and soft drinks while using the computer!

The Unotron keyboard is available in basic black and basic beige/putty, wired or wireless. It's supplied with a palm/wrist rest made of hard plastic. The key layout is complete with all additional keys (104 USA, 105 UK). Keys are ergnomically cupped for good finger rentention, and the key switches are membrane-type with tactile feedback in the form of contact clatter, a nice productivity touch (something which even the more advanced membrane key designs, like the newer Microsoft Natural keyboards, don't have). Key tops are laser etched with oversize white numbers, letters, and symbols. Key actuation life is rated at 20 million cycles which is typical of good quality business keyboards.

Let's get this part out of the way first. The keyboard really is waterproof and washable. To test the claim, I did the unthinkable. I placed the Unotron across a sink in the kitchen area of our research offices and dumped an entire 10 ounce mug of hot coffee onto the keyboard from a height of about 8 inches. For good measure, I then dropped the mug onto the keyboard to add to the abuse. A small glass of orange juice was next, after which the keyboard was flexed a bit in an attempt to open up some seams. The keyboard was then shaken and the keys mashed repeatedly to ensure that all 16 ounces of liquid worked their way into every corner of the keywell. I let the whole mess sit undisturbed for an hour.

To clean the keyboard, I dunked it repeatedly in a sink filled with warm, soapy water and rubbed the sticky gunk off with a sponge. After a minute of washing the keyboard was thoroughly rinsed out and left to dry, on edge, in the dish drainer. A few hours later I plugged the keyboard into the machine we were using to do the testing and everything worked perfectly.

Key contact bounce for the Unotron is slightly slower than average at 15 milliseconds, and average maximum key operating force (KOF) is a somewhat high 70 grams making the touch heavier than average. By comparison, the Kinesis Maxim keyboard KOF is 51.7 grams, the Goldtouch KOF is rated at 54 grams, and the Microsoft Natural Pro is rated at 54.2 grams. Efficient keying requires that keys function with minimum adequate force and with sufficient displacement to provide muscular feedback to the user. Key forces for current high production (read: good quality) keyboards are in the range of 40-125 grams with key displacements of 3 to 5 mm. The more proficient the user, the lighter the touch can be. If too little force is required, extra keys may be struck accidentally, and if too much force or displacement is required, some keys may fail to be actuated because the user did not press hard enough. Also, excessive force induces finger fatigue. Optimum force/displacement characteristics of a key require a steadily increasing force as the key is depressed until contact is made. Immediately beyond that point, the force is sharply changed so that users can easily "feel" when the key has been pressed sufficiently. Heavier touches are generally reserved for less experienced or occasional typists.

The Unotron ergonomics are typical of IBM 104-key enhanced layouts. Unotron has laser-etched extra large letters, numbers and symbols on the keys which makes visibility and identification excellent, a definite benefit for occasional typists. My own pet peeves about the 104 Enhanced Key layout are not anwered here because Unotron wisely follows the standard layout to prevent any user confusion. I still have 'issues' with the 104 Enhanced Key layout. Why, for instance, is the Caps Lock key placed directly above the left Shift key? Most people don't use the Caps Lock more than once a day, but the left Ctrl key (which is generally used dozens of times per day) is positioned below and to the left, away from the main key area (just try to do Ctrl+F6 with one hand—it's impossible). The old XT/AT keyboard layout positioned the 'F' keys on the left end of the keyboard, in my opinion a much smarter and more productive location. Call me cranky, but I've always liked the old 84-key AT layout better. As well, the Esc key is off in space above the main QWERTY and numeric keys, and left of the 'F' keys. The rarely used tilde and back quote key is handier—put the Esc key there instead, or integrate it with the numeric keypad where it can be used to clear calculator functions. These writer and high volume typist complaints are the reason that high quality ergonomic, programmable keyboards from Kinesis, Goldtouch and Pace exist.

The Unotron has been well designed and respects all the usual conventions concerning key force characteristics. More important, under continuous use, with the main QWERTY area 'warmed up', there doesn't appear to be any change in touch or response. Not bad, for an inexpensive, spill sealed, waterproof (that's waterproof, not water resistant), washable, full size PC keyboard graced with a nice selection of customizable application buttons including system volume controls, fast forward/backward controls, play/pause, and so on. Best of all, the manufacturer didn't scrimp on my pet keyboard feature: idiot lights (LEDs) to indicate caps lock, num lock and scroll lock.

Cons: A little bit too light. We'd like to see a bit more weight to prevent the 'board from walking slightly when heavy handed typists start pounding away. Rear height adjustment feet require too much force to snap into place, and they're also slim enough to make you worry about whether or not they're going to last. Built-in hot keys are not programmable. No additional USB port on the keyboard probably because it would ruin the waterproofing.

Pros: It's washable. It's waterproof. It's a decent keyboard. I've got a heavy hand—everyone I know tells me that I pound on my keyboards—and the Unotron absorbs it all with good grace and no problems of any kind. The touch, the standard IBM 104 key layout, and the program control and browser hot keys work well and don't get in the way. If you have to use a keyboard in grimy, humid, damp or weather environments, the Unotron is an ideal choice. If you need a keyboard in medical or other bacteria sensitive environments the Unotron is a good choice there as well, again because it's completely washable. Recommended.

Comments? Questions? Qualms? Technical problems? Send an e-mail!





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