Trouble with

I recently ordered a Belkin Wireless keyboard and mouse set for my Meeja Box from Scan Computers. The price at the time I placed my order was £12.99 + VAT. I ordered one other item at the same time. The product page on Scan’s site clearly states: “The Belkin Wireless Keyboard and Optical Mouse bundle uses digital radio technology to give you the luxury of using your keyboard and mouse in comfort anywhere within six feet of the receiver.” This was exactly what I wanted: A RF wireless keyboard that would work 6ft away from the receiver so I could sit on the sofa and operate the box remotely, principally to play Spectrum games in an emulator. The distance from the TV unit to the sofa is 6ft, so I made sure to select a keyboard with at least that range. I didn’t really need the mouse, but it seems to be impossible to purchase a wireless keyboard without a mouse for a sane price.

So, the goods arrived and I unpacked them, fitted batteries and generally set the kit up as per the instructions. In addition to the keyboard and mouse, there is a controller unit can be connected to the PC via two PS/2 connectors or 1 USB connector. I wanted to use the USB socket on the side of the case, so fitted the controller to that. The controller was recognised and now that it had power, I went through the configuration routine in the manual. Lo and behold everything worked. So far, so good.

The problems started when I went to sit down on the sofa, to try and use the keyboard. I pressed keys, nothing happened. I tried again, nothing happened. I moved a little closer to the receiver and pressed more keys. Nothing happened. I moved closer than 1m from the controller, and finally my key presses produced characters on the screen. OK, so 75% of the key presses were going missing, but something was happening. Not being satisfied with having to press each key 4 times in order to get a character to appear, I moved yet closer. A series of experiments showed that the keyboard did not function reliably at more than 6 inches from the reciever. Now compare with the description on the site: “anywhere within six feet” with “did not function reliably at more than 6 inches”. With me sat on the floor and the keyboard on my lap, I had to balance the reciever on my thigh, because it was on the floor, it was too far away and the keyboard wouldn’t work! I wasn’t happy with this performance, so turned to the troubleshooting section of the product manual. It suggests a few things, one of which is to re-run the synchronisation procedure, which I tried. I also tried the other troubleshooting tips which were changing the batteries in the keyboard and ensuring the controller was away from other electrical equipment.

So, I fitted a new set of batteries into the keyboard and placed the reciever at maximum cable length distance from the PC, in the middle of the room. There was no other equipment within at least the radius of the controller cable. I tested the keyboard again. Suprise, surprise, it still didn’t work at more than 6 inches from the controller.

So, having followed the procedures outlined in the manual and still not having resolved the issue, obviously the product was either defective or not up to the specification quoted on the website. I completed Scan’s RMA form on their website, and a couple of days later got an e-mail suggesting I contact Belkin’s technical support and to check for any updated drivers on their website. Now, this is something of a wild goose chase, as my contract of sale is with Scan, not Belkin. Belkin’s on-line technical support suggests checking the things I have already checked – batteries, synchronisation, interference etc. They also haven’t updated the drivers for this product in over a year. In fact, it appears to be an end-of-life product.

So, Belkin not having anything to offer, I returned to Scan. I replied to their e-mail saying that I have followed Belkin’s troubleshooting tips and that there were no new drivers for the product. I didn’t get a reply for a few days, until an RMA e-mail arrived, telling me to ship the product back. Now, when the product was originally shipped to me, it was simply wrapped in bubble-wrap in a courier’s plastic bag. So I found the bubble wrap and packaged the box up in brown paper, having included the necessary paper work. It cost me £7 to send if first class recorded delivery. (Scan requested a recorded delivery in their RMA documents.) That was Friday.

I get home from work today, to find the following e-mail:

Antony Whitmore,

Scan Computers
27-28 Enterprise Park


26 Sep 2005

RMA 121193

Dear Antony Whitmore:

I am writing with reference to your recent return, the items received have been tested with no fault found.

I can confirm that the items have been tested against any details with the return and also those logged on our RMA system. Our technical staff are fully qualified and having read your comments have not found any faults with your items.

The items need to be returned to you as soon as possible and in order to return the items to you there is a £10 +VAT carriage and a £10 +VAT service charge. Please forward payment details, cheque or postal order to the value of £23.50 inc. VAT, made payable to Scan International.

I apologise on behalf of the directors of Scan Computers for the problems you have encountered. It is our aim to resolve any issues quickly and effectively so as to maintain a long-term relationship. I trust the above action has met your requirements.

Yours Sincerely,

Mrs E. H. Norris
Returns Manager

Scan Computers

The set of characters in the subject uniquely identifies your query. When replying to this email please ensure that these characters remain unaltered.

This message is entirely the creation of its author in his or her personal capacity and any views expressed in this message are the views of that author. Accordingly, Scan Computers Intl Ltd shall not be nor become liable in any way, whether contractually, tortuously or otherwise, in respect of anything stated or depicted in this message. Please also note that this message shall not constitute an offer or an acceptance or be legally binding upon Scan Computers Intl Ltd in any way.

Let’s make this absolutely crystal clear. They claim there’s no fault with the product. It is a logical assumption then that they haven’t done anything to it to solve the issue. (You can’t fix a problem that doesn’t exist.) That given, the keyboard won’t function any better were I to get it back here. And they want to charge me £23.50 to ship back a £15.26 product that I just paid £7 in postage to get sent the other way!

This is despite a clear description of the fault and as much information as I could give about the troubleshooting steps I’ve been through. (Let’s not forget, I run a network with over 1000 users: I know how to report faulty equipment in a manner than helps speedy resolution of the problem.) So, if there is no hardware fault with the keyboard shipped to me, then it is either not fit for the purpose for which it was sold, or has been sold with a mis-leading description. Both of these are serious matters and I am quite within my legal rights to be given a refund.

Just as an aside, I know many people rant about the pointlessness of the legal disclaimers attached to e-mails, but the one on this e-mail is a classic example. It implies that nothing in the e-mail is anything to do with Scan – it’s all down to Mrs. E. H. Norris in person. If this is a corporate-wide signature then logically, no Scan employee ever carries out company business by e-mail. If a Scan employee offers (for example) a refund, Scan are not liable for that decision. So that employee presumably sends out the refunds from their own personal bank account. Either that, or this is another example of a pointless, unsustainable and legally indefensible corporate e-mail signature.

Fortunately, there was a very good article in PCW about consumer rights when shopping online, covering the Sale of Goods Act, Trade Descriptions Act and Distance Selling Regulations. So, I have sent the reply and await Scan’s response. The cheque is not in the post.

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