As a blind person who is a long-time tech user, I can tell you that the software and special equipment I need to be independent is an investment. Sure, I’m saved the expense of a car, auto insurance, and the cost of maintenance and licensing fees, but these costs get replaced with the costs of my screen reader and refreshable braille display. Until recently, a screen reader cost just about as much as the computer I wanted to access, and I had to but upgrades every so often to make sure I could keep accessing new versions of mainstream applications.

With many operating systems including built-in screen readers, it has become more affordable to obtain acccess to computers, so long as you’re the kind of user who can get buy on text-to-speech feedback for the contents displayed on a computer screen. I am not this kind of user, and the cost of a refreshable braille display remains high. The SmartBeetle, the kind of display I owned until recently sold for $1,345, and that was one of the cheapest units, and it now sells for $995. In other words, readers, it’s an investment. Unlike a screen reader that only provides spoken versions of visual elements, the braille display gives me tangible rendenrings of things on the screen. I relied on it to let me check the spelling of people’s names and email addresses, to proofread documents, to privately read communications from friends, family, and coworkers, and engage in other activities where it would not be beneficial to have the contents of my screen spoken. With that said, when a piece of equipment that carries such a huge workload breaks, problems will be had.

Six months ago, the SmartBeetle broke. Specifically, it stopped allowing me to connect to devices via bluetooth, which is essential to it’s functioning. If this were a device that is used by the majority of the population, getting in touch with the company’s technical support team would yield a timely response, and it would not be okay for such communications to go unanswered. But braille displays are not used by a majority of the population, and the SmartBeetle which is manufactured by HIMS Inc. is no exception, and this apparently gives HIMS Inc. the license to have a lax standard of support team responsiveness. I sent several emails, made several phone calls, all of which detailed my problem and got no response.

When I finally did get a response, the first thing that happned was I had to go through all the troubleshooting steps listed in the user guide with the customer service person. This is annoying but standard no matter what, and so I cooperated. The yielded the response that the manufacturer in Korea would need to be contacted to find out what to do. In a company that sells popular devices like computers, I would have been given a support ticket, and this would have allowed me to track the progress of my support request. It also would have, when I reached out, given the next support agent a frame of reference. None of these things happened, there was no follow up from the support department, and I sent several more emails and made more phone calls and left messages that got no response. Meanwhile, all of the activities I described abovee are lessened in quality for me.

Just before this passed thanksgiving, I finally got in touch with a support agent, and it was determined that the bluetooth board had gone out and would need to be replaced. The cost of thee replacement part was $170. Just as a point of reference, you can buy a fairly kickass set of bluetooth headphones for that price. So for the entire repair process, I had to apy $20 to ship the SmartBeetle to the company for repairs, $170 for the bluetooth board, $85 for an hour’s labor, $20 to ship the device back, and $20 to rescue the device from a UPS center when they couldn’t deliver the package to me at my house. This totals $315 for repairs, about a quarter of the original price of $1,345, or a third of the current $995 price for a new SmartBeetle.

Two weeks later, one of the cells in the device stopped functioning. This is kind of like what happens when some of the pixels in your TV screen go out. This time the cost of replacement parts would be $780, and that excludes any labor, shipping, and transportation costs involved. When I told the support agent I had just sent the device in for repairs and paid ovr $300, the response I got was, “Bumber.” It turns out, there is a 90-day warranty, but it only covers the part ttthat was replaced. This means I’m now putting more than the cost of the original unit into fixing thee unit. To any of you car owners, this means the device has been effectively totaled. When I pointed this out, I was encouraged to buy a new unit because it was the better deal, and never mind that this is damage that could have been caused during he repair and shipping process.

If this were an iPhone and if I had gottena customer experience of a quality that compares to Apple, it would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, I have six months of no response, ball-dropping, and a company that seems to feel it’s okay to charge more repairs than a replacement unit. The worst part is HIMS Inc. and companies like it have gotten so used to people having to put up with their antics that they don’t even care that I’m less than pleased with them. I’m posting my experience on all of their dealers’ sites, I’ve hit their Facebook page, will probably be targeting their Google Maps page if the have one, and the only result is catharsis for me. HIMS and companies like need to be taken down a notch. They cannot continue to treat people like this. Even if a limited market means a higher price for products, that doesn’t mean you can treat your customers like total shit.

In this case, I found a replacement device for $449 from a company that supports its products. It’s still more money than I wanted to spend, but it’s better than giving these losers any more money. In short, reader, don’t buy a SmartBeeeetle, don’t by from HIMS Inc. The product doesn’t last, and the customer support is lousy.

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