I make no apology for using a dedicated Braille note-taker as part of my daily life. But with smaller and more efficient displays now available to use with a Smartphone, is the expensive, proprietary-driven Braille note-taker becoming a luxury of the past?
WHAT IS CURRENTLY ON THE MARKET
The HumanWare Apex and Hims U2 series have been around for several years now. But they have recently been joined by BAUM’s VarioUltra and the EuroBraille Esytime devices. In one guise or another, these four machines provide the ability for a Braillist to take notes or read a variety of documents using proprietary software as an overlay to Windows CE or, in the case of Esytime, Windows 7. What these beasts also have in common is their four-figure price tag.
Users of Smartphone technology, however, argue that buying a small Braille display and pairing it with their iOS or Android device does the job for taking notes and reading documents in Braille, and is a much cheaper option. Firstly, you need that Smartphone technology to start with, as well as the ability to navigate a touch-screen with very limited or no sight. If you are comfortable with that environment, your next task is to purchase a portable Braille display that you can pair with it. These now start from around £800, and while that is still an outlay for most people, it does lose one of the noughts you would otherwise be adding to a dedicated note-taking device.
I have experimented a little with pairing a Bluetooth portable Braille display to my iOS device. It works quite well, but it isn’t my favourite method. My reasons? Firstly, I am having to work with two devices simultaneously, the iOS device, and the Braille display. Secondly, I find a slight lag between inputting text and it appearing on the display. Certainly with the Hims note-takers, they can be a little slow when using them paired with an iOS device,making the whole experience a little sluggish.
There are now several portable Braille displays on the market for pairing with your iOS or Android device that allow you to input Braille for writing notes, composing messages, and interacting with the various book reading apps such as Kindle and iBooks. The Seika Mini, Alva Easylink 12 Touch, Hims Smart Beetle, and Esys, are all nifty little units you can put in a pocket to carry around with your Smartphone.
The advantages for the two-pronged approach are obvious:
• Once you purchase the portable Bluetooth Braille display, you can pair it with any Smart device you own, or will buy in the future.
• The Smart device is the unit that updates its software, so you should get years out of your portable display.
• You can separate the two devices, so don’t necessarily need to carry both around with you all the time. This, in turn, makes it a lighter load than having one larger note-taker.
• If either of the two devices breaks down, you should only need to replace the one unit.
But I can’t help enjoying the convenience of a bespoke note-taker for writing longer documents, opening PDF, Epub and other files, composing Emails, tweets and Facebook comments, all from one little box that sits on my lap while I operate it. This means no using Bluetooth that could drain my Smartphone’s battery. Instead, I have one Braille device that serves my needs, that generally goes everywhere with me.
But there are distinct disadvantages to this method too:
• The cost of dedicated note-takers is extremely high.
• The proprietary software that overlays the operating system is very buggy, and isn’t updated regularly.
• It is also running on the outdated Windows CE platform, so there are inevitable constraints.
• The hardware in these note-takers is old as well, making them slower and very difficult to update. So you get a lot less for your money than you should.
My advice then is to first decide what you want a Braille device to do. If it is simply to pair it with your Smartphone, there are several portable units to choose from. If you want it for taking notes or creating longer, more complex documents, then maybe one of the bigger boys is your way forward.
Either way, your next step is to find out what’s out there. Get as many demonstrations as you can, and if companies don’t respond, then they aren’t worth bothering with. You are the customer, it is your money, so you hold the cards. If a company isn’t prepared to be helpful in letting you have hands-on with their products, go somewhere else!
Then, should you find something you want to buy, decide whether you can afford to pay for training, or whether you can learn to use the device without the extra outlay. Like all things, some trainers are better than others, more patient than others, and cheaper than others.
Braille devices are allegedly coming down in price with cheaper components and more innovative techniques for producing Braille cells. The more your Smartphone can do, the greater demand Braille users are placing on manufacturers to keep up with the ever changing world of technology.
Hims U2 and U2 Mini in 32 or 18 Braille cells:
HumanWare Apex in 32 or 18 cells:
EuroBraille Esytime in 32 cells:
PORTABLE BRAILLE DISPLAYS
Seika Mini with 16 cells:
0303 123 9999.
Alva Esylink 12 Touch with 12 cells:
080 8090 8090.
Hims Smart Beetle with 14 cells:
01604 798 070.
EuroBraille Esys with 12 cells: