Welcome to my reviews page. Choose from the following reviews to read what I make of some of the leading products for blind and visually impaired people, and off-the-shelf technology that is accessible to this community. Note to screen reader users: at Heading Level 1, you will find a link to download each review in Microsoft Word format. At Heading Level 2, you will find the actual review for online reading and lower heading levels are subsections of the reviews themselves.
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THE ORBIT HAS LANDED -A REVIEW OF THE NEW LOW-COST READING DEVICE
After years of careful research and collaboration with other partner organisations, RNIB is proud to announce the launch of its much-anticipated low-cost Orbit Reader. So what is it, and is it
worth all the hype?
Orbit Reader is a 20-cell Braille display, book reader and editor. It lets you read books and other documents when formatted to TXT, BRL and BRF formats when material is placed on an SD card which comes with the device. Or you can pair it with your favourite screen reader on a computer, Smartphone or tablet. But the big talking point about Orbit Reader is its comparatively low price tag which puts Braille in the hands of many more people than would normally be possible due to the very high cost of Braille displays currently in circulation.
Meet Orbit Reader
Placed on a table or your lap with the keys furthest away from you, Orbit Reader is a chunky, compact little device measuring 6.61 inches wide, by 1.4 inches high, by 4.41 inches deep, (168 by 35.56 by 112mm,) weighing 0.99 pounds, (450g.) It is black in colour with contrasting grey keys.
With its 20-cell Braille display nearest you, the rear panel, from left to right, comprises a square power button which you press and hold for a couple of seconds to boot the unit. To the right of this is an SD card slot where anything from 4gb to 32gb capacity may be inserted. Finally, to the right of this is a micro USB socket for charging the machine, or connecting it to a computer.
The top face of the unit consists of six oval-shaped Perkins-style keys that run horizontally across the back edge for inputting Braille text.
In the middle of the top face of the machine is a four-way joypad with arrow keys going up, down, left and right, and a Confirm or OK button in the centre. Each of the arrow keys has a lip on the outside edge for ease of navigation.
Below these four-way navigation keys is a space-bar, with keys representing dots seven and eight to the left and right, respectively. The keys have different functions depending on which mode Orbit Reader is in.
Finally, below the space-bar and dots seven and eight keys is a 20-cell Braille display. At each end are up and down panning buttons for refreshing text as you read. Above the display area are three tiny dots, spaced at five character intervals, for easy navigation.
What’s In The Box?
The box contents comprises the Orbit Reader, USB cable with a standard fitting at one end and a micro fitting at the other. (Use this to charge Orbit Reader with the provided plug, or connect to a PC.) There are also additional plug fittings for other countries. There are Braille and print Quick Start guides, and documentation is provided on the accompanying SD card. But you may choose large print or Braille instructions when placing your order with RNIB.
The supplied SD card includes a wide range of classic titles in BRF format to get you up and running. Place the SD card in the slot on the rear of the machine with the fingers of the card facing down. Gently slide the card in all the way until you feel it click into place. When you wish to remove it, press gently on the card and it will release. Please bear in mind that an SD card needs to be inserted in order to write and edit notes. When you receive Orbit Reader, the SD card will already be inserted.
Orbit Reader has a replaceable Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery with approximately three days of typical use. The battery cover is underneath the machine, as are ventilation holes. When inserting the USB cable to charge the battery, or connect it to your computer, bear in mind that the two prongs on one side of the smaller end of the USB cable should be face down. Do not force the cable into the unit. When you insert the USB cable, Orbit Reader will display the charging capacity of the unit.
The device supports Bluetooth 2.0. Please note that there is no Wi-Fi, this machine has been designed solely as a reading and connection peripheral to support the use of Braille with your favourite screen reader.
Orbit Reader operates in two modes: Stand-Alone Mode and Remote Mode. In Stand-Alone Mode, Orbit Reader allows you to read text that has been prepared on your computer before storing it on the supplied SD card. In other words, Orbit Reader has no translation, files need to be prepared using a Braille translation program on a PC beforehand in BRF or BRL formats. Remote Mode lets you use Orbit Reader as a Braille display when paired with your screen reader on a PC, or Smart device. You can pair it with JAWS, NVDA, Supernova or Window-Eyes on a computer, and iOS or BrailleBack using Apple or Android, as well as Chrome OS.
Unlike traditional Braille displays, Orbit Reader has no cursor routing buttons above the display, so editing functionality is carried out differently when making basic notes on the unit.
Navigating Orbit Reader
To turn on Orbit Reader, press and hold the power button at the rear of the machine for a couple of seconds. You will hear what I can only describe as a rattling sound as the refreshable display kicks in. Simply tap the power button to place Orbit Reader in Standby Mode. Tap the same button again to wake up Orbit Reader. When in Remote Mode, the machine will go into Sleep Mode after one hour of non-use.
The unit will always remember the mode you were last using. To switch between modes, use the select and right arrow to jump to Remote Mode, and select with left arrow to move to Stand-Alone Mode.
To navigate through menus, use the up and down arrows, and right and left arrows to move in and out of those menus that have more than one item. Press the select button to accept a menu item you want. Press dot seven, (left of the space-bar) to leave the menu system. When using Orbit Reader as a Braille display paired with a screenreader on your PC or Smart device, follow the instructions that came with your software to ascertain the various keystrokes.
Using Orbit Reader
Firstly, I paired Orbit Reader with my iPhone 8 running iOS 12. This was as seamless as it gets, and writing in grade two Braille in an app such as Notes was really comfortable. Similarly, using apps like Kindle or Books was a joy.
I also connected Orbit Reader to my PC running Windows 10 and the latest releases of both JAWS and NVDA. I had no problems configuring Orbit Reader with JAWS, but NVDA was surprisingly more fiddly.
It is possible to have Orbit Reader connect to your computer as a mass storage drive so you can copy formatted books or documents to the unit without removing the SD card. When I did this, I was able to see all the books that the SD card came with and add my own.
Documentation for Orbit Reader is thorough and easy to read. Both the Quick Start Guide and user manual are available on the accompanying SD card.
Managing files and folders is straightforward to achieve. You can create, rename and delete files and folders on the device, as well as use copy, cut, paste and mark options. You can also find text and files by performing a search on Orbit Reader, and you can ascertain a file or folder’s attributes such as its size.
I am personally more familiar and comfortable with cursor routing buttons above each Braille cell on all displays I have used over the years. But it is possible to manipulate text you have entered on Orbit Reader without cursor routing buttons. I am advised that this feature has helped keep costs of producing Orbit Reader to an acceptable minimum. It might be that further bells and whistles will be added to another iteration in the future.
Conclusion and pricing
For all those who have long coveted the desire to use electronic Braille on their computer or Smart device, yet not be able to afford a refreshable display, your dream might be about to come true. Of course several hundred pounds isn’t cheap in anyone’s language, but it is a good deal more realistic when you compare what Orbit Reader offers to the current crop of big names. Orbit Reader is small, lightweight and sturdy. Braille is crisp, and while the refreshing rate is slightly slower than on most displays, not to mention slightly noisier, it’s still slick enough when reading a book, or working with your screen reader or Smart device. In fact, for the latter, I was most impressed with the way it paired and worked seamlessly with iOS 12.
Given the time it has taken for Orbit Reader to land on our shores, I would consider the wait to be worthwhile. My only concern is the availability of technical support provided by RNIB, together with any repairs and maintenance that may be required. A suitable carry case with strap or belt clip would be a welcome accessory too.
But, in all, Orbit Reader is an affordable piece of technology with good, strong Braille dots, ergonomic keys, and is certainly an excellent companion, particularly if you enjoy Braille on a Smart device.
Orbit Reader is available from RNIB from 8th October at £449 excluding VAT with free delivery. Connect members will be entitled to a discount, so contact RNIB Helpline for further information on 0303 123 9999.
Translation programs for converting files into Braille formats such as Braille Maker and Duxbury are fairly costly, so if you don’t have such software, or you want something without a lot of bells and whistles, try one of the free options for converting texts such as the open source LibLouis program
or the basic offering from Index
KEEPING YOUR FOOT ON THE PEDAL –
A REVIEW OF THE OLYMPUS TRANSCRIPTION PACKAGE
If you are like me and grew up in an era where audio-typing from cassettes or reels was the order of the day, you might be forgiven for thinking that it is no longer possible to use a foot pedal and have any audio transcribed. Not so, enter the Olympus DSS Player software and foot pedal.
When I was elected secretary of BCAB a couple of years ago, I set about looking for something that would enable me to type up a recording of our Board meetings in a similar way to how I used to do it with my good old-fashioned Philips audio system at work many moons ago. And just by chance, I came across something online that I thought might do the job, the Olympus AS2400 and DS-2500 bundle.
This package comes in two parts and may be bought separately, but as there was an offer on Amazon at the time I purchased, it made sense to go for the whole kit.
This is a small hand-held Olympus recorder with rechargeable battery and micro SD card slot with a 2gb card included. The most important thing to keep in mind here is that there is no TTS or voice guidance on this machine. Having said that, once you know where the controls are located and what they do, it can be used easily without sight. So, in truth, if you have another Olympus recorder that works better for you with TTS or voice guidance, then stick with it, because any recordings you make will work with the other component in this bundle, the AS2400. But the DSS-2500 hand-held recorder comes with case, and is a very nifty piece of equipment to take to meetings or lectures for discreet recording. It has several editing functions, none of which are accessible without good sight.
For me, this component of the bundle is the most exciting bit. In the box is a lovely foot pedal which simply plugs into your computer via USB. The pedal, when laid flat on the floor, has rewind and forward on either side, with the cable furthest from you. Play is situated between them towards the cable. But you may also press play and rewind or forward at the same time so that what you are listening to speeds up. The pedal has a nice texture for your foot, with rubberised edges to avoid it sliding about on a hard floor.
AS2400 DSS Player Software
The other part of this setup is the DSS Player software which you must install on your PC. Installation is straightforward, but there is a software key that is written on the envelope containing the CD. This scanned really well for me so did not pose a problem when installing it. You can also install it on multiple machines.
Once installed, an icon on the desktop is called Transcription Module, and a folder within your Documents folder called DSS Player is created. So once you hook up the foot pedal by literally plugging it into a USB port, launch the Transcription Module from your desktop to begin.
Using The Software
The Transcription Module, or DSS Player software, presents you with a tree view structure when launched. From top to bottom, this tree comprises several levels with various items in them:
• Dictation Tray at level 0
• Download Tray at level 1 with seven items
• Folder A
• Folder B
• Folder C
• Folder D
• Folder E
• Folder F
• Folder G
• Finished at level 1
• Recycle Box
• Transcriptionist Tray
Don’t be alarmed by the above, you can make this process as difficult or simple as you want, depending on your needs. When I launch the software, I normally find Transcriptionist Tray is where the cursor lands. At this point, I bring up the menu with the alt key, and arrow up to Import Dictation. This is because I want to bring my recording into the software so I can use the foot pedal to control it.
When you have your recording on the PC that you want to transcribe, it can be in a variety of formats: DSS, DSS Pro, WMA, MP3 and WAV/AIFF audio formats. The most common of these is obviously MP3, and I always ensure that my recordings are in that format for the sake of simplicity.
So I locate my MP3 recording and import it into the DSS Player software. This takes seconds and is very straightforward. When done, I tab once away from the Transcriptionists Tray and start to locate my recording in a grid. This can be a little fiddly until you get used to the grid environment the software presents. Moving up and down, or tabbing about eventually gets you to your file. Once you have found it, press play with your foot, and your file begins to play!
I always have my Word document open and ready to begin typing, my feet on the foot pedal, my hands on the keyboard, my headphones on (not included in the kit.) I am liberated! I can transcribe anything by typing it into Word. It doesn’t have to be minutes, it can be anything you want to transcribe from speech into electronic format. Just alt-tab away from the DSS software, forget it’s even there, just type using the word processor of your choice. Job done!
There are lots of things this software can do that I haven’t covered and don’t use because it is designed for secretaries and anyone who regularly needs to transcribe data. For me, it’s just one of the best pieces of kit I have. I have created a folder on my PC where I put anything I want to transcribe, and have pointed the software to it so that it is straightforward to import into the DSS Player.
Conclusion and Pricing
There may well be other kits out there that let you transcribe a file using a foot pedal, but the Olympus AS2400 program and foot pedal bundle definitely offers a pleasant experience. The DSS-2500 recorder has no TTS or voice guidance, but it is still a solid, tactile experience if you can manage to make recordings using the controls. If not, don’t purchase the whole bundle, look for the items separately and use your own recorder to make MP3 or WAV files ready to import into the AS2400 software.
Prices vary, of course, but the complete bundle described in this review costs around £300 from
Remember that you can buy the DSS-2500 recorder separately from the AS2400 pedal and DSS Player from all Olympus outlets, it depends what you want, so do shop around.
For me, the nostalgia of being an audio-typist still lives on!
POLARIS MINI –
SMALL IN SIZE, BIG ON PRODUCTIVITY
When I first saw the new iteration of the Hims BrailleSense, the Polaris, in 2017, I was very disappointed. I liked the hardware, but found the software very unstable. Hims has taken the bold step of layering its Sense applications over a version of Android, rather like HumanWare did two years ago with its BrailleNote Touch.
But, to their credit, the guys at Hims have worked hard on making the software more stable so that using apps in Android is a much easier experience. So much so, in fact, that Hims has just brought out the Polaris baby sibling, Polaris Mini.
Meet The Mini
Like its larger sibling, Polaris Mini runs on Android Lollipop 5.1. Yes, that does mean it is roughly four major versions behind the current Android P beta cycles. And that does concern me in respect of both security and current apps not being able to run on it as well, if at all. But with the negativity out of the way, let’s concentrate on some of the really positive things this machine does well.
Firstly, it’s size is really appealing. It is small, lightweight and sleek. It measures approximately 18.7cm wide, by 11.4cm deep, by 2.2cm thick, and weighs approximately 423g.
And, for me, its case is far better than any of its predecessors with a solid clam-shell construction and slightly rubberised feel.
The hardware on Polaris Mini has also been beefed up. There is 64gb of onboard storage with 3gb of RAM, Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Dual-band (2.4GHz and 5.0 GHz), Wi-Fi Direct, and a 2.1 GHz SAMSUNG Exynos 7420 processor. Battery life is reported to be around 12 to 13 hours of use with Braille and speech at mid-volume. A compass, GPS and vibration motor are all installed.
The box contents comprises Polaris Mini; USB C to USB 2.0 standard cable; wall charger; earbuds with line-in volume and microphone; case; strap; battery and Braille Quick Start guide.
Unpacking And Setup
The first thing you will want to do when unpacking your device is charge it. The battery may or may not be inserted upon arrival. If it isn’t, you will find it pretty straightforward to put in. Full instructions on how to do this may be found in the Polaris Mini user guide found here:
Polaris Mini User Guide
With Polaris Mini facing you on a flat surface, you will find several keys, ports and controls. On the front of the device, from left to right, are:
• Three-position lock switch: furthest left locks all keys, middle locks keyboard only, and right unlocks all keys
• Three-position Media Mode switch: furthest left is App Mode; middle is DAISY Mode; and furthest right is Media Mode
• Five media buttons comprising: back, record, stop, play/pause, forward
• Power button
The right panel comprises two ports: the furthest one away from you is a micro HDMI socket for connecting the Polaris Mini to a monitor. The one nearest the front is a USB C port which is used for charging the machine and attaching it to an external keyboard, pen or other drive.
The left panel, from back to front, comprises 3.5mm microphone and headphone sockets, and volume up and down buttons.
The top panel has a perkins-style keyboard which is as comfortable and responsive to use as any of its predecessors. As well as the four function keys that sit two either side of the space-bar, Hims have added control and alt keys to the line-up here for extra navigation convenience.
The Polaris Mini has a 20-cell Braille display with the same number of cursor routing buttons above, and two navigation keys at each end of the display.
The battery compartment underneath also houses a Micro SD card. I am told a 256GB card will work in the unit if you require that amount of storage. There is also a mono speaker and a 13mp camera underneath the machine.
Using Polaris Mini
A note about the power button. Once you turn on the machine and it goes through its boot sequence for the first time, it is possible to simply tap the power button to put it into Standby Mode after that. Press it again to wake up the machine straight away. You do this in the same way you would your Smartphone. But if you want to close the device down for a longer period, simply hold the power button in for a few seconds until a prompt to shut it down appears.
Polaris Mini has the same menu structure as its predecessors when you power on the machine. But there are extra items due to the fact that you can now go into the world of Android in addition to using regular Sense applications.
So after connecting to Wi-Fi, (and this is now a much faster experience on Polaris Mini,) the first thing I did was launch Play Store from the main menu and put in my Google credentials to allow me to use its services including the Play Store. The way of navigating is generally to press the tab key. When you want to use an edit field to type in information, you need to press enter once you have landed on the edit box. This then opens up the field for you to enter your search criteria, username or password.
I fully expected Android to be sluggish and crash. But no! I was very pleasantly surprised a year on to find that Android is now more stable and a pleasant experience. So much so, in fact, that I downloaded a whole raft of apps that I have in my library. One of these is a trial of KNFB Reader. It allows you to pay for the full version of the app once you’ve tried taking 25 or so pictures of your text for OCR scanning. I was amazed to find how well this actually worked for me. The Polaris Mini is much more comfortable to hold in both hands over a piece of text than a larger machine.
I also downloaded apps such as the BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Kindle, and Google Assistant. There are several Google apps already installed on the Polaris Mini such as Maps, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drive and YouTube as standard.
Do bear in mind though that not every app in the Play Store is compatible with Polaris, so it will be trial and error that will carry frustrations I’m afraid. There are some work-arounds though. For example, the popular Amazon Kindle app won’t work, but it is possible to download the latest app with an extension of APK on the end of its name. This bypasses the need for the user to navigate with touch gestures which aren’t possible on Polaris. The APK version installs Kindle to your device without those, thus making it accessible.
There are, of course, lots of advantages to having access to the Play Store. You can choose to use a different Email client, web browser, Social Media apps, music player … the list is endless. But if you aren’t interested in Android, and you simply want a really good note-taker with all the features we have come to enjoy from Hims, then Polaris Mini has them without you ever needing to venture into the Play Store at all. The regular File Manager, Word Processor, Media Player, Utilities and Global Options are all there, working just as well. Just bear in mind though that you do have a little power house in the Polaris Mini if ever you fancy being bold!
Elsewhere, using the built-in stereo microphone or an external one is perfectly straightforward to accomplish. While Polaris Mini has a mono speaker due to its compact size, listening to stereo content through headphones is very nice.
There is always intuitive help at hand with Hims devices, and Polaris Mini is no exception. There is a user guide on the machine, a Braille Quick Start guide to get you going in the box, a downloadable manual from the Hims website, and a whole chapter devoted to each application on the unit itself. Just remember that Hims can’t take responsibility for or support apps that you download outside of the native Sense suite.
Conclusion And Pricing
A year ago, I wouldn’t have touched this machine such was its instability and tendency to crash. But after a couple of great updates, Hims has got Polaris to a really competitive, productive state. And now the same feature set is on a smaller machine that fits snugly in your bag or back-pack, it really is the mature companion I had long since hoped it would be. Sure there are some things it could do better, and yes I would like to see it leap in versions to at least Oreo. I would hope that Hims will move forward with updates to ensure Polaris doesn’t get left behind where security and app accessibility ight be compromised. After all, it is a lot of money for a Braille device if it can’t keep up.
But if you want a small, ergonomically comfortable note-taker to use with plenty of bells and whistles to make productivity a smoother experience, then the Polaris Mini is definitely worth shelling out for.
And speaking of price, it currently retails for £3,395.00 excluding VAT. But there are always offers to be had, so do check with dealer Sight and Sound Technology, 01604 798070,
Sight And Sound Home Page
THE TELLY THAT TALKS
SAMSUNG UE40KU6400 REVIEW
One of the leading electrical manufacturers has incorporated accessibility features into its televisions. Many Samsung TVs now enable a blind or partially sighted person to navigate menus, the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) and much more thanks to the TTS engine known as Voice Guide. When I first heard about this, I was a little sceptical because I wondered if Samsung had offered only partial accessibility. But when I went to look at the range for myself, I was pleasantly surprised.
We had a bulk standard 32-inch Toshiba TV which had absolutely no accessibility features incorporated. It meant that we couldn’t easily connect HDMI devices to it without moving between them and knowing which one we had selected. And, of course, we couldn’t access the EPG. The TVonics Freeview recorder from RNIB was a fantastic innovation, but with the company now defunct, it meant there was no support or replacement path available. Enter Samsung!
I purchased my UE40KU6400 from a local dealer who came to set it all up for me. Unfortunately, a 40-inch is the smallest TV with TTS that Samsung does, so while this is complete overkill for two blind people, it was that or nothing, and now it is up and running, I have absolutely no regrets.
Given its size, you can either wall-mount the TV, or have it standing on something of your choosing which is the option we went with. When the dealer came to set the TV up, I asked him immediately to turn on Voice Guide so I could hear what was going on. He was completely shocked that a TV could talk to begin with, so I think this particular engineer had an interesting learning curve at the Browns’ home. Voice Guide is contained in Settings, System, Accessibility. In this section is Audio Description as well. Once Voice Guide was turned on, I was rocking and rolling!
During setup, you are asked for the language you require, your WiFi key, and what you want the TV to be tuned to. You can choose to tune it to Freeview, Satellite, or FreeSat. To begin with, I chose Freeview just to get me up and running. When tuning is complete, Voice Guide will announce this, inform you of how many stations have been found, and invite you to close the menu.
Although I am not a Sky subscriber any more, I have kept my Sky+ box to obtain free channels, as well as be able to connect my little Sky Gnome which gives me TV sound anywhere in the house or garden. I also have my TVonics box for recording programmes, so both these devices were hooked up to my Samsung TV using HDMI cables. This now means I can skip between these inputs using Voice Guide which I think is fantastic. There is also a 3.5mm headphone socket if you wish to enjoy stereo sound through a headset.
At the same time, I purchased a Sonos PlayBase on which the Samsung TV sits. I have written an article on the Sonos wireless system which gives much more information about what it is, how you use it, and cost. You can find this on my website by visiting my Reviews page at
Suffice it to say, however, that my PlayBase was really the icing on the Samsung cake with its phenomenal sound and enhanced quality.
USING THE TV
The UE40KU6400 comes with two remote controls. The smaller one of these can be used to navigate the Internet, while the larger control is the one we use for changing channels, obtaining information, and switching between input devices.
This TV speaks everything that is contained within it. So please bear in mind that if you were to use the Internet and download apps to work on the unit, there is no guarantee Voice Guide will work to give you full speech feedback. This is fine for us as we don’t use the Internet on it at all, preferring instead to browse on other devices. It is also important to stress that it does not turn a Sky box or Virgin Media device into a talking system. Only the TV’s internal features will speak.
All channel numbers, stations you watch, the EPG, system settings and switching between various input devices are spoken.
I have been into the Settings menu, retuned the TV to FreeSat, and even connected an external device to make a recording. The TV does not have a built-in hard drive, but it does have the capacity to make recordings and play them back. So if you attach a pen or hard drive to one of the two USB sockets on the UE40KU6400, it will speak the names of your files.
It is possible to alter the volume and speed of Voice Guide, and while there are much better quality synthesisers on the market, it certainly gives us the ability to use every function of our TV. There are also magnification features on this TV which I cannot comment on as neither of us can use them.
As with everything, however, the UE40KU6400 has a couple of irritating quirks that I have reported to Samsung. Firstly, if you want Audio Description turned on, and you watch HD channels on Freeview, I have discovered sound is muted during commercial breaks and at the end of each programme. You would need to briefly switch channels and back for sound to resume. This only occurs where there is an audio described programme in progress, for example, a soap. If you don’t watch HD channels, no Audio Description is turned on, or you use FreeSat or Satellite, you don’t come across this anomaly at all.
Secondly, each time you use the volume button to move up or down, the UE40KU6400 announces: “TV” or whatever input you are using. I wish it didn’t keep saying this each time you tap the volume as it cuts across what you are watching when Voice Guide announces “TV.”
These are only minor bugs in the grand scheme of things. The fact is that Samsung has done a good job, and it would be fantastic if other manufacturers were to follow suit.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
Having a 40-inch TV is certainly extravagant when you have no sight, but our visitors love it, and we are pleased to have something that is completely accessible. As this was a 2016 model, we got it earlier this year when the price was dropping. You can pick one of these devices up for approximately £450 if you shop around. There are lots of other Samsung models with Voice Guide, but do check these out before you buy as not all offer it.
What is Sonos?
Sonos is a high-end wireless music system comprising various components that allow you to stream your media wirelessly from a variety of sources around the home. There are three different speaker sizes to choose from known as Play1, Play3, and Play5. You can also increase the bass of your system by purchasing a Sub Woofer. There is now a choice of PlayBar or PlayBase that can be used with your TV, a Connect that turns an existing hifi into a wireless system, the ConnectAmp which is the same wireless system with the amp components built in, and a Boost which helps with network issues. You can also add various wall-mounting brackets and floor stands to whatever system you build. The kit comes in gloss black or white.
How does it work?
Using an app on your phone, PC or Mac, you can control every aspect of the Sonos system you opt for. For blind and visually impaired people, the iOS and Android apps are very accessible, as is the version for PC. In relation to the latter, Brian Hartgen has written some JAWS scripts which you can download for free to enhance your Sonos Controller experience.
All Sonos components are mains only, and also have an ethernet port in case you have issues with wireless and need to connect an RJ45 cable. The Play5 has two ethernet ports and a line-in socket as well that lets you connect an external device using a 3.5mm cable.
How easy is it to set up a Sonos component?
It is very straightforward. Simply unbox your product, plug it in, download and install the Sonos Controller app, and you are ready to begin. Follow the prompts on your phone or PC. Sonos lets you choose the name of the room in which you have placed your product. If you purchase multiple products, you can assign them to different rooms in your home, and use them independently of one another. When you add a speaker to make a pair, you can “bond” them within the Controller to give you the best stereo experience.
Within the Sonos Controller, you can add a streaming service if you have one, update your music library, adjust the EQ settings, and add radio stations to Sonos Favourites. If you have a large music collection, bear in mind that Sonos will only support up to 65,000 tracks, so the company recommends you use a streaming service if you want to overcome that restriction. But one way of doing this is using the Plex server, the program for which can be downloaded to your iOS or Android device, the PC or Mac.
If you have a flaky wireless connection, you can use the ethernet port on one of your Sonos devices to build a network within your existing network. It is recommended you do this if you have several Sonos products in different parts of the house so you don’t suffer drop-out. Only one Sonos product needs to have an ethernet cable connected to achieve a Sonos network.
How much do Sonos products cost, and where do you buy them?
One of the disadvantages of this system is the cost per component:
- Play1: £199.00
- Play3: £299.00
- Play5: £499.00
- Sub: £699.00
- PlayBar: £699.00
- PlayBase: £699.00
- Connect: £349.00
- ConnectAmp: £499.00
- Boost: £99.00
You can purchase Sonos components from all major retailers including John Lewis, Currys/PC World, Richer Sounds, and online from Sonos,
You can sometimes pick up a good deal on the purchase of a pair of Sonos Play speakers, for example, or an extended warranty. The advice is to visit an outlet where you can try out Sonos products to see what best meets your needs. Stores such as John Lewis and Richer Sounds are accommodating in this respect. And Sonos will also offer you a 60-day free trial if you contact them direct.
Jonathan Mosen has written an excellent book called Sonosthesia. This details all the Sonos products, offers an overview of many streaming services supported by Sonos, and details how to get the most from your Sonos products. The book costs $24.99, and is available to download from
The freely available JAWS scripts for the Windows PC Sonos Controller are available from
And if you are interested in the Plex server, visit
Conclusion And Recommendations
There are plenty of other wireless systems out there. But what makes Sonos particularly useful for blind and visually impaired people is the accessibility of its Controller app. Sonos does consider the needs of our community, and is receptive to suggestions for improvements.
I have a pair of Sonos Play5s and the Sonos PlayBase on my TV, and I absolutely love them. Sound is subjective, we all know that, but this is one system that is truly worth looking at if you are in the market for something wireless, straightforward and accessible to use, and with an excellent sound. I also recommend Jonathan Mosen’s comprehensive eBook, Sonosthesia, which walks you through every aspect of buying, setting up, configuring and using your Sonos products.
And one final point: shop around. Sonos products are widely available, and some places will offer you a good deal on a bundle, for example, a pair of speakers, the PlayBase with a Sub, or an additional warranty. It’s not cheap gear, but it’s addictive!
What I have wanted to see for a long time now is a portable Braille device that runs the latest version of Windows with my preferred screenreader, giving me the ability to perform many of the tasks available on a regular PC or laptop. Well it’s finally arrived … meet ElBraille.
What Is ElBraille?
ElBraille is a portable Windows 10 device that comes in two parts: a docking station and the Focus Blue 14 Braille display. Connect the two to look like one unit and you have the most up-to-date operating system running the latest release of JAWS in the palm of your hand. With a battery life of around 20 hours and full control of your applications using JAWS and the Focus Blue 14 display, this really has to be a contender in the Braille arena.
A Little Background
The Elita Group from Russia and Freedom Scientific joined forces to produce ElBraille in 2016. For a variety of reasons though, the first iteration of ElBraille didn’t come to fruition. But, with technical issues resolved, ElBraille was launched in March 2017.
The ElBraille docking station measures 189mm wide, by 118mm deep, by 38mm high, and weighs 750g including battery. Specifications and key description of the Focus Blue 14 Braille display can be found in the Focus Blue manual.
The docking station has a large space at the front into which the Focus Blue fits snugly. With this facing you, on the right side, from back to front, are the following items:
- Power socket
- USB3 port
- SD card slot
- 3.5mm headphone socket
- Right latch
On the left side, from back to front, are the following items:
- Mini HDMI port
- Micro SIM slot
- Left latch
The power button is a vertically recessed button that is positioned on the top left of the docking station towards the front edge. And just above the power button is a small three-colour indicator light.
Above this is a magnetic flap that can be removed to reveal the power button of the Focus Blue Braille display. When the display is placed in the docking station, it has to be connected to the ElBraille via a micro USB connection.
On top of the docking station, directly behind where the Focus Blue sits, are six tactile buttons which are programmed as follows:
- El menu (when tapped once, and El recovery menu when long pressed)
- Battery status (when pressed once, and WiFi status when pressed twice quickly)
- Volume down
- Volume up
- Time (when pressed once, and date when pressed twice quickly)
- El Notes (a quick way to access your written notes.)
Two stereo speakers are situated behind the above keys with an ElBraille inscription between them, and a built-in microphone. An additional small speaker offers system sounds and vibration to assist deaf-blind users.
ElBraille is powered by a rechargeable 10,400 mAh battery. Even with WiFi turned on, battery life is approximately 20 hours.
This machine runs on an Intel® Atom™ x5-Z8300, Quad-Core, 1.84 GHz CPU. It supports Bluetooth 4.2, and Wireless WLAN802.11 a/b/g/n/ac networking (2,4GHz and 5GHz.)
It comes with an internal 160gb of memory which is split between two SSD drives. There is also 2gb of RAM. SD card capacity is up to 256gb. A built-in modem allows you to add a Micro SIM card if you have an appropriate data plan to use with ElBraille on the go.
ElBraille comes with leather carry case, cables and backup configuration on the internal SD card. The ElBraille user guide can be downloaded from the Elita Group website,
If you purchase the Focus Blue 14 Braille display, you will receive a CD containing drivers, Braille manual, carry case and cables for your Focus Blue as well.
Should you want to purchase ElBraille on its own because you already have a Focus Blue 14 or JAWS For Windows, you may do so. A demonstration copy of JAWS is preinstalled on ElBraille, so all you have to do is authorise it to run in full mode.
Using ElBraille For The First Time
Whether you already own a Focus Blue 14, or have purchased it to work with ElBraille, you will need to connect it to the docking station before booting the machine. I would urge you to be careful when attaching the display to the ElBraille docking station as you don’t want to force the display into the cradle incorrectly. Take some time to familiarise yourself with the area into which the display goes. Once it clicks into place, you should be ready to begin.
When you power ElBraille, you will hear and feel various sounds and vibrations that indicate your machine is booting. The operating system will load to the DeskTop. At this juncture, you will be invited to authorise JAWS with one of your existing licences, or with the new copy you bought to work with ElBraille.
The ElBraille Menu
If you press the El button – which is the leftmost of the six on top of the machine in front of the Braille inscription – you are taken into a very useful menu containing the following items:
- Instant Messenger
- ElBraille Utilities (has a submenu)
- My Files
- Text Editor
- Audio Player
- Internet Browser
- (Microsoft Office would also be included in this menu if you install it)
The ElBraille Utilities menu comprises:
- Keyboard Editor
- Check For Updates
- About ElBraille
Nearly all the items in the ElBraille menu can be found elsewhere in Windows, but have been grouped into one place to resemble a menu you might find on a dedicated note-taker such as BrailleNote Apex or Hims U2.
Now it’s time to have some fun. I cheated somewhat when I first started to navigate ElBraille because I didn’t know many of the shortcuts required for use with the Focus Blue 14 display. I am very much a qwerty keyboard user when working with my PC or laptop, and use the Braille display to complement speech output from JAWS. So I decided to attach a USB qwerty keyboard to ElBraille to get me started. In this way, I was quickly able to customise the Desktop, add my WiFi credentials, and install additional programs. Once I had done all those things, I was then able to start learning the many commands required to navigate the world of Windows with the Focus Blue 14.
It didn’t take me long to fall in love with ElBraille. The idea of carrying a Windows 10 device around with JAWS and Braille, and using all the programs I am familiar with, was frankly liberating. Even the most powerful laptop can have its challenges when on the go because you need a display if you want to use Braille, giving you two devices to manage. That extra bulk and weight can make all the difference, so ElBraille was a very attractive proposition for me right away.
As you can imagine, there are lots of keyboard commands you need to know in order to navigate Windows with the Focus Blue. Both user guides offer good command summaries, but it does take time to get to where you want to be when using Braille as your input method. But writing in applications such as Word or Notepad in contracted Braille, surfing the web, using Skype, Windows Media Player and other favourite programs, is so useful compared to dedicated note-takers.
This unit is also moderately priced alongside its competitors. Remember you are getting a Windows 10-based device, not the Windows CE platform or an older version of Android. You can also use the Focus Blue 14 with your Smartphone if you wish, even without ElBraille being turned on. Simply press the Focus Blue power button and dots one-two-three together to skip between reading Braille on your paired Smartphone and Focus Blue on ElBraille.
The big advantage, of course, is that ElBraille is modular: you can purchase it with or without a JAWS licence or Focus Blue display. I also run NVDA on my unit, and have it working beautifully with the Focus Blue 14, though there are obvious limitations because NVDA does not support the JAWS command structure required for navigation. So using NVDA is best achieved with an external keyboard. It comes in handy though to have an extra screenreader on your computer or laptop in those situations where JAWS doesn’t play ball. This is why I really love ElBraille, because it has the configuration I like in Windows.
Pros And Cons
Windows enthusiasts will be delighted to see a portable device with full screenreader and Braille support finally emerge. In my view, it is what the industry needed in order to offer a strong alternative to dedicated note-takers running proprietary software. But while it runs Windows 10 and JAWS, plus a plethora of programs you would expect to use in Windows 10, it is also fair to say that 2gb of RAM feels rather skimpy to me. Running several programs could become a compromise with an Atom processor and 2gb of RAM. It isn’t the first time that I’ve heard JAWS say: “Outlook” or “Skype is not responding,” due to insufficient memory. I would also like to have seen one larger SSD drive. There are two rather small drives, so that files you want to save all go on drive D, leaving software installations and program files on drive C. But you can supplement storage with an SD card with up to 256gb of memory should you need it. The ElBraille quick start guide should be included as part of the box contents on a CD with a choice of electronic formats.
If you are used to Windows, but working with it using a qwerty keyboard, then you will find navigation and the execution of programs a steep learning curve using a Braille display. But you could overcome this problem by using an external USB or Bluetooth qwerty keyboard if it hinders you significantly. I did this to start with, but it has become less of a deal-breaker now.
My understanding is that the Focus Blue 40 will soon incorporate ElBraille too. You will need to return your Focus Blue 40 to your dealer for ElBraille to be fitted. While this will make it heavier and thicker, you will have the added bonus of all those lovely extra Braille cells to work with.
So far, I am delighted with ElBraille. It isn’t a desktop, it’s a Netbook which serves my needs adequately with all the versatility of Windows 10. I have installed Microsoft Office 365, and am delighted to be using mainstream applications in one portable unit offering both Braille and speech with my regular screenreaders.
Contact Information And Pricing
ElBraille, the Focus Blue and JAWS can all be purchased as a package or individually from Sight and Sound Technology, 01604 798070,
- ElBraille docking station: £1,100.00
- Focus 14 Blue: £1,182.00
- JAWS Home: £699.00
- ElBraille Complete: £2,645.00
- ElBraille Focus 14 Bundle: £2,195.00
NEW KAPSYS SMARTPHONE IS RIGHT ON THE BUTTON
My thanks to Sight and Sound Technology Ltd for allowing me to loan this Smartphone for review purposes, and to Steve Nutt of Computer Room Services for his extensive personal knowledge of this handset and the Android operating system.
There are many blind and visually impaired people who are worried that not being able to use a touchscreen Smartphone means they will be left out in the cold. Not so! French company Kapsys has just released its new handset which is infinitely better than anything the outfit has produced before.
Meet Kapsys SmartVision2
The SmartVision2 is about the size of a regular handset. It measures 152mm long, by 66mm wide, by 10mm deep, and weighs 150g.
But the most exciting feature for those who prefer a tactile telephone-style keypad is that this phone has one with well defined buttons. Moreover, it has a four-inch LCD screen where familiar touch gestures can be applied if you prefer. And a third option allows you to use voice activation to dictate your messages, Emails and other aspects of controlling the phone.
With Android 6.0 (Marshmallow,) this handset is not running proprietary software layered over the operating system. Kapsys has just tweaked the TalkBack settings of Android to enable we users to easily operate its familiar text entry keypad.
The handset has 16gb of flash storage with an option to use a micro SD card with up to 256gb of memory. It has a user replaceable battery which needs to be removed to access the Nano SIM and micro SD card slots. Battery life has a very generous standby time of 350 hours and talk time of 12 hours. It is charged via a USB C connection. The handset also boasts a 3.5mm headphone socket, (earbuds and in-line microphone are included in the package,) a 2mp front facing camera and 8mp rear camera. So, with a quad core processor and 2gb of RAM, and Bluetooth 4.0, this is a competitive Smartphone when compared alongside off-the-shelf devices.
Kapsys SmartVision2 Description
The front of the handset is split into two components, the touchscreen portion taking up two-thirds of the top face. Below this is the numeric keypad with a familiar dot marking the number five button. Above the keypad is a series of navigation buttons. In the middle of these are four arrow keys forming a square with a flat enter key in the centre. To the left of the arrow keys are two buttons, one above the other, separated by a raised horizontal bar. The top one is the Home key. When tapped quickly, you will be returned to the Home screen from anywhere on the phone. If you long press this key, you will bring up a menu displaying the list of most recent apps used, known as the App Switcher. You can close apps individually, or use the Dismiss All Notifications Button. The key below this is the Android menu button. Tap it once to customise how you want your Home screen to look, for example, you can add apps or widgets here to personalise your Home screen. A long press brings up the Android Global Context menu where you can quickly access TalkBack and Kapsys settings.
On the right side of the arrow keys are two buttons identically positioned. The top key is the Back button. When tapped, it takes you back one level in an application. When long pressed, you can access the System Notifications menu and dismiss items such as a Play Store update. Below this key is the delete key. You can backspace one character at a time with a short press, or delete the entire entry field with a long press.
On either side of these keys on the left and right edge of the front face of the phone, are the Call and End buttons, respectively. The left Call button is identifiable with three vertical dots like a Braille letter L. The right End button is identifiable with three horrizontal dots.
The Standby button is located on the top right edge of the handset. Tap once to put the handset into Standby mode, or long press for a few seconds to bring up the Power menu that offers the opportunity to turn the handset off completely, or use settings of the Kapsys Accessibility Service. The phone will vibrate when you boot up and shut it down.
There are three vertical buttons on the right side of the handset. The top one is the Speak key which, when pressed, lets you talk to the Google assistant. You can ask her to access various apps on the phone, but also use her to tell you the latest news, weather information, and lots more.
Below the Speak key are the up and down volume buttons, respectively. If you press these buttons together, you will toggle speech on and off, useful if a sighted person is sharing your handset and doesn’t require TTS to be turned on.
At the bottom edge of SmartVision2, from left to right, are the 3.5mm headphone socket, the phone’s speaker, and USB C port for charging or connecting the handset to your computer.
The battery compartment is found by flipping the handset over. To remove the cover, put your nail in the bottom right corner of the device if it is lying face down, and gently peel the cover away. If you wish to remove the battery to access the SIM or micro SD card slots, remember to turn the phone off beforehand!
Below the camera lens near the top of the handset at the back is an SOS button which you can customise to reach an emergency service or contact of your choice.
Using Kapsys SmartVision2
Setting up the device was completely seamless. I added my WiFi password and Google account straight away, then went into Kapsys Settings to adjust voice, speed and other parameters. Then I had fun in the Play Store downloading apps that I have previously purchased which reside in my library.
So far, I haven’t found anything that doesn’t work for me. I can use first letter navigation in my list of apps to jump to the one I want to launch more quickly, and I can add the most popular apps I use to the Home screen. Using the star or hash keys in conjunction with the keyboard, it is possible to make adjustments on the fly such as holding down the hash key with number 4 to decrease speech rate, or hash key with number 5 to increase speech rate. It is also possible to customise some keys with your own parameters in the same way we could all do with Talks back in the day.
For those with some useful vision, magnification settings are available, but I am not able to comment on these since I am totally blind. Suffice it to say though that there is plenty of scope for font, contrast and colour adjustment.
Kapsys has included some apps on SmartVision2 that have been specifically designed. These are OCR, Kapten GPS, and a Book Reader. These are all pretty good, and Kapten GPS has been greatly improved since earlier iterations. The Book Reader lets you create or listen to a DAISY book, and import documents with other file extensions such as TXT, HTML and DOCX. Kapten GPS lets you work in pedestrian, car or public transport modes, and offers some unique features such as announcing house numbers as you pass them, or tagging a route much like you could on Trekker Breeze. The OCR app is also really useful, particularly since it tells you the position of the camera relative to the page before you take a picture.
The user guide for this device can be found in the Help menu. It would be nice to see it come with an audio CD or text file version so that you may familiarise yourself with the various buttons as you go along.
SmartVision2 comes with a plastic backing case with ports and buttons exposed for use. But this offering feels a little cheap and cheerful for my liking. The screen is also fitted with a protector though.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
I have always been sceptical about specially designed Smartphone devices because there is a tendency for a short shelf life. However, I was immediately drawn to the SmartVision2 because it isn’t hijacking the operating system with proprietary software. All Kapsys has done is modify the Android TalkBack accessibility aspect. And even then, it is still possible to leave the Kapsys environment and drop into TalkBack itself. If you do this though, bear in mind that many of the keyboard functions won’t work properly, and you will need to rely on the touchscreen almost exclusively.
This handset comes in two flavours, SmartVision2 Standard, and SmartVision2 Premium. The only difference between the two is that the Premium version offers full copies of OCR, Kapten GPS and Book Reader. The Standard version offers trial versions of these on the phone which last 15 days. You can purchase any of these three extras at a later date as a bundle or individually, but they are slightly more expensive when purchased in that way. Prices are as follows:
• SmartVision2 Standard: £449.00
• SmartVision2 Premium: £599.00
• SmartVision2 Book Reader: £99.00
• SmartVision2 Kapten GPS: £129.00
• SmartVision2 OCR: £79.00
• SmartVision2 OCR and Book Reader bundle: £139.00
• SmartVision2 Premium pack: £249.00
• (Please note that all above prices exclude VAT if you are exempt.)
I think this is a really worthy alternative for those who, for whatever reason, simply cannot use a touchscreen only handset. It offers three input modes, is really easy to customise, and gives you access to every aspect of Android you would find on a regular Smartphone.
My only slight reservation is its shelf life. Will Kapsys update it to Android 7 or later? The company says it plans to, but others have made the same statement and fallen by the wayside in the past.
Right now though, I think it is a really convenient handset, and a joy to use with its lovely button action and quick response to key presses. It is fully customisable, and priced in line with similar handsets boasting the same feature set.
ALEXA GOES PORTABLE ON THE E5 –
A SPEAKER THAT OFFERS SO MUCH MORE
Imagine having a portable speaker with great sound, a rechargeable battery offering 15 hours, Bluetooth, WiFi, line-in for external devices, and the Alexa service? Oh yes it exists … enter the E5 from GGMM.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the E5 is a radio, it certainly looks like one. With the device facing you, a speaker grille occupies the entire front. On top, from left to right, are a series of buttons and controls:
• Volume Down
• Volume Up
• Speak Key
On the back of the E5, near the bottom of the unit, is a power outlet. There is also a 3.5mm line-in socket, and a USB port for charging another mobile device such as a Smartphone. Next to this, quite flush with the unit, is a pairing/reset button. When tapped once, you are in pairing mode when in Bluetooth mode. When long pressed, the unit will be factory reset, and your WiFi key and any favourites will be lost.
A carry strap is included that can be attached to the E5 if you require it.
THE MODE BUTTON
The E5 has three modes:
WiFi mode allows you to use the Alexa service. Bluetooth mode provides an opportunity to connect to other devices. And the auxiliary setting lets you connect a device with a 3.5mm cable such as a DAISY player or MP3 device.
THE GGMM APP
Before you get going with the E5, you need to download the GGMM app from either the Play Store for Android, or App Store for iOS devices. Unfortunately, using the app can be a little tricky, particularly on Android. Some buttons are not labelled, but it is perfectly usable in getting the E5 up and running.
When you remove the E5 from its box and power it up, the default mode is on WiFi. Open the app and follow the instructions to input your WiFi key. If you already own an Amazon Echo or Google Home digital assistant, the procedure with the E5 is similar.
USING THE E5
Once you have your WiFi key in, you can begin exploring the functions of your E5. Probably the most popular aspect of this is the ability to use the Alexa service. You can customise Alexa by going to
Choose Settings, and ensure you have the time zone set to Europe, and language to UK English.
Now press the Speak key on the far right of the E5. You will hear a short bleep, then you can ask Alexa what you want. You do not need to use the Alexa “wake” word like you do on the Echo, however. If you ask Alexa to play a radio station, you will soon realise that the E5 is an excellent-sounding device.
If you wish to use the E5 as a Bluetooth speaker, you can pair it with your Android or iOS device by pressing the Mode button once, then going into Bluetooth settings on your device to pair it. A short press on the recessed button on the back of the E5 puts you in pairing mode.
It is possible to add six favourite stations by long pressing the Favourites button when you are on the streaming station of your choice. Note that you cannot do this by asking Alexa to play the station and then attempting to save it. Sadly, you need to go into the GGMM app and search in the TuneIn database and add favourites that way. When you wish to skip through your favourites, just tap the Favourites button to move between stations. But, to be honest, it is just as quick to press the Speak button and ask Alexa to stream the station you want.
You will notice that the E5 has some speaking prompts to help you with adding favourites, or when pairing in Bluetooth mode.
It is also possible to add several E5 devices to make a wireless system around your home rather like Sonos products. You go into the GGMM app to achieve this, and will have an opportunity to name the room for each speaker, blend them together, or play them individually.
And with a rechargeable battery lasting up to 15 hours, you can take your E5 speaker around the home or listen outside in the garden.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
This is a fantastic all-in-one product that caters for most needs. You can use the Alexa service, stream from the likes of Spotify, pair with your phone to enhance your listening experience, or plug an external device in using a 3.5mm cable. It has a good battery life for using the E5 on the go, and you can even start a multi-room wireless network around the home with more than one unit.
The E5 normally retails for £299, but is available for an introductory price of £125 from
It can also be purchased from Computer Room Services, which includes one hour’s training to get you up and running, and an accessible version of the manual, for £150. For more information, call 01438 742286, or visit
The Computer Room Services web site.
If you have been looking for a good quality all-in-one device, the E5 from GGMM has to be a worthy consideration. The documentation and app leave a little to be desired, but the reward once you are up and running is its sound and usability.
GOOGLE HAS COME HOME – BUT HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO AMAZON ECHO?
A BIT OF BACKGROUND
Amazon released its much anticipated Echo device in the UK at the end of September 2016. Six months down the line, the equally eager wait was over when Google Home entered the fray in this country. So with two digital assistants vying for your attention around the home, how do they shape up against one another?
SETTING THEM UP
For me, Amazon Echo was a tad trickier to set up than Google Home, due mainly to the app. Using the latest iOS release at the time, I found the Alexa app very sluggish, with its tendency to kick me out. Google Home’s app, meanwhile, was a seamless experience that had my young assistant working for me in no time at all. In both cases, you have to sign into Google or Amazon, respectively, then put in your WiFi password. The Amazon Echo lets you control it from the web, and I personally find this far easier.
SOME COMMON COMPARISONS
In Size, Google Home sits somewhere between the Amazon Echo and the Echo Dot. Both devices have a female voice, both allow you the option to turn on audible beeps when you use their “wake” words, and both allow you to control the volume from physical interaction with the unit. The Echo is more dependent on the use of skills than Google Home. I also think Alexa has a clearer voice, but is more stilted with the way she answers questions than Google Home’s more chatty approach. Since there is only one flavour of Google Home, the unit sadly does not offer connectivity to other devices with a 3.5mm socket like Echo Dot has.
I have had the two devices sitting side-by-side so I can compare them. To speak to Google Home, simply say “Hey Google,” or “OK Google.” If you are used to Android phones and tablets, you will be familiar with the beeps and Google TTS offered on the Home product.
Both Amazon Echo and Google Home offer you a flash briefing which you can customise within Settings on the app or, in Echo’s case, on the web as well. But the flash briefing offers a wider choice on Google Home, for example, more newspapers. In both cases, you simply say: “Alexa,” or “Hey Google,” “read flash briefing.” They both use the TuneIn radio service, and I think listening to stations on either device is far better than any DAB radio reception, subjective though it is. You can obtain weather information, ask either to spell a word or give you a definition of it, ask for quotes, or play a game.
So why have one of each, and is there anything one offers you that the other doesn’t? I love technology, and desperately wanted to compare them together. And I find that Google Home’s general knowledge is more superior to Amazon Echo. Yes the latter offers a lot of skills you can activate, but Google Home seems to use more websites for the information she returns. Where you have to know and go to find skills for Alexa, this isn’t necessary for Google Home. For example, if I ask Google Home: “Give me walking directions to my nearest bus-stop,” she will give me an outline of the route, not turn-by-turn directions. If I ask Alexa the same question, she will be quite vague and well off target. Similarly, if I ask Google Home for the nearest supermarket, she will tell me my nearest three supermarkets. If I ask Alexa the same question, she will give me some major supermarkets that could be several miles away, not local, family-run businesses that are within a short walk from my house. So I feel that Google Home is more locally tuned in.
If I ask Google Home for general information about other countries, our solar system, gardening, or geographical landmarks, she will tell me the website from where she obtained the information, and then reads it. If she doesn’t know what I am trying to ascertain, Google Home will say: “Sorry, I can’t help with that, but I’m learning.” Echo often requires skills, and I think her level of general knowledge is poorer.
If you subscribe to streaming services like Spotify, or Amazon Prime, these work really well on the Echo. If you subscribe to Google Play or Spotify, then these work well on Google Home. But, for me, I think Echo has the edge over music than Google Home.
You can set alarms, timers, reminders, and create shopping and playlists on both devices. They each have the fun factor too, like telling jokes, or offering daily quotes.
As I like both of them, I would find it hard to choose one over the other. I don’t have lights or a heating system connected to either device, so use them purely as tools to find out information. But I do think that Google Home is ahead on what she knows given Amazon Echo is based on lots of skills required to give you a better user experience. The exciting aspect of these digital assistants is that there is a lot more to come, and that can only be good for those of us who find them so useful.
PRICING AND CONCLUSION
Google Home costs £129.00, and can be purchased from major retailers such as Argos, Currys or PC World, and online direct from the Google Store. Amazon Echo can be bought from the same outlets, or direct from Amazon online, for £149.99 (Echo,) or £49.99 (Echo Dot.)
Whatever your opinion of these devices, they do have a useful aspect in addition to being simply a gimmick. Being able to stream radio stations, ask for news and weather information, or simply the time, is instantaneous. And if you want to find out lots of fascinating stuff about the world around you, then either device is a great gadget for doing so. The fact that there is no screen required for interaction is a bonus for lots of people who detest today’s touchscreen technology. And if you don’t have the patience or inclination to use the Alexa or Google Home apps, it isn’t essential once you set up either device. It is fair to say though that Google Home offers more information without adding skills. But now that each has a rival, the consumer should be the beneficiary with the more tasks their digital assistant will be able to achieve as time passes. For now, the current iterations are certainly most welcome in our home!
INTRODUCING MICRO-SPEAK – THE ACCESSIBLE VOICE RECORDER FROM TALKING PRODUCTS
They come in all shapes and sizes, and many of them are either too expensive or not accessible enough. Enter Micro-Speak, a lightweight voice recorder with tactile buttons and audible prompts, all at an affordable price.
When I removed the Micro-Speak from its box, I held it the wrong way up until I realised that the buttons and display are on the lower portion of the front, nearest you. The speaker occupies the remainder of the front face, with the microphone hidden behind its speaker grille. Small round up and down buttons and a 3.5mm headphone socket can be found on the right side of the unit. An on-off switch is situated on the bottom of the device. Slide it to the left to turn on Micro-Speak, and right to turn it off. A micro USB port lies to the right of the on/off switch. Plug the supplied cable into the unit with its two tiny notches facing down. You can plug the other end of the cable into your computer to access recordings or the manual, and this will charge your device at the same time. Alternatively, you can purchase a universal USB wall plug to charge it away from the computer. Micro-Speak has a non-replaceable rechargeable 400mAH Lithium-ion Polymer battery. It is recommended you charge and discharge this a few times to receive the correct battery percentage at start-up. Charge time is approximately two to three hours after its first few cycles.
There are only four operation buttons on the device. Closest to the front edge of the unit, nearest you, are three buttons, Back, Play/Pause, and Forward. A two-line LCD screen separates these buttons from the Record key above, a nice size to access and press to start or pause recordings.
Micro-Speak measures 105 by 60 by 22mm, and weighs 222g. The unit is charcoal grey and black, with grey buttons and a red Record button.
When you turn on Micro-Speak, you will always hear the prompt “Ready,” followed by battery level which is announced in increments of high, medium, low, and empty. Micro-Speak comes with an MP3 guide which orientates you with the machine. Simply press Play to hear this, and Pause to stop listening. You can remove the guide from your device if you don’t want it at any time.
Recording notes, lectures or other audio is extremely simple. Just press the large red Record button. Wait for the beep that indicates you are recording, and speak into the internal microphone. The word “Recording” appears on the display together with the time lapse. When you have finished, press the Play/Pause button. You will hear two beeps to indicate that the recording has been paused. If you wish to continue recording, press Play/Pause again and wait for the single beep to indicate your recording has resumed. When recording is complete, press the Record button and hear three beeps to confirm your message has been saved. Micro-Speak gives each file a name which is not announced on the unit.
Recordings are saved onto the internal 2gb of memory in a folder called Record. You can delete your files in two ways, either by connecting the Micro-Speak to your computer, as described above, or by deleting them individually on the machine itself. To do the latter, press Play, then use the Back or Forward buttons to skip through your messages. When you find the one you wish to get rid of, hold the Play button and wait for the voice prompt: “Playback paused, delete file, yes or no?” At this juncture, Micro-Speak beeps twice for “no.” If you do want to delete the message, move either the Back or Forward key to hear one beep, which is for “Yes.” Now press Play again to confirm deletion. It’s as simple as that! Files are recorded in WAV 192KBPS, and you can play files in either MP3 or WAV format.
The machine also has a useful cue and review facility. When you are playing audio, press and hold the Back or Forward buttons to skip through your message or track.
Note that non-use of the Micro-Speak for more than 30 seconds causes the LCD display to turn off, so you will need to press any key on the unit to wake it up again. Micro-Speak will also shut off to conserve battery life after 15 minutes of inactivity. You will need to turn the unit off and then back on with the slider switch to start using it again.
Documentation for Micro-Speak comes on the unit. Simply access the spoken guide by pressing Play, or access the PDF and Word versions of the manual by connecting your device to your computer. As well as the Record folder, you will see the documentation for Micro-Speak in the root of its memory.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
This is a really neat little product from Talking Products Ltd..
Those who simply want a small, lightweight device with speech and audible prompts will find it straightforward to use with no added bells and whistles to cause confusion. The speaker on the device is clear, recordings are more than satisfactory, and deleting material is very simplistic. Olympus recorders are fantastic, but carry voice guidance on only some of their machines, with many having no audible feedback at all. Only the DM5 and DM7 units are equipped with Text-To-Speech (TTS.) And you will pay a lot more if you purchase a bespoke player with added DAISY functionality on the likes of Victor Reader Stream, the Milestone players, or Hims family of products.
My only slight concern is that the battery is not user-replaceable, so fingers crossed it has a relatively long life.
But you can’t argue with the quality of this machine for the £39.95 price tag (if you are VAT exempt.) It is available from Computer Room Services.
You can also purchase from Amazon, but it won’t come with voice prompts. Only Talking Products Ltd and Computer Room Services sell the device with this feature.
Online retail giant Amazon launched its digital assistant, Alexa, in the UK at the end of September. It has taken at least 18 months for the Echo and Dot to reach these shores, but it seems to be proving very popular among blind and partially sighted people because of its accessibility…
WHAT IS AN ECHO OR ECHO DOT?
The Echo or its smaller sibling the Echo Dot is a WiFi based device that you talk to. Alexa is the built-in digital assistant you converse with. Both Echo and Echo Dot offer the same features, except the Dot is smaller, and has a 3.5mm socket to enable you to connect it to a hifi or similar device. Both units are mains only, and come with built-in speaker. Both also require an Internet connection.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Once you set up your Echo or Echo Dot, you can activate a raft of skills to get the most from Alexa by simply talking to her. Skills are like tiny applications that people write and upload to the Internet. For example, there are skills on the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, and Daily Mail newspapers, bus and train travel, quizzes and general knowledge, adventure and other fun games, and a whole lot of other useful utilities. You can link your Spotify account to the Echo and Echo Dot, your Google calendar, and set timers, reminders and wake-up alarms. If you are an Amazon Prime customer, then there are even more benefits to be had with 2m tracks you can ask Alexa to play, or join the Amazon Unlimited music service to take advantage of 40m songs. And if you have purchased digital music from Amazon, this is available in your library for Alexa to play when you ask her.
If you are interested in home automation, it is possible to link Alexa to your Hive or Nest central-heating system, or adjust your lighting provided you have the relevant Philips Hue bulbs. It is also possible to control other devices by using TP-Link Smart plugs. Skills are being added all the time, so it is advisable to check the Amazon and Alexa websites to see what is new.
DESCRIPTION OF ECHO AND ECHO DOT
The Echo reminds me of a large can of Pringles. It is cylindrical with the mains outlet underneath at the rear. On top of the unit are two buttons, the one with a dot on it being the action button. You press this to activate the built-in set of seven microphones. To be honest, I have never used it because Alexa can hear very well, and when you want to speak to her, simply say “Alexa” before asking her a question, or issue a command. The other button turns off the microphone. The top of the unit turns clockwise to increase volume, and anticlockwise to decrease it.
The Echo Dot has two further buttons on the top for up and down volune, and the 3.5mm socket at the back beside a micro USB outlet to connect the device to the mains. Dot is much smaller, so its built-in speaker does not carry the depth of sound of its sibling.
HOW EASY IS IT TO GET GOING?
When you first unpack your Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, you need to get it to find your router. You can do this in two ways, either using wireless on a computer or laptop, or from the app that can be downloaded from the Apple or Play Store. Personally, I detest the app; it is sluggish, often unresponsive, and has a tendency to throw me out! But the app is more straightforward to set up your Echo or Echo Dot with just a few simple questions. You need to sign in with your Amazon account details, choose your region of the world, then go to Settings and pair it with your router. Alexa explains what you need to do as you commence setup, so it is extremely friendly to achieve. Once done, you are ready to start playing with your new device, and getting to know Alexa.
Alternatively, you can set up your Echo or Echo Dot by going to
Alexa’s dedicated web site
The website is much more friendly, and enables you to change settings on your device, add or remove skills, and link it to your Spotify account or Google calendar if you have one. You can also add further Echo or Dot devices here.
The wake word is Alexa, though you can change this within the settings tab on the website or in the app. You might want to start getting used to Alexa by asking her simple questions. You don’t need to shout or stand over the Echo or Echo Dot. Provided there isn’t a whole lot of noise going on, just say: “Alexa, what is the time?” You will find Alexa answers you quite quickly. Because you have linked her to your location, you can say: “Alexa, will I need an umbrella today?” She should tell you what the possibility is of rain in your area. You can ask Alexa a whole range of questions about sunrise and sunset, moon phases, the day you were born, whose birthday is it today, and even whether you have any packages arriving from Amazon this week. Alexa gleans this type of information from the Internet and, in relation to parcels and shopping, from your Amazon account. Say: “Alexa, good morning,” and she will tell you something famous that happened on this day in history. The more skills you add, the wider her knowledge becomes, and the more benefits she offers. You can ask her to spell a word, or define its meaning, and you can ask her to convert something from dollars into pounds sterling, for example.
For those with some sight, there is a series of lights that glow in a ring on top of your Echo or Echo Dot. For example, the ring light goes blue when you first plug in the Echo or Dot, then turns orange when Alexa speaks at setup. But you can activate audible chimes in the Alexa settings on the website if you want her to make a sound when you speak her name in addition to the light on top of the device.
It is possible to use the Echo or Echo Dot as a Bluetooth speaker and pair it with your Smart device. Just ask: “Alexa, activate Bluetooth.” When you want to stop it, say “Alexa, disconnect Bluetooth.”
For radio lovers, having an Echo or Dot is a real plus. Alexa uses the TuneIn service, so if you want to listen to a station, for example, just ask: “Alexa, play BBC Radio Five Live,” and she does. When you have finished listening, just say: “Alexa, stop,” and your broadcast is ended. I really enjoy listening to the radio on my devices because the quality is better than DAB in our area. You can also ask Alexa to play songs and albums, particularly if they happen to be in your Amazon music library. Similarly, you can listen to Audible titles if you are a member.
Flash Briefing is very handy. If you have missed a news bulletin somewhere in your day, just ask: “Alexa, read the news headlines.” She links you to Sky News where the last report of that hour is played. After that, depending on what tick boxes you have checked in Settings on the website or app, she will read the weather forecast, or sports headlines. If you don’t want to hear everything, just say: “Alexa, next.” She will then move onto the next section of that Flash Briefing.
If you shop on Amazon regularly, and perhaps have an Amazon Prime membership, you can add items to your basket using Alexa. You can add items to your shopping list in the same way.
You can have more than one device too. For example, I have the Echo downstairs, and a Dot upstairs connected to my docking-station. They don’t get confused, since the one you are nearest to is the device that will act when you give the wake word.
SOME THINGS YOU CAN’T DO
There are lots of uses for an Echo or Dot, but you can’t slow down or speed up the Alexa voice. At this time, you also can’t read Kindle titles, nor can you link your Apple Music subscription if you have one. While her intellect is growing, you can’t have a conversation with her in a normal sense. For example, you could ask: “Alexa, how old is Barack Obama?” And when she gives you his age, you can’t then say: “Alexa, where was he born?” She would say something like: “I’m sorry, I don’t have the answer to that question.” This is because you just asked her where “he” was born, not “where was Barack Obama born?”
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
When I first purchased the Amazon Echo, I liked the idea, but found the app really difficult to handle with its constant sluggishness, and returned it to Amazon for a full refund in disappointment. But then I came across the website, and bought an Echo Dot. I am so glad I gave it another try as I have never looked back. I purchased an Echo during Black Friday when Amazon was offering £30 off it.
Amazon Echo costs £149.99, while its sibling the Dot is priced at £49.99. You can purchase an Alexa remote for £19.99, which enables you to speak to Alexa from another room, and skip between tracks. The Echo and Dot come in black or white, with a multitude of cases and sleeves if you want to go the whole hog!
For blind and visually impaired people, the Amazon Echo or Dot are great devices when you don’t want to grab your phone to get the time, or you just want a quick check on the weather. Skills are being added and updated constantly, so it is always worth checking the Amazon website or Alexa’s own page. And remember that improvements to personal digital assistants are the “in” thing, so who knows what Alexa will be doing this time next year. You may find other useful features that Alexa offers, part of the fun is learning her secrets!
I would like to thank Trudie Strauss, Orcam Senior Sales Director UK, for taking the time to Visit Northern Ireland to demonstrate Orcam to my husband and I.
WHAT IS ORCAM?
Orcam is essentially a small camera that is mounted on the right side of a pair of ordinary glasses. A cable attached to the mount goes to a small box at the other end which is about the size of a glasses case. It has a few tactile buttons on it for controlling the unit. When you hold a book or other item in front of you, press a button on the control box to take a picture, or learn to point with your finger at the object that can also activate the camera. With good quality voice synthesis, you can hear what is being read out to you via an earpiece.
WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH IT?
This portable device can be taken and used anywhere with no need for an Internet, WiFi, or computer connection. It is completely self-contained, meaning you can snap pictures of documents, newspapers, magazines, packaging, electronic notices, and anything else that you want to read. Upgrades and enhancements are sent on an SD card so you can update the unit yourself.
There are two versions: a read-only unit does just that, converts what it sees into text using Optical Character Recognition, (OCR.)
The other version not only offers the OCR function, but also uses face recognition technology, and can identify products.
WHAT DID WE TRY?
We tried lots of items using the Orcam Trudie brought with her. These included some food packaging and tins, CD covers and booklets, glossy brochures, Talking Book CDs, and a paperback book. It definitely helps if you have some limited vision where you can see there is text, and can point at it for Orcam to snap and read. A good way to practice is putting your finger to your nose, then moving it away from you towards the document you want to read. Orcam is trained to look for your fingernail, and activates the shutter once it sees this. And if you find that method too clumsy, you can press a button on the control box instead. You can mount the camera on your own glasses, or buy a pair from Orcam if you don’t normally wear them.
The machine has a fairly small memory, but you can store approximately 100 faces that you may name. Faces you include must be within a certain radius of you for Orcam to recognise them from your library. And you can store 150 products too, for example, frozen meals or tins that you use regularly.
WHO IS IT FOR?
Orcam is for anyone who has difficulty reading print. Even those with physical dexterity issues, or who have dyslexia, find Orcam of great value. Using it as a totally blind person takes practice, which is why an Orcam purchase includes two hours of comprehensive training and a 30-day money back guarantee. Your trainer delivers Orcam to you upon purchase, and ensures you know how to handle the device, and that you have specific items labelled if that is your purpose for using it.
WHO IS ORCAM NOT FOR?
If you are an experienced OCR user, and manage with a flatbed scanner and computer software, you may find Orcam limited in its functionality. You may, for example, decide that a phone app like K-NFB Reader does the job.
The Orcam company, based in Israel, is working on lots of improvements to enhance the user experience. Among future developments in the pipeline is colour recognition, and the ability to have more control over the OCR software.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
I would probably be in the camp where Orcam does not offer me anything in addition to the tools I already use. But that is not to say I wouldn’t recommend it. For lots of people who dislike computers, and only want something simple and portable to operate, then Orcam is very definitely a winner. It is lightweight and simple to use, and support is fantastic.
For a free demonstration, contact Orcam on 0800 358 5323, or visit
The Orcam web site
Finally, the price. Orcam is not cheap! The OCR version only costs £1,600, while the full version with facial and product recognition included is £2,200. Remember that whichever version you opt for, thorough training is provided to ensure you get the most from the product.
If you want a no frills, no nonsense good quality recorder for taking down notes and messages, then meet the Olympus DP-311.
I use Olympus machines regularly for broadcast recordings. Some have more features than others, of course, and are therefore useful in different situations. But if you find buttons on voice recorders hard to feel, and wish you simply had a device with tactile buttons and no compromise on recording quality, then you may consider the Olympus DP-311 for its simplicity of operation and tactile feedback.
DESCRIPTION OF DP-311
The first point to emphasise is that this recorder is not equipped with any synthetic speech like many models have. But because of its simplistic layout, voice guidance is not particularly necessary to operate the DP-311. If you have some useful vision, you may find the LCD on this recorder helpful as it measures 3.5cm high.
Below the LCD display on the front of the machine are three distinct buttons which have different shapes to identify them. From left to right, they are: Play/OK. This is a square button with the bottom right corner cut off it. The middle button is Stop, and is square in shape. And the third button is Record, and is circular in shape. There are two small round buttons below these buttons, one on the left and the other on the right. They are Skip Back, and Skip Forward, respectively. If you are playing a message, you can hear the recording skipping back and forth.
Below these buttons, occupying the remainder of the front face of the unit, is a speaker measuring 5cm.
On the top of the DP-311 are two 3.5mm outlets and the internal microphone. From left to right, they are: earphone socket, and external microphone socket. The built-in microphone has a raised edge around it for distinction purposes.
Behind the two 3.5mm sockets is an SD card slot. You can insert an SD card of up to 32gb of storage. The internal memory on the DP-311 is 2gb.
The left side of the device comprises a rotary volume control, a noise cancellation switch, and the on/off/hold switch. Noise cancellation is on when the switch is in the up position. Move the power switch up for on, and down for off. You will get to know the musical tone emitted when this switch is moved.
On the right side of the DP-311, a square flat button is at the top, and this is the Search/Menu button, and really only relevant if you have enough sight to read the LCD display. When pressed, it toggles between Stop and Calendar Search Feature. When held in for a couple of seconds, the button takes you into the Settings menu. Here, you can choose from a variety of languages, and set the time and date. Again, however, you will need sighted assistance to do this if you cannot see the LCD display. It is not a deal-breaker though if all you want to do is record messages or longer passages, because you can skip between these easily without ever going into the Settings menu.
The next two tiny round buttons adjust the speed of your recordings, pressing up for faster, and pressing the button below for slower.
A circular dial is next, which adjusts the mode of recordings you want: Loud Sound, Dictation, and Conversation. This dial clicks when rotated, so you know you have moved it to one of the three recording modes.
Finally, a yellow oval button which is very flat to the casing of the unit is the last control on the machine to describe. It is the Erase button. You can delete recordings when you are playing them, or you can delete them when the unit is in Stop mode.
The DP-311 takes two AAA batteries, housed in a small compartment on the rear of the unit. Simply feel halfway up the back of the unit until you find a raised area of grooves. Gently pull down on these to release the cover which does not come away from the unit altogether.
Above the battery compartment is a pull-out stand for propping up the DP-311 on a desk or other level surface at an angle.
USING THE DP-311
Making a recording is very simple. Simply press the Record button until you hear a beep, then begin speaking. When you have finished, press Stop. You can skip between recordings using the Back and Forward Skip buttons.
When you insert an SD card, leave the machine on. The edge of the card with the cut-off corner has to go into the machine bottom right. The unit immediately defaults to SD card when it is in place, and removing the card causes the machine to default to internal memory. Since there is no USB outlet for connecting the device to a computer, you must remove the SD card and use a card reader on your PC for transferring files.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
This is a lovely, lightweight little unit that is ideal if all you want to do is make recordings or play MP3 content. If only it had speech synthesis, this would be a perfect companion. As it is, however, I still find it a worthy tool for recording phone calls and other messages when I need to.
The Olympus DP-311 NoteCorder is sold by RNIB, product code VR17, priced at £69.95. Instructions are available to download from the Online Shop. For more information, call the Helpline on 0303 123 9999.
It is also available from Computer Room Services, 01438 742286.
But it is fair to say that you can pick up this unit for a lot less if you shop around online at the likes of Amazon.
My thanks to Mobeen and Omar Iqbal for allowing me access to the VTS Label Printer program for review purposes.
Do you have difficulty printing addresses on Articles for the Blind labels or blank labels that normally requires sighted assistance? Have you ever wanted to use a simple little accessible program to print address labels on your own? If so, help is at hand with the new Label Printer program written by VTS, (Visual Impairment Technology Solutions.)
The Iqbals are hoping to plug a gap in the market by providing computers, laptops, tablets, phones and other everyday technology at affordable prices with blind and visually impaired people in mind. To celebrate the launch of their new family business, VTS, they have written the VTS Label Printer program that is both simple to operate and friendly to use with screen reader software.
USING THE VTS LABEL PRINTER PROGRAM
I installed VTS Label Printer onto a Windows 7 computer running my old and trusted Samsung ML2150 laser printer. Mo and Omar tell me that the software works with a variety of printers old and new.
Installation was quick and very straightforward. There were no awkward or complex questions, and documentation that comes with the program is written with screen reader software in mind.
When you launch the program, you are presented with a series of combo boxes and edit fields. The first box offers a choice of what kind of label you want to print. At present, the program caters for the Articles for the Blind label size of four by six inches, and blank four by six labels. It can also print on L7169 and J8169 labels where four labels are supplied on an A4 sheet. These labels are available from Amazon. The choices listed in the “Label type” combo box are:
• RNIB Pre-printed Articles for the Blind label
• Blank four by six inch label
• Blank four by six inch label with label header
• Blank A4 sheet with four labels
• Blank A4 sheet with four labels and label header.
The header option allows you to print an Articles for the Blind header with the Articles for the Blind post stamp on blank labels, along with your address, or a free matter for the blind header for post sent from the US. The next tabs are where you start to type in your sender address, which is usually your own name, address and company (if applicable.) If you fill in these fields, the address would appear on the sender part of your label.
Next are the fields for completing the recipient’s address. You can add these people to an address book, for easy access in future.
When all the fields have been completed, and you have selected the type of label you want, you can then go ahead and print the label. If you have more than one printer on your system, be sure to choose the correct printer and paper size for the task.
I would love to see more label sizes added to this program, and the ability to print a full page of the same label. Mo and Omar tell me they are already working on adding new features to the next version of the program, and would like feedback from users on features people would like implemented.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
This is a simple little program worth having if you print a lot of labels, including those sold by RNIB. The program is easy to use, and documentation and support is excellent. VTS will provide free support to get you up and running via telephone, Skype and Email. A free trial can also be downloaded to test the program with your printer before buying.
VTS Label Printer will normally cost £39.99 for a life time license, but an introductory offer gets you the software for £29.99 until 1 July 2016. To obtain a copy of the program, you can download a trial or purchase the full version from the VTS website
VTS accepts payment by PayPal, Bank Transfer, or by card over the phone. Once you have made your purchase, you will be sent a serial number which you enter into the program once you are ready to install it. The program may then be installed on up to three computers.
For further information about the VTS Label Printer program, or other services offered by Mo and Omar Iqbal, contact 03432 897501, or drop them an Email at
The presence of several Braille note-takers that double as a display is well documented. But French company, EuroBraille, has taken its range to the next level with the Esytime laptop with Braille input and 32-cell display.
Esytime is a fully fledged Asus Windows 7 laptop that has been adapted with a 10-key Braille keyboard and display of 32 cells. There is no screen, but the ability to attach one is present. You can install your favourite screen reader on Esytime, or take advantage of EuroBraille’s suite of applications. Esytime comes in two flavours: 32 cursor routing keys, (Esytime Standard,) or Navigation with Optical Sensors (Optical version.)
Measuring 26cm, by 18cm, by 2.5cm, Esytime weighs 1.2kg. Esytime is white in colour with black display and side panels. It comes with an Intel Atom N2600 dual Core processor, with Windows 7 Home Premium installed. It has 2gb of RAM, a 320gb hard drive, three USB ports and one Micro USB port, an Ethernet port, built-in stereo speakers, and microphone. It comes with Bluetooth 3.0, and is WiFi ready. Esytime also boasts a user replaceable battery that lasts approximately eight hours, and comes with a two-year warranty.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
The box contains an Esytime (Standard) or Esytime (Optical version,) wall charger, battery, USB key for bootable installation, USB cable for connecting the unit as a Braille display, soft carry case, and documentation.
The top face of Esytime comprises a well spaced eight-key Braille keyboard with space bar and back space keys below it. The 32-cell Braille display is situated above the keyboard, complete with 32 cursor routing buttons (if you have the Esytime Standard version.)
At each end of the Braille area is a series of round buttons in a vertical line. On the left side, these comprise, from top to bottom, previous 32 characters, escape, tab, and shift. On the right side, the order is next 32 characters, insert, alt, and control.
Above these round buttons on either end of the Braille area is a smaller five-way joystick navigation control which moves four ways, and can be pressed in the middle.
The power button is a rectangular key that is situated at the top right corner on the front of the machine. Press and hold for a couple of seconds before releasing to turn on Esytime.
A microphone can be located above the Braille display at the top of the unit, while four LED lights are positioned towards the right of the front edge. This completes the top panel of Esytime.
The left side of the machine, from top to bottom, comprises a round power socket, VGA monitor connection, one USB 2.0 port, a ventilation fan, and a 1.0 USB port for connecting Esytime to another computer.
On the right side, from top to bottom, is an RJ45 Ethernet port, a Kensington® security port, two USB 2.0 ports, a microphone input socket, a headphone input socket, and an SD/SDHC/MMC slot.
The battery housing is on the rear of the device, and must normally be removed when the unit is turned off.
As already stated, Esytime can be used as a normal Windows laptop with a screen reader of your choice. It may also be used as a Braille display when connected to another computer, and it becomes a note-taker when used in conjunction with the Esysuite software. Esysuite features several applications including Esynote for word processing, Esyweb for browsing the Internet, Esyplay for listening to music, Esyfile for manipulating your data,Esycalc for mathematical tasks, Esydico for accessing a suite of bilingual dictionaries, and some games. Esysuite uses the Ivona voices Amy or Brian, the parameters for which can be accessed in a Settings menu within the software.
If you opt to use Esytime with a screen reader, then the unit is operated as one would navigate Windows, except with the added benefit of Braille input. It is possible, of course, to attach a regular external qwerty keyboard to Esytime using one of the USB ports if you prefer.
This unit has a very ergonomic Braille keyboard which comprises full-size keys that are responsive and well spaced out. The display has a nice feel too, and would be comfortable to use for long periods of reading.
I customised NVDA and JAWS that were both installed on the unit when it arrived. Esysuite was also installed. I personally preferred using a regular screen reader to navigate the Windows environment as opposed to the more proprietary Esysuite approach. I found Esysuite rather basic and a little sluggish for my liking, but understand that someone with less general computer experience might appreciate the option.
The manual for Esysuite is contained within a Help menu of the software, but I felt it could have provided more explanation. Perhaps some translation has been lost between French and English here!
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
While Esytime is not the smallest or lightest Braille device on the market, it certainly offers a variety of uses: computing in a Windows 7 environment, inputting Braille with display built-in, connecting it to another device as a display, and using the Esysuite tools for taking notes etc.
The computer specification, I feel, prevents this machine from being a real power house. Most laptops today come with at least 4gb of RAM, larger hard drives, and higher processor speeds. It is the Braille workings that beef up the cost of Esytime, but there isn’t much to inspire under the bonnet apart from the convenience of Braille. It is possible to add extra RAM, or update the operating system to today’s Windows 10, but that will then bump up an already hefty price tag considerably.
If I were running Esytime myself on a daily basis, I would be using the JAWS or Window-Eyes screen reader without using Esysuite. Because I am a Windows power user, the proprietary suite of applications would not offer me anything extra that I don’t already have. But Esysuite would be relevant for a person who is neither confident nor interested in the wider Windows environment, and for whom basic word processing or web navigation is ample. And, for Braille music lovers, Esysuite has some nice features.
All that said, however, when comparing the price of Esytime to one of the current regular Braille note-takers on the market, you are buying a substantial piece of kit for your money. You get a Windows laptop experience, Braille display and note-taker, all in one convenient package. The accompanying soft carry case should also offer enough protection for Esytime when travelling.
Both flavours of Esytime are priced at £3,875.00 VAT exempt. The Esysuite software is included in the package. But if you wish to run Esysuite on another computer, an additional copy can be purchased for £250.00, VAT exempt. It is available from Computer Room Services, 01438 742286,
Initial “getting started” training is included and carried out by Steve Nutt for this price.
BEARING THE TIME – A REVIEW OF THE BRADLEY TIMEPIECE
INTRODUCING THE BRADLEY TIMEPIECE
When Bradley Snyder lost his sight while serving as a bomb diffuser in the Afghan conflict in 2011, he wanted to find a quick way of telling the time. And so an idea for the award-winning Bradley Timepiece was born.
Bradley, an ex-Naval Officer, went onto win gold and silver at the 2012 Paralympic games in London. In collaboration with designers, engineers and those with sight loss, the Bradley Timepiece has won numerous awards, and is worn by blind and sighted people alike.
USING THE BRADLEY
Its unusual design sets the Bradley Timepiece apart from any traditional tactile watch worn by someone with little or no sight. There are no hands, and no lid to open and close. Instead, two small ball bearings indicate the hours and minutes as they rotate the watch in separate magnetic rings. The ball bearing representing the hour is secured inside the outermost ring on the watch, while the other ball bearing sits in the inner ring. Each hour is represented by a tactile bar with a prominent v-shape at number 12 for easy reference, and longer bars at 3, 6, and 9. The winding stem is positioned at number 3, and can be pulled out to alter the time. Because the ball bearings are secured magnetically, they will revert to the correct time if they are accidentally moved. A gentle shake of the wrist is all that is required to correct their position.
When I felt the Bradley for the first time, I was very excited by its tactile environment, and by how stylish sighted people said it looked. Good tactile watches have been harder to come by in recent years, with loose closures and limited choice.
But the Bradley Timepiece is not cheap. It is sold in the UK by the Dezeen Watch Store in London. The black version is £250.00, and the silver colour £230.00. There is no physical difference in the two watches. While this seems an excessive price for something that only offers the time with no extra bells and whistles, it is fair to point out that the watch has been manufactured to an extremely high standard by US design company Eone, and is fitted with a steel bracelet strap.
The Bradley is also beautifully packaged in a plush velvet lined box complete with Braille booklet with the words “The Bradley Timepiece, designed to touch and see” written in Braille on the outer cover.
CONCLUSION AND AVAILABILITY
This was a lovely Christmas present from my husband. I find it convenient to identify the time by just a simple touch of the ball bearings without the familiar click of a typical Braille watch closure. This makes the Bradley a most private option. My only difficulty was with the bracelet strap which I struggled to fasten on my own. I had to take it to a local shop so that the strap could be adjusted to fit my slim wrist, yet I still found it difficult to do up myself. In the end, I sourced a lovely silver expandable strap to match the same colour ball bearings, which now makes wearing the Bradley safer and even more delightful. This is an unusual, stylish unisex watch that would grace any wrist.
For further information, contact the Dezeen Watch Store on 020 3327 1233, or visit
The Dezeen Watch Store.
This is RNIB’s new online digital service. Find out how it works.
GOING INTO OVERDRIVE –
RNIB’S NEW ONLINE DIGITAL SERVICE
September saw the launch of RNIB’s new online digital service using the OverDrive portal. As an avid reader and Talking Book member, I couldn’t wait to get going …
The first thing I needed to do was purchase my OverDrive annual subscription. I did this by visiting the RNIB Online Shop and buying it for £50 in the same way one would purchase anything else. It seems you cannot take out a subscription for OverDrive by calling Customer Services, it has to be done via the Internet.
Once I did this, the RNIB OverDrive team contacted me by Email asking me to confirm my visual impairment under the terms and conditions of the service. I did so by replying to the same Email. Hours later, I received my welcome pack in the form of an Email containing my log-in details comprising library card and PIN numbers. There were also three attachment doc files in the Email: RNIB OverDrive Smartphone Or Tablet User Guide, Transferring To A Player, and RNIB OverDrive User Guide Computer.
As I knew I would be using the OverDrive software on my PC, I opened the relevant document to take a look at the instructions. These include a link which you can paste into your browser for downloading the OverDrive software, and a link to the OverDrive website.
I was one of the 150 trialists for this service during the spring of this year, so was already very familiar with how to proceed once I had received my pack from RNIB. But for those who are thinking about purchasing a subscription, do take time to read the guides so you know what you can expect. It is also worth mentioning that you can have a free 30-day trial, so if you are interested in receiving downloaded books, but are not sure if the service is right for you, contact the OverDrive team and request a month’s trial.
Installing the OverDrive software was straightforward, and I simply followed the prompts during the installation process.
Armed with my signing in credentials, I began searching for titles, the next best thing to a good old browse in my local bookshop … well almost!
When you open your browser and go to the OverDrive website, the first thing you will probably want to do is sign in. Use your library card and PIN number provided by RNIB and enter these details in the two form fields. When you have clicked on the Sign In button, you will then be presented with what I can only describe is a rather busy page. Using your screen-reader, find the search field and type in the author’s first name, then the author’s surname, followed by a comma, then the title of the book. If you only know the title, try entering that. Once you submit your search, wait for the page to hopefully bring up your results.
This is where, for me, the page could have a better layout than it does currently. It would have been more helpful and certainly tidier to have a heading or table per title that one could jump to using a screen-reader. Nevertheless, once you have searched for a book, you need to find the start of the list presented in the search results. You can jump to the Search Results heading and then arrow down the page to see what results are displayed. You can be more specific when searching by choosing different genres from a drop-down list, for example, fiction, non-fiction, biographies and autobiographies etc.
When you find the book you are interested in, you can click on it to ascertain further information about it such as short synopsis, length, reader, and how many copies are being held on OverDrive.
If you want to borrow the book, click on the Borrow link, and the OverDrive Media Console that you should have installed will automatically open. You will now see the book you just borrowed in your list.
This software gives you the opportunity to download the book in question which is generally split into several parts in MP3 format. If you tab around the OverDrive Media Console, you will see various options, including a checkbox to select all parts for download. When you are happy with the choices you have made, start downloading the book.
When the book has downloaded, you can either listen to it using the OverDrive Media Console, or you can transfer the title to a device such as the Victor Reader Stream which is my preferred way of reading books.
The instructions supplied by RNIB tell you to insert your SD card into your computer, and use control T to transfer the book from the OverDrive Media Console to the card. This puts all the files into the root of your SD card.
But my advice is to insert your SD card into the computer, and find a folder in your My Documents folder of your PC called My Media. In that folder, there is a sub-folder called MP3 Audio Books, and it is in this folder that you will find your book with all its parts in the one place. Simply copy the book to your SD card, placing it where the device structure is applicable. On the Victor Reader Stream new generation, you would place the book in the Other Books folder.
When you want to listen to the book, either press play on the title of the book, or open the folder and play the first file inside it. You will now be able to listen to the book in the same way as you would any other title, with full navigation at your disposal.
You can borrow books for up to 21 days. Once you complete a book, you can return it to the library and automatically delete it via the OverDrive Media Console. If you have transferred the book to an SD card, you will need to physically delete the book from the card.
It is possible to use OverDrive on a Mac or Smartphone such as Android or iOS, but the OverDrive website on these platforms is not as friendly with TalkBack or VoiceOver, though it can be done with practice.
With the OverDrive subscription, you can take out up to six books at any one time, just like the Talking Book service, and read as many books in a year as you can handle.
SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENTS
I am thrilled with the service because I do get tired of Talking Books being lost in transit, and having to wait for new titles to be sent out. But the OverDrive website is rather cluttered, especially for less experienced Internet users. It would be much simpler to have a table for each title that comes up as a search result so that it is easier to jump from one heading to another in the list of results. The current Talking Book catalogue that many of us use online has a good layout, and I would like to see OverDrive implement something similar.
I understand that my other wish is underway in the next phase of RNIB’s new service. I would like to manage my own bookshelf so that I can merge my Talking Book list into my OverDrive library, and be able to select titles in the order I want to. The Talking Book and OverDrive services run side-by-side at the moment, and I look forward to the time when I can manipulate my ever-growing list of books to suit myself rather than contact RNIB to check my list and have staff put them in order for me.
We have waited a long time for OverDrive to emerge, and there are bound to be some teething problems to start with. The recurring debate about whether we should be charged £50 at all for an already heavily subsidised service is not appropriate for this piece. And as RNIB opted to use American owned OverDrive instead of their own platform, we can only look forward to improvements to the software as time passes.
Right now, my husband and I are just pleased to be able to switch on our computers and share the OverDrive subscription we purchased. We are keeping our Talking Book subscriptions in place until OverDrive beds in. By the time it is due for renewal next year, we may be in a position to call time on the postal service altogether. If you love books, an OverDrive subscription is perhaps a wonderful gift, and money well spent!
For further information, contact RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999, or visit
The RNIB Online Shop.
My sincere thanks to HumanWare for loaning me a Trekker Breeze+ unit for review purposes.
Fans of the Trekker range of products will be pleased to know that the hand-held unit from HumanWare has had a major makeover, and I took one for a breeze round my area to suss out its plus points!
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
The package contains a Trekker Breeze+ with a 1gb SD card installed, mains charger, USB cable for connecting the device to a computer, leather case with clip, shoulder strap, a speaker with clip and cable, lanyard, and Companion CD including documentation.
NEW TREKKER BREEZE+ FEATURES
For those who already know what the Trekker Breeze feels like, you won’t notice any difference in its physical appearance. This is because HumanWare has opted to keep the overhaul within the familiar case with distinctive friendly keypad. The significant change is inside with a new and more responsive chip for finding a GPS signal with improved accuracy. And the maps have also been updated, offering more points of interest.
USING TREKKER BREEZE+
Those new to the world of accessible GPS tools will find Trekker Breeze+ easy to use. Turn it on and let Trekker find a GPS signal. This may take slightly longer the first time you use it. The Daniel voice will announce your current location once Trekker has a signal. You are now ready to set off on foot or in a vehicle.
As you move around outside, Trekker Breeze+ will tell you your next intersection or street names as you pass them. It is possible to search for addresses by postcode. You can record landmarks using your own voice that are activated the next time you pass them. You can also record routes that can be used the next time you want to walk or ride that way. And you can identify points of interest (POIs) to ascertain your surroundings.
I used Trekker Breeze+ in a car and on foot. I found it very efficient at obtaining a GPS signal, and putting in landmarks or recording routes really was a breeze! While in a taxi, the driver told me Trekker Breeze+ was very accurate at announcing street names, road junctions and roundabouts as we were travelling.
It would have been nice to see the update include Bluetooth, but it is possible to overcome this omission with an adaptor that can be purchased separately. I also discovered that when increasing the speech rate, Daniel started to jerk and sound clipped. This definitely needs attention in a future firmware release.
Other than that, however, I found Trekker Breeze+ great to work with. For me, it is by far the nicest of GPS tools to use because it can be activated with one hand when you are walking about with a white cane or guide dog. The improved GPS signal and updated maps have significantly enhanced this little box of tricks.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
If you want to record a route, receive turn-by-turn instructions, make landmarks, and ascertain your surroundings, then this device is spot on. It is easy to use, has nice tactile buttons, and has a long battery life. While a little more bulky than a regular Smartphone, Trekker Breeze+ is much easier to operate, especially when you have your hands full!
Trekker Breeze+ costs £365.00 for a brand new unit, or £150.00 if you wish to send your existing device to HumanWare to be updated. Contact 01933 415800 for further information.
Of all the GPS tools I have tried, Trekker Breeze+ is by far my favourite.
All At The Press Of A Button, The Blaze ET Multi-Player from Hims
My thanks to Sight and Sound Technology for loaning me the Blaze ET for the purpose of this review.
In 2014, Hims released the Blaze EZ multi-player. This year, however, they have incorporated many of the features of that device into the Blaze ET, but with added functionality.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
The package contains a Blaze ET, rechargeable battery, AC adapter, USB charging cable that also acts as the connection to a computer, USB gender adapter, carry pouch, earbuds, Braille quick start guide, and documentation CD.
DESCRIPTION OF BLAZE ET
Blaze ET is black in colour with primarily silver contrasting buttons. The unit is about the size of a Smartphone only thicker: 59.3mm wide, 116.86mm long, and 16.4mm deep, weighing 118g.
Holding the unit in your hand, the speakers are at the top of the ET with a square recessed red button between them. This is the power/time button. A long press turns the Blaze ET on or off. A short press tells you the current time, even when the unit is off. Below the speakers are three buttons. From left to right, they are Info, Home, and OCR.
Moving down the face of the ET, there are four arrow keys with a round button in the middle. Use these keys to navigate the various menus on the unit, and press the circular button in the middle to accept a command.
Next, there are three colour coded buttons which, going from left to right, are Cancel (red,) Menu (blue,) and Review (green.) Use the cancel key to go back a level in a menu, or stop an action. The menu button opens a dialog box within applications, while the review key allows you to read back what you have entered in a text field.
A normal telephone-style keypad occupies the remainder of the face of the ET, with a dot on number five for easy identification.
At the very bottom edge on the face of the unit are two LED indicators which show charging status and when the internal microphone is in use.
On the left side of the ET are three buttons. The top one controls the volume, speed and pitch of the TTS engine. When you select volume, for example, the other two buttons will increase or decrease the volume. Similarly, select pitch or speed of the voice, and the two buttons below will increase or decrease these elements.
Below these three buttons is an SD card slot allowing for extra memory of up to 32gb. Internal memory is 12gb.
The right side of the Blaze ET has two keys. The top one is the record button. Press it once quickly to ascertain a list of any previously made recordings. A long press of this button activates record mode.
A slide switch about halfway down the right side of the ET allows you to lock the unit to avoid accidental presses. Push the switch down to lock ET, or push it up to unlock it.
At the bottom edge of the Blaze ET are three ports. From left to right, these are 3.5mm headphone socket, micro USB port for charging the unit, and 3.5mm stereo microphone socket. The micro USB port enables you to connect ET to your computer, and to an external CD or thumb drive as well. You can use the external microphone socket as a line-in facility.
There is a small hole at the very top edge of the ET through which a lanyard can be fitted.
On the rear of the ET is the camera lens and a battery cover. Push down on the cover to remove it and insert the Lithium Polymer cell, giving you up to 11.5 hours play on a full charge.
EXPLORING THE FEATURES OF BLAZE ET
Power on the Blaze ET by pressing and holding down the square recessed button between the speaker grilles on the front of the machine for roughly two seconds. The unit emits a familiar musical chime. You can now explore what Blaze ET has to offer by using the up and down arrow keys, and activating an item by pressing the circular button in the middle. Choose from File Manager, Media Player, Book Reader, Radio, OCR, Webradio, Podcasts, Library Services, Utilities, External Apps, and Options.
Within Utilities, there are some interesting features such as Colour Reader, Memo, Calculator, Sense Dictionary (optional,) Alarm, Sleep Timer, and the ability to update the Blaze ET firmware.
The Options menu allows you to adjust recording and voice settings, turn on the Bluetooth feature and pair devices like a headset, set time and date, or connect to a wireless network.
The Blaze ET has a nice physical keyboard layout making it easy to navigate to its many features. You can either use the up and down arrows to do this, or press a defined key on the telephone-style keypad that takes you directly to an application. You can, for example, go straight to Webradio by pressing number five on the keypad instead of arrowing through the main menu to find it, or to Memo by pressing number seven.
A dedicated OCR button drops you into the application where you can take pictures of documents and packaging to identify them. You can turn the flash on and off, depending on the results you are getting, and you can set the unit to scan multiple pages, useful if you are working with a book.
The camera is also used for Colour Reader where you simply hold the ET over a garment and snap to recognise it.
Bookworms will find all the usual DAISY navigation features available on Blaze ET. There are also many supported file types including DOC, DOCX, TXT, RTF, and HTML.
USING BLAZE ET
I found setting up Blaze ET very straightforward. I was able to key in my WiFi password, adjust speed, pitch and volume easily, and set time and date without difficulty.
Adding music and playing it was a breeze, and making recordings was also very simple once I had adjusted its settings accordingly,.
In comparing the Blaze ET OCR feature with the K-NFB Reader app on my iPhone 6, I believe that the latter is much faster and more accurate. But the Hims devices are the only multi-players to offer this feature, and it is an extremely useful one if you want an all-rounder on the go.
Another useful feature unique to the Blaze ET is Skype. While I initially had difficulty in entering my Skype name due to a problem that is to be fixed in the next firmware release, I was eventually able to sign in, make a Skype call, and use the interface efficiently. So sitting down in the comfort of your armchair away from the computer holding Blaze ET in your hand like a telephone to Skype is perfectly feasible.
The Collins Dictionary has limitations at present. I could enter words to ascertain their meaning, but when I deliberately entered an incorrect spelling, the search result came back with nothing found, and no list to allow me to choose the correct spelling. Perhaps this is something Hims could add in the future?
Due to changes by the BBC, none of the BBC stations would work when I searched for them in the Webradio application. Other manufacturers of specialist players like HumanWare and Plexter have rectified this problem on their units, so perhaps this is another issue Hims could address in the near future?
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
If you want an all-in-one device that lets you scan documentation, identify colours, listen to music, books and podcasts, stream radio stations and even use Skype, then the Blaze ET is at your disposal. With a choice of UK or US Acapella TTS voices, connectivity options such as Bluetooth and WiFi, and the ability to set options for your recordings, Blaze ET meets most needs.
I had major reservations about aspects of Blaze EZ when I had some hands-on with it last year. But the ET offers greater navigation and flexibility thanks to its intuitive telephone-style keypad. Features such as Sense Dictionary (optional) and Colour Reader are welcome additions, while improvements to Webradio and Podcasts make it a real competitor.
An additional accessory pack offers a stand on which to place The Blaze ET for scanning, charging cradle, spare battery and charger. And Sense Dictionary is an add-on useful for students and writers alike.
Blaze ET is distributed in the UK by Sight and Sound Technology 01604 798070,
It will set you back £525.00 under VAT exemption. The accessory pack is priced at £97.00. And the Sense Dictionary add-on costs £25.00.
Blaze ET is an expensive piece of kit, so be sure to request a demonstration for some hands-on before you buy. But with OCR, music and books galore, colour identifier and wireless connectivity, Blaze ET is a one stop shop, all at the press of a button!
KAPSYS SMART VISION MAKES A SMART CHOICE
I would like to take the opportunity to thank Kapsys for loaning me a SmartVision handset for review purposes.
I have often been asked whether there is a modern Smartphone on the market that offers the scope of a touchscreen device with tactile keys. Thanks to French company Kapsys, the SmartVision might just be the answer.
SmartVision is a handset that offers users three ways of interacting with its Proprietary software based on the Android 4.0 operating system. About the size of an iPhone 5, SmartVision has a large screen with a tactile keyboard at the bottom for inputting data. It also comes with a voice activated system that lets you control the phone by speaking to it. So this means that you can navigate the screen by touch, type on the tactile keyboard, or dictate commands with your voice to get your jobs done.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
The package contains a SmartVision handset, battery, USB cable and charger, docking cradle, earbuds, lanyard, protective case, and print documentation. A user manual is available to download from the Kapsys website in Word format, and there is an onboard tutorial.
NAVIGATING THE HANDSET
With the phone facing you, just over two-thirds of the front of the handset is covered by a touchscreen. A four-row tactile keypad occupies the remainder. The top row of keys, from left to right, comprise an ok or answer button, left and right arrow keys, and a cancel/back or end call button. The second row consists of numbers 1, 2, 3, and star. The third row has numbers 4, 5, 6, and 0. Finally, the bottom row comprises 7, 8, 9, and hash. The concept of having the normal bottom row on a conventional telephone-style keypad laid out vertically was rather off-putting to me to begin with until I got used to it.
The top edge of the Smartphone contains the stand-by/power button on the right, hole to attach a lanyard in the centre, and a 3.5mm headphone socket on the left.
Volume up and down buttons can be found midway down the left edge of the phone. A connection port for the docking cradle is situated at the bottom left end of the handset. A USB port for charging the phone is positioned on the top right side of SmartVision, while the voice activation key is below it.
The rear of the handset comprises the camera lens, an orange SOS rocker button towards the top, and a battery compartment below it. Removing the battery cover was very difficult at first because I could not feel any indication of where it opened. If you place a fingernail at the very bottom edge of the handset at one end, however, you should be able to lift up the cover to reveal the battery compartment where the SIM and memory cards also reside.
USING THE PHONE
The Kapsys SmartVision will need to be charged when you receive it, so insert the battery and either use the docking cradle or simply connect the USB lead to charge it for approximately four hours.
SmartVision is an unlocked device, so you will require a micro SIM card with the operator of your choice to use it for making and receiving calls, text messages and other tasks. The handset also supports Bluetooth and WiFi.
When you turn on the phone for the first time, by pressing and holding down the power button on top of the device until you feel a vibration, you will hear a welcome chime. Built-in TTS will guide you through a setup process. Use the top row of buttons on the keypad, which all have various tactile markings, to confirm, amend or cancel the choices on offer. When this process is complete, you will be placed on the home screen of SmartVision, and are ready to begin exploring.
Items on the home screen comprise: Phone, Messaging, Email, Settings, Favourites, and Applications. Use the left and right arrows to navigate between these options, or slide your finger around the screen until you find the icon you want, then press the OK button to confirm.
The main functions of SmartVision do not need much explanation. You may send and receive text or Email messages, add contacts to the phone book, connect a WiFi network, turn on Bluetooth, write a note, use the calculator, record appointments or reminders, and set the time or date.
But there are some interesting additional features on SmartVision too. You can use the colour identification app, scan documents using the OCR facility, or search the Google Play Store to make purchases such as apps or music. And there is assistance at hand with the SOS button that, when activated, will dial 10 numbers you designate as emergency contacts. Whatever you do on SmartVision, you are guided by the software’s built-in speech or magnification programs.
Those who have met Kapten GPS in the past might be interested to know that there is a built-in version on SmartVision. You are able to create routes and save them, using the Points Of Interest feature on the way. You can choose pedestrian or vehicle modes when planning your routes as well. I took SmartVision out with me in both the car and on foot, and was quite impressed by the amount of information it reported back. Not only did it give directions, but it told me about shops, restaurants, hotels and petrol stations in the vicinity. I was also pleased with the battery life when using Kapten on the handset. Most phones tend to be very data hungry, but SmartVision relies on GPS satellites for its information rather than an Internet connection which, in turn, conserves battery usage.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
This particular all-in-one proprietary system is not for me, primarily because I have both iOS and Android platforms on touch-screen devices to work with on a daily basis. I find there are limitations with specifically adapted Smartphones such as Telorion, Georgie and now SmartVision. But there are many people who find touch-screen technology extremely difficult to use, and would therefore welcome and benefit from such an innovation offered by Kapsys.
For me, general navigation and inputting information was slow yet straightforward, though I found that reviewing data I entered was a tad hit or miss when using the two arrow keys. I am used to moving around a touch-screen with one finger quite quickly, and double-tapping on the item I want in a situation with iOS or Android. What you need to do on SmartVision when using the touch-screen method is move your finger around the screen, and once you have found the correct icon, keep your finger on it while moving to the OK button on the physical keypad below. This is a rather challenging combination, but I understand it is a preventative measure for accidental screen activation.
When using the voice activation system to perform tasks on SmartVision, you must be very specific about what you tell the device to do. This is because voice activation has a limited resource for commands. A short press of the voice button is designed to enter commands like “battery status”, or “what is the time”? A long press of the voice button is relevant when dictating notes or text messages where there is an edit field for data input. I found it very inaccurate when using Kapten GPS. I tried several times to dictate an address for a car journey, and it did not play ball at all. Perhaps it has something to do with pronouncing some place names where I live in Northern Ireland?
Using the traditional keyboard entry method for adding information is good, but I do not like the ergonomic design of the keypad, where the bottom row of star, zero and hash keys are placed vertically next to numbers 3, 6, and 9, respectively. I understand this was to allow for a larger screen, but it might confuse novice users, or anyone with orientation issues.
I do have concerns about the shelf life of a product like SmartVision, but a lot of thought has gone into its concept. There are two flavours to choose from: SmartVision Lite is priced at £349, while SmartVision costs £499. The latter includes Kapten GPS and OCR, plus charging cradle and protective case. SmartVision Lite can be upgraded though if you want these extras at a later date.
For those people who really cannot use a touch-screen handset, but who want to take advantage of what a Smartphone offers, then SmartVision is definitely worth considering. It is lightweight and compact, and boasts all the features you would expect from today’s technology.
Take a look at what Internet Radio options are accessible to blind and
visually impaired people.
ACCESSIBLE INTERNET RADIO –
WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS FOR BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED USERS?
Internet streaming has become a way of life. Whether you do this from your computer, tablet or phone, there are thousands of stations out there to tune into using various databases and apps.
But if you want to listen to Internet Radio away from your PC, or you don’t have the confidence to use a touch-screen through which so much can be achieved, what are the alternatives for blind and visually impaired people?
THE SONATA PLUS
The Sonata Plus has been available for a few years now. Developed by Solutions Radio in Holland, in conjunction with British Wireless for the Blind Fund, (BWBF), this device offers access to thousands of radio stations, podcasts and other information in one stand-alone rectangular box. Designed with simple, colour contrast tactile controls and full Text-To-Speech, (TTS), the Sonata Plus allows you to listen to your favourite stations from around the world. If you are unable to use your computer to add stations from the database yourself, BWBF will add them for you if you give them a call. The database is straightforward to use, however, and allows you to add and remove stations, or put them in the order of your choice in the list you create.
BWBF’s Sonata Plus works wirelessly as well, so your WiFi key is required if you wish to stream this way. The unit has its own built-in speaker, or can be connected to a hifi system.
It is also equipped with SD card and USB facilities, so you can play your own MP3 files on it, and again be guided by the TTS engine. The variety of information is constantly being added to the unit, so there is probably something for everyone to choose from.
This device retails for £349, or is available for permanent loan from BWBF if you meet the criteria. For more information, check out
Wireless For The Blind’s web site.
Alternatively, call BWBF on 01622 754757.
ACCESSING A CORE COMPONENT OF APPLE TV –
When I first heard about Apple TV, I thought it only comprised films and other genres that wouldn’t interest me at all, that is until I discovered its Internet Radio function. But with VoiceOver turned on, I now have a fully accessible facility to access thousands of stations around the world…
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
Apple TV is a small square box no bigger than the size of an external hard drive. A power lead, small remote control, and documentation, all accompany the unit in the familiar Apple packaging.
SETTING UP APPLE TV
I must confess to cheating a little when I purchased my Apple TV recently. I went to an Apple Store, and asked the salesman to turn on VoiceOver for me as this can be somewhat tricky to achieve from the outset without sight. Having done this by entering Settings from the main menu, and finding Accessibility to turn on VoiceOver, I was ready to continue with setup. I put in my Apple ID and password so that I could access my already purchased items from my iPad Mini and iPhone, or buy direct from Apple TV. In order to enter your Apple credentials, you use the remote control.
As I set up the Apple TV with assistance in the shop, I had to wait until I got home to put in my WiFi key. You do this by using the remote control, and I was soon up and running.
EXPLORING APPLE TV
There are no controls on the Apple TV, so everything is done from the tiny remote control. On the rear of the Apple TV, from right to left, there is a mains outlet, HDMI port, optical socket, and Ethernet port. You must purchase an HDMI cable if you intend using Apple TV on your television as most people tend to do. I never purchased mine for the purposes of using its TV features, however, so I bought a digital to analogue converter from Maplin in order to use the device through my hifi system as an Internet radio.
The remote control contains a circular joypad towards the top with up and down presses at 12 and 6 o’clock, and left and right presses at 9 and 3 o’clock, respectively. The centre button is the enter or ok button. Below the arrow keys are two buttons, the left of which takes you back a level at a time when in any of the menus, while the right button will put you in Stand-By mode.
APPLE TV FEATURES
Don’t make the mistake of thinking Apple TV is a glorified Freeview box, it isn’t. Apple TV essentially offers NetFlix and some other subscription facilities. But you can also access YouTube, the iTunes Store and, for me at least, its best function…
When you enter Radio from the main menu, you can choose from a whole host of genres such as 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, Ambient, Classical, Country, International World, Reggae, and so it goes on. If you enter any of these selections, you can arrow through a list of stations relating to the genre you have chosen. To listen to any station, press the centre button of the arrow keys on the remote control, and the station will load immediately. Press the centre button to pause the station, and use the left button of the two below the arrow keys to back out of that station. If you like the station and wish to save it, hold down the centre button of the arrow keys to add it to Favourites. When you next visit the Radio section, your favourites will be at the top of the list for you to access.
You can adjust the speed of VoiceOver by going into Settings and Accessibility from the main menu. You can also change the default voice from Daniel to one of the others in Dialect. You may add a Bluetooth keyboard to make searching for something on some features of Apple TV much easier. And you can make purchases from iTunes and share them with your other iOS devices, or mirror your iPhone to work in conjunction with the Apple TV.
Because I purchased Apple TV primarily for its excellent Internet Radio facility, I had to buy a small box that would allow the digital signal to be converted to analogue so I could use it on my hifi system. Essentially, the small box is mains powered. Using a cable with an optical plug on both ends, and a phono lead, it enables me to listen to Apple TV in stereo on my sound system without it being connected to a television at all. I also purchased an HDMI cable so that I could hook Apple TV up to my television in the event of VoiceOver clamming up, which would then require sighted assistance!
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
Apple TV isn’t for everyone, and perhaps America benefits more than the UK does in terms of what is on offer to watch. But it has a fantastic Internet Radio facility which is fully accessible, and contains thousands of stations to choose from. Whether you listen to Apple TV via your television or a hifi system, it is fully accessible with VoiceOver, and not a bad price at £79.
I am able to add the purchases I made on my iPad Mini, browse and preview new releases in the iTunes Store, and search for clips to watch on YouTube.
For more information on Apple TV, visit
The Apple Store.
Should you wish to do as I have, and use Apple TV on a sound system, you will need a digital to analogue converter which can be purchased at a suitable store like Maplin for around £40. You will also need an optical cable, and a phono-to-phono cable, all sold separately, and an HDMI cable if you intend using Apple TV on your television.
A much cheaper alternative package is Apple TV, a feature of which is its Radio app. With VoiceOver turned on, you are able to browse thousands of radio stations which are listed in several genres. You can add stations to a favourites list by simply holding down a button on the accompanying remote control.
It is necessary to set up an Apple ID and password if you want to take advantage of making purchases on Apple TV, or when subscribing to some of its TV channels.
Apple TV retails for £79. You will need to purchase an HDMI cable in order to connect it to your TV, or an optical to analogue converter with additional cables if you want to connect it to a sound system. For further information on Apple TV, visit
The Apple Store.
EXPERIENCES AND CONCLUSION
I am fortunate to have both of the above products, each having their advantages and disadvantages.
The advantage of using a Sonata Plus is that it is developed specifically for blind and visually impaired people, so accessibility is always at the forefront when features are added. It is a simple device to use, and technical support from BWBF is exceptionally good.
The disadvantage, however, is that the Sonata Plus is very expensive when compared to mainstream Internet Radio equipment. There is also no choice in style or ergonomic design; what you see is what you get!
Apple TV has not been specifically developed for blind and visually impaired people, only the VoiceOver screenreader that can be turned on. But once VoiceOver is activated, Apple TV is frankly every bit as easy to navigate as Sonata Plus.
The advantage of Apple TV is that it only costs £79. You can synchronise your purchases from other iOS devices if you have them, and there is a lot of content out there to watch or listen to.
For me, however, its big advantage over the Sonata Plus is being able to listen to different radio stations live without loading the database used for the BWBF device. With the Sonata Plus, you need to go to
The Station List
and search for the radio station you are looking for. When you find it, you need to add it to your list of stations and then turn on the Sonata Plus before it appears on your device. With Apple TV, you can arrow through a list of stations and listen to each one to see if you like it or not. If you do, and you wish to add it to your favourites list, you can do this on the spot without going to any computer.
The disadvantage of Apple TV, however, is that there is no built-in speaker. In order to enjoy its radio feature, you need to connect an HDMI cable direct to your TV, or purchase an optical to analogue converter with cables to hear it through your hifi system. I have used the latter method, and I love it!
If, of course, you don’t fancy either of these mains units for streaming, you can choose from a variety of bespoke portable devices such as the Victor Reader Stream (new generation), Plextalk Pocket, Plextalk Linio, and Blaze EZ. In addition to their many DAISY functions, these devices can now stream Internet Radio wirelessly. And while there are several easy methods of streaming, perhaps the hard part is deciding which device to choose!
This is the latest DAISY player with OCR facility from Hims. Read my verdict here.
BLAZE EZ GETS YOU FIRED UP – A REVIEW OF THE NEW ALL-IN-ONE MULTIMEDIA DEVICE FROM HIMS
My thanks go to Sight and Sound Technology for loaning me this device for review purposes.
There are now several specialist DAISY players on the market that offer many features for listening to books, music, text files and personal recordings. But Hims has introduced its new kid on the block, the Blaze EZ, that also includes a built-in camera for taking pictures of your documents using OCR technology.
Similar in size to its predecessor, the BookSense, Blaze EZ comes with fewer keys for direct navigation. Nevertheless, it boasts a rich feature list that users have come to expect from a Hims product. With 16gb of internal storage (roughly 12gb free), the Blaze EZ’s dimensions are: 5.89cm wide, by 11.67cm long, by 1.67cm deep, weighing 138g. Its charge time is 4.5 hours, giving you 17 hours of use. The unit is white with colour contrast on the power, Media, Radio, and Book buttons.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
The box contains the Blaze EZ, battery, micro USB cable, (for both charging the unit and connecting it to a computer), mains charger (useful if you are away from the PC), in-ear headphones, carry bag and lanyard, Quick Start user guide in Braille and print, plus documentation CD.
EXPLORING BLAZE EZ
With the unit facing you, its speaker grilles are positioned at the top on the front of the device. A recessed round power button is situated between the speakers that you press and hold for a couple of seconds until you hear a start-up chime.
A round record button is located below the left speaker.
Below the record button is a row of three square buttons marked in Braille. From left to right, these are M for Music, R for Radio, and B for Books.
Four arrow keys and a circular button in the centre make up the main navigational part of the player. Arrow left or right, up or down and press the centre button to make your choices within applications.
Finally, there are three buttons below the navigation keys. The left button is square-shaped, and is the Cancel key. The middle button is small and round, and is the Explorer button that is used to access menus within Blaze EZ’s programs. Finally, the key on the right is marked with a Braille letter O for OCR, (Optical Character Recognition).
A small hole in the centre on the top edge of the unit is to attach the supplied lanyard.
Headphone socket, micro USB port for charging, and a line-in socket occupy the bottom of the device. An SD card slot takes up the lower portion on the left side of the unit, while rotary volume control, adjustment for speed and voice guidance, plus a lock key, are all positioned on the right side of the Blaze EZ.
To insert the battery, remove the cover on the rear of the Blaze EZ, and slide the flat rectangular cell into the compartment. When this is connected, the Blaze EZ automatically boots from scratch, and you are given a welcome sequence of beeps and a chime as the machine loads. The camera lens is also located near the top on the rear of the device.
USING THE BLAZE EZ
The Blaze EZ Home screen comprises the following programs. Arrow left or right to skip through these options, then press the circular button in the centre of the navigation keys to enter an application. Choose from Time and Date, Battery Status, Blaze EZ firmware version and available space, Guide Voice Settings, Record Settings, Bluetooth, WiFi, Online DAISY (not applicable in the UK at present), Web Radio, Podcasts, and Utilities.
Recordings can be made using the built-in microphone, or with an external one not supplied. Recordings are made in a choice of standard quality, high quality MP3, speech quality, user defined, or high quality WAV. Press and hold the record button for a couple of seconds to start recording. Briefly press the button again to pause recording, and press the circular button in the centre of the four arrows to complete your recording. To go through the list of recordings made, press the record button lightly from the Home screen, and use the up and down arrows to navigate your list.
The Blaze EZ can play a wide variety of file formats: DAISY, TXT, BRL, MP3, MP4, WAV, WMA, WMV, OGG, ASF, AAC, AVI, FLAC, 3GP, MPG, M4A, RTF, HTML, HTM, XML, DOC, DOCX, PDF, EPUB, and FB2.
An FM radio allows you to store stations, but is best used when headphones are connected to act as an antenna. You can also set the radio to work on the internal speaker and headphones at the same time if you wish.
Listening to DAISY books provides a host of navigation features you would expect to find on a specialist player, such as moving by heading, page, paragraph, sentence, word, character, and by time increments.
The OCR facility is perhaps the Blaze EZ’s most attractive and unique feature. Simply hold the device approximately eight to 10 inches above a document to be scanned. Press the OCR button once to enter the application, and again to take a picture. The 5MP camera identifies the image before processing it into text that is then read out using synthetic TTS, (Text-To-Speech). You can also save these files to read at a later date. An additional accessory pack includes a metal stand on which to position the Blaze EZ for taking pictures, and is very useful if you have a shaky hand, or are struggling to align the camera with the page.
Putting in a WiFi key is very straightforward. When you activate this feature from the home screen, select the network applicable to you. Then use the left or right arrow keys to find which letter or number you wish to insert, and press the round centre button to accept each digit. Use the up and down arrow keys to skip between lower and upper case letters, numbers, and other symbols. When you have entered everything correctly, press and hold down the centre button until you are told that WiFi is connecting.
Setting the time and date only partly works with the latest firmware release. When you choose this from the home screen, you use the up and down arrow keys to skip through hour, minute, date, daylight saving, time format, and time zone etc, and the left and right arrows to choose the increments for each setting. But while the date and time are correct, the time zone defaults back to an American one, and it will not set correctly.
All files with music extensions such as MP3 go into the Music folder by default. While this is fine for music, I found that audio MP3 files are stored in that folder as well. Consequently, if you open a book and start listening to it, then open another book, your place in the first title you opened is lost, taking you back to the beginning again. This does not happen in the Book folder where DAISY files are stored. So if you need to jump between MP3 books, for example, you are going to be very disappointed that they are not holding your last position. You can set bookmarks manually by pressing the centre circular button while listening to a file, and you will be prompted to confirm the bookmark number Blaze EZ has assigned, depending on how many you have already, because they are listed in chronological order.
For me, using the Web Radio was a huge disappointment. Contrary to the manual, there is no list of stations in the folder. There is also no direct search facility to hunt for stations yourself and add them to the folder. What you need to do is connect the Blaze EZ to your computer, search for radio stations on the PC, and copy their URLS for pasting into the Web Radio folder on the Blaze EZ. This is a very clumsy way of adding stations to your device in my view.
Podcasts work similarly. There are no podcast feeds in the list within the Podcast folder, so you need to again connect the Blaze EZ to your computer to find the feed address in order to add it to your list.
I compared the OCR facility with the new K-NFB Reader for the iPhone 5 and later. Scanning the same material on both my phone and Blaze EZ, I found the K-NFB Reader came out on top in terms of both speed and accuracy. I tried a range of letters, leaflets, CDs and packages, holding both devices in my hand, and using the accessory stand for the Blaze EZ. There are also more options for scanning with the K-NFB Reader app, but it was still an interesting comparison, and undoubtedly a very welcome feature on the Blaze EZ.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
I feel that one of Blaze EZ’s big drawbacks is its lack of buttons. Most users are familiar with a telephone-style keypad like the Victor Reader Stream, which can also be used as a text keyboard for making searches. There are also direct keys on a telephone-style keypad for features such as deleting files, battery status, and a Where Am I function, that are not immediately accessible on this unit.
As outlined above, the clock facility needs to be rectified of the bug that clearly exists in setting the time correctly. Similarly, the Web Radio application needs a lot of work to accommodate a more structured way of adding stations, with a simple search facility to look for them on the device.
I was concerned to see that books in MP3 format did not hold their place when more than one title was opened. With more books than ever being available in MP3 format, the need for automatic bookmarking is crucial.
Sound and volume on the Blaze EZ are quite good, while many will be familiar with the Acapela voices of TTS. But I did not like my music files playing at the same speed I set for listening to MP3 books, one of the drawbacks of using the Music folder for everything!
The Blaze EZ accessory pack is probably worth paying the extra £97 for, because it includes the stand, spare battery and charger, remote control and charging cradle. And while the OCR feature works pretty well when held manually, some people would definitely benefit from the stand for better alignment of documents.
When recording, you need to wait two or three seconds once you press the record button and hear Blaze EZ announce “start recording”, before delivering your message. If you speak immediately after the Blaze EZ cue, you will lose two or three seconds of possibly vital information.
For these reasons, I believe the Blaze EZ to be over-priced given its flaws. Yet this could be a really good device if Hims were able to iron out some of the glitches and add more features to some of its applications. It feels like a rushed release of a not completely finished product to me.
Find out what this versatile alternative can do to enhance your Smartphone experience.
THE TELORION TOUCH – SMARTPHONE TECHNOLOGY WITH A TACTILE DIFFERENCE
For those of you who feel you are missing out on Smartphone technology because you simply cannot use a touchscreen, or you are struggling with the Smartphone you already have, then consider the new concept from Telorion. Here’s why.
Telorion is a French company responsible for the development of accessible software written TO WORK ON THE Android platform. The Samsung Galaxy S3 and Galaxy S4 Mini are currently two handsets on which Telorion is loaded with a suite of applications that make it more straightforward for blind or visually impaired people to use. And here is the really good bit: a rubber overlay fits the phone with cut-out holes in it to represent a telephone keypad. This means that someone with little or no sight is able to navigate the screen by placing the tip of a finger in each hole to activate a menu, dial a number, compose a text or Email message, and accomplish such tasks without having to worry about the flat glass screen underneath. The really exciting feature is that when you become more competent at using Telorion, and wish to venture into Android, then the rubber overlay can be removed and you may leave the Telorion environment to explore everything else your Smartphone has to offer.
This review is based on the Galaxy S4 Mini which is slightly smaller in size to the Galaxy S3, but offers almost identical functionality. When you receive your handset, the rubber overlay is already fitted, so once you turn it on, the phone is ready for action!
Telorion offers both speech and magnification versions. This article covers only the speech version from a non-sighted perspective. You may change from one to the other in the Settings menu.
Holding the phone in your hand, the rubber overlay takes up just over half of the S4 Mini screen from the bottom upwards. Above the telephone-style layout are six function keys, or holes, that you use to navigate and implement Telorion actions. These six keys are separated by a raised edge to distinguish the rest of the keypad. And the number five key has a notch on it to further orientate you.
When you turn on the handset by pressing and holding the button on the right side of the phone for roughly three seconds, you will feel some vibrations that indicate Telorion is loading. After approximately 20 seconds, a synthetic voice will announce the current time, and invite you to slide your finger over the remaining portion of the screen that the overlay does not cover. This slide of the finger unlocks your phone. Please note that whenever your handset goes into sleep mode, press the button on the side quickly and slide one finger on the screen above the rubber overlay to open it. You will then hear: “Telorion Home”. You are now ready to begin.
THE HOME BUTTON
There is only one physical button on the touchscreen of the S3 and S4 Mini which the rubber overlay on Telorion makes available at the very bottom beneath the zero key. Get used to pressing the Home button anywhere in Telorion to take you back to its opening screen. Even when using Android without the rubber overlay, use the Home button to take you to the Android Home screen.
THE FUNCTION KEYS
The six function keys above the main telephone keypad comprise, from left to right on the top row: Menu key, Up arrow, and Delete. This last key also allows you to ascertain the WiFi and operator network strength on your handset, battery percentage, whether GPS and Bluetooth are on, and the name of your carrier, all when on the Home screen.
The second row of function keys, from left to right, are: OK/Call button, Down arrow, and Back/End call.
When on the Home screen, each of the following telephone keys represent shortcuts that allow you to directly enter any of Telorion’s applications. These are:
- One – Phone. Here is where you can dial numbers directly and manipulate all your contacts, call logs and Voicemail.
- Two – Text Messages. This section allows you to send, receive, reply to, forward and delete your text messages.
- Three – Emails. Here, you can create an account or add an existing one, compose, send, receive, reply to, forward and delete your Emails.
- Four – Vision Aids. This section comprises an OCR feature that lets you read printed text once you have taken a picture of it; use the Colour identifier; take photos with the camera; or detect a light source.
- Five – Utilities. This menu offers Alarm, GPS, Agenda, Weather, Voice Memos, and Note.
- Six – Multimedia. In this menu, choose from MP3 Player, Book Reader, News, Radio, or Web Browser.
- Seven – Android Applications. You can explore the world of Android if you enter any of the applications listed in this menu. There are several here that come included on your handset as part of Jelly Bean, the Operating System on the device. Any you add from Android yourself will also be listed in this menu which is a very useful way of launching Android from within Telorion. You will never be without speech as Android’s TalkBack system takes over from Telorion when you go to any of the applications in this menu. To return to Telorion, you can either turn off the phone and reboot it – as you will always start in Telorion – or configure the handset to press and hold the Home button.
- Eight – Updates. As time passes, it is expected that Telorion will provide updates to its existing applications, add new ones, or make system upgrades available. Enter this menu to check regularly to see what improvements and additions are available.
- Nine – Settings. You can enter this menu to customise your Telorion. Choose from Connections, (this is where you can add your home WiFi if you have it, Bluetooth, or turn on Airplane mode); Android Interactions, (you can turn on the Home Button here to allow you to opt between Telorion and Android). Other menu options include Languages and Vocalisation, Keyboard, Screen and Security, Sound and Volume, Date and Time, and About. Change from speech to magnification in About, but bear in mind that doing so causes speech to be switched off.
- Star – announces the time and date.
- Hash – tells you if you have any notifications such as missed calls, new text messages, or unread Emails.
If you prefer, you may use the up and down arrows to navigate to any of the above options, followed by OK.
I was quite sceptical about how this concept would work when I first heard about it. But having used it considerably for the purposes of this review, however, I have come to love it. While I personally use an iPhone, and have got used to touchscreen technology, I still do not find it easy to interrogate my handset while on the move, or when in a noisy environment. It means that answering a call, or experimenting with GPS, can be a real nuisance and quite tricky when you have so little tactile feedback on a Smartphone. But using Telorion with its direct shortcut keys and tactile feedback has taken away my existing frustrations. And instead of texting on a touchscreen qwerty keyboard, Telorion allows you to input data in the traditional telephone-style method by using number 2 for A, B, or C, number 3 for D, E, or F, etc.
Apart from using the phone, texting and adding my Email account, I have also enjoyed using Telorion’s Book Reader. This is fully DAISY compatible, and allows you to add bookmarks, speed up the reading voice, and jump to sections of the book. This is something I have not liked about using my iPhone, because it is necessary to go through iTunes to put a talking book onto the device. With Android, you simply connect the phone to your PC using the cable supplied, and the S3 or S4 Mini will come up in Windows Explorer as an external drive. You can then copy and paste your books into the Telorion Book folder on the handset.
You may add music to the Music folder on the phone in the same way, then opt to play it by artist, album, or genre, in the conventional manner that most players handle MP3 files. Again, no iTunes! in fact, there is no software required for your computer at all, just connect the micro USB cable to your handset at one end – taking care of the pins as you do so – and inserting the other end into the USB port on your PC. The S3 and S4 Mini also allow you to add memory with micro SD cards up to 64GB, so you have plenty of storage options to play with.
The OCR feature of Telorion is really very good, and allows you to scan print by taking a picture of text by holding the phone approximately eight to nine inches above the document. I think the accuracy of OCR using Telorion is every bit as good as K-NFB Reader on a Symbian 60 Nokia handset ever was.
GPS in our area is very difficult to evaluate. We are surrounded by trees and farmland, so accuracy and the level of information obtained can be patchy to say the least. I am told, however, that the GPS app provides lots of feedback in both pedestrian and car modes. For me personally, GPS is not a selling point, and it appears to be that the more rural your area, the less value it has anyway.
Perhaps my favourite feature on Telorion is News. Here, I was delighted to find that Telorion loads the Daily Telegraph, Guardian, or the Independent newspapers. So instead of going to my computer every morning to log into the Talking Newspapers and Magazine Service, I can sit comfortably downstairs and read the Guardian. It is possible to use the up and down arrow keys to jump between articles, and select what to read with the OK key. Similarly, Weather allows me to ascertain a forecast for my area for the next 10 days.
Telorion supports a range of Bluetooth Braille displays, so you have the best of both worlds for reading texts, Emails and other information.
It is nice to know that you can also jump into Android whenever you want to. Removing the rubber overlay is easy. It is elasticated, so just peeling it away from the handset is all that is required. That leaves the entire screen at your disposal once you have launched Android from within Telorion. The two systems interact seamlessly with one another. You are able to return to Telorion by double-pressing the Home button quickly as you can set the phone up to work this way.
WISH LIST AND IMPROVEMENTS
I would like to see both podcast and Twitter facilities added to Telorion as these are popular features that would only enhance the user experience. It would also be useful to have a spirit level, timer and calculator included.
I feel that more work needs to be done to the colour identifier, GPS in car mode, and the radio application. Regarding the latter, it is only possible at present to add stations by URL, not by name or genre. This is therefore only useful if you know the URL to put in.
In order for Telorion to grow in development and popularity, I feel a greater choice of handsets is essential in order to keep up with the demands of change and availability.
DOCUMENTATION AND SUPPORT
The manual for Telorion has been pretty well written. It is available on the phone as a DAISY book, comes on an accompanying CD, or can be downloaded from the Telorion website. Steve Nutt of Computer Room Services is the UK dealer. As always, Steve knows the product very well, and is available for sales and technical support.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
I have been so impressed with the careful way Telorion has been thought out and implemented that I have now purchased an S4 Mini. It will be my secondary handset which I know I will find extremely useful when I need to go out, or simply for leisure purposes. It is lightweight, very responsive, and gives me the option to learn Android as well as Apple’s iOS. Do I believe that Telorion is a backward step now I have mastered a touchscreen handset? No! I have the best of both worlds, and anything that makes my life easier as a blind assistive technology user is fine by me.
If you are thinking of embarking on a Smartphone journey, Telorion is the compromise anyone with doubts over using a touchscreen should consider.
The S3 Telorion package costs £560, and the S4 Mini £500. This includes the handset unlocked to any network fitted with Telorion.
Another mainstream product that allows you to play music and audio files on the cheap!
THE PORTABLE USB PLAYER THAT BRINGS SIMPLICITY – A REVIEW OF THE LAPLOCK TECHNOLOGY BOOMBOX PLUS
My thanks go to British Wireless for the Blind Fund (BWBF) for allowing me the opportunity to take a look at this nifty little device.
For many, specialist DAISY players are expensive and prohibitive. RNIB has also stopped issuing machines with talking book subscriptions. So people are now on the lookout for something small, cheap and tactile that will allow them to listen to a range of audio or music content.
The Boombox Plus, made by LapLock Technology, might just be the perfect solution if all you want to do is listen to your talking newspapers, audio books or music content from a USB memory stick that plugs into the device.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
You receive the Laplock Boombox, standard USB to standard USB cable, and a wall plug.
ORIENTATION AND USE OF THE BOOMBOX
To charge the unit, plug one end of the USB cable into the socket on the mains plug, and the other end into the socket on the rear of the Boombox. The device is 125mm long, by 80mm deep, by 72mm high, and weighs 280g.
With the unit in front of you, there are three tactile oval-shaped buttons along the top. From left to right, these are Back, Play/Pause, and Forward. The USB socket for inserting your memory stick is directly behind the middle button of the three, and is convenient to locate.
On the front of the Boombox Plus is a round dial which can be turned up or down to increase or decrease volume. This knob and the three controls described above are all a high visibility yellow in colour against a brown contrast of the Boombox Plus. At each end of the unit is a small speaker.
At the rear of the unit is a neatly folded telescopic aerial which may be extended if you wish to listen to FM radio on the Boombox. below the aerial to the left is a switch. Move it to the left to turn on the Boombox. If there is no memory stick inserted, the FM radio will come on. If a memory stick is present in the USB socket on top of the Boombox, then the unit defaults to this mode. Press Play to begin listening to your audio or music content. Use the Back and Forward buttons to move through what you are listening to, or hold down either one of these keys to skip through content at a faster rate. When you next insert the USB stick and begin playing content, it will remember where you stopped listening by adding an automatic bookmark.
To the right of the on/off switch on the rear of the Boombox Plus is a 3.5mm socket for you to listen to the device using headphones (not supplied). And to the right of this is the other USB socket which is where you insert one end of the cable to charge the internal battery. The battery itself may be replaced. It is housed underneath the unit.
The FM radio is straightforward to work. Without a memory stick present, turn on the Boombox Plus and press and hold the middle button of the three for a few seconds the first time you use the radio. This will tune the radio to stations it can receive. To move through these stations, press the Back or Forward keys. For better reception, extend the telescopic aerial. There are no presets for you to store your favourite stations on this unit.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
The Boombox Plus has been available for some months now, and is a very simple, tactile unit to operate. In addition to normal MP3 files, it will play DAISY books, but it is important to bear in mind that navigation features found on specialist machines such as BookSense, Milestone, Plextalk and Victor Reader products are not available. But if all you want is a simple device for playing content from a memory stick, then the £30 this device costs is value for money, and portable enough to take around with you.
Read about the 40 cell Braille Edge display from Hims.
TOUCHING THE EDGE OF TECHNOLOGY A REVIEW OF THE HIMS 40 CELL BRAILLE DISPLAY
As a long time Braille user, I am always keen to try out new refreshable displays, and my thanks go to Sight and Sound Technology Ltd for allowing me to evaluate the Hims Braille Edge 40.
I have a BrailleSense Plus 32 note-taker of my own, so am familiar with the Hims range of products and menu structure on their devices. Yet I was still pleasantly surprised by the quality and compact size of the Braille Edge 40 when I handled it for the first time.
The Edge, as I shall refer to it from now on, works under USB or Bluetooth, and is compatible with all screenreaders including Apple’s VoiceOver, and Talkback for Android. It is a light, sturdy unit measuring 31cm long, by 10.2 cm wide, by 2.2 cm high, weighing 785g.
The Edge is not just a Braille display, however. It contains a very nice Perkins-style keyboard for inputting grade one, grade two and computer Braille text. It is also equipped with a suite of built-in applications, the most useful of which is probably Notepad. Here, you can read documents in BRF, RTF, TXT, DOC and DOCX formats, and save anything you write as BRF, RTF or TXT files. One of my favourite features of this device is the fact it has an SDHC card slot, which means you can take thousands of documents with you as storage capacity goes up to 32gb.
MEETING THE EDGE
Placing the Edge on a flat surface, or on your lap, the 40 Braille cells run along the front of the device, with a corresponding cursor routing button for each cell above. The Edge is white with contrasting black keys. At each end of the display are two square-shaped buttons, one above the other. These keys are for navigating within a document you are reading.
Above the cursor routing buttons are eight long buttons, four positioned either side of the space-bar. From left to right, these buttons are: Escape, Tab, Control, Alt, Shift, Insert, Windows, and Applications. You can deduce from these buttons that it is possible to use the Edge as an input device on the computer if you prefer Braille to qwerty.
In the middle of the unit are the recognisable nine Perkins-style keys. At each end of the keys are four arrow buttons that have been arranged in a circle. These are also used for navigation within menus and applications. Positioned above the right circle of arrow keys are two LED indicators for battery and Bluetooth status.
On the left side of the Edge is a switch which is pushed towards you if you want to work with the device in USB mode, or away from you when the unit is in Bluetooth mode. A Braille letter B indicates where the switch should be for Bluetooth. Below the switch is the SD card slot.
At the rear of the Edge are two small recesses. The Reset button is roughly a third of the way along the back of the device, and using your thumb or fingernail should invoke the button to be pressed if the unit locks up. An even smaller recess is further along on the right. You would need to use a paper-clip to press the Hard Reset button here in situations where nothing is happening to your display, and a normal reset does not yield a result.
On the right side of the Edge is a round socket for the power supply, and a mini USB port. Interestingly, you can attach a mouse to this socket for use within the Edge’s suite of applications.
Finally, on the front side of the unit is a small square button. Press and hold this for a second or two to turn on or off the Edge.
USING THE BRAILLE EDGE 40
I used the Edge with JAWS, Window-Eyes, and Mountain Lion on an iMac, all under a USB connection. The automatic installation of the Braille Edge 40 driver on the Windows platform gave me some difficulty to begin with as it seems you need to install the Window-Eyes driver before the JAWS driver for the device to be recognised. Having resolved this issue satisfactorily with Sight and Sound’s Technical Support team, however, the rest of my evaluation progressed seamlessly. I also paired the Edge with my iPhone 5 using iOS 7 under Bluetooth, and this worked a treat. It also works on the Android platform if you have BrailleBack installed.
When turned on, the main menu on the Edge comprises the following: Notepad, Terminal For Screen Reader, Applications, Options, and Information. Notepad will only open if you have an SD card inserted, as this is where the application obtains its memory. Notepad is a very acceptable tool; you can read, write, copy and paste, as well as manipulate folders and files.
Terminal Mode is where the device needs to be if you are using the Edge is a Braille display under USB or Bluetooth. If you know you are going to be using the device more as a display, you can set it to start in Terminal Mode when the Edge is powered.
Applications contains the following programs: Calculator, Alarm, Date and Time, Stopwatch, Countdown, and Scheduler. I am assuming that Notepad is a stand-alone application on the main menu itself because you require the insertion of an SD card, and because it allows you to jump between Terminal Mode and Notepad when you are using the device as a Braille display.
Options provides various settings relating to the Edge that you can customise to suit your preference. And Information offers details of your SD card, battery status, Bluetooth, and software version.
The internal rechargeable battery on the Edge lasts more than 20 hours, though this is subject to usage and Bluetooth connectivity. It will charge in approximately four hours. There is also context sensitive help available on the Edge, and the documentation is self-explanatory. Finally, the device comes in a protective soft case with detachable shoulder strap for carrying.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
This is a really lovely unit, and I took an instant liking to it. The Edge is lightweight and compact with nice ergonomic buttons. The keyboard is beautiful to write on, with springy, quiet keys that are a joy to use. The Braille display is very comfortable to work with, and I found myself reading for long periods without discomfort in my fingers.
As expensive and prohibitive as Braille devices still are, the Edge is perhaps more affordable than most, and value for money in the context of Braille technology. It costs £2,095 without VAT, and is available from Sight and Sound Technology, 01604 798070.
This is definitely on my wish list, simply one of the nicest and most user-friendly Braille displays I have come across.
Discover why the U2 Mini PDA from Hims is one of my favourite pieces of assistive kit.
U2 MAY MEET THE MINI – A REVIEW OF THE HIMS PORTABLE BRAILLE NOTETAKER
My thanks go to Sight and Sound Technology Ltd for allowing me the opportunity to review this portable Braille notetaker from the Hims range.
The U2 Mini is the latest portable Braille notetaker from manufacturer Hims to hit the assistive technology world, and your ever present gizmo enthusiast is back with the low-down on their new kid on the block.
The Mini, as I shall refer to it from now on, is a small rectangular box packed with plenty to help you achieve a range of tasks, optimising your efficiency, and keeping you entertained wherever you happen to be.
Weighing just 427kg including battery, the Mini measures 10.8cm wide, by 1.8cm high, by 4.8cm deep. Replacing the BrailleSense OnHand, the U2 Mini not only has a new name, but is now lighter and faster, with better battery life and more features.
EXPLORING THE MINI
The Mini comes with 18 Braille cells which are situated on the top front edge of the machine. Immediately behind the display area are 18 routing buttons for manipulating the cursor. At each end of the display are two small square buttons situated one above the other. These buttons are for reading through your document and other items on the Mini. Above the cursor routing buttons are four long buttons, two either side of the space bar. From left to right, these are: F1 – takes you from anywhere on the Mini to the Main Menu . F2 – acts as the Alt key, and the Menu key within programs. F3 – used as the Tab key, or the shift tab when pressed with the spacebar. F4 – this is the Escape key. The remainder of the top of the Mini is given over to the Perkins-style Braille keyboard.
On the left side of the Mini is a three-way switch. When the switch is towards you, the unit is unlocked. When the switch is in the middle, the top panel of the device is locked. And in the furthest away position, the entire unit is locked. These variations are useful while travelling or when using GPS, for example. The USB port and power outlet are also on the left side of the unit. You may connect a memory stick or external drive to the Mini USB socket.
The Reset button is located at the rear of the device near the right end. You can press this if your machine locks up or is not responding to usual commands.
On the right side of the Mini, an SD card slot enables you to add extra memory to the built-in 32gb, with the capacity for a further 32gb of storage. Microphone and headphone 3.5 sockets are also found here.
There are several small buttons along the front of the Mini which have a slightly different feel and operation, depending on which mode you are in. From left to right, the first is a small switch which slides across in three increments. Furthest to the left puts the Mini in Radio Mode. Pushing it once to the right presents DAISY Mode. And moving the switch to the right sets the Mini in Media Mode. The next series of buttons all control the media functions, so once you select which mode you want the Mini to be in, the following buttons work accordingly: left arrow or back, record, stop, play/pause, and right arrow or forward. Finally, the power button, at the right end of the same row, is a spring slider. You move this to the right to turn on or off the machine. Simply flick it with your finger to the right for one second and release it.
The Mini comes with two rechargeable batteries and separate charger that last approximately nine hours each. The battery compartment is underneath the unit, so you need to remove the Mini from its sturdy case. There is a small switch that needs to be pushed one way before you then slide and release the cover latch to reveal the battery.
The unit is also fully WiFi and Bluetooth compatible, and has a built-in compass and GPS receiver. The Sense Navigation software is an optional extra, but it is possible to use Google Maps as an alternative on the device.
USING THE MINI
The Mini is equipped with a sophisticated suite of applications to accomplish most tasks. Its Word Processor allows you to create, edit and read documents in BRF, BRL, TXT, RTF, DOC and DOCX formats. The keyboard is also quiet and springy to write on. There is an Email client, Web Browser, Social Networking tools including Twitter, Dropbox and Messenger. You can keep a busy diary and address book, and even create a simple database.
The onboard Help section has a dedicated file for each application, as well as context sensitive help by pressing space with H at any time. And the Mini is an entertainment centre too, with full DAISY reader, Media player and FM radio, as well as a couple of games. Supported media files include: MP3, WAV, MP4, ASF, OGG, WMA, M3U, Audible (AA and AAX), WMV, FLAC, and MID. You can also make voice notes or recordings using the built-in microphone in either MP3 or WAV formats.
There are several useful utilities to be had, including calculator, stopwatch, alarm function, and Terminal for Screen Reader, which turns the Mini into a Braille display when connected to your computer.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
As with all Hims products, I absolutely love the size and usability of the Mini. Some of the applications like the games are just extra bells and whistles that I could frankly live without, and the database is very limited. But the word processor, Twitter, WiFi, file management and other applications more than make up for any discrepancies. The unit is responsive and has a lovely Braille keyboard to write on quickly and discreetly. It would be nice to see better battery life without having to swap cells, but at least there are two of these included in the price, and you can charge one separately and have it replenished when the other is in use on the Mini.
The U2 Mini is sold in the UK by both Sight and Sound Technology Ltd, and RNIB, for £3,474 including VAT, or £2,895 if you are entitled to VAT exemption. Contact Sight and Sound Technology Ltd on 01604 798070.
If purchasing from RNIB, the product code is HT314. You can contact RNIB on 0303 1239999.
Here, I find out how well this OCR scanning package works on the PC.
INTRODUCING THE READIT AIR – A REVIEW OF A SPEEDY SCANNING SOLUTION
My sincere thanks go to Ellis Ellis of Visionaid Technologies for allowing me the opportunity to review this package.
WHAT IS READIT AIR?
Readit Air is a PC scanning package that uses a 5mp camera to quickly take pictures of yourdocumentation. The Readit software converts these images into text, and speedily reads it out using the familiar Vocalizer voices such as English Daniel and Serena. Packages like K1000 and Open Book are well known in the access technology community, but Readit Air has to be the fastest and most accurate software that I have tested to date with a camera rather than a flatbed scanner.
The Readit Air package comprises a 5mp camera, USB keypad, drawstring bag for carrying the camera, contrast mat and positioning guide, over-the-ear headphones, USB cables, and documentation in print and on the Readit software installation CD. If you are planning to use Readit Air on a laptop, the USB keypad has been conveniently designed and provided for quick access to the Readit software, though using a regular keyboard is perfectly accessible. The keypad has a set of tactile colour contrast buttons for easy navigation.
GETTING STARTED WITH READIT AIR
The camera for Readit Air is extremely simple to unpack and attach to your computer. Stand it with the widest end at the bottom, and the USB port at the back. Pull the front part of the camera away and up gently so that it is pointing towards you. When not in use, you can fold the arm away again by pushing it down and back to its base. Connect the lead with a square end on it to the camera, and the standard USB at the other end to your computer.
Installing the Readit software is very straightforward. Simply insert the CD, and follow all the prompts until the installation is complete. When you run the software for the first time, you will be asked to validate your licence and Voice Pack. When you use Readit Air after that, you can launch the program without having to worry about registration or activation.
If you wish, you can connect the Readit keypad provided to your computer or laptop via USB, but it isn’t a necessity to do so. If you have a screenreader on your computer, you may either unload it while Readit Air is running, or you can create a profile so that your screenreader goes silent while the Readit package is active.
To take a picture of your text, simply press the enter key, and you will hear a shutter click that a camera makes. Almost immediately, Readit analyses the images and begins to read your document.
As with all PC-based packages, you can read your document by character, word, sentence, line, paragraph and page. Readit Air also has some nice contrast and magnification features that allow those with residual vision to change the background and size of the text. You can save your documents, import and export them, and use the Readit dictionary.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
I installed the Readit software on an Acer Aspire with an I5 processor and 8gb of RAM to carry out my evaluation. I found the software very easy and friendly to navigate. I tried scanning a variety of texts and leaflets including some packaging and talking books with very good results.
I have K1000 and Open Book with an Opticbook 3600 scanner on my computer, but found Readit Air very comparable to these solutions. In fact, the advantage of a camera over a regular scanner is that you can scan boxes and cylindrical items much easier than on a flatbed device. You don’t have the lid of the scanner to worry about with a camera, and taking pictures is much quicker than waiting for the camera head to pass back and forth on a flatbed unit. But the Readit software does support a flatbed scanner too. Readit Air is very portable, and carrying the camera inside a laptop bag to have your scanner on the go with you is a real advantage, particularly for students wishing to access a library.
For information, the Readit software is also built into the ReadEasy Move stand-alone device which I reviewed recently.
The entire Readit Air package costs £1,495. This, of course, is the big disadvantage over a flatbed scanner with compatible software like K1000 or Open Book, and even mainstream products like OmniPage or Abby Fine Reader. At present, camera-based packages cost considerably more, but speed and accuracy are definitely the order of the day if you take this route. Nevertheless, the Readit software can be bought on its own if you already have a flatbed scanner for £545.00. And the Readit Air package can be purchased without the keypad for £1,295.00.
For the Braille lovers among us, it is my understanding that full Braille support will be available in version 4 when it is released. Users can currently export a document to their notetaker as a TXT file though.
For further information, or to request a demonstration, contact Visionaid Technologies on 01775 711977, or visit Their web site.
This is a useful mainstream device that works in conjunction with your Smartphone or computer.
OPENING THE SEAGATE TO WIRELESS ACCESS – THE 1TB LIBRARY IN YOUR HAND
I am not alone in my dislike of Apple’s iTunes, and recently came across a product that seemed to fit the bill for bypassing the software to play my music library on an iOS device.
The Seagate Wireless Access is a small external hard drive that allows you to copy music, videos, photos and documents between it and iOS or Android using the Seagate Media app. Furthermore, the Wireless Access runs on battery for up to 10 hours, and connects wirelessly to your network and Apple or Android device. This means that no Internet connection is required, and you do not need to use a data plan either. The great benefit of the Seagate Wireless Access is that it bypasses iTunes, allowing you to transfer music, or stream it on the go. Android, Windows and Mac users are not left out either as this product works across all platforms.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
As well as the Seagate Wireless Access, the box contains a wall plug with a USB to 3.5 lead for charging the product. There is also a lead for connection between your PC or Mac and the Seagate Wireless Access should you wish to transfer data this way. Note that when using the connection lead for transferring data, wireless on the Seagate is automatically turned off.
The manual is pretty self-explanatory, and there is plenty of help available from within the Seagate Media app itself. The app also updates the firmware of the Seagate Wireless Access when the drive is turned on.
SO HOW DOES IT WORK?
Download the free Seagate Media app from the App or Play Store. Once you turn on the Seagate Wireless Access, go to Settings on your device, and choose WiFi. The Seagate should come up in the list of available networks, so tap to connect. Now open the Seagate Media app, and it should see your Seagate Wireless Access. Here, it is possible to use the device as a pass-through so you can use your own network as well. Alternatively, you can simply use the Seagate Wireless Access if you do not want the outside world to come between you and your streaming session.
There are already designated folders on the Seagate drive with Sample music, videos, photos and documents. I placed all my music – which is contained neatly in various folders – within the Music folder on the drive. You can just put your data into the root of the drive without using the offered structure though.
When the Seagate Media app sees the drive, you can confidently play music, videos, look at photos, or read documents. You can create playlists, or transfer content between the Seagate Wireless Access and your Apple or Android device. Its reasonable battery life lets you take this drive with you as it is small and lightweight. And the big plus for me is that I can play all my music without having to open iTunes and manoeuvre my way through its somewhat clunky structure.
PRICING AND CONCLUSION
I purchased the 1tb Seagate Wireless Access from Amazon, currently priced at £139.99. I found it relatively straightforward to configure with the Seagate Media app, though some of the labels in the app are not particularly well defined with VoiceOver. Nevertheless, once you browse it, you soon become familiar with each section.
The Seagate Wireless Access now offers me plenty of room for my ever-expanding music collection that I can take with me on the go or in and around my home. No more importing music to iTunes, I can stream music to my iPad Mini with satisfaction!
Of course there are cheaper ways of streaming music on the go, or transferring content between your devices. But the Seagate Wireless Access offers me the flexibility and convenience with greater storage capacity that is certainly worthy of its price tag. And there are larger capacities available in the Seagate range of products.
My thanks go to British Wireless for the Blind Fund, (BWBF), for allowing me the opportunity to review this product.
If you are in the market for a new portable radio, then you might wish to consider the Play from Roberts.
The Play is a portable DAB/FM radio with built-in battery charger and five presets for each band. All tactile buttons are located on the front right portion of the radio. A built-in speaker occupies the left portion on the front of the device.
The radio is white with grey buttons, but Roberts have brightened up this particular model with a set of funky Bumpers that can be put on when purchased separately. The Bumpers are rubberised, and go round the outside edge of the set. These colourful creations have been designed to help to contrast the colour of the radio for those with residual vision. You can choose from a range of eight colours.
HOW TO MAKE IT PLAY
Lie the Play on its back with speaker and buttons facing up. Extend the telescopic aerial to its maximum. There are three sockets on the left side of the radio, the mains outlet being nearest the bottom. The sockets above the mains outlet are headphones and software upgrade port, respectively. If you use headphones, not supplied, you will receive a stereo signal where one is applicable.
Once the unit has power, find a small round button just below the display on the front near the right end of the radio, then press and hold for approximately one second. You will not hear any sound for several seconds because tuning for all available DAB stations is in progress when used for the first time. Once the radio is tuned, it defaults to the last station used when turned on.
Your radio should soon begin to Play, and you are now ready to explore your new device. First familiarise yourself with its 14 buttons. The power on/off button is a little different to the rest as it is not only the smallest, but is slightly indented.
From the right edge on the front of the Play, slide your finger left until you come across two round buttons, one above the other. These are your tuning up and down buttons for both DAB and FM. to the left of these, slightly overlapping, are the enter and power on/off buttons, respectively. When you use the tuning buttons to move up and down the band, you press the enter key to accept the station when on DAB. The remainder of the buttons go in a line across the front of the radio in two banks of five. The bottom row comprises presets which you can choose for five favourite stations each on DAB and FM. To store a favourite station, simply find the one you want, then press and hold the preset for approximately five seconds. Repeat this exercise until you have filled all five presets with a favourite station. You follow the same procedure when using the FM band.
The five buttons above the presets, from left to right, are: DAB/FM toggle, Automatic Tuning, Info, Volume Down, and Volume Up. The Info button, when pressed, displays details such as station name, signal strength, and song name (if applicable).
The battery compartment is located at the rear of the radio. It can hold four AA batteries, and these may be alkaline or rechargeable cells. If you put rechargeable batteries into the Play, you can automatically recycle the charge by connecting the mains lead. There is a small switch just on the ledge of the inside of the battery compartment. It is essential that you ensure the switch is in the correct position when you wish to charge your batteries. If you are not sure which way the switch goes, your safest course is to run the radio on the mains without batteries until you are sure you have the switch in the right place, and that the batteries are rechargeable.
Just above the battery compartment is a sliding lock switch. This allows you to lock the Play and avoid any key presses when the radio is in transit. The switch is in the unlocked mode when pushed down.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
This is a very nice portable radio from Roberts. It has basic functionality on both DAB and FM, but a pleasant sound, and perfect for listening to around or outwith the home. The Bumpers are a nice added touch to help those with some useful sight contrast their radio. In fact, As the Play perfectly fits the bill for what I have been looking for in a portable set, I decided to buy it!
The Roberts Play can be purchased from British Wireless for the Blind Fund, (BWBF), 01622 754757, for £60.00, plus £7.50 postage and packaging. The Bumpers are an additional £9.99 each.
Some portable mainstream headphones that are worth a listen. Find out about bone conduction technology here.
MAKING NO BONES ABOUT IT – USING THE AFTERSHOKZ WIRED OR BLUETOOTH HEADPHONES WITH YOUR PORTABLE DEVICE
Whether you own a Smartphone, tablet or other portable device, one accessory you may wish to consider is a pair of AfterShokz bone conducting wired or Bluetooth headphones, and here is why.
The AfterShokz bone conducting headphones are different from regular listening sets because they don’t sit in or over your ears. You actually wear them in front of your ears, on your cheek bones. The bone conducting technology makes it possible to hear the sound without your ears being covered at all, and is therefore a perfect way for someone with little or no sight to walk around without compromising their spacial awareness, particularly when outdoors.
As I use a Victor Reader Stream for listening to audio books, I decided to purchase the wired variety of AfterShokz headphones to accommodate any non-Bluetooth device. The AfterShokz come in a nice zip-up case and comprise the bone conducting headphones and USB charging cable. The headphones are made of strong plastic, the band of which goes behind your head. Halfway along the cable leading from the left earpiece is a small box. A round power button turns the headphones on or off, Up and down buttons enable you to adjust the volume of the headphones, and a small cover protects the USB port for charging the set. A tiny LED indicator flashes every so many seconds to tell you that the power is on. The 3.5mm jack at the end of the cable allows you to plug the AfterShokz into your device. You can charge the headphones via your PC, or using a plug that fits a universal standard USB cable.
Being thoroughly pleased with the wired AfterShokz, I decided to purchase the Bluez variety, as they are known, so that I could pair them with my iPhone or other Bluetooth device. Again, the AfterShokz Bluez come in a nice zip-up case with the familiar mini to standard USB cable for charging them.
The Bluez are heavier than the wired AfterShokz, primarily because the technology is incorporated into the headband that again goes round the back of your head. On each headphone is a button that you use during calls on your Apple or Android device. The small slider switch to turn on or off the Bluez is on the headband, along with the up and down volume button, and cover that protects the USB port.
When you power the Bluez, a female voice announces: “Power on”, followed by a pause, then a “Pairing” message. Provided you have Bluetooth turned on in the device you are using, your AfterShokz Bluez headphones should pair seamlessly, and you ought to receive feedback from your phone or other device through the headphones. When you flick the switch to turn off the Bluez, a battery level announcement is given, followed by a bleep. During a phone conversation, a press of the button on the left headphone ends the call, while a press of the button on the right headphone mutes the call.
So that I could use the Bluez with a non-Bluetooth device in addition to my wired AfterShokz, I purchased a Bluetooth adaptor. This pairs easily with the Bluez headphones, and comprises a 3.5mm jack on a short cable with a tiny box at the other end. The box has a power button on it, and a mini USB port for charging its internal battery. So, when you turn on both the Bluez headphones and the accompanying adaptor, the two will pair, and the voice on the Bluez headphones announces: “Audio device connected”.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
Whichever pair you go for, these headphones will revolutionise your listening experience wherever you use them. They are excellent for listening to GPS instructions while outside, for example, as your ears are open to the environment around you without being compromised. I would say that these headphones are far better suited to audio book listening than music, but this is of course subjective.
The Bluez are slightly heavier headphones than the wired AfterShokz, and feel tighter and less comfortable on me for prolonged use. They are not really suitable for using while lying down either, as the headband goes behind your head. Both flavours of the AfterShokz do have some sound leakage, or bleeding, which means they can be heard by others sitting near or around you. While this is not a problem for me, it is worth making the point if you are listening to something private.
That said, however, I love owning both varieties, and using them in different situations. Operating the Bluez while on the phone is really convenient, and works well for both parties during a conversation.
Bluetooth connectivity on this version is excellent with no lagging or dropout that I have been aware of. You can use them within an approximate range of 30 feet. And both sets of headphones do enjoy a good battery life, depending on usage, with charging time of approximately three hours.
I purchased my AfterShokz wired headphones from Sight and Sound Technology for £59.95, 01604 798 070.
I bought the Bluez variety from HumanWare Europe for £132.45. This includes postage, and a separate Bluetooth adaptor that enables me to connect them to a wired device such as Trekker Breeze or a Victor Reader Stream, for example. When ordering, specify whether you want the additional Bluetooth adaptor. Contact 01933 415 800.
Alternatively, you can purchase these headphones from
It is always worthwhile shopping around for the best deals.
BOXED OFF – A REVIEW OF THE ROBERTS CONCERTO 2
The partnership between British Wireless for the Blind Fund (BWBF) and Roberts has existed for many years to bring accessible radios to blind and visually impaired people. And one device that provides an extensive variety of listening media is the Concerto 2.
Measuring 420mm wide, by 150mm high, by 265mm deep, and weighing 3.24kg, the Concerto 2 is one of the most versatile radios on the market. It features FM and DAB wavebands with five presets for each, a CD player, cassette recorder, and USB and SD card capabilities. High visibility yellow tactile controls contrast against a charcoal background. And an adjustable audio tone can be heard while tuning the radio on FM to indicate the position of the wave-band.
EXPLORING THE CONCERTO 2
Standing the radio on a flat surface, its speaker grills are positioned on the front at each end, with a large LCD display and cassette compartment situated in the middle. Above the left speaker are five preset buttons that allow you to store favourite radio stations, five on each wave-band. To the right of these is a row of chunky tactile buttons just above the display which operate the cassette-recorder. A small round button on the left of the display allows you to zoom in on information such as clock, signal strength, and station name. On the right of the LCD are two triangular-shaped buttons positioned above each other that provide tuning modes, and a further small round button to the left of the lower triangle is the confirm or enter button. The section of controls above the right speaker operate the CD player, allowing you to skip up and down , repeat, or play/pause and stop the device. It is also possible to insert a bookmark by pressing the stop button once.
Behind the presets on the top left of the Concerto 2 is a 3.5mm external microphone socket. Attach an external microphone (not supplied) to achieve the best results when using the cassette-recorder facility. If you want to use the unit’s internal microphone, speak closely to the Concerto 2. To the right of this is a large round volume button with a tactile dot on the top and an indented portion on its side. A small indented button is to the right of the volume which adjusts the tone of the radio. Behind the volume knob is a selector switch. When it is positioned towards the left end of the radio, it is in tape or off mode. Slide it once to the right for the CD, to the right again for either SD card or USB memory stick, and fully to the right for radio.
In the middle of the Concerto 2, behind the controls for the cassette-recorder, is a lid which lifts up to reveal the CD player. A small grip is on the front right edge of the lid which you can grasp to raise it. To the rear of the CD lid is a large folding carry handle, and a telescopic aerial tucks neatly behind this.
On top to the right end of the radio is a slider switch which flicks left for DAB, and right for FM. Behind this switch are two sockets, one for an SD card, and the other for a USB memory stick.
A 3.5mm headphone socket is situated on the left side of the radio, while A rotary knob on the right side of the unit adjusts the audio level of an audible signal emitted as you scan the FM wave-band.
The Concerto2 takes six D-type batteries, housed in an accessible compartment at the back of the radio. The power socket is close to this at the rear near the left end.
USING THE CONCERTO 2
Once the radio is powered, pull up the telescopic aerial. Slide the selector switch on top of the radio at the left side to the right. Ensure that the wave-band switch on top at the right end is pushed to the left for DAB, and your unit will begin scanning for available digital stations. When you find a station you wish to set as one of your favourites, press any of the five designated presets and hold until you hear the radio emit an audible beep. This indicates that the station has been saved.
When you have finished tuning DAB, flick the selector switch to the right for FM, and use the up and down buttons to tune in your FM stations. When you save stations using the same five preset buttons, hold down the designated preset until you hear the same audible confirmation beep that your station has been stored. When you move along the FM wave-band, you can either short press the triangular tuning buttons, or long press them. When a long press is invoked, you will hear the audible pitch increase or decrease, depending on which way you scan for stations.
This radio has the ability to play MP3 and WMA audio files placed on CD, an SD card or USB memory stick. It will play files that have been grouped into folders within folders. The unit will also remember the last position played on CD, SD and USB media.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
BWBF originally sent me the Concerto 2 radio to review. But I was so suitably impressed with its features that I decided to buy it, and it now occupies a corner in my kitchen. DAB and FM have strong pull-in, something that I have struggled to achieve with any clarity on my existing sets. Some of you might find the cassette-recorder useful for those old tapes now gathering dust, while there is an opportunity to listen to music and other audio on CD, SD card and USB memory. Although the Concerto 2 cannot be described as possessing hifi quality, sound is clear and perfectly pleasant. The unit has a wide base, making it robust and not easy to knock over. Documentation is available in audio, PDF and print formats.
The Concerto 2 is available from BWBF on permanent loan if you meet the criteria, or for purchase at a cost of £191.67 if you are entitled to VAT exemption. An additional £7.50 postage and packaging charge must be added.
So, if you are in the market for an all-rounder, the Concerto 2 has it boxed off! contact BWBF on 01622 754757, or visit their web site.
Read my round-up of some nice accessories to go with your iPhone or Android handset.
GET YOUR TEETH INTO SOME WIRELESS GEAR –
PAIR THESE DEVICES WITH APPLE OR ANDROID
So you have your Apple or Android device, and you now want a couple of Bluetooth accessories to pair with it. Check out some of these to increase your wireless experience.
APPLE WIRELESS KEYBOARD
If you are a touch-screen beginner, one really useful accessory worth purchasing is a Bluetooth keyboard, and there are literally dozens to choose from. While mine is Apple’s own offering, it also works on Android perfectly well.
The Apple Wireless Keyboard operates 30 feet or so away from your device, and has a sturdy aluminium design. It is approximately 11 by 5 inches, and comes with two AA batteries. It is compatible with Mac, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and iPad Mini. It has great battery life as the unit powers down when not in use. Bluetooth pairing is very straightforward, and only requires a four-digit number to be inserted when you pair it with your device for the first time.
The keys have a nice springy action when typing, though there is no numeric keypad with this unit. It costs £59.99 from the Apple UK web site
Alternatively, you can call Apple UK on 0800 048 0408.
MOBIENCE RIVO BLUETOOTH MINI KEYBOARD
If you are looking for something tiny, particularly for situations where you want to operate your device away from prying eyes, the Mobience RiVO Bluetooth Mini Keyboard might be just the ticket. About the size of a credit card only thicker, the RiVO Bluetooth Mini Keyboard enables you to operate your iPhone or Android device on the move, particularly in situations where you might be using a GPS app. It has a telephone-style keypad with an indented number five. On either side of the numeric keypad are four buttons known as L1 to L4 on the left, and R1 to R4 on the right. A power button is located on the left side of the RiVo, and there is a mini USB port at the bottom for charging the unit. It takes approximately three hours to charge the RiVO, and it lasts on continuous use for 10 hours or so.
As well as moving between apps on your device, the RiVO keyboard lets you type in the familiar text format. An excellent user guide can be found online Here
It is sold in the UK by Steve Nutt of Computer Room Services, 01438 742286
The RiVO costs £80.00, and there are separate keyboards for Apple and Android, so remember to specify which operating system you will be using it with.
This is a neat, tactile keyboard which really suits the purpose for out and about use. It comes supplied with charging cable which you can attach to the PC or standard USB power adaptor. Again, pairing the RiVO with your device is also straightforward
AFTERSHOKZ BONE CONDUCTING HEADPHONES
So you have your keyboard sussed out, but what about a pair of AfterShokz bone conducting headphones to go with it? The AfterShokz come in two varieties, wired or Bluetooth. These headphones are great for those wishing to use their device on the move as the bone conduction technology means you do not wear them over or in your ears like conventional headsets. The AfterShokz sit on the cheekbones just in front of your ears, allowing you to maintain AN ACCUSTOMED level of sound around you which, for most blind and visually impaired people, is a necessity.
The wired AfterShokz Sportz 2 bone conducting headphones have a power button and volume control on the wire, as well as a small belt clip. The Bluetooth model, known as the AfterShokz Bluez, pair with your Apple or Android device without the need for wires, and have a built-in microphone for making and receiving calls on the move.
I bought a pair of the wired variety because I love these headphones for listening across non-Bluetooth devices such as the Victor Reader Stream. But it is feasible to purchase a dongle that will turn your wired AfterShokz into a Bluetooth pair of headphones as well.
In my honest opinion, the AfterShokz range is great for listening to audio books and GPS instructions on your Apple or Android device while out and about, but not for music. The wired pair comes with a mini USB cable that can be connected to any standard USB power adaptor, or the PC. They cost £59.95, and can be purchased from Sight and Sound Technology, 01604 798 070, or HumanWare Europe, 01933 415 800.
The AfterShokz Bluez Bluetooth headphones can also be purchased from the above outlets for £99.95. I have, however, read reports that these headphones are less suitable for those who wear glasses as they get in the way of spectacle frames.
DESAIA BEAT BOX PORTABLE WIRELESS SPEAKER
Finally, if you would like to attach your device to a wireless system, you could not go far wrong with the Desaia Beat Box Bluetooth speaker. It is a small cube shaped unit with stereo sound coming from the left and right sides of the box. There is a tactile circle on top of the speaker which can be pressed at the 9, 12, 3, and 6 o’clock positions, and in the centre, to control the device. The nice aspect of the Desaia is that it can be used on Bluetooth, but with a supplied cable across non-Bluetooth devices as well. Functionality when it is wired, however, is not possible for previous and next track, and volume up or down increments.
The market is literally flooded with a wide range of Bluetooth accessories for your Apple or Android device, depending on your budget and preference. I am using the above products, so am therefore able to recommend them. Once paired, it is usually not necessary to go through the process each time as these goodies should be seen in your list of Bluetooth devices, and you are able to use more than one Bluetooth gadget at a time.
Discover my verdict on this neat little OCR box of tricks.
READEASY GETS YOU ON THE MOVE – A REVIEW OF VISIONAID’S LATEST PORTABLE OCR SCANNING DEVICE
There are now several Optical Character Recognition (OCR) scanning devices on the market that come in various shapes, sizes and prices. Some can be attached to a computer via the USB interface. Additional software programs then capture the scanned images and convert them to text. And there are stand-alone units that have the software and speech engine built-in, allowing you to scan and read away from the computer environment.
As Martin and I were looking for something small, fast and accurate that we could use away from the PC, we tried various devices to see what might suit our needs. We eventually settled on Visionaid’s latest portable device, the ReadEasy Move, and here’s why.
The ReadEasy Move is a small, stand-alone device that is well built yet lightweight to take around. It measures 7.6, by 3.1, by 8.3 inches, or 192, by 78, by 210mm. It weighs 4.0lbs, or 1.80kg. The unit is black with contrasting colour buttons described below.
WHAT IS IN THE BOX?
A standard box contents comprises the ReadEasy Move, detachable camera arm, power cord, over-the-ear headphones with in-line volume control, audio CD manual, print documentation, and a durable high contrast mat.
You can purchase additional items for the ReadEasy Move which include three different types of feature pack for enhanced use of the device, and a carry case. We did not opt to purchase any of these items as the standard box contents described above meets our needs.
GETTING TO KNOW YOUR READEASY MOVE
When you take the ReadEasy Move out of its packaging, stand the unit on a flat surface so that its two speaker grills on the front are facing you. The ReadEasy Move slopes down at the top where its controls and camera arm are situated.
On the top of the device, at the left end, is a connection into which the camera arm needs to be inserted. This white arm is hinged at the top so that one end fits into the ReadEasy Move, while the other contains the 5mp camera. The arm only goes into the device one way, and stands vertically once inserted. You simply pull the camera up and into a horizontal position so that the arm points towards you when you want to scan something.
Once this is done, plug the power cord into the other half of the charger, and connect it to the ReadEasy Move. The power socket is on the bottom left corner at the back of the machine. A raised circle will help you identify where the socket is.
When you are ready, turn on the ReadEasy Move. The silver power button is located on the right side of the unit near the top. It is a small round button that you just need to press once. Impressively, the device boots up in approximately 15 seconds, and announces: “ReadEasy is now ready”. When shutting down the machine, just press the on/off button again, and hear the unit say: “ReadEasy is now shutting down, goodbye”.
There are few controls to learn on the ReadEasy Move, making this a simple device to use. To the right of the camera arm, there are two round blue buttons, one above the other. They increase or decrease the reading speed of your document, respectively. Pressed together, this combination will change the reading voice selection. The ReadEasy Move is equipped with the Nuance Vocaliser text-to-speech (tts) engine, so you have familiar voices like Daniel, Serena, Karen, Lee, and others to choose from. Daniel remains the menu voice no matter what reading voice you choose.
To the right are three buttons, two of which are grey in colour, and curved with slight indentations on the top to resemble arrows. These buttons allow you to read your scanned text word by word. Between these arrow keys is a round blue button which pauses and resumes reading your scanned text.
The final button on the top of the machine is the long oblong-shaped scan key which is green in colour. Press this button once to scan your document. You will hear an audible click which indicates the camera is taking a picture, then Daniel will announce: “recognising text”, and proceeds to read. It takes an impressive six seconds or so to start reading from the push of the scan button. If held down for a couple of seconds, the scan key goes into column mode, enabling you to scan tabulated correspondence like bank statements.
On the right side of the ReadEasy Move, you will find several ports that allow you to connect the machine to an external monitor, or attach one of the three feature packs mentioned above. These add-ons are not described in this article, but include lots of features such as saving text, reading text in smaller or larger chunks, scanning multiple pages, and making adjustments to font and text size for those with residual vision. The unit also houses two USB ports so you can use a memory stick for saving or opening documents if you have a feature pack, and upgrading the machine to run the latest firmware.
The white volume control is situated on the right side of the device, towards the front edge. It slides up and down to increase or decrease the volume, respectively. The 3.5mm headphone socket lies at the bottom right edge of the unit, just below the volume slider.
USING THE READEASY MOVE
To obtain the best results from a scan, place the ReadEasy Move on the supplied durable contrast mat. Four corners have been cut out of the cardboard-type material so the machine stands on it, leaving a large area slightly bigger than A4 size for scanning. Documents should be placed in landscape mode in front of the unit, aligning your item with the right edge of ReadEasy Move. Make sure the arm of the camera has been pulled out into its horizontal position so the lens looks down onto the document below. And away you go!
In our view, this is the fastest stand-alone scanning device on the market, and it is pretty accurate too. It uses some of the latest electronics, including an Intel processor, and OmniPage scanning software. We find it particularly helpful to have the ReadEasy Move for downstairs use. It is great to pick up our letters and talking books in the morning and identify who the items are for without having to turn on the computer upstairs and wait for Windows to go through its usual processes before we can launch a scanning program. We can take the ReadEasy Move into the kitchen, plug it in, and identify tins or other items if we prefer, and have discovered that the device is very good at reading small print such as that found on medication labels.
The sound quality on the ReadEasy Move is clear, and the supplied headphones are comfortable to use for private listening.
CONCLUSION AND PRICING
I have never felt able to rave about stand-alone scanning machines before, but the ReadEasy Move does exactly what the blurb claims. It is fast, accurate, and lightweight to move around the home. You can add bells and whistles included in the three feature packs, but for no frills scanning and identifying of mail, packaging and other documents, one press of the scan key is all that is needed.
It would have been nice to see a rechargeable battery included in this device to make it completely portable, and there is no carry handle. But speed and accuracy of the unit, complemented by its aluminium sturdy build, are worth these omissions. The documentation provides all the information you require, including how to use each of the feature packs.
The ReadEasy Move, without case or additional feature packs, costs £1,914.00 including VAT, or £1,595.00 if you are VAT exempt. Add £100.00 to the cost for a specifically designed carry case. Add £100.00 for the keypad feature pack, £200.00 for the low vision pack (no screen), or £329.00 for the low vision pack (with 22 inch screen), and £300.00 for the low vision touch pack (no screen), or £550.00 for the low vision touch pack (with 22 inch screen).
The ReadEasy Move is manufactured and sold in the UK by Visionaid International Ltd, and my advice is to contact them if you would prefer one of the feature packs to go with it, but are not sure which is for you. Get in touch with them on 01775 711977.
If you are looking for something portable and more affordable, have a read of my piece on it first.
HANDS ON! – A REVIEW OF THE SEIKA MINI BRAILLE DISPLAY
My thanks must go to RNIB for allowing me to loan the Seika Mini Braille display in order to compile this review.
As we all know, Braille displays are expensive and, for many, generally prohibitive unless they are purchased through the Access To Work or Disabled Students Allowance schemes. But the Seika Mini is slightly more affordable without compromising on its quality and some very useful features.
To answer the first question posed by many, the Seika Mini costs £899.00. It has 16 refreshable Braille cells, and can be used with all the leading screen readers, such as JAWS, Window-Eyes, NVDA and Supernova, in addition to iOS and Android devices. Housed in a protective leather case, the Seika Mini comes with a built-in notepad, clock, calculator, and file manager, and runs under USB or Bluetooth. Documents may be read or written then stored on a Micro SD card or USB stick, making it a versatile, lightweight companion about the size of an A5 book.
WHAT IS IN THE PACKAGE?
The contents of the box contains the Seika Mini, leather case, carry strap, USB mains charger, standard USB to mini USB cable, a 4GB Micro SD card, (pre-installed when the unit arrives), USB memory stick, Bluetooth USB dongle, (for connection to a PC), documentation and drivers on a CD, and user manual, (stating your preferred reading format at the time of ordering).
EXPLORING THE SEIKA MINI
The device is 16CM wide, by 9.6CM deep, by 2.3CM high. It weighs 300G. The Lithium rechargeable battery provides over 10 hours continuous use of operation, and takes approximately four hours to charge if drained.
If the Seika Mini is placed on a flat surface with the Braille display nearest to you, there are eight square-shaped keys arranged in a semi-circle. These buttons are the Braille input keys with key seven at the extreme left, generally known as back space, and key eight at the extreme right, usually known as enter. Below these Braille keys are the 16 routing cursor buttons which manipulate the Seika Mini’s cursor key, and permit a range of editing functions when in a document. Below the cursor routing buttons is the 16-cell refreshable Braille display itself. At each end of the display is a vertical-shaped navigation key that moves the Braille text up and down when reading. On the front edge of the Seika Mini, in the middle of the Braille display, there are two space bar keys. Finally, at each end of the front edge is a five-way left and right joystick that may be moved left, right, up, down, and pressed to activate or enter to confirm the chosen gesture.
With the Seika Mini removed from its case, the battery compartment can be found underneath the device, towards the front, but you are advised to contact your dealer should the battery need replacing. It is possible to use the Seika Mini while the battery is charging, but it should be noted that charging time takes longer if the unit is being used simultaneously. When the battery starts to drain beyond a certain level, you will hear three audible beeps at 10 minute intervals, and the display will show: “Please Charge”. Once plugged in, the device will beep twice, and the display shows: “USB Charging”. When a full charge has completed, the Seika Mini will beep three times, and the display reads: “Bat 100%”.
On the left edge of the Seika Mini, going from top to bottom, a standard USB slot is provided that may house a pen drive. Below this port is the Micro ~SD card recess. In order to remove it, simply press on the slightly protruding card, and the spring mechanism will release it. When replacing the card, simply push it into the slot gently until you feel a click to indicate it has locked into place correctly. Please do not remove either the USB stick or SD card while the unit is turned on and has files open as data could be corrupted.
The right edge comprises a Micro USB slot where the cable for charging the Seika Mini should be inserted. Below this slot is the power on/off rocker switch. Push the switch towards you when you wish to turn on the Seika Mini, and away from you when you want to turn it off.
The carry strap for the Seika Mini may be attached to two small round metal rings, one at each end of the front of the leather case. You do not need to remove the Seika Mini from its case in order to use it. Simply pull the magnetic flap back and tuck it underneath the device to expose its keys for use.
When you turn on the Seika Mini, the device will emit two beeps. By using the right five-way joystick, you can arrow up and down its simple menu structure, and press down or right arrow to enter any item you wish to select, or left arrow to go back one level. Notepad, FileManage, Read, USBConnect, Bluetooth, Clock, Calculator, and Tools are the choices available from the root menu.
Within FileManage, you may create a new folder, delete and rename files. The Read facility offers you the choice of accessing items from the Micro SD card or the USB stick. The clock facility lets you set the time and date, and choose between 12 hour or 24 hour formats. Tools allows you to choose power sleep options, update the machine’s firmware, run tests on its keys, and ascertain the current version of the Seika Mini. It is also possible to allow the Seika to advance the text at your comfortable reading speed without having to move the keys yourself. This is a particularly useful feature for experienced Braillists scrolling through long documents.
Other useful features include the ability to switch between grade one and grade two Braille. To do this, press space with dots 1-2-4-5, (G for grade). You can also alter the Braille language on the device between US, UK, Italian and French. To do this, simply use space with dots 1-2-3, (L for language). You must do this at the root menu in order for the change to take effect. So far, however, it seems to default to US, and I have unfortunately not been able to make it remain on the UK table.
CONNECTING THE SEIKA MINI TO OTHER DEVICES AS A BRAILLE DISPLAY
As well as being able to read or write notes in TXT, BSE, BRF and BRL formats on the Seika, it is also possible to connect the unit to your laptop, PC, Apple or Android device. A companion CD that is shipped with the Seika Mini contains drivers for JAWS, Window-Eyes, and Supernova. Many people want a portable Braille display to use in conjunction with their Apple device, for example, and the manual offers full instructions on how to achieve this, also providing some useful key commands once you have paired your device using Bluetooth.
I have seen several small Braille displays that are particularly suitable for pairing with Apple or Android devices, but the Seika Mini has to be my favourite so far. Apart from the fact it is slightly cheaper than most of the portable offerings, it is also extremely simple to use, and the Braille cells, to me at least, are comfortable to use for long periods. I had no difficulty pairing the Seika Mini with my iPhone, and writing quickly on its Braille keys to input text messages and notes in grade two Braille was straightforward and efficient.
This is a smart, lightweight little device that enables easy note-taking and document reading on the go. It has a sensible sturdy case, and the documentation is straightforward to follow. It also offers a comprehensive explanation and list of the purpose of its function keys.
It did take me a little time to get used to the space bar being further away from the rest of the Perkins-style keys, but the Seika is ergonomically well laid out.
WHERE TO GET IT
The Seika Mini is available from RNIB, product number HT296. It costs £1,078.80 including VAT, or £899.00 if you are entitled to VAT exemption. Contact Customer Services on 0303 1239999 for further information.