the Braille Touch

BrailleNote Touch 32

10 years ago asking someone what tablet they used, would probably have resulted in an answer of paracetamol or Aspirin. But now we are looking at Apple IPads, Windows Surface and Google tablets. Each with a staggering array of tools that can help you to; talk to friends or family, all over the world, do your shopping or write the next best seller’.

I have been a tablet user for the last 6 years but have never thought I’d ever get to grips with an ANDROID tablet ‘, that was until last year when Humanware developed their BrailleNote Touch. This purpose built tablet incorporates a Braille keyboard with a 32 cell display on an Android tablet; there is also an 18 cell device

As I “” am a BrailleNote user, I was used to the general layout of the keyboard and was able to pick up most of the main keystrokes, but there were some new little extras the Braille Note Touch had stored away to keep me really interested.

When you turn this on for the first time a user manual is presented to you, giving the opportunity of brushing up on the Braille Note. This can be turned off if you don’t want to read through this, or it can be returned to later on if something comes up that you need to look up. The manual can be turned off so that it does not come on every time you turn on the device.

I loved the single key navigation- the ability to go straight to a file, doc or specific function ‘, just by typing it’s first letter. This saved a lot of time hunting for a particular item or function.

This tablet packs a staggering punch when it comes to on board pre-loaded features: like the contacts, the planner, the word processor, the Victor reader and the stunning KNFB Reader. If you go to the all files section there is even more apps to play around with.
The Word Processor:

Now I was interested in the word processor as it is something I use on a daily basis, and I was not disappointed as it performed as well as its predecessor, on the Braille Note Apex with its ability to produce quick notes or complete pieces of work, this review was created using the Touch. I liked the point that it saved as a word doc, by default, but could save in other formats if needed.

E-mails:

The ability to send and receive e-mails is a matter of necessity nowadays, so it is rather exciting that this tablet has a fully integrated e-mail function. Yes I know that your smart phone can do all this, but it does not have a full size Perkins keyboard and a 30 cell Braille display.

The KNFB Reader:

Now I have used Kurzweil for a long time and love it, so guess how pleased I was when I encountered the mobile adaption to this program. This mobile OCR handled tests within the home, with menus and some mail that arrived. It is a bulky bit of kit if you had to take lots of pics, but for a single or limited amount, it would be fine. The quality was rather good and I even had to use it in a meeting and was pleasantly surprised at the quality that was produced.

The Victor Reader:

Listening to a book is a great way to brush up on a topic, learn a language or just read a book by your favourite author. Well this beauty does it with the Victor Reader. Just like the Stream, you can read your DAISY books, stop them and carry on when you want. I was able to pop the pen drive into the USB drive and away it went, well after selecting the book. Clear and easy controls, and the square key at the front can assist you with the functions. You can copy your book onto the internal memory and read it from there so that you don’t need to carry round the pen drive.

The Internet:

Right, I know that we can’t go 5 foot without the need to connect to the internet and find out what has been said about your latest Facebook status, or to find out what people have thought about a particular restaurant. Well no problem! You can surf the net, access Facebook, Twitter away or play some crazy games, whatever takes you’re fancy. This device can connect to the internet and give you access to all the things that make your life so much easier. Again a smart phone can do all this, but if you prefer to read the info in Braille then this has it all packed in to the one device.

Google Store:

As I said earlier on, I was not someone that used a Google device, so never really got to grips with the Google Store. I know that people say it is just like other App Stores and there is no problem in getting what you want. Well when I opened up the Google Store and typed in, “Simple Dictionary” it found it straight away and the installation of it was done in just 2 or 3 clicks.

All Programs:

As I said earlier on, there is a part in the main menu that stores all your downloaded apps, e.g. Facebook, Simple Dictionary etc. Well this has some great wee pre-installed apps. Loved the Key News. This gave me the ability to look at some headlines from the national press and download them to read later on. This could be fun for those who like to catch up on certain news stories while on the bus or train. It does not download the latest story, unless you are connected to the web, but lets you download a particular story and store it for your perusal at a time that suits you.
Other little points:

I know that some people think, well this is no use to sighted people as they might not use Braille, but the cracking little ability of this tablet is that you can use the on-screen keyboard and it performs just like a standard tablet. The Touch has a lovely feature where you can put your finger on the screen and move it round to hear what is under your finger, all with the pressing of a few keys. If you need a calculator, well there is one built in and it does exactly what it says on the tin. The ability to do simple addition or subtraction is there, and again if you are not too sure on the correct Braille symbol to use, the square function key on the front of the unit will assist you by producing a list of functions that you can pick from. If you need to do more complicated math, then Key Math is on the list of pre-installed programs. There is a Braille Terminal built in to this device, and it works. I was able to plug it into my laptop and it found it straight away and after a few button presses away we went. There is an HDMI connection, so if you need to display what you are working on with friends or colleagues via a screen, then plug it in and everyone is seeing the same thing. It weighs just 2lbs, or 900g, so not too heavy to carry around. The carry case has a built in Perkins style keyboard, but if you like the idea there is an ability to actually type on the screen directly. Just place all 10 fingers on the screen and listen for a slight buzz and vibration, this lets you know that it has detected all your fingers and you can then start typing. If you move your fingers out of alignment, then it stops typing and you have to calibrate it again by placing all fingers on the screen. I got used to it in a couple of sessions, but as I was reviewing this I did stick to the pull down keyboard.

Ok, I have to say that I loved this bit of tech. It has uses for just about every possible situation, be it the office or home. You can use it for doing any work jobs or reading a book. But it does come with a hefty price tag, the price of the BrailleNote Touch 32 is £4395 and the BrailleNote Touch 18 is £3595 (both prices ex VAT & delivery). Is this worth it? Well if I had that sort of disposable cash, yes I would buy it, but for most of us the idea of spending that sort of cash is a bit of a pipedream.

Humanware have come up with something that could assist you in purchasing this device; they now offer an Easy Pay system which allows you to spread the cost over three, six, nine or twelve months, interest free. 


Final thoughts:

Ok, I would give this a 9 out of 10 mark; reason for the point loss is the cost. I do think that 4G ability would be rather interesting as it would let you surf, e-mail and generally stay connected on the move. I do get the fact that a MIFI could be used, but as this unit rockets ahead of other devices, a 4G adaption would be rather nice.

Everything else is fantastic. If you are a Braillist and enjoy your reading and writing in Braille this is just one of the best things out there. You can do lots of things that sighted people take for granted on their tablets.

For me it ticks all the boxes and is definitely a Santa list item.

Well done to Humanware for this stunner of a tablet, and the chance to review it.

Ian Cooper, SITE Tech Reviewer

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