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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 January 2002 Issue  Volume 3  Number 1

Product Evaluation

Choosing a Screen Magnifier

LunarPlus version 4.50 is Dolphin Computer Access's screen magnifier with a built-in, simple screen reader. Dolphin also offers Supernova, which integrates Lunar with the screen-reading and braille-output capability of its full-featured screen reader, Hal. AccessWorld evaluated Lunar Plus version 4.01 in the 2000 evaluation of Supernova. In this evaluation, we compare Lunar Plus 4.50 with its competition: Freedom Scientific's MAGic 8.0 and Ai Squared's ZoomText Xtra 7.06 (See AccessWorld, November 2001, for a comparison of MAGic 8.0 and ZoomText Xtra 7.06.)

Firing It Up and Trying It Out

We conducted the same tests on LunarPlus as in the previous evaluation of MAGic and ZoomText Xtra—10 different features of LunarPlus while using Microsoft's Office Suite and Internet Explorer 5.0. In addition, we checked for instances of bugs and crashing and used the same computers: a Toshiba Satellite laptop with Windows 98 installed and a Dell desktop with both Windows NT and Windows 98 installed. In this evaluation, we also compare the screen layouts of all three products.

Getting Help

LunarPlus's documentation leaves a lot to be desired. It comes with an installation manual that contains detailed information on installing, uninstalling, and troubleshooting all Dolphin's products, but the information is not product specific. LunarPlus does come with three large-print laminated quick reference cards and a help feature that is built into the software. The help feature in LunarPlus is not as extensive as it could be. We looked for information on laptops and mouse-cursor settings and could not find anything.

Magnification

LunarPlus offers magnification up to 32x, which is a lot of magnification—much more than is offered by MAGic or ZoomText Xtra. Although it is nice to have this option, such a high level of magnification presents limitations. At 32x, only four letters fit onto a17-inch screen, and the letters are pixilated.

LunarPlus has all the magnification window features of MAGic and ZoomText Xtra. In addition, it offers a unique type of magnification window called the Auto Lens. This feature automatically resizes itself to the size of the window with focus. It isn't a "must-have" feature, but it is a neat extra.

Finding Your Place

A locator is a navigation feature that shows which portion of the unmagnified screen is being magnified. LunarPlus's Locator feature, Overview mode, works the same as those in MAGic and ZoomText Xtra, but it does not have the all-detailed features its competition.

Panning

Panning, a feature that automatically moves the magnified view around the screen, is used for navigation and reading. The control of panning in LunarPlus is similar to that of ZoomText Xtra, including the fact that one of the user's hands is tied up holding the panning hot key.

LunarPlus's Line View feature is very useful—it takes the text in the current window and redisplays it on a single line that is located in the center of the screen, while hiding the rest of the screen. The text can be automatically panned or moved manually using the arrow keys. However, we found that the computer sometimes crashed while we were using Line View.

Keeping Track

Tracking is a feature that moves the magnified view automatically when another object outside the magnified view becomes active. LunarPlus offers tracking for the mouse, caret, windows, and controls, as do MAGic and ZoomText Xtra. It also controls the size of the area that tracking occurs in, just as ZoomText Xtra does.

Mouse Features

LunarPlus comes with many more mouse pointers than either MAGic or ZoomText Xtra does, but, there's one catch: To switch pointers, you must do so manually in Windows. MAGic and ZoomText Xtra allow you to adjust the mouse simply through menus.

Color and Contrast

LunarPlus has an invert and smoothing feature. The invert feature swaps the dark and light colors on the screen. LunarPlus's smoothing—used to remove the stair-shaped effect of highly magnified letters—is similar to MAGic's. It is quite helpful that both use one control to smooth everything.

When it comes to other options for color and contrast, LunarPlus has many more controls than the competition. The color-setting control changes the strength of the color output. At its lowest setting, there is no color, so the screen is black and white. At its highest setting, all the colors are extra strong; for example, an area of the screen that was a faded green would now be a darker green. The color-adjust control is an interesting feature that completely swaps different colors on the screen. After experimenting with it, we found that the screen looked entirely different because the colors were totally rearranged.

Screen Reading

LunarPlus's screen reader is similar to those of ZoomText Xtra and MAGic. It has many voices whose pitch and speed can be set. Speech output can be set to read as you type or to use the mouse to read either a letter, word, or line at a time. When reading documents, there are many different options, such as reading everything in the current window or document or reading the current line of a document. Hot keys are used to access these functions.

All three products had some difficulty reading web pages. LunarPlus would not automatically read a web page without pressing a hot key to read the entire page. LunarPlus's screen reader works well with Excel—it automatically reads the row and column number followed by the data. In addition, LunarPlus offers screen reading in nine languages.

Hot Keys

LunarPlus is more dependent on hot keys than is either MAGic or ZoomText Xtra. In fact, most functions and controls can be accessed only through hot keys. ZoomText Xtra and MAGic can access many more functions without hot keys than LunarPlus, which means LunarPlus is less desirable for someone who is wary of hot keys. The advantage of hot keys is that once you learn them, they are efficient to use. The disadvantage is that you have to learn them. When using a laptop, LunarPlus allows you to adjust the hot key defaults from using the NumPad to the function keys. Hot keys can be adjusted individually as well for both the laptop and PC.

Screen Layout

At first glance, it would appear that the main windows for MAGic, ZoomText Xtra, and LunarPlus are similar (see Figure 1). Each takes up about one-eighth of the screen, all three have graphical buttons that change appearance slightly when toggled to show the current on-off state, and all are well organized and easy to use.

MAGic ZoomText Xtra LunarPlus

Caption: Figure 1. Main Windows for MAGic, ZoomText Xtra, and LunarPlus

The figure contains three printouts of main windows for the applications MAGic, ZoomText Xtra, and LunarPlus.

The big issue in all three products is how many functions one can access through the main window by using the mouse. Remember, any function that cannot be accessed through the main window must be accessed by hot keys, menus, or some other means.

ZoomText Xtra allows you to access the most functions through its main window, which means that most functions are right in front of you. In ZoomText Xtra, menus are used to get to advanced functions. MAGic's main window offers less access to functions, so you may be resorting to MAGic's menu a little more often than ZoomText Xtra's.

LunarPlus offers the least access to functions through its main window. You have to go into its main control panel more often than you would have to go into MAGic's or ZoomText Xtra's menus. Furthermore, we found it difficult to pinpoint the location of functions in LunarPlus's main control panel (see Figure 2).

LunarPlus

Caption: Figure 2. LunarPlus's Main Control Panel

The figure shows the main control panel of LunarPlus.

Perks

LunarPlus's hook feature is quite good. These are additional magnified areas of the screen that can be used to keep a portion of the screen always in magnified view. These windows can have their own smoothing, magnification, and tracking settings, and multiple hooks can be present at once. ZoomText Xtra has a similar feature, but it is not as rich in options.

The Bottom Line

LunarPlus's strengths are in its special features, such as the Auto Lens, its hook feature, the Line View, and advanced color and contrast settings. In addition, LunarPlus version 4.5 has added a new main window to its screen layout. And LunarPlus's built-in screen reader offers the most multilingual support.

LunarPlus's weaknesses include its documentation and its help feature. We think that users need more information. In terms of documentation and help, MAGic is better, and ZoomText Xtra is the best.

We also think that the design of the main control panel could be improved. Compared to ZoomText Xtra and MAGic, LunarPlus is not as versatile in the ways it can be used because it is so dependent on hot keys. Of course, if you prefer using hot keys or think you would like them, LunarPlus just may be for you.

In terms of price, LunarPlus for Windows 95, 98, and ME is less expensive than MAGic. However, if you need support for NT and 2000, it is more expensive than ZoomText Xtra.

Product Information

Product: LunarPlus 4.5 (Windows 95, 98, ME) and LunarPlus 4.5 (Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000)

Manufacturer: Dolphin Computer Access, 100 South Ellsworth Avenue, 4th floor, San Mateo, CA 94401; phone: 650-348-7401; e-mail: <info@dolphinuk.co.uk>; web site: <www.dolphinusa.com>. Price: LunarPlus 4.5: $495; $795 (Windows NT and 2000).

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AccessWorld, Copyright (c) 2003 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved.

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