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Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 July 2003 Issue  Volume 4  Number 4

Product Evaluation

Answering the Call: Top-of-the-Line Cell Phones, Part 2


Funding for this product evaluation was provided by the Teubert Foundation, Huntington, West Virginia.


This is the second of two articles on the accessibility of today's top-of-the line cellular telephones. The evaluation in the May issue of the Audiovox CDM9500, offered by Verizon Wireless, showed that that telephone leaves much to be desired as far as accessibility is concerned, mainly because of its lack of audio access to screen information and an inaccessible keypad.

This article looks at three other top cell phones produced by leading manufacturers: the Motorola T720, the Sanyo 5300, and the Sony-Ericsson T68i. These manufacturers were chosen for this evaluation because they are all large, well-known companies with the resources to make cell phones more accessible. In addition, the phones are all recent entries to the market and feature many of the new innovations found in today's cell phones, such as web browsing, color displays, and voice dialing. We will also revisit the Audiovox 9500 to see how it compares with these three phones. In addition, a sidebar accompanying this evaluation provides some insight into the future of cell phone accessibility.

Descriptions

Motorola T720

The Motorola T720 is a clamshell-style phone measuring 3.5 by 1.9 by 0.8 inches when folded up and weighing 3.6 ounces. It has a large multicolor main display screen that is viewed when the phone is flipped open and a smaller monochrome secondary display that can be viewed when the phone is folded up. One unique feature of this phone is the user's ability to assign keystroke and voice commands to menu items.

Sanyo 5300

The Sanyo 5300 is a clamshell- style phone, measuring 3.75 by 1.9 by 1.1 inches when folded up and weighing 4.1 ounces. Like the Motorola T720, it also has a large multicolor display and a monochrome secondary display. A unique feature of this phone is the built-in camera with one-touch access.

Sony-Ericsson T68i

The Sony-Ericsson T68i is a flat phone without the hinges and cover that are used on the clamshell-style phones. It measures 3.9 by 1.9 by 0.8 inches and is the lightest of the phones we evaluated, weighing just under 3 ounces. This phone has a multicolor, highly contrasting display, like the Motorola and Sanyo phones, but it is slightly smaller than the other displays. The sound recorder on this phone is one unique feature that caught our attention.

Figure 1: Photograph of four cellular telephones positioned along a ruler.

Caption: From left to right, the Sanyo 5300, the Motorola T720, the Audiovox CDM9500, and the Sony-Ericsson T68i

The Sweet 16

As reported in Part 1 of this evaluation, before we began our review we surveyed 20 cell phone users who are blind or have low vision to determine which features they would most like to have made accessible (see Box 1). The 16 features that were rated the highest by our respondents became the basis for our evaluation. We looked at whether a person who is blind or has low vision would be able to use these features and noted the barriers to accessing them. The evaluation methods we used included

  • measuring the ability to identify and use the keypad tactilely,
  • determining the ability to navigate menus,
  • noting auditory and vibratory feedback, and
  • assessing the readability of the visual display.

The following analysis lists the 16 cell phone features that the respondents rated as most important for accessibility and how our four phones measured up on each feature.

Box 1: The 16 Most Desirable Accessible Cell Phone Features (in rank order).

View a narrative for Box 1.

Keys That Are Easily Identifiable by Touch

The only phone with keys that protrude sufficiently to be easily identifiable by touch is the Sony-Ericsson; there are also two distinct nibs placed directly on the 5 key. The Audiovox has a nib on the 5 key, but it is placed on the upper left corner and is too small to identify easily. The nibs on the Motorola and Sanyo are distinct, located on the center of the 5 key and easy to identify.

Voice Output

No text-to-speech feature was available on any of these cell phones that would allow people who are blind or have low vision to access any of the information on the screens or to navigate through the phones' menu systems. This is the main barrier that prevents access to the many features of these phones.

Accessible Documentation

None of these phones is available with any form of accessible documentation. We were able to find manuals on the manufacturers' web sites, but they were all inaccessible PDF files.

Battery Level Indicator

All these phones have small icons on their displays that visually indicate the battery level, but none provides an auditory indication of that level. Although they all emit a unique tone to warn of a low battery, the Motorola's warning is the only one that is useful. Its warning sounds every three minutes for four hours before the battery dies completely, giving you ample time to recharge the battery. The batteries on the other three phones die less than a minute after the warning is first heard.

Roaming Indicator

All these phones have small icons that visually indicate roaming, but the Sanyo is the only one with an accompanying audio alert. A unique three-beep tone is heard if you try to make or receive a call on the Sanyo while it is roaming. You can then press the 1 key if you decide to proceed with the call and accept the higher cost associated with roaming. This feature is called Call Guard, and the only problem is that it has to be set to "on" using the menu system, which is inaccessible because of the lack of audio output.

Message Indicator

All these phones have small icons that visually alert the user that there are voice or text messages, but they each have a nonvisual indication as well. The Audiovox, Motorola, and Sony-Ericsson give you an auditory or vibratory alert, but only once, either when the message comes in or when the user turns the phone on. So, if you are not there when the message arrives, you will not get the nonvisual alert. The Sanyo gives the auditory or vibratory alert every two minutes until the user checks the messages.

Retrieving the messages is accessible as long as they are voice-mail messages, not text messages. The lack of text-to-speech capability eliminates text messages from the realm of accessibility, but all the features of voice mail on these phones are accessible. The phones all have one-touch access to their voice-mail systems, which feature voice feedback and are navigated using the keys on the keypad. There would be no real difficulty with the Sony-Ericsson, but the difficulty involved in identifying the keys could make this feature a problem on the Audiovox, Sanyo, and Motorola phones.

Phone Book

The phone books on these phones are accessed via the menu systems, which are inaccessible because of the lack of a text-to-speech feature and the small size of the print on the displays.

Phone Lock Mode

All these phones have a setting that locks the phone to prevent other people from using it without your permission, but the settings are accessed via the menu systems, which are inaccessible because of the lack of audio output and the small size of the print on the displays. However, the Motorola has an accessible keypad shortcut that can be used to lock and unlock the phone. The Sanyo has a shortcut only to unlock the phone, but the Audiovox and Sony-Ericsson have neither, so sighted assistance would be required to gain full access to this feature on these three phones.

Keypad Lock Mode

A keypad lock is used to avoid inadvertent dialing if the phone is jostled while in a pocket or briefcase. Since the keys are protected by their clamshell-style designs, this feature is not necessary with the Audiovox, Motorola, and Sanyo phones. It is necessary on the Sony-Ericsson because the keys are exposed. However, locking and unlocking the phones is done with the inaccessible menu system.

Power Indicator

There is no specific power indicator on these phones. If the user has sufficient vision, he or she can tell whether the phone is on simply by looking to see if the display is on. If the user does not have sufficient vision, he or she can press any number key and listen for a tone, which would indicate that the phone is on.

Ringing or Vibrating Mode Indicator

The Sony-Ericsson has no visual or nonvisual icon indicating whether the phone is set to ringing versus vibrating mode. Checking or changing this status is done via the menu system, so it is inaccessible. A visual message indicates this status on the Sanyo, and the phone will also vibrate briefly when it is turned on to indicate that it is in vibrate mode. However, changing the mode from ringer to vibrate is done with the menus, so it cannot be done without sighted assistance. On the other hand, this feature can be accessed both visually and nonvisually on the Motorola and Audiovox phones. Both phones have small visual indications. The Motorola has two buttons on the left side panel; the top button increases the volume, and the bottom one decreases it. Pressing the bottom button once more past the lowest volume setting puts the phone into vibrate mode, and the phone vibrates briefly to confirm that it is in that mode. With the Audiovox, the user simply presses and holds the Star (*) key to toggle between ringer and vibrate modes, and there is a vibratory indication when the phone switches to vibrate mode.

GPS Feature

The Audiovox 9500 is the only one of these phones that has a GPS (global positioning satellite) feature that is used to help 911 emergency services locate the user during an emergency. This feature is accessible because it is on and works automatically right out of the box.

Signal Strength Indicator

All these phones have small icons on the screen that indicate the strength of the signal, but there is no nonvisual indication, so this feature is inaccessible on all the phones.

Ringer Volume Control

The ringer volume control is inaccessible on the Audiovox and Sony-Ericsson because it is controlled via the menu systems. On the Sanyo, it is controlled both via the inaccessible menu system and with two buttons on the right side panel. Although pressing the buttons increases and decreases the volume, there is no nonvisual indication of the level to which the volume has been adjusted. While the Motorola's volume can be adjusted by using its inaccessible menus, it can also be adjusted easily with the side panel buttons mentioned earlier. Pressing one button to increase or decrease the volume produces both a ring to indicate the new volume level and an on-screen level indicator, so it is accessible.

Caller Identification

None of these phones has auditory equivalents for the caller identification information presented on its display. Although each phone has a way to assign specific ringer tones for people in the phone book, it cannot be done without sighted assistance, and it requires remembering the various tones that have been assigned to the people in the phone book.

Speed Dialing

For all these phones, speed dialing relies on the phonebook feature, which is inaccessible.

Low Vision Accessibility

All these phones have the desirable attributes of being compact and lightweight, but their small size leads to accessibility problems for people with low vision. The relatively small keys on all these phones have text labels that are too small for most people with low vision to read, and they feature low-contrast black print on a silver background.

The phones all have relatively large, highly contrasting, color displays, but most of the text is too small. The text on the displays ranges from 8 points to 16 points, but most of the text is in 12 points or smaller. We were initially excited to discover that the Motorola has a zoom capability, but the zoom increases the smallest text only from an 8- to a 10-point font. The Motorola's display causes further problems for people with low vision because of the glare and reflection produced by the mirrorlike borders around the display and the keys. To a lesser degree, glare is also a problem on the other phones. A high-contrast background can be set for the menu screens on the Sanyo, but the Audiovox and Sony-Ericsson have no zoom or contrast-adjustment capabilities.

Other Notable Features

Voice-activated dialing is a feature available on all four phones, but sighted assistance is needed to assign voice commands to phone book entries on the Audiovox, Sony-Ericsson, and Motorola phones. Once these voice commands have been assigned, calls can be placed simply by pressing a button and speaking the name of a person in your phone book. Although voice-activated dialing can be done in the same manner with the Sanyo, it can also be done in an independent, fully accessible manner. Since the Sanyo is offered by Sprint PCS, it has another phone book that is accessed via the Sprint PCS network. You connect to the network by pressing the Star (*) key, followed by the Talk key; then you can add, modify, or delete entries or place calls with voice commands. You can even voice-dial a person whose phone number was not previously entered into your phone book by speaking the digits of the phone number in a clear, natural voice. The Sprint PCS web site can also be used to make phone book entries. The only problem with voice dialing on the Sanyo is that it cannot be done if you are roaming and not connected directly to the Sprint PCS network.

Web browsing is also available on all these phones, but it is not accessible because of the lack of large text on the displays or a text-to-speech feature. The Motorola's ability to allow users to assign keystroke or voice- command shortcuts to menu items can be used to get past some of the barriers associated with navigating the menu system. A user can assign voice commands or shortcut keystrokes to access menu items, but, of course, he or she needs sighted assistance to set up the commands and shortcuts.

Do These Phones Answer the Call?

All these phones are far from accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. They have no text-to-speech feature that can be used to access the menu systems, so that many of the features are inaccessible. Therefore, these expensive new phones provide little functionality beyond that offered by the free phones provided by the various service providers.

The best of these four phones is the Sanyo 5300 because of the ease involved in voice dialing and making phone book entries with voice commands. However, there is no real reason for a person who is blind or has low vision to spend the extra money to purchase one of these expensive new phones unless he or she is willing to memorize a great deal of menu navigation and get significant sighted assistance. Since all these phones include operating systems with download capabilities, it will be possible for the manufacturers to include text-to-speech feature in later versions. So, the future could be brighter if manufacturers would only include text to speech for screen information and menu systems and provide more tactilely identifiable keypads.

View the Product Features as a graphic

View the Product Features as text

View the Product Ratings as a graphic

View the Product Ratings as text

Product Information

Product: Audiovox CDM9500

Manufacturer: Audiovox Communications Corporation, 555 Wireless Boulevard, Hauppauge, NY 11788; phone: 631-233-3300, Customer Service: 800-229-1235; web site: <www.audiovox.com>. Price: $230.

Product: Motorola T720

Manufacturer: Motorola, 1307 East Algonquin Road, 2nd floor, Schaumburg, IL 60196; phone: 800-331-6456, Customer Service: 1-866-BUY-MOTO (1-866-289-6686); web site: <www.motorola.com>. Price: $249.

Product: Sanyo 5300

Manufacturer: Sanyo North America Corporation, 21605 Plummer Street, Chatsworth, CA 91311; phone: 818-998-7322; web site: <www.sanyo.com>. Price: $349.

Product: Sony-Ericsson T68i

Manufacturer: Sony-Ericsson, 7001 Development, P.O. Box 13969, Research Triangle Park NC 27709; phone: 800-374-2776; web site: <www.sonyericssonmobile.com>. Price: $530.

The Future of Accessible Cell Phone Technology

Caesar Eghtesadi

The outlook for the future accessibility of cellular telephones may not be as bleak as this review of current top-of-the line cell phones makes it seem. Recent advances in the telecommunication industry will make accessible cell phones possible for people who are blind or have low vision. Three major factors will contribute to making accessible cell phones readily achievable: cell phone technologies, cell phones with operating systems, and "small footprint" text-to-speech software (that is, software requiring less than 1 megabyte of memory).

Over the past several years, cell phone technologies and products with rich memory and processing power have been introduced to the market. Recent cell phones have a significant amount of memory and processing power because of their extensive use of images and multimedia applications. Because of the competitive nature of this industry, all major cell phone manufacturers and service providers now offer products with such features as color displays, cameras, music, games, Internet surfing, and even GPS capabilities. Available and expandable memory on these devices exceeds 1 megabyte of storage, making them technically capable of handling a text-to-speech software engine and application.

Operating systems provide a unique opportunity to develop downloadable applications on a common software platform without any modifications to a device's hardware. The use of operating systems allows service providers to install, recall, or update applications over the air, so there is no need to bring the device to retail locations for upgrades. Major operating systems are BREW, Symbian, Java 2 Micro Edition, Palm OS, Window CE, and Pocket PC. A number of cell phones have been introduced that could operate on one of these operating systems.

In the past few years, a number of text-to-speech engines with small footprint memory requirements were introduced for mobile computing devices. These text-to-speech engines were also developed to operate in different operating systems. They provide significant flexibility for the development of mobile-device applications, as well as acceptable speech quality with small memory requirements. One of the major players in this field is a Swiss company called SVOX.

Accessibility around the World

Although no accessible cell phones with built-in text-to-speech features are available in the United States, there has been progress around the world in this area. In 2001, DoCoMo, a Japanese telecommunication manufacturer, introduced an accessible cell phone (the RAKURAKU phone, Mova F671is) with Japanese text-to-speech output. The device offers text to speech for reading menus, providing audio echo of data entry, and displaying caller ID and other on-screen messages. The device is equipped with a speech-recognition capability in Japanese, and the keypad is designed with relatively large buttons and display fonts. This cell phone costs approximately $150 and is readily available in the Japanese market. In addition to DoCoMo's cell phone in Japan, several accessible cell phones with text-to-speech output from European manufacturers have been demonstrated in Europe and the United States. They include Nokia 7650, Nokia 3650, and Siemens SX1.

Recently, Nokia introduced the Nokia 3650 cell phone in the United States, selling for $299. SVOX provides downloadable text-to-speech software for mobile devices, including the Nokia 3650 and the Sony-Ericsson P800. This software, which is called Mobile Accessibility (<www.mobileaccessibility.com>), will be available in the near future for about $150 in the United States. Another European company makes the TALKS Speech Synthesizer software that can be downloaded from the web site <www.talx.de> and installed on the Nokia Communicator 9200 series of cell phone/PDA (personal digital assistant) devices. The phones sell for about $450, and the software is an additional $395.

Two assistive technology companies have also developed solutions to the problem of inaccessible cell phones. The ALVA Access Group has introduced the MPO, a notetaker/ PDA with a refreshable braille display, which has a built-in cell phone that is fully accessible using braille and speech output. Freedom Scientific's new PAC Mate notetaker/PDA can connect wirelessly to the Sony-Ericsson T68i to give users access to that phone. Although these devices provide an accessible wireless system, they are much bulkier and heavier than cell phones and provide their service at a high cost. The MPO is priced at $3,995, and the PAC Mate sells for $2,499.

Related Articles

You Get to Choose: An Overview of Accessible Cell Phones by Darren Burton


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

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