Dialing Up the Magnification: A Review of Mobile Magnifier
Since May 2003, AccessWorld has published a series of eight articles that have evaluated the accessibility and usability of several cell phones and add-on software applications. In this article, we at AFB TECH (the American Foundation for the Blind Technology and Employment Center at Huntington, West Virginia) evaluate Mobile Magnifier, a screen magnifier that is currently available as an option for cell phone users who have low vision. Mobile Magnifier is produced by Code Factory, the makers of the Mobile Speak cell phone screen reader that we evaluated in the November 2004 issue of AccessWorld.
What Is Mobile Magnifier?
Mobile Magnifier is available in two versions: Mobile Magnifier Stand-alone and Mobile Magnifier Plug-in. Mobile Magnifier Stand-alone magnifies areas of the cell phone screen as you move through the information being displayed on the screen. Like the Magnifier application that is built into the Windows operating system, it features a separate magnified window that provides an enlarged view of the active portion of the main window. Mobile Magnifier Plug-in works in conjunction with Code Factory's Mobile Speak screen reader to provide both screen magnification and speech output.
As a screen magnifier, Mobile Magnifier functions independently of the user's language. When using the Mobile Magnifier Plug-in, along with Mobile Speak, however, the user has the option of choosing the following languages for the speech output: English, French, Russian, Czech, Portuguese, Chinese, Arabic, Polish, Turkish, Finnish, Danish, Icelandic, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, German, Italian, and Spanish. The Mobile Magnifier's user manual is available in Microsoft Word format only in a 12-point font, and it can be downloaded from the manufacturer's web site. No large-print or audio version is currently available. It is a brief manual designed to get you started with the product, but it does not give detailed information on using the cell phone and the magnifier.
To install and run Mobile Magnifier Stand-alone or Mobile Magnifier Plug-in, you must have a Symbian Series 60 cell phone. This series currently includes the Nokia 3230, 3620, 3660, 6260, 6600, 6620, 6670, 6680, 7610, 7650, N-Gage, N-Gage QD, Siemens SX1, Panasonic x700, and Panasonic X701. These are the same cell phones that can use the TALKS and Mobile Speak screen-reader applications we have reviewed in past articles. As we mentioned in the June 2005 AccessWorld Extra, several new Series 60 phones will soon be introduced to the market. As always, we suggest that you check with the manufacturer's web site and your local service provider to determine which cell phones are available.
How Did We Evaluate Mobile Magnifier?
To determine how much assistance Mobile Magnifier can provide to a cell phone user with low vision, we installed the Mobile Magnifier Plug-in on a Nokia 6620 cell phone, which we evaluated with the Mobile Speak and TALKS screen readers in our November 2004 article in AccessWorld. We chose this particular cell phone because it is a popular Symbian phone in the United States. We decided to use the plug-in version because the manufacturers said that its functionality is identical to the stand-alone version, and we wanted to test magnification and speech output together.
We tested the system in our laboratory using people with low vision to evaluate how well the various features of Mobile Magnifier provide access to on-screen information, such as the battery and signal-strength icons. We also looked at how well it provides access to features of the cell phone, such as the phone book, camera, and web browser. After a discussion of the various features of Mobile Magnifier, we report our testing results and recommendations.
Features of Mobile Magnifier
Mobile Magnifier has several features that a person with low vision can use to enhance and customize the display on the cell phone screen.
Mobile Magnifier can be set to provide between 2x and 6x magnification in the magnified window, and the size of the magnified window will change as the level of magnification is adjusted by the user. The magnification window generally takes up a quarter to a third of the total display screen. As is the case with all magnifying products, as the magnification level increases, the amount of information that will fit in the magnifier window decreases.
Caption: The Mobile Magnifier on a Nokia 6620 cell phone.
When activated, Auto Zoom automatically adjusts the level of magnification in the magnifier window, depending on the amount of screen content, so the level of magnification will change as the information on the screen changes. For example, the fewer words there are on a screen, the higher the magnification, and the greater the number of words on the screen, the lower the magnification. People who prefer a constant level of magnification or need high magnification may want to turn off this feature.
Beep on Location
At times, the magnifier window will move from the top to the bottom of the display screen. When the Beep on Location feature is activated, the cell phone will beep whenever the magnification window changes location.
A colored border around the magnifier window can be turned on to differentiate it more clearly from the main window. The choices for the border color include white, red, black, yellow, green, or blue. The border size can also be adjusted to meet the preference of the user. The user can select from a small, medium, or large border.
You can further customize the display by adjusting the color scheme. The following choices of color schemes are available: normal, black and white, color low resolution, color high resolution, gray low resolution, gray high resolution, and inverted color.
The Magnifier Priority level has two settings, Normal and Low. When the Magnifier Priority is set to Low, the magnification window will be refreshed less often and will use less system resources. The manufacturer suggests using the Low setting if you are running applications in addition to Mobile Magnifier and the cell phone begins to perform poorly.
Mobile Magnifier can be set to start automatically when the cell phone is turned on. When you use the plug-in version, Mobile Speak must also be set to Auto Start for this feature of Mobile Magnifier to work.
The function keys are shortcuts to activate various features of Mobile Magnifier. Pressing edit twice, followed by another key on the cell phone, activates a function key. For example, pressing Edit twice, followed by the 4 key, toggles the Border on or off, and Edit twice, followed by the 5 key, toggles Auto-Zoom on or off. Several other function keys are available to pan the magnifier to move its focus to other regions of the screen. For example, pressing Edit twice, followed by moving the cell phone's joystick up, down, left, or right, pans the magnifier focus in the corresponding direction.
Function Key Timeout
The Function Key Timeout has two settings: Two Seconds and Unlimited. When this key is set to Two Seconds, you have two seconds to press a function key after the Edit key has been pressed twice. If more than two seconds elapse, Mobile Magnifier will drop out of the Function Key mode. When set to Unlimited, the Mobile Magnifier function keys will not time out after the Edit key is pressed twice, giving you unlimited time to select a function.
How Does Mobile Magnifier Pan Out?
Mobile Magnifier is the first attempt by the industry to make a screen magnifier for cell phones. As may be expected when evaluating a relatively new product such as this, it still has a way to go to be the top-quality product that we have found Mobile Speak to be.
It can be a cumbersome process to pan around the screen to change what appears in the magnification window. At higher levels of magnification, the user must pan up and down, in addition to left and right, to read all the letters in the magnifier window. This requires an extra step, patience, practice, and good manual dexterity, especially when you must pan through multiple lines of text. The calendar feature, for example, was particularly difficult to use because of problems with screen orientation. The panning tool, although needed to use the magnifier, currently creates an obstacle to the efficient use of the cell phone's functions.
Caller ID is an important feature to most cell phone users, but it is difficult to read the Caller ID information efficiently with Mobile Magnifier. When the cell phone rings, the incoming number is displayed in the magnifier window. If you have the magnification level set high, you must press Edit twice and then move the joystick to pan across to see the entire number. The number must be panned across quickly, or the call will go to voice mail before it can be answered. Even at 2x magnification, you still cannot see the last digit of the incoming phone number in the magnifier window without panning. It becomes even more difficult to use as you increase the level of magnification in the magnifier window.
Indicator icons on the screen are also difficult to view with Mobile Magnifier. The signal strength icon is too large to fit in the magnifier window, and the battery level icon is not visible at all with Mobile Magnifier because the icon disappears when Mobile Magnifier is active.
While using the web browser function of our cell phone, Mobile Magnifier did not always magnify the highlighted word on the screen. Also, we could not get the speech output from Mobile Speak with the plug-in version to speak the content of the web pages that we browsed. Thus, the web browser function of our particular phone was inaccessible, even when using Mobile Magnifier software. According to Code Factory, the web browser is Mobile Speak dependant, and web browsers on Series 60 phones vary greatly from cell phone to cell phone and between firmware revisions. Code Factory informed us that Mobile Speak must be adapted to each cell phone specifically and that the Nokia 6620 that we tested must be one of the ones that it is currently working to adapt to be supported in an upcoming release.
Most users with low vision will not be able to distinguish between high- and low-resolution color schemes because there is not enough of a significant difference between the two resolutions.
Mobile Magnifier was not helpful when we used the camera feature. It would not magnify the image that appeared on the screen of the subject that we were about to photograph. It also would not magnify the actual photograph that we took to give us an enlarged view of the photograph. It actually made the camera feature more difficult to use, since the magnifier window obscured too much of the camera's window.
Although the preceding list of problems may sound discouraging, we did find Mobile Speak to be useful in improving visual access to some of the screen information. When navigating through the cell phone's menus, Mobile Magnifier did a good job of magnifying the items as we scrolled through them. The magnified window focused well as we scrolled through the items, and if a menu item was too large to fit in the magnified window, we could use the panning feature to view the rest of the item. This was also true when we used some of the applications that are built into the cell phone, such as the contacts application and the e-mail and text-messaging applications. For example, when we used the contacts application to add a contact, Mobile Magnifier did a good job of magnifying each field as information was inserted. It would magnify and pan through the information in the name field and then switch focus to the next field as we moved the cursor to enter a number into the cell phone number field.
What Would Make It Better
An easier-to-use, faster, more efficient panning feature would make Mobile Magnifier much more useful to people with low vision. It would be especially useful when panning through multiple lines of text or when timing is important, such as when using Caller ID.
In taking a picture, the image that is being photographed is the most important thing. Decreasing the size of the magnifier window in the camera mode would, therefore, be useful so the user with low vision could see a larger image of what he or she is photographing. It would also be better if Mobile Magnifier would actually magnify the photographs that are taken, so that users could take advantage of the magnification feature when viewing their photographs.
We also recommend more options for the Function Key Time Out. A 5- or 10-second option, for example, would give a user a few more seconds to remember and then press the appropriate function key. Two seconds may be insufficient time for users who have limitations in manual dexterity to press the Function key, and the Unlimited setting could be too long.
Mobile Magnifier also needs to be more responsive in the web browser to make the Internet accessible. As for using the plug-in version along with Mobile Speak, the speech output needs to support all facets of the web browser on all Series 60 phones.
Large-print and audio versions of the user manual would also make this product more accessible. When a product is made for people who are visually impaired, the accompanying material should be available in a variety of accessible formats to meet individual users' needs. A more comprehensive manual would also be helpful. More detailed information on the installation process and use of the product is needed.
Because most cell phones have relatively small screens, it is not possible to fit much information on the screen after it has been magnified, so Mobile Magnifier would work better on future cell phones that may come onto the market with larger screens.
The Bottom Line
Users with sufficient visual acuity to read the screen with 2x magnification may find Mobile Magnifier Stand-alone useful when using their cell phones, but those with lower levels of vision may not. Users who require 3x or higher magnification may find that the plug-in version with speech output or Mobile Speak would better meet their needs. As we stated previously, the higher the level of magnification in the magnifier window, the more cumbersome Mobile Magnifier is to use.
For those who are interested in purchasing Mobile Magnifier, we recommend that you download a trial version and test it on a compatible cell phone before you make a decision to purchase it. If you have low vision and can view information on a computer monitor using only 2x magnification, then the stand-alone product may work well for you. However, if you use 3x magnification or higher, we recommend that you use the plug-in version, along with Mobile Speak, because of the extra level of access that is provided by the speech output. This would also be a good idea for someone who may be gradually losing his or her vision and may require higher magnification in the future.
Mobile Magnifier is a step in the right direction toward making cell phones usable by all people. We hope that Code Factory will continue its work and improve upon its existing product to make it more accessible, while setting an example for others in the field to follow.
Please watch for future articles; we will continue to evaluate new cell phones and software applications as they become available.
"Thank you for your review of Mobile Magnifier. One item that you highlighted as a shortcoming was the difficulty in focusing on important areas of the screen, such as Caller ID and the status icons. The current version actually does address this through the use of keyboard shortcuts, including specific shortcuts to focus on the status indicators or the button area. By adjusting the magnification level and using these shortcuts, the majority of the information can be accessed quickly. Because Mobile Magnifier and Mobile Speak operate at the level of the mobile phone's operating system, they are more dependent on differences between phone models than other, more general-purpose applications. As you correctly pointed out, this may prevent web content from being handled properly on some phones; however, we are continuing to invest effort in expanding the list of supported phones, especially with popular models such as the 6620.
All our products are driven primarily by user feedback, and many of the suggestions mentioned in the article are very good candidates for inclusion in future versions, such as better camera integration, finer control over magnification levels, and more customizable function key options."
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Manufacturer: Code Factory, S. L. Rambla d'Egara, 148, 2-2, 08221 Terrassa (Barcelona), Spain; phone: 0049-171-3797470; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.codefactory.es>.
U.S. Distributor: Optelec, 321 Billerica Road, Chelmsford, MA 01824; phone: 978-392-0707 or 800-828-1056; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.optelec.com>.
Price: $130 for the plug-in; $295 for the Stand-alone version. Free 30-day trial version available.
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