Take Me to myReader: An Evaluation of HumanWare's Transportable Auto-Reader
The past 10 years have seen many changes in the traditional desktop video magnifier, and 2005 was no different. Technology has enabled the manufacturers of video magnifiers to produce more portable and feature-rich products that can better meet the needs and preferences of people who have low vision. One company is pushing the envelope by introducing a new type of video magnifier that is unique. In early 2005, HumanWare launched and began shipping myReader.
What makes myReader different from other video magnifiers is its ability to capture an image of whatever is placed on its viewing table, which HumanWare calls "the platter," and then to reformat it into an arrangement that is chosen and customized by its user. myReader has no x-y table. Instead, it uses navigation through its control panel and its automatic scrolling feature to eliminate the back-and-forth movement of a document on an x-y table and to reduce the user's fatigue. The total myReader reading system, including its 15-inch flat-panel screen, folds down into a device that can be transported.
myReader's platter is approximately 12 inches by 14 inches, and the machine is approximately 18 inches high. The top of the machine, called the head, is directly over the platter and holds the camera and lightbulbs. The 15-inch flat LCD (liquid crystal display) screen is attached at the front of the head, which is close to the user's face, and can be adjusted to accommodate almost anyone's height. The control panel has eight controls: the Size knob, which increases and decreases the size of the magnification; the Live button, which switches the camera to show the platter in real time; the Picture knob, which moves you from full color to positive and negative and user colors; the Speed Dial wheel, which controls the speed of the scrolling text; the trackball, which is used to navigate the page and takes the place of the x-y table; the Start button, which captures an image; the Read/View button, which selects the reading mode; and the Next button, which moves you through the online menus.
Caption: myReader uses navigation controls instead of an x-y table to move through a document.
At the product evaluation lab of the American Foundation for the Blind Technology and Employment Center at Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH), I conducted an evaluation of myReader, replacing my traditional desktop closed-circuit television with myReader and using it daily for three months.
As part of the evaluation, the accompanying documentation was assessed for clarity and accessibility. Assembly and setup procedures and transportability were tested as well to determine how easy the machine is to assemble, fold down, and transport. The control panel was examined in terms of function and ease of use. The display quality and all myReader's magnification and text reformatting functions were also tested using various objects and types of documents to determine how well myReader's features meet the needs of users with low vision. After I completed the evaluation, I came to an overall conclusion that takes into account all the previously discussed assessments.
The documentation with myReader is just about as good as it gets. myReader comes with a Quick Start Guide, printed in 24-point type, and a User Manual, printed in an 18-point font. Using this Quick Start Guide, you should be able to set up the myReader and, if needed, as I did, use the machine to read the User Manual and the rest of the accompanying documentation, which is informative and easy to understand.
Assembly, Setup, and Transportability
myReader can be unfolded in five steps that can be easily learned. Even though the hinge-release buttons are marked with removable tape, it would be helpful if the buttons and slider to release the screen were permanently labeled on the machine. The two release buttons are large, round black buttons. The word Push is written in raised letters on the buttons, but the raised letters are also black, which creates virtually no contrast. Therefore, it is possible that a person with low vision would not see these words. Changing these raised letters to high-contrast white letters would make learning the assembly even easier.
The fact that myReader is transportable gives it a definite advantage over most traditional desktop video magnifiers, which are often bulky, difficult to move, and weigh well over 50 pounds. At about 20 pounds, carrying myReader from one room to another may be easily accomplished. But carrying it from one building to another, across a school's campus, or between home and work or home and school on a daily basis is a different story. HumanWare describes myReader as "transportable," which it is, but the potential buyer should not confuse that term with "easily portable."
Caption: myReader is "transportable" but not easily portable.
To increase its transportability, a carry bag for myReader is also available as an accessory at a price of $95 plus $15 shipping. The carry bag is similar to an airline carry-on bag with wheels and has an extendable handle. This type of bag is necessary to make myReader truly transportable over a distance. Unfortunately, it does not provide sufficient protection to be used to transport myReader on an airline. To do so, the User Manual suggests using the original packaging and consulting the airline's customer service representative. This sounds like a logistical challenge.
The Control Panel
myReader's control panel is a lightweight, 5 x 8 3/4-inch component that is attached to the machine by a cable. This feature enables the control panel to be moved as desired and positioned in a way that is most comfortable for you. The control panel's eight large function controls are all different shapes and sizes, making them tactilely distinguishable. The controls are also well spaced across the control panel, making them easy to use, especially for someone who has limited manual dexterity. Most of the controls click when they are pressed or turned to give auditory confirmation that they have been successfully pressed or turned. The trackball sensitivity can also be set through the on-screen menu to customize its movement to your preference. Each control is labeled underneath with black lettering. Some of the controls have more than one function, although they are labeled for the function for which they are most commonly used. The Speed Dial control and the trackball can also be used interchangeably at times.
Until you have had time to acquaint yourself with myReader, the control panel may be confusing. There are many ways to view text on the screen, and learning how to use the control panel and what ways of viewing text work best for you will take some time, patience, and practice. You will most likely need to keep the User Manual close by when you start to use the machine, so you can review how to access the features through the control panel. Once you are familiar with the control panel and its features, you need to select customized settings, which rarely need to be changed; therefore, you will not need to use all myReader's features on a regular basis.
The On-Screen Menus
The on-screen menus, which are used to set preferences and settings, such as brightness, contrast, volume of auditory tones, and user colors, are accessed by pressing and holding the Live button for two seconds. You then use the Speed Dial control or the trackball to scroll through the menu items, which are highlighted when selected, so you know where you are at all times.
The words and information contained in the menus have a set font size and cannot be adjusted. Thus, for some users with low vision, the menus may not be accessible. Also, the product-version information may be inaccessible for some users. Having a larger font in the menus or the ability to adjust the font size would be a big improvement.
In addition, the brightness and contrast settings are set on a shaded bar scale, but the bar is not labeled. Labeling the scale, for example, with "highest contrast" and "lowest contrast" with indicators in between would make these menu items more user friendly. Moreover, there is a fine-tuning brightness-adjustment button on the bottom of the flat panel screen, but this button had no effect on the screen's brightness.
If you have sufficient vision to see the menu items, navigating the menu is fairly simple. While in the on-screen menu mode, myReader displays reminder prompts at the bottom of the screen for guidance. The ability to modify and customize the foreground and background colors through the menu is also a helpful feature that will be appreciated by those who see higher-contrast colors best.
On a daily basis, the only cleaning needed is to wipe the machine with a dry lint-free cloth; no water or cleaning products should be used. The trackball should be cleaned approximately once a month by removing it, polishing it with a dry cloth, and blowing out any dust from the cavity. The problem is in removing the ring that holds the trackball in place. The User Manual says to grip it firmly and twist counterclockwise, but when I did so, I found that the ring was difficult to turn, especially the first few times that I tried to remove it. Also, the grips are small and smooth, making them difficult to grasp. People with limited manual dexterity may have a hard time caring for the trackball. A wider ring with a rubberized surface and ribbed grips would make the trackball easier to remove, thus increasing the likelihood that the trackball will be cared for properly.
Heat is created by the light bulbs that illuminate the platter, and myReader uses a small fan to keep the machine cool. This fan emits a low humming sound, which some visitors to my office mistook for a car alarm going off in the distance. This humming ground on my nerves and, at times, distracted and frustrated me to the point of turning off the machine.
Quality of the Display
myReader has a built-in 15-inch LCD matte-finish, flat-screen monitor. The monitor has good resolution and displays color well, making it stand out from low-cost or older-model video magnifiers. The screen height and tilt angle can be adjusted to help eliminate glare and meet individual preferences. The fact that the monitor can be made more ergonomically suited to the user means that it can be used longer with a greater level of comfort.
One significant limitation in the display of myReader, however, is the focus in the full-color setting. In this setting, text is not as sharp and in focus as in the user-selected colors or positive and negative settings. In fact, the larger I made the text in the full-color setting, the more out of focus it became, although it always remained legible. It was also disappointing to find that the text in the full-color setting cannot be made as large as in the user-selected colors or positive and negative settings. This is a definite problem if you require higher magnification and like to see objects in their original colors or for situations in which the user-selected colors and positive and negative settings are not suited for viewing an object or text.
Another display issue arises when you use automatic scrolling. When I used this feature, the movement of the letters across the screen was not smooth, and there was a distracting flickering or shaking of the letters in all user-selected colors and positive and negative settings. This shaking of the letters occurred when I used lower levels of magnification, but as I increased the level of magnification, it became less and less noticeable.
Document Capture Accuracy
You have five options when reading text with myReader. You can use one of the three reading modes to capture an image of the page digitally and reformat it to your preference, or you can use the Viewing mode, which displays the image in its original format but magnified. The fifth option is to use the Live mode, which shows the page in real time.
Column layout works much like a TelePrompTer that is used by television broadcasters. In this layout, the page is reformatted into a newspaper-like column with one to three words across the screen and the next words appearing below them and continues to scroll down until the bottom of the page is reached. This layout works best with moderate to lower levels of magnification. If the magnification level is set to high in Column layout, a word with many letters may take up two or three lines, which makes it distracting and difficult to read.
Row layout reformats a page of text into one continuous line that scrolls from left to right across the screen, much like a marquis. This layout works well with all levels of magnification, and it may be the best choice if you prefer higher levels of magnification.
Word layout flashes one word at a time on the screen. Like Column layout, Word layout works best with moderate to lower levels of magnification. If the magnification level is set to high in Word layout, part of the word will flash on the screen, and then the next flash will show the rest of the word; this makes it difficult to read and know where one word stops and the next word starts. In the Viewing mode, you can adjust the level of magnification to your preference while using automatic scrolling, the Next button, or the trackball to navigate the page.
To test the accuracy of the document capture in each layout, I used fonts of various sizes, as well as red, blue, green, and black ink. All size and color fonts captured equally well. myReader's User Manual instructs you to use Viewing mode when you read documents with complicated layouts because the three reading modes will not work well in these situations. Even the seemingly simple layout of an indented, numbered list was captured inaccurately in the Column, Row, and Word layouts. The same document would be captured less accurately at some times than at others. In Word layout, ink dots or smudges on the page would flash on the screen as if they were words because myReader could not distinguish them from text.
Other types of text caused inaccurate captures as well. When a document contained underlined text, the underline was not displayed. If a letter fell below the underline, such as a lower-case "g" or "q," that letter and sometimes the letters on either side of it are omitted from the displayed word. A dropped capital letter, which often appears at the beginning of a magazine article or chapter in a book, will also cause an inaccurate capture. Switching to Viewing mode will alleviate these inaccuracies because it displays the text in its original format but magnified. The more straightforward the text and simple the layout, the better myReader will work in each layout in the Reading mode.
You can also use the Live mode to read text. It is necessary to use Live mode when you write by hand, fill out forms, or proofread. The problem with this mode is that the viewing area is small, approximately 2 9/16 inches wide x 2 inches long. When a sheet of paper is placed on the platter, you can write only two-thirds of the way down the page until you have to bend the paper up and push it back to be able to read the bottom of the page. When you write on lined paper, you must use the Full Color mode. Otherwise, when you try to write on lined paper in the user-selected colors or positive and negative settings, the lines disappear when you put your hand and pen under the camera.
The User Manual says to use the Viewing mode to look at pictures, but tests that I conducted consistently showed that looking at pictures in the Live mode gave the best results. Crosshatch lines appear in the pictures, especially those in black and white, and although using the plastic sheet provided with myReader to look at pictures did remove them, it slightly blurred the image.
Dual-column magazine pages with simple page layouts were readable in the Reading mode with the use of the margin-setting feature. The margins are easy to set around the column that you are reading, and then the Reading mode works as normal. Curved surfaces, such as on a medicine bottle, can also be read with myReader by using the Live mode and turning the bottle as you read the label from side to side. Shiny pages of a magazine are also easily read by myReader.
myReader is computer compatible, and the myReader screen can take the place of the PC monitor. A foot switch toggles you between the computer display and myReader's camera, with a split screen also being an option. While connecting your computer to myReader may save a good deal of desk space, if you are used to a large monitor, you may find it uncomfortable or impractical to trade your large monitor for the 15-inch myReader screen. As I noted regarding automatic scrolling in the Viewing mode, the letters on the screen flicker or shake when you scroll with the mouse using screen-magnification software. In addition, having the ability to toggle through the PC and myReader settings by using the control panel instead of the foot switch would be a big plus.
The Bottom Line
The new concepts that are built into myReader are noteworthy. The ability to customize the reading of documents to this level is a first in the video magnifier market. HumanWare has set a new standard for others in the video magnifier market to look to when developing their next generation of products.
Some of myReader's most noteworthy features include its ergonomics and transportability. The ability to capture and reformat text documents digitally is also a unique feature of myReader that can make the reading of long documents much easier than it would be with an x-y table. The accompanying documentation also does a good job of describing myReader and its features and functions and is accessible for many with low vision.
As exciting as this technology is, there are still areas of myReader that need improvement, two of the most noteworthy being the lack of a clear focus and the inability to reach high magnification in Full Color mode. Full color should be just as in focus as all the other color settings, and the sharp focus should remain constant as the level of magnification increases.
The shaking of the letters on the screen, when you use automatic scrolling in the Viewing mode and myReader with a PC is also an issue. It would also be an improvement for myReader to have the ability to capture less-straightforward text accurately. It would be helpful if the time taken to capture a document was reduced from approximately 10 seconds and the ability to capture and save multiple pages at once was added. One additional issue is the noise created by the fan, since the low humming sound sometimes became so annoying that I had to turn the machine off.
All things considered, myReader may be an option if you will use it mainly to read multipage documents or for lengthy sessions of reading straightforward text. However, if you need magnification for proofreading, filling out forms, or viewing three-dimensional objects, you may find that another device may better fit your needs. For my office work, I would use the text-reformatting feature infrequently and would therefore not choose myReader. Above all, potential buyers should strongly consider whether the document-reformatting feature will work for their individual magnification needs and, if so, whether it is worth the cost. With a retail price of $4,995, it leaves potential buyers asking themselves, Should HumanWare's autoreader be my reader?
"myReader is first and foremost a low vision reading device, an autoreader, not a video magnifier. AccessWorld has, in the past, published research explaining that 76 percent of video magnifier users become fatigued with 15 minutes or less of use. Although myReader has a video magnifier (live) mode, this mode is rarely, if ever, used for extended reading because myReader offers far superior reading modes. Since a 'live' mode is all that video magnifiers offer, users are stuck with manually manipulating reading material beneath a camera that magnifies everything, not just the words one is trying to read. That's it! No reading modes, just magnification. Former video magnifier users who now use myReader report that they can read faster for longer periods of time with far less fatigue. They have also noted how much easier it is to orient themselves to complicated layouts and to find what they want to read more efficiently. These improvements are critical for students and professionals who need to read volumes of text. We have also found that myReader is usable by people who have been unable to use video magnifiers in the past either because of the difficulty of using the x-y table or because of the constant motion on the monitor. myReader solves these inherent video magnifier problems and offers a variety of ways to sit back, hands free, and enjoy reading a full page of text without interrupting one's concentration at the end of every line.
"myReader is the first device of its kind. HumanWare did not just repackage old magnification ideas that have been around for 35 years. It came up with a totally new and fresh way of helping people with low vision to read. Every new technology presents opportunities for improvement and refinement, and the suggestions made by Lee Huffman in his kind review are among those that HumanWare has identified, some of which are already being incorporated into the latest version of myReader."
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Manufacturer: HumanWare, 1 Expo Place, P.O. Box 3044, Christchurch, New Zealand; phone: +64-3-384-4555; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.humanware.com>. U.S. Office: 175 Mason Circle, Concord, CA 94520; phone: 800-722-3393; e-mail: <email@example.com>.
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