Dial Me In: The Latest on Off-the-Shelf Cell Phone Accessibility
Our product evaluation lab at AFB TECH in Huntington, West Virginia, was back at it again this summer, investigating the latest in cell phone accessibility. Readers who have followed our cell phone articles in AccessWorld will know that we have defined two categories of cell phones: off-the-shelf cell phones that are designed with a degree of built-in speech-output capability and cell phones with the Symbian operating system that is compatible with third-party screen-reading and screen-magnification software programs. This article looks at the state of affairs in the off-the-shelf category. You can look forward to a future article evaluating Symbian phones with the latest versions of the Mobile Speak and TALKS screen readers, as well as the Mobile Magnifier and ZOOMS screen-magnifier products.
In this article, I examine eight off-the-shelf telephones that are produced by four manufacturers and are available from seven national service providers. Here is a list of the cell phones, followed by a detailed description of each one.
- LG VX 4650, available from Verizon Wireless
- LG AX 4750, available from Alltel
- LG UX 4750, available from US Cellular
- Motorola i355, available from Nextel Wireless
- Motorola i580, available from Nextel Wireless
- Owasys 22C, from Capital Accessibility, LLC
- Samsung SGH D-357, available from Cingular Wireless
- Samsung SGH A-920, available from Sprint PCS
LG Electronics VX 4650, AX 4750, and UX 4750
We at AFB TECH chose to evaluate three cell phones manufactured by LG Electronics--the VX 4650, AX 4750, and UX 4750--because they have the same Voice Command features as the LG VX 4500 that we evaluated in the May 2005 issue of AccessWorld. The Voice Command feature combines voice input and output to provide access to much of the phones' screen information and menu systems. Although much of the information provided here about these three telephones and the Voice Command feature is the same as that provided in the May 2005 issue, we include it here to compare them to the other phones that are evaluated in this article. These three phones are nearly identical to one another. They are simply carried by different service providers, with the letters in their names providing a clue to their respective carriers. The VX 4650 is carried by Verizon Wireless, the AX 4750 is carried by Alltel, and the UX 4750 is carried by US Cellular.
They are all small clamshell-style cell phones, weighing 3.7 ounces and measuring 1.9 by 0.9 by 3.5 inches when folded up. On the inside, there is a 1.1-by-1.5-inch high-resolution display screen with 6,500 colors that can be viewed when the phone is flipped open. There is a smaller 0.9-by-0.5-inch monochrome display on the outside that can be viewed when the phone is flipped closed. These phones feature a keypad with the 12 dialing keys arranged in the standard 3-by-4 grid. Above the 12 keys are 6 more keys in two rows of 3 each. On the outside of the top row are 2 "soft" keys, whose function depends on the icon adjacent to them on the display screen. Between these keys is a circular, four-way Navigation key surrounding an OK button. Below that row are the Send, Cancel, and End keys. On the left side panel, there are 2 control keys. On the top is an up/down rocker-style button that is used to control the volume. Below that button is the Voice button, which is used to activate the voice input and output functionality.
Caption: The three LG phones are nearly identical clamshell-style phones. Left, the Alltel LG AX 4750; center, the US Cellular LG UX 4750; and right, the Verizon Wireless LG VX 4650.
These phones are considered midrange phones by today's standards, without some advanced features, such as a digital video camera or multimedia messaging. They do, however, feature a web browser, speaker phone, text messaging, and a Contacts application. The VX 4650 from Verizon also has a Push-to-Talk feature that is used to connect instantly to other Verizon customers.
The LG Voice Command Feature
LG's Voice Command allows you to use your voice to control many, but not all, aspects of the phone. It is speaker independent, meaning that it recognizes any voice, so you do not have to train it to understand your voice. The speech-recognition quality is robust, even in some noisy situations. To access LG's Voice Command function, you press the Voice button on the bottom of the left side panel, and a recorded human voice responds, "Please say a command." You then respond with 1 of the 10 commands that the phone recognizes. For example, you could say, "Voicemail," and the phone will respond, "You have one new voicemail message; call voicemail now?" You then respond, "yes" or "no." Here is the list of the voice commands that are available, along with a short description of what they do:
- Call someone. The phone responds, "Please say a name," and you speak the name of a person you have entered into your Contacts application.
- Digit dial. The phone prompts you to speak a phone number into the phone and then dials it.
- Service alerts. The phone tells you how many missed calls, new voicemails, and new text messages you have.
- Missed calls. The phone tells you how many new missed calls you have. You can then scroll through the list and hear the phone read you the time, date, and number of each missed call.
- Contacts. The phone asks if you would like to read, create, or erase a contact. After you respond, it follows with more prompts to guide you in completing each task.
- Announce. This command toggles Announce Mode on and off. With it on, you are prompted for a command by simply flipping the phone open, and it activates the speaking of caller ID information and some menu items.
- Driving. This command toggles the hands-free mode on and off. With it on, the speaker phone is on, and as with Announce Mode, you are prompted for a command by flipping the phone open.
- Time and date. The phone announces the current time and date.
- Phone status. The phone announces the battery strength and signal strength and indicates if you are roaming and if your global positioning system (GPS) location feature is active.
- Voicemail. The phone tells you how many voicemail messages you have and asks if you want to call voicemail.
If you forget any of the voice commands that are available, or if you simply do not want to talk to your phone, you can press the Voice button, and a recorded human voice will speak the name of each command as you scroll through the list using the Up and Down arrows of the five-way Navigation key. You then just press the OK button when you land on the item that you want to activate.
Motorola i355 and i580
We chose to evaluate these two Motorola phones, which are available from Nextel Wireless, because Motorola has developed its iDEN Text-to-Speech (TTS) Software, which provides access to some of the screen information on these two phones. Users must download the i355's TTS software from the Motorola web site and install it on the phone, but the software is already built into the i580, which is a newer phone. We are happy to see Motorola begin to provide some accessibility for its customers who are blind or have low vision. We found little accessibility when evaluating the Motorola T720 in the July 2003 issue of AccessWorld, and we really took Motorola and Apple to task in our January 2006 evaluation of their inaccessible ROKR phone and iTunes software.
The i355 is a large block- or candy-bar-style phone weighing 7 ounces and measuring 5.1 by 2.4 by 1.4 inches. It has a 1.25-inch-by-1.25-inch color screen and hemispherical control buttons with the dialing keys arranged in the familiar 3-by-4 grid. Above these keys are the other keys that have become familiar on cell phones, including soft keys on the top left and right corners, the Send and End keys, a group of 5-way Navigation buttons, and the Menu, Cancel, and End keys. The left side panel features a rocker switch for controlling volume on the top and a button that is used for the walkie-talkie feature on the bottom.
Caption: The Nextel Motorola i355 is a large candy-bar-style cell phone.
The i580 is a smaller clamshell-style phone weighing 5.1 ounces and measuring 3.8 by 2.2 by 1.1 inches when closed. It has a 1.5-by-1.25-inch color display screen when closed, and a 1-inch-by-0.5-inch monochrome screen on the outside. It has the same general button arrangement as the i355, but the keys are flat instead of hemispherical. It also has two buttons on the top outside panel for accessing the walkie-talkie feature and for hearing phone-status information when it is flipped closed.
Caption: The Nextel Motorola i580 is a small clamshell-style phone.
The main marketing feature of these phones is their ruggedness. They adhere to military standards for dust, shock, vibration, and extreme temperatures and are rainproof. One of our AFB TECH lab technicians referred to them as the "sports utility phones" and said they would be good phones for a construction site. The marketing literature also promotes the web and e-mail features, as well as the GPS and the walkie-talkie feature, which allows users to connect instantly to other Nextel customers who have been entered into the phone's Contacts application.
The Motorola iDEN TTS Software
The Motorola TTS software provides access to fewer features than does the LG Voice Command feature. With the iDEN TTS feature, you can hear the following as you use your phone:
- the number keys you have pressed
- the names, phone numbers, and types of contacts as you scroll through Contacts
- the status information on the home screen, including the time and date, if you have voicemail, the battery level, and the signal strength
- the word "home" when you return to the main screen
- a prompt indicating that you have started or ended a call
- the names, phone numbers, and types of contacts as you scroll through recent calls
- the menu options as you scroll through the main menu only
- notices, such as "low battery" and "keypad locked"
- pop-ups, such as "new voicemail" and new text message"
The speech also supports adjusting the voice-playback settings of the TTS software to control and adjust how it provides voice feedback. You can turn the voice on or off, as well as the speaking of caller ID information. You can also set the speaker and earpiece volume and choose between male and female voices. The i355 has four voices, two female and two male, but the i580 has only two voices, one male and one female. The i355 also has a convenient way to access these settings by simply pressing the OK button in the middle of the five-way Navigation control, but you have to go through the menus to reach these settings on the i580. You have to go to the menu and choose settings, but that is where the speech output stops briefly. You have to then scroll down five times and press OK to activate the voice-playback settings, where the speech support returns.
Before I move on to the other phones and the Results section, the Motorola situation needs a bit more explanation. When we purchased the i355 in May 2006, Motorola had actually released a second version of the i355, which we discovered was not compatible with its iDEN TTS software. After many phone calls and web searches investigating the matter, we finally found the right person to explain the situation. We reached Motorola's product manager for the iDEN phones, and she told us that Motorola is working to fix the problem. She sent us a properly working i355 to evaluate, as well as the new i580. The bottom line is that the i580 is available and in stores now, but the i355 software is not currently working. Readers who are interested in the i355 should call the phone numbers for Motorola and Nextel listed in the Product Information section of this article to learn when the problem will be fixed.
We originally evaluated this cell phone in the July 2004 issue of AccessWorld. We chose to include it in this article as well because its U.S. marketing partner, Capital Accessibility, now has an agreement with T-Mobile to provide service for the Owasys 22C in the United States and Canada and because it has also undergone some improvements since our last evaluation.
Manufactured by the Spanish company Owasys (pronounced "oasis"), the 22C is a "screenless" cell phone that is designed specifically for people who are blind or have low vision. The Owasys 22C is a "brick-" or "candy-bar-"style cell phone measuring 4.6 by 1.9 by 1.1 inches and weighing 4.5 ounces. On the front panel, there are 6 control buttons laid out in 2 rows of 3 each. Below these control buttons are the 12 dialing keys, arranged in the standard 3-by-4 grid, and the side panel has an Up key and a Down key that are used to adjust the volume. Although this telephone does not feature many of the extras that are found on today's cell phones, such as a camera, web access, or a video recorder, it comes equipped with speech-synthesis software from Babel Technologies to guide you through all the features that it does have, including a searchable phone book, SMS text messaging, and a vibrating ring feature. The software runs on the Linux operating platform, and the phone uses the GSM cellular network, which is the network used by T-Mobile, Cingular, and other smaller local carriers.
Caption: The Owasys 22C is designed specifically for people who are blind or have low vision.
The agreement between Capital Accessibility and T-Mobile is for a limited time only, and under this agreement, customers can purchase the phone for $199.95 with a two-year plan or $249.95 with a one-year plan. If you want to go with a different GSM provider, such as Cingular, you can purchase the phone for $499.95 and put the SIM card from your provider into your Owasys phone.
Samsung SGH D-357 and SGH A-920
We chose to evaluate the Samsung SGH D-357, carried by Cingular, and the Samsung A-920 (now called the MM-A920), carried by Sprint PCS, because we heard that Samsung had included a software program, called VSuite, that features voice input and output to provide access to some of the telephones' screen information and menu systems.
The Samsung D-357 is a small clamshell-style phone weighing 3.5 ounces and measuring 3.4 by 1.8 by 1 inches when closed. Its inside screen is a 1.5-by-1.25-inch color display, and the outside screen is a 0.75-by-0.6-inch monochrome screen. Its dialing keys are arranged in the familiar 3-by-4 grid with the outside columns curving up slightly. Above these keys are the same standard cell phone controls that the Motorola phones have. The left side panel has the Volume rocker switch, and on the bottom of the right side panel is a Push-to-Talk key for access to a feature similar to the Motorola's walkie-talkie feature. On the right side panel is a key that is used to activate the voice input and output functionality.
Caption: The Samsung SGH D-357 is a small clamshell-style phone.
The A-920 is a larger clamshell-style phone weighing 4.6 ounces and measuring 3.6 by 1.9 by 1 inches when closed. The inside screen is a 1.5-by-1.25-inch color display, and the outside screen is a 1-inch-by-1-inch monochrome display. The keys are all similar to those on the D-357, except that the right side panel has just one button, used to operate the camera. Also, the key that is used to activate the voice input and output is on the main panel, just to the left of the End key. One other difference is that the controls for the MP3 player on the A-920 are on the outside of the phone, but no voice output supports using these keys.
Caption: The Samsung A-920 is a larger clamshell-style phone.
The D-357 is a midrange phone by today's standards. It does not have a still camera or a video camera, but it does have web browsing, instant messaging, text, and multimedia messaging capabilities. A higher-end phone, the A-920, is being touted for its multimedia capabilities. It has a built-in MP3 player, and it can play streaming music, video, and sports news. It also has a still camera and video camera, web browsing, instant messaging, and text and multimedia messaging. The voice input and output functions of these two phones, however, do not provide access to any of these features. In fact, these phones provide the least amount of access of all the phones that are evaluated in this article.
The following commands are available on the D-357:
- Call a name or number. You say, "Call," followed by a phone number or name of a person in your contacts list. The voice then responds with the confirming question, "Did you say . . . ?" followed by the person's name. If you say yes, the call is placed. However, adding names to your contacts is a completely visual process.
- Text messaging. You say, "Send text to," followed by a phone number or a name in your contacts list. The voice again asks the confirming question, but the rest of the process of composing and sending the message is not supported by voice output.
- Look up. You say, "Look up," followed by a name in your contacts list. The voice again responds with the confirming question, but then displays the contact information visually on the screen with no voice support.
- Go to. This is just a voice shortcut to access phone applications. For example, you can say, "Go to messaging," and it will open your messaging application. However, there is no voice support for any of the phone's applications that you may want to access.
The A-920 has these commands and one additional command, which is one that is actually useful to a person who is blind or has low vision:
- Check. You say, "Check status," and the voice responds with the battery level, signal strength, the network you are connected to, and your phone number.
Other than the Check command, the voice input and output features of these Samsung phones are of little or no use to a person who is blind. The features were designed as simple conveniences for sighted users, not with people who are blind or have low vision in mind. Therefore, we do not include information on these phones in our usual "Sweet 16" analysis. We would never recommend these phones to our readers, so we will not waste any more of your valuable reading time discussing them. We simply included them up to this point to squash rumors that we were hearing in the blindness community that these phones are accessible.
The Sweet 16
As we reported in our previous cell phone evaluations, before we began our reviews, we surveyed 40 cell phone users who are blind or have low vision to determine which features they would most like to have made accessible. The 16 features that the respondents rated the highest became the now-famous basis of our evaluation, known as the Sweet 16. We looked at whether users would be able to access these features and noted the barriers to accessing them. The evaluation methods we used included these:
- measuring the ability to identify and use the keypad tactilely
- determining the ability to navigate menus
- noting auditory and vibratory feedback
- assessing the readability of the visual display
The following analysis lists the 16 cell phone features that our survey determined to be the most important for accessibility and how these phones measured up on each feature.
Keys Easily Identifiable by Touch
The Owasys 22C has the best keypad design among the phones in this article. In fact, it has the most tactilely accessible keypad design of any phone we have ever evaluated at AFB TECH. The hemispherical-shaped keys protrude from the panel and are spaced sufficiently apart from each other so that it is easy to distinguish one key from another, and there is a properly designed nib on the 5 key. Our original evaluation of this phone found that because the Pound (#) key is also the Power key, it was easy to turn it on inadvertently if it was jostled in a pocket or purse. The manufacturer has since greatly decreased this possibility by requiring that the key be pressed and held longer to turn the phone on.
The Motorola i355 phone's keys are nearly as tactilely friendly as the Owasys'. The hemispheric-shaped keys are also widely spaced with a proper nib on the 5 key, but the control buttons above the dialing grid are closer together and require a little more practice to get used to.
The Motorola i580's keys are a bit less tactilely identifiable, but would be easy to get used to. There is a good nib on the 5 key, but the keys are flat, with little tactile differentiation when moving horizontally. However, our testers found the five-way control to be the easiest to use of all the ones we have ever tested. Its wide arrow keys make it easy to use.
The LG phones' keypads bring up the rear in this group, but they are still relatively easy to learn and use. You can also set the phones to announce the digits as you dial them. The Verizon and US Cellular versions have good nibs on the 5 key, as well as the Send and End keys, but for some reason, the Alltel version has no nib on the 5 key and barely noticeable nibs on the Send and End keys.
All these phones have voice output, but the Owasys voice provides access to the greatest number of features. In fact, it provides access to every feature on the phone because it is designed specifically for people who are blind or have low vision. The LG's voice provides the next-highest level of access, but considerably less than the Owasys'. We rank it higher than the Motorola because it provides a higher level of access to the phone's features. For privacy purposes, you can also accessibly set the Owasys and LG phones to speak only from the earpiece on the phone, but you have to have an external earpiece connected to turn off the speaker on the Motorola phones. The frustrating thing about both the LG and Motorola phones is that they take you to the brink of full access, but then pull you back. They provide speech output for reading the items on the main menu, but then the speech stops. Other than for contacts and some call-log information, none of the items that you can choose from the menu is supported by speech. It is much like a system that would guide you perfectly through your neighborhood to a bus stop, but then would refuse to allow you to board the bus.
The voice quality is best on the LG because most of it is produced by digitally recorded human voice, but contact names are read with a poor-quality synthetic voice. Although the synthetic voices on the Motorola phones are not as high a quality as the voice on your favorite screen reader, they are better than the LG's synthetic voice, and all the voices are fine once you get used to them.
The manual for the Owasys is available from the manufacturer via e-mail in accessible plain text and HTML (hypertext markup language) formats. Although it is the most accessible manual in this group and is sufficient to get you started using and learning about the phone, it does have minor drawbacks. It is a limited manual; it describes some features, such as the phone book, too briefly, and it does not describe the nonvoice feedback that the phone produces, such as low battery and message-indication tones. Captial Accessibility is extending the documentation through the FAQ section of the <www.screenlessphone.com> web site. An "Audio Tour" is available both on the web site and by phone by calling 202-595-7777. Motorola does have a fully accessible manual in PDF (portable document format) on its web page for the text-to-speech functionality on the i355, but none is yet available for the i580. The full manuals for both Motorola phones in PDF format are also available, and although there is certainly room for improvement, the manuals are surprisingly accessible, with few of the common PDF access problems. The LG manuals have more of the familiar unlabeled graphics and other common PDF accessibility problems, but much of the text is accessible using a screen reader. However, the manual has no section covering the Voice Command functionality.
Battery Level Indicator
All these phones provide speech output for accessing your battery level, as well as a periodic tone indicating a critically low battery. The Motorola phones also say "low battery" in addition to their tone indication.
All these phones are served by national service providers, so you should never be roaming and thus paying a higher price for your call. However, if you do by chance have a plan with roaming costs, the Owasys will speak the name of the carrier to which you are currently connected, so you will know if you are roaming. The LG phones also warn you if you are roaming and prompt you to press the 1 key to continue and accept the extra charges if you make or receive a call while roaming. The Motorola phones have no such feature.
The Owasys again takes the lead in this category because you can access the status information for the voice to tell you if you have any voicemail or text messages. The voice also supports the process of writing and reading text messages, but with limitations. You have to read the entire message at once, so you cannot read word by word. Also, if you notice a mistake in a message you are writing on the Owasys, you have to delete the message all the way back to the mistake to edit it.
On the LG phones, the Voicemail command causes the voice to tell you if you have any voicemail messages, and the Service Alerts command alerts you to voicemail, missed calls, and text messages. However, the text-messaging function is inaccessible because it does not feature speech output. The Motorola tells you if you have new voicemail, and how many messages, but it provides no access to text messages.
Again, the Owasys has the most accessible phone book, or contacts, application that you can use to add, delete, and search contacts and to make phone calls. The manufacturer has also eliminated a limitation that we discovered in our original evaluation: You can now add phone numbers from your missed and received calls directly to your contacts list. The LG phones come in second here, since they provide full access to creating, writing, editing, erasing, and calling contacts. With the Motorola phones, you can scroll through your list of contacts, and the voice will read you the name, phone number, and type of contact for each entry, but the voice does not support creating or editing contacts, which is a major shortcoming in these phones' accessibility.
Phone Lock Mode
The Owasys again comes out on top in this category, in that its voice supports the process of locking the phone with password protection to prevent unauthorized use. To lock the LG phones to prevent unauthorized use, you press the Pound key for three seconds. You unlock it by pressing the right soft key, followed by your four-digit password, which is the last four digits of your phone number. The phone emits a beep to indicate that the phone is locked, but there is no speech output to support this process. Also, there is no speech support if you want to change your password. The phone-lock process is inaccessible on the Motorola phones because the speech output does not support the process.
To prevent the keys from being activated while in a pocket or purse, you can lock the keys on the Motorola and Owasys phones, and the speech output supports the process on each phone. On the Owasys, you press and hold the Star (*) key for three seconds, and the voice says, "Keypad locked." You repeat the process to unlock the phone. On the Motorola phones, you press the Menu key, followed by the Star key, and the voice confirms that the keys have been locked. If you later try to use the phone and you press a key, the voice reminds you to press the Menu key, followed by the Star key, to unlock the keypad. Even the i580, which is a clamshell-style phone with most of its keys protected, has this accessible feature because the key to activate the instantly connected walkie-talkie feature is on the outside of the phone. There is no Keypad Lock feature on the LG phones because they are also clamshell-style phones, and no dialing keys are exposed.
Visually, power is indicated on the Owasys by a red light in the middle of the Navigation key, and it is indicated on the Motorola and LG phones simply by the display screen being on. Nonvisually, you can simply press a key and listen for tone feedback or speech output, and you will know that either of these phones is on.
Ringing or Vibrating Mode Indicator
All these phones have an accessible way to change between the ringing and vibrate modes. On the Owasys, it is done via the menu system, and the speech output supports the entire process. The LG phones have a feature called Manner mode for use in public places, which silences all key tones and sets the phone to vibrate mode. You set Manner mode by pressing and holding the Star key for three seconds. The phone will briefly vibrate, and a Vibrate icon appears on the display. To get out of Manner mode, you press the Star key for three seconds; a beep sounds, and the Vibrate icon disappears. On the Motorola phones, the rocker button on the left side panel is used to adjust the volume, and if you turn it all the way down past the last volume setting, the phone will be in vibrate mode, and it vibrates to indicate that is so. To return to ringing mode, you simply use the up side of the Volume button, and the phone will beep to indicate that it is now in ringing mode, and you can then adjust the volume as you like.
Many of today's cell phones have a GPS feature using global positioning satellites to help emergency services locate you if you make a 911 call, but your local emergency system must be equipped to use the satellite systems. The Owasys phone does not have this GPS feature; the LG and Motorola phones do. In addition, the Motorola phones that use the Nextel network are able to access driving directions and other advanced GPS capabilities. However, the speech output does not support these features.
Signal Strength Indicator
The speech output on all these phones tells you your signal strength, so you will know whether or not you are able to make or receive a call. Also, in another move to improve its phone since we last evaluated it, the manufacturer of the Owasys phone has quieted the once painfully loud tone indicating that you have moved in or out of range of a signal.
Ringer Volume Control
The Owasys gives you the ability to adjust the ringer volume by navigating through the accessible menu system to the Ringer Volume setting and choosing the desired volume level. This control is also accessible and a bit quicker on the LG and Motorola i355 phones, since you simply adjust the volume with the rocker switch on the left side, and a ring tone indicates the changing volume as you increase or decrease it. There is also a rocker Volume Adjustment switch on the side of the Motorola i580, but there is no tone to indicate the volume level as you adjust it.
All these phones speak the number of an incoming caller or the name of the caller if he or she is in your contacts list. For privacy purposes, each phone also has an accessible way to control whether or not that information is spoken through the speaker.
On the LG and Motorola phones, there is no speech output to assist you in setting up speed dialing. But, if you get assistance from a sighted user to associate certain contacts with speed-dial numbers, you simply press a number between 2 and 9 to call the contact associated with that number. There is no specific speed-dialing feature on the Owasys phone, but you can easily use the phone book to call a person in your contacts list.
Low Vision Accessibility
Because there is no screen on the Owasys, there is nothing to say about the accessibility of a visual display. All users, whether they have vision or not, use the same auditory interface to use this telephone. The labels for the keys are large, and their black color contrasts well with the light blue background on the panel. Also, as was stated earlier, the keys are easy to identify by touch if your vision is not sufficient to see them.
The LG phones have a high-resolution color display, but most of the text and icons that appear are in font sizes of about 10 point, which is too small for most people with low vision to see clearly. These phones do have a setting to adjust font sizes from normal to large, but the setting only adjusts the size of the digits that appear on screen when you dial a number or enter text into a contact or text message. Glare was not a problem with these phones, and brightness and contrast can be adjusted to improve viewability. The labels on the buttons are too small to accommodate users with low vision, so tactile methods must be used.
Although the size of the display information on the Motorola phones can be adjusted, the information is still too small for people with low vision to read. At the highest setting, the text is still only about a 10-point font size. The phones do have a backlight, and the contrast can be adjusted. However, although the contrast adjustment helps, larger display information is still necessary. One positive feature for people with low vision is that as you dial, each digit is briefly displayed on the screen in 72-point font, taking up nearly the entire screen. The buttons on the Motorola phones are backlit and have white labels that contrast well with the buttons, but the labels would require magnification for a person with low vision to read.
The Bottom Line
We hope this review has given you something to work with when choosing a cell phone. If you want access to all the bells and whistles of today's cell phones, then you will want to use one of the Symbian phones with one of the third-party screen reader and/or screen magnifier products. However, if you just want a simpler phone that provides access to some basic but important screen information, then one of these off-the-shelf phones may be for you.
The Owasys 22C provides the most access of any of these phones. However, it is available only on GSM networks. If you cannot reach a GSM network, such as T-Mobile or Cingular, or if you prefer a clamshell-style phone and/or robust speech-input functionality, then the LG phones would provide the most accessibility for you. If easily identifiable tactile keys are the most important to you, and you can live with a slightly lower degree of speech-output functionality, then the Motorola phones should interest you.
As was stated earlier, we would never recommend either of the Samsung phones. If you want to use the Sprint PCS network, then we suggest that you purchase the Toshiba VM 4050 phone that we evaluated in the May 2004 issue of AccessWorld. It is still available online, but you will not be able to find it in your local store. You could also search for a phone at your local store without any speech output but with easy-to-use tactile buttons for placing and receiving calls. If Cingular is your network of choice, then we suggest that you call its National Center for Customers with Disabilities at 866-241-6568 and order the Nokia 6620 Symbian phone with the TALKS software. Cingular still has plenty of these phones left, and it is still offering the rebate of the full cost of the TALKS software.
The continuing and rapid evolution of the cell phone market is certainly encouraging, but it also necessitates a warning that the information that is provided herein, especially the information on prices in the Product Information section, may not be entirely up to date by the time it reaches you. It may be helpful to use the contact information provided in the Product Information section of this article, but that can also be a frustrating process because the technicians who answer calls to those phone numbers do not know about the availability or accessibility of their companies' phones. We often get conflicting answers to our questions, and we often have to dig deep to get to the right person. Adding to the confusion, Nextel and Sprint have recently merged, but they seem to be keeping their individual brand names. Also, with the creation of the "new" AT&T, it is possible that the Cingular brand will no longer exist, since Cingular is now owned by AT&T. Patience is still a virtue when you search for an accessible phone.
On the Horizon
We have not heard a great deal of positive information about new accessible cell phones that will be offered in the off-the-shelf market. LG seems to be including its Voice Command functionality on more and more phones from more and more providers, and Alltel just announced that this functionality will be on its new AX 5000. However, LG has not upgraded the Voice Command functionality in nearly two years. It is encouraging that Motorola has begun to enter the world of cell phone access. Motorola is obviously working to fix the bugs in its current systems, and we hope that it will work to expand the speech output to cover more of its phones' functions. However, we are concerned that the access provided was better on the older i355 than on the newer i580. The Owasys 22C phone has been improved since we previously evaluated it, and the manufacturer has told us that it is working on a new phone that is aimed at users with cognitive disabilities. Stay tuned to AccessWorld for our upcoming evaluations of the latest Symbian phones with the latest versions of the third-party screen-reader and screen-magnifier software products.
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Note: Pricing may vary, so check with your service provider
Motorola i355 and i580.
Manufacturer: Motorola: 8000 West Sunrise Boulevard, Plantation, FL 33322; phone: Customer Service: 866-289-6686; web site: <www.motorola.com>.
Price: i355: $90 with service plan; i580: $280 with service plan.
Service Provider: Nextel Wireless, phone: Customer Care: 800-639-6111; Customer Care team for braille and large-print invoices: 888-211-4727; web site: Accessibility for All <www2.sprint.com/mr/news_dtl.do?id=5060>; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.nextel.com>.
LG VX 4650.
Manufacturer: LG Electronics, MobileComm U.S.A., 10225 Willow Creek Road, San Diego, CA 92131; phone: 800-793-8896; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <http://us.lge.com>.
Price: $69.99 with a two-year service plan.
Service Provider: Verizon Wireless: phone: 800-256-4646; web site: <www.verizonwireless.com>.
LG UX 4750.
Manufacturer: LG Electronics, MobileComm U.S.A., 10225 Willow Creek Road, San Diego, CA 92131; phone: 800-793-8896; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <http://us.lge.com>.
Price: $99.95 with a two-year service plan.
Service Provider: US Cellular, phone: 888-944-9400; web site: <www.uscc.com/uscellular/SilverStream/Pages/uscellular.html>.
LG AX 4750.
Manufacturer: LG Electronics, MobileComm U.S.A., 10225 Willow Creek Road, San Diego, CA 92131; phone: 800-793-8896; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <http://us.lge.com>.
Price: $74.95 with a two-year service plan.
Service provider: Alltel, phone: 866-alltel7 or 866-255-8357, disability coordinator: 800-579-9778; web site: <www.alltel.com>.
Manufacturer: Owasys, Parque Tecnológico, 207-B, E-48170 Zamudio, Vizcaya, Spain; phone: 34 946 025 328; web site: www.screenlessphone.com or <www.owasys.com>.
U.S. and Canadian Distributor: Capital Accessibility, phone: 202-595-7777 or 877-292-2747.
Price: $199.95 with two-year service plan with T-Mobile, $249.95 with a one-year service plan, $499.95 without a service plan.
Service Provider: T-Mobile, phone: 800-T-MOBILE or 888-537-4242; web site: <www.t-mobile.com>. Note: You must purchase the cell phone and service through Capital Accessibility, not through T-Mobile.
Samsung SGH D-357.
Manufacturer: Samsung Electronics America, 105 Challenger Road No. 1, Ridgefield Park, NJ 07660; phone: 201-229-4000, Customer Service: 800-726-7864; web site: <www.samsung.com>.
Price: $147.95 with a one-year service plan.
Service Provider: Cingular Wireless, phone: 800-331-0500; web site: <www.cingular.com>; or Cingular National Center for Customers with Disabilities, phone: 866-241-6568; web site: <www.cingular.com/about/disability_resources>.
Samsung SGH A-920.
Manufacturer: Samsung Electronics America, 105 Challenger Road No.1, Ridgefield Park, NJ 07660; phone: 201-229-4000, Customer Service: 800-726-7864; web site: <www.samsung.com>.
Price: $149.99 with a one-year service plan.
Service Provider: Sprint PCS, phone: 888-253-1315; Customer Service: 888-211-4727; web site: <www.sprintpcs.com>.
Funding for this product evaluation was provided by the Teubert Foundation, Huntington, West Virginia. We also acknowledge the assistance provided by Marshall University intern Trenton Sturgill.
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