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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 September 2007 Issue  Volume 8  Number 5

Product Evaluation

Increased Independence in the Palm of Your Hand: A Review of the Nemo and Compact+ CCTVs

Portable, handheld, closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs), sometimes called video magnifiers, with 4-inch display screens have become highly sought-after devices by people with low vision who want to access print materials independently while on the go. Quick access to price tags in stores, restaurant menus, travel tickets, sales receipts, and other types of printed text is now more available. In response to the increasing demand for these products, more manufacturers of low vision products are offering their versions of handheld CCTVs, with prices ranging from approximately $695 to $825. With the increase in choices in this product category, we at AccessWorld are receiving more questions about them. To provide our readers with information, this article takes another look at this rapidly growing product category.

This article reviews two handheld CCTVs that are fairly new to the market: the Compact+ from Optelec and the Nemo from Enhanced Vision. Both CCTVs have 4-inch TFT-LCD (thin film transistor-liquid crystal display) screens, various high-contrast color modes, adjustable magnification levels, and rechargeable batteries and weigh less than 1 pound. The question is, does the similarity of these features make them equal? This article examines the features of each product to help you decide if one of them may be the best choice for you.

These two handheld CCTVs are reviewed in four areas: documentation, physical design and features, how well each displays different types of text, and how well each assists with handwriting. To evaluate these CCTVs, I tested them the same way I tested similar devices in the past. I used them in real-world situations--taking them to stores to read price tags and food labels and to restaurants to read menus and meal receipts and using them at home to look at various objects--including a telephone book, newspapers, magazines, and photographs--and to write notes. In addition to my testing and observations, others with low vision used the Compact+ and Nemo in similar ways to see how the magnifiers worked for their particular needs.

The Nemo

Documentation

The Nemo's User Manual is printed in approximately 15-point font. Although this type is larger than the standard size, it does not meet the minimum 18-point font guideline of the American Printing House for the Blind for an audience with low vision. It is important for all manufacturers of low vision assistive devices to keep in mind that the intended user should be able to access their products' documentation independently. Thus, it is necessary to have larger fonts and pictures that persons with low vision can easily read. The User Manual does, however, provide a good amount of easy-to-understand information, as well as troubleshooting tips, warranty information, and details about other Enhanced Vision products that may be useful to those who purchase the Nemo. This is not only a good advertising tool for Enhanced Vision; it helps inform people about the variety of products on the market for people with low vision.

The Nemo being used to read the numbers on a credit card.

Caption: The Nemo can magnify many different types of text, including on a credit card.

Physical Design and Features

The Nemo measures approximately 6.25 inches long, 3.25 inches wide, and 1.13 inches thick and weighs 13 ounces. The camera is located under the left side of the unit and has a fold-down writing stand to assist with writing tasks. The unit is designed to be set directly on top of the text or object to be magnified, and the Nemo logo to the left of the display screen can be used as a guide for placing text under the camera.

The Nemo has tactile control buttons and dials to change its settings and comes with a carrying case, interchangeable wrist and neck strap, cleaning cloth, and power supply adapter. The unit has an internal, rechargeable battery with a charging time of approximately three hours and can sustain continuous use for approximately three hours. The Nemo can be used while the battery is being charged, and doing so will not affect the recharging time.

Magnification

The Nemo's magnification is adjusted by rotating its Size wheel at the far right position at the top of the device. Three levels of magnification are offered: 4.5x, 6x, and 9x.

Viewing Modes

The Nemo has six viewing modes that are adjusted by rotating the Mode wheel, which is located at the far left position at the top of the device. The six viewing modes are as follows:

  • High-Contrast Positive: This mode provides a white background with black text.
  • High-Contrast Negative: This mode provides a black background with white text.
  • Yellow Text on a Black Background and Yellow Text on a Blue Background: For some with low vision, alternative color combinations such as this provide better viewing conditions.
  • Full-Color Image: This mode provides a color representation of what is being displayed. Enhanced Vision suggests that you use this mode for looking at pictures and reading handwriting.
  • Black-and-White Image: This mode displays the image in grayscale, which may be preferred by some people with low vision.

Freeze Feature

The Freeze feature allows you to take a temporary picture of an image. It enables you to take a picture of an image and hold it closer to you to get a better look or take the image to another location to view it in a better environment or to show it to someone else.

Writing Stand

The Nemo has a writing stand that flips out from underneath the camera area. This stand raises one side of the Nemo approximately 2 inches. You then place your pen under the edge of the raised side and write on the paper. If you prefer, you can leave the stand folded under the camera and just tilt up one side of the Nemo while you write.

For writing with the Nemo, the User Manual instructs you to set the device to the lowest magnification level and use either the Full-Color or Black-and-White Image mode.

Antiglare Screen

The Nemo's antiglare screen reduces the amount of glare on the unit's display screen.

Reading Text

For these specific tests with both the Nemo and Compact+, we used a sampling of items that people would read with a handheld CCTV, including a local newspaper, telephone book yellow pages, glossy catalog pages, personal photographs, and the black-and-white text of a paperback novel.

When I held the Nemo still, directly over the top of the printed material, it did a good job of displaying the different types of materials in the various viewing modes. The Nemo provides a bright, clear view with high contrast between the text and its background. I found that the Black-and-White or Full-Color Image mode worked best for reading text on a colored background and that using the lowest magnification setting in the Full-Color Image mode provided the best view for looking at photographs. When I moved the Nemo to read text, there was a slight ghosting of the letters; as I moved the unit more quickly, the ghosting increased.

Using the Nemo for Handwriting

Using the Nemo for handwriting takes some practice. When you use the unit for handwriting, you use the Black-and-White or Full-Color Image mode, set the magnification to the lowest setting, and turn the device to point the camera toward your writing hand. If you are righthanded, you will use your left hand to move the Nemo along the page. However, the adjustment controls are then positioned in such a way that you can inadvertently press them with your thumb, which can change the display as you are attempting to write. You must take care to hold the device in such a way as not to press the control buttons accidentally. In addition, you must hold the pen farther up than normal to be able to place the tip of the pen under the camera, which can cause your handwriting to be less neat than it would otherwise be.

What Would Make It Better?

The following alterations to the Nemo could make it more usable by people with low vision:

  1. The unit is made of plastic, which is slick to the touch and can cause the unit to be easily dropped. I recommend that you always use the wrist or neck strap as a precaution. Adding rubberized pieces to the sides of the device would enable people to hold the magnifier more securely. The optimal solution would be to add a foldable handle to the unit to make it even easier to hold.
  2. Incorporating a battery-life indicator to let you know approximately how much battery life you have left would be a beneficial feature. Currently, a low battery light flashes when the battery needs to be recharged. The problem is that this indicator light is located on the side of the unit that faces away from you. You must remember to check to see if the light is blinking, but there is still no way to know how much time is left on a charge. Moving this flashing light to the display side of the unit would make it more functional.
  3. Relocating the control buttons to a centralized area and configuring them in such a way that they are not easily pressed accidentally while using the device would be an improvement. This accidental pressing of the control buttons, of course, changes the display's settings, making it necessary to readjust the settings to view the material as you would like.
  4. Improving the writing feature of the Nemo would make the device even more useful. Using the Nemo for handwriting is somewhat awkward, and a more efficient writing method would be welcome.

The Compact+

The Compact+, from Optelec, is new to the market and is a completely redesigned version of Optelec's previous handheld magnifier, the Compact.

Documentation

The User Manual for the Compact+ is presented in a spiral-bound, postcard-style booklet that gives easy-to-understand instructions for using the device. The booklet is a good design, especially if you are using a magnifier or traditional CCTV to read its text, because the pages lay flat or can be held in one hand without bending. The problem is that you may have to use a magnifier to read the text because the manual is printed in only 14-point font, which is too small for many with low vision to read.

The Compact+ shown magnifying an airline boarding pass.

Caption: The Compact+ can be used in different situations. Here it is used to read an airline boarding pass.

Physical Design and Features

The Compact+ measures approximately 5 inches long, 3 inches wide, and 1.25 inches thick and weighs 10.6 ounces. Its camera is affixed to the battery compartment, which slides on a track on the underside of the unit. The User Manual suggests that you position the camera directly under the display screen for reading and then move it to the side position for handwriting.

The Compact+ has one control that is used to change both the magnification level and the viewing mode, and it comes with a carrying case, a neck strap, a battery pack containing two rechargeable AA batteries, and a power supply plug. When it is not powered by the AC adapter, the unit is powered by the battery pack consisting of two rechargeable batteries. Off-the-shelf AA batteries, either rechargeable or disposable, can also be used. Only the batteries that came with the unit should be recharged in its battery compartment. Recharging takes approximately three hours and provides about the same amount of time of continuous use.

The Compact+ also has a collapsible handgrip that unfolds from the underside of the unit and snaps into place. This handgrip acts like the handle of a traditional magnifying glass and offers another option for holding the device.

Magnification

The magnification level of the Compact+ is adjusted by turning the lever on the round Magnification button that is located next to the display screen. Three levels of magnification are offered: 5x, 7.5x, and 10x magnification.

Viewing Modes

Pressing the round Mode button next to the display allows you to select from one of six viewing modes: Photo mode, which is used to view full-color text and photographs; Positive mode, which is used to read in high-contrast black on white; Negative mode, which is used to read in high-contrast white on black; high-contrast yellow on blue; high-contrast yellow on black; and Photo mode without light, which is used to read high-gloss pages or to look at small-screen displays, such as a cell phone's screen.

Snapshot Feature

The Snapshot feature allows you to take a temporary picture of an image. It enables you to hold an image closer to you to get a better look or take it to another location to view it in a better environment or show it to someone else. With the Compact+, unlike the Nemo, you can also magnify the saved image.

Auto Off Feature

This is a battery-saving feature that automatically turns off the magnifier if it has not been used for four minutes.

Reading Text

When I held the Compact+ still, directly over the top of the printed material, it did what I would consider an "average" job of displaying the different types of materials in the various viewing modes, with the exception of the Photo mode without light. The Photo mode without light did not provide a bright enough display to read glossy paper, as the manual stated it would. It did, however, work better when I viewed displays, such as cell phone screen displays.

Overall, its display, especially in the Photo mode, was not bright; also, there was a slight quiver to the letters even when the unit was held still, and pixels were visible in the display. Using the Photo mode worked best for reading text on a colored background and when looking at photographs. Using the lowest magnification setting in the Photo mode provided the best view for working with photographs. When I moved the Compact+ slowly to read text, there was a shaking or smearing of the letters, and as I moved the unit more quickly, the shaking became more prevalent.

Using the Compact+ for Handwriting

The User Manual instructs you to move the camera to the side position, tilt the side of the device up, and place the tip of the pen under the camera for writing. However, I found it easier to extend the collapsible handle, hold the unit about 4 or 5 inches above the page, and place the pen under the camera to write. Although the lines and words were a bit out of focus, I found this method to be easier.

What Would Make It Better

The following alterations to the Compact+ could make it more usable for people with low vision:

  1. Improving the overall characteristics of the unit's display, especially in the Photo mode would be the most important alteration. Increasing the brightness, having more clearly defined letters with no quivering while the unit is held still, eliminating visible pixels, and increasing the display's contrast would be great improvements.
  2. Incorporating an antiglare screen would be useful because the slick plastic screen can cause glare on the display.
  3. As designed, the camera and battery compartment slide to allow you to adjust the camera view. While the ability to adjust the camera's position is good, the design seems a bit fragile and particularly susceptible to damage from bumping or dropping the unit. A design that better protects the underside of the unit would be an improvement.
  4. Adding a battery-life indicator would be useful. Now, there is no way to tell how much life is left on a charge, so you may need to carry the AC adapter, just in case.

The Bottom Line

The Nemo and the Compact+ have different strengths and weaknesses. The Nemo's strength is the quality of its display's clear, bright, crisp image with an antiglare screen. The Nemo's weaker point is its physical design, including the placement of buttons, awkward writing feature, and the fact that a better way is needed to hold the device securely while it is being used.

The Compact+ has a better physical design in that it is smaller and lighter in weight, and its magnification and viewing modes can be adjusted by one control with one finger. The collapsible handle is another useful feature, since it gives you a more secure and versatile method of holding the unit. The weak point of the Compact+ is its lower brightness, contrast, and overall image quality of its Photo mode. Its screen also tends to reflect light, causing glare on the screen.

All things considered, both products do what they are made to do: magnify text to make it more readable for people with low vision. Both are priced at $795, and either would be a valid choice for those who want a portable solution to their magnification needs. If, however, the strengths of each of these two products could be combined into one product, that would be a good thing.

If you happen to live in the Dallas, Texas, area, you can see the Nemo by visiting the American Foundation for the Blind's Center on Vision Loss at 11030 Ables Lane. To schedule a tour of the center, where you can take a look at the Nemo and many other blindness and low vision products, phone 214-352-7222. At the center, you will find many options for working and living independently with vision loss, which just may become solutions for you. As always, I suggest that you try both products--or any product for that matter--before you buy one to see which may suit your particular needs best.

AccessWorld will continue to watch this growing segment of low vision products and keep you up to date on new products in the portable, 4-inch screen CCTV category.

Manufacturers' Comments

Enhanced Vision

"As noted by AccessWorld, the greatest strength of the Nemo is the image quality and clarity of the display. This is the same consensus among eye care professionals and end users alike. Nemo's superior display and clarity of image allow users to use the product at a lower level of magnification than other units, thus allowing the benefit of more visual field. In addition, unlike other units, Nemo's patented lighting creates a very evenly lit image without hot spots even on the most glossy of surfaces. Better lighting distribution, coupled with our anti-glare LCD screen, helps eliminate reflection and provides the best image possible for the user.

"The suggestions from AccessWorld are duly noted, and we are thankful for the input. Enhanced Vision strongly believes in constantly improving our products and we are focused on always exceeding the customer's expectations."

Optelec

"Thank you for your review of Optelec's newest product, the portable Compact+. The Compact+'s stylish design resembles a standard PDA and comes in seven fashionable colors. Like the Clearview+ desktop model, it functions with one-button simplicity. The camera is placed centrally for easy orientation when reading, and can slide to one side to allow additional space for writing. The foldable handle makes the transition from using a magnifier seamless and allows reading while using one hand. This is essential when shopping and writing. The Compact+ comes equipped with a detachable lanyard and a leather carrying case.

"The Compact+'s versatile display modes allow for ease of use in any situation. The lightless feature allows the user to view LCD displays without glare. The Color mode has significantly larger depth of focus than similar units in this product category. The Snapshot feature allows an image to be frozen, magnified, and maneuvered through the color modes. The image quality is perfect for all portable viewing tasks.

"The Compact+ is the only product in this category equipped with rechargeable AA batteries. Battery life has been shown to last up to three hours. Unlike similar products, there is no need to send the Compact+ back to the manufacturer when a battery change is needed. Store-bought batteries can be used, and have been proven to last more than two hours."


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Product Information

Product: Nemo.

Manufacturer: Enhanced Vision, 5882 Machine Drive, Huntington Beach, CA 92649-9933; phone: 800-440-9476; web site: <www.enhancedvision.com>.

Price: $795.

Product: Compact+.

Manufacturer: Optelec, 3030 Enterprise Court, Suite C, Vista, CA 92081; phone: 800-826-4200; web site: <www.optelec.com>.

Price: $795.

Related Articles

"Is This for Here or to Go?" A Series on Portable, Laptop-Compatible Video Magnifiers by Lee Huffman
Magnification Is Going Places: A Review of the STRIX and Amigo Portable CCTVs by Lee Huffman


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Copyright © 2007 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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