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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 November 2010 Issue  Volume 11  Number 7

Product Reviews

An Accessibility Review of the Verizon Haven Cell Phone

For the over 25 million Americans who experience vision loss, it can be difficult to find a simple, easy-to-use cell phone that isn't overly expensive or complicated. To date, the majority of accessible cell phones are either accessible smartphones that offer full accessibility but can be difficult to learn and are designed for more advanced use, or simple flip or brick phones that either require the installation of additional screen-access software or that don't extend accessibility to all phone functions. There is a need for a simple, easy-to-use cell phone that offers full accessibility right out of the box. The Haven cell phone, developed by Samsung and offered through Verizon, seeks to address this need by offering a phone that is designed for full accessibility from both low-vision and blindness perspectives.

The question is whether this phone actually offers the accessibility promised by Verizon. Is this phone that much better suited for people with visual impairment than other cell phones on the market?

In this article, we examine the accessibility of the Haven cell phone, taking into consideration its physical design, documentation, keypad, voice output, quality of its display, menu navigation, and its features.

Physical Description

The Haven is a small, dark-gray, rectangular flip phone weighing 3.7 ounces and measuring 4 by 2 by 0.7 inches when closed. The Haven features two electronic displays: a 1 by 1 inch display on the outside of the device, and a 1.4 by 1.8 inch internal display that can be viewed when the phone is flipped open. When closed, the phone is light and compact and fits easily into a pocket or the palm of your hand.

Along the left side of the phone are a raised, tactile volume rocker and an audio jack for headphones. The volume rocker is raised to a height that allows for it to be found easily. Along the right side of the phone is the USB data port for charging the device. Both the audio jack and USB port are the same color as the background, and the USB port has a covering that can make it difficult to find the first time you use the phone, but it is something that you can get used to.

The Haven is a basic cell phone, so it does not feature a camera and does not use any touch screens or touch controls. It does have a speaker built into the back, just above the battery compartment, which can be used as a speakerphone.

Documentation

The Haven comes with a 174-page user manual in a 6-by-4-inch booklet. The manual is printed in 12-point Arial Narrow font, which is far from the worst documentation we've seen, but is still considerably less than the 18-point font recommended by the American Printing House for the Blind for people with low vision. Additionally, there are a number of images and icons that are simply too small for many people with low vision to see. This is particularly evident when showing images of the keys, which are poorly labeled and extremely difficult to read when sized down to fit on the page. Fortunately, the manual is organized well and, with the exception of using images or icons in the place of text, easily understandable.

An electronic version of the manual is available on the Verizon website, under the accessibility section, along with the documentation for many of their other phones. There is also an option to order the Haven manual in an alternative format, such as braille or large print. The electronic version of the Haven's manual is an improvement over other Verizon phone documentation that AFB TECH has evaluated. For example, the documentation for the LG VX 4500 phone we evaluated in the May 2005 issue of AccessWorld was poorly written with regard to usability for people with vision loss. It did not provide page numbers in the table of contents for the various sections, and it was difficult to tell these various sections apart from one another due to poor text formatting in the print user manual.

The Haven manual does not contain the errors found in the LG VX 4500 manual, and even goes as far as providing descriptions of the phone's layout, such as:

"Voicemail Key: Press for voicemail. [Located at top of flip, bottom right hand side]"

Keypad

The Haven's keypad is broken into two parts: the numeric pad on the bottom, and a square grid of eight buttons directly above the numeric pad that surrounds a 4-way navigation key with OK button. The buttons on the top row of the square grid consist of two soft keys on either end with a "911" button between them. On the second row is a speakerphone button and a button labeled "ICE," which stands for "in case of emergency" and is used to automatically dial emergency numbers that can be programmed into the phone. The third row has, from left to right, the send, clear/backspace, and power/end buttons.

The numeric pad consists of 12 black keys with white lettering that have tactile distinctions between them. The numeric keys on the Haven are extremely easy to identify by touch. The 5 key has two nibs on it, on the left and right side, for orientation purposes. The keys are convex, except for the 5, which is flush with the surface of the phone, allowing for easy navigation across the keypad. The labeling on these buttons contrasts well with the background, and the numbers are large. Unfortunately, the buttons themselves are the same color as the background.

The square grid of buttons surrounding the four-way key are also easy to identify by touch because they alternate between being convex or flush with the phone's surface. So, when running a finger across the grid, you will trace in a pattern of convex, flat, convex, flat. The only button that may be somewhat difficult to feel is the four-way inside the grid as the four arrows and the OK button are all flat. If a large nib were placed on the OK button, as is found on the four arrow keys, this problem could be solved. The square grid is visually distinctive from the background, unlike the numeric keypad; these buttons are metallic and contrast strongly. Unfortunately, the labeling on the metallic buttons is noticeably smaller than the labeling on the numeric pad and does not contrast well with the metallic background. The 911, send, and power/end buttons are color coded, but more visual distinctions between these keys would make the device much more usable for people with low vision.

In addition to the numeric keypad and the square grid, there is a single row of buttons directly below the display on the top half of the phone. These are shortcut keys that can quickly access certain phone functions. From left to right, they are as follows: voice commands, my pictures, and voicemail. These buttons are the same color as the background and do not have any text labeling, instead using small icons that are difficult to see. The buttons are flush with the phone, but do have an indented vertical line between them, so they are somewhat easy to distinguish from one another.

Voice Output

The Samsung Haven has built-in, digitally recorded human speech in a clear female voice that speaks everything on the phone's display, including caller ID and menu items; it also echoes keypad presses. Previous Samsung models, such as the a640, did not allow for access to all of the phone's features, creating partial accessibility, so this model is a step forward for Samsung in the accessibility arena.

By default, when the phone is turned on for the first time, the voice output is not activated and there is no accessible method to turn on the speech. When first obtaining the Haven phone, a sales representative or sighted helper will need to go into the menu and activate speech. Following this activation, the voice will remain on and will not need to be reactivated.

You cannot adjust the pitch or rate of the speech as you can when using third-party screen-access software, Talks, or Mobile Speak. Yet, the volume of the built-in speech can be increased or decreased using the volume rocker on the left side of the phone. One somewhat frustrating aspect was the fact that the speech was lagging in its response. For example, when dialing a number on the numeric keypad, we had to make the key presses at a moderate pace or we risked pressing too quickly for the speaker to announce individual numbers. Or, when making a menu selection, there would be a slight delay after we had pressed the OK button for the submenu title to be announced.

Display Quality

The Haven has two visual displays, a small external display used when the phone is closed and a larger internal display used for menu navigation and advanced features. Both displays are bright, full color, and high contrast, which is a welcome change from many flip phones that use cheap, hard-to-read monochrome displays on the outside. Additionally, the clock on the external display uses a 24-point font, making it one of the easiest-to-read external displays of any cell phone AFB TECH has evaluated.

In the AFB TECH Optics Lab, we can measure the amount of contrast provided by visual displays. We found that the contrast for the Haven ranged from 88 to 95 percent depending on the selected color theme, which makes it one of the highest-contrast displays of any device we have examined--not just cell phones. Although the actual size of the main display, 1.4 by 1.8 inches, is below average for display size on these types of phones, and much smaller than you would find on a smartphone-type device, the information on the display is organized well and is large enough to be useful to some people with low vision. The Haven, unlike many similar phones, does not try to fit a lot of information on the screen all at once, which makes for a much friendlier user interface.

Menu Navigation

The Haven features a simple menu interface that is easy to use and fully accessible. You can access the menu from the home screen by pressing the left soft key, and the Haven will announce the first menu item. You can scroll down the list and it will speak every item. An item is selected by using the OK key, which will lead you to another screen, where the submenu options will be announced.

This is unique to the Haven as no other Samsung model reads aloud any submenus. Besides the common menu options, such as call log, messaging, and ring tone, there are unique items, such as the tip calculator and world clock.

All of the menus use high-contrast text; there are no confusing images or icons in any of the menu screens. All the menus and features on the phone use a 14-point sans-serif font, which is a definite improvement over most cell phones on the market.

By default, the phone uses a white-on-dark-blue color scheme for the menus, with selected items highlighted in black on gold. This color scheme can be changed under phone settings; users have the choice of this default color setting, named "Golden Blue," or they can switch to a simple black-on-white color scheme (selected items highlighted in white-on-blue) named "Simple Blue." Both options offer high contrast, and users can also choose between normal and reverse polarity.

Caller ID

When receiving an incoming call, the Haven will either speak the phone number or the person's name if it is saved in the phone book. The Haven will only announce the information once, so if you miss it this one time, you have missed it completely.

Text Messaging

We wanted to create a specific section about text messaging as the Haven is fairly unique in that it allows you to send and receive text messages, whereas many phones with off-the-shelf speech do not allow for this feature.

When a text message comes in, there is a spoken announcement. When the message is opened, the Haven will speak who it is from, the date/time received, and the complete body of the text. If you want to hear the body of the text again, be aware that you can only reread it character by character and do not have the sorts of reading options found in third-party cell phone screen-access software, such as reading line by line or the say-all command.

Voice Commands

Another way to use the phone, instead of listening to the built-in speech, is to use the voice command feature. The accessibility section of the Verizon website provides in-depth information on the voice command as many of Verizon's phones have this feature. The voice command feature is activated by pressing the voice command key and then saying a command or by using arrow keys to scroll through the choices, which are the following:

Call: You can call a person in your phonebook or your voicemail.

Send text: You can send a text message to a person whose number is entered in the phone book.

Check: You can check your voicemail or the time, signal strength, battery status, volume level, and your account balance.

Pricing Plans

The Haven is available for purchase through Verizon with the option of three different pricing plans. The Haven can be purchased without a long-term contract for $169.99 plus the cost of month-to-month coverage. The cost of the phone can be reduced by agreeing to either a one- or two-year contract. With a one-year contract, the phone costs $109.99, and with a two-year contract, its cost drops to $39.99. If you are interested in a long-term contract, the Haven offers an affordable solution, but if you would rather purchase coverage on a month-to-month basis, the Haven may become quite expensive.

The Bottom Line

The Haven succeeds in offering a simple, lower-cost accessible solution for anyone looking for a basic cell phone. The Haven is a giant step forward regarding usability, allowing for total access to the phone's features. Only slight improvements could make it better.

From surveys AFB TECH has conducted in the past, such as the "Cell Phone Accessibility Survey" administered in 2008, we have learned that the majority of participants want a low-cost clamshell or flip-style phone that allows for text messaging, has an easy-to-feel keypad, and built-in speech output. The Haven definitely fits this description as it has all of these features.

If you want to use your cell phone to check e-mail, browse the Internet, or play MP3s, the Haven may not be for you, as it lacks these features. Those who want more advanced features may want to purchase an accessible smartphone, such as the iPhone. Or, they may choose to purchase third-party software, such as Talks or Mobile Speak, for their Windows Mobile or Symbian smartphone. However, anyone who is interested in a basic, easy-to-use, accessible, off-the-shelf cell phone should consider the Haven from Verizon.

Resources

Verizon's "accessibility" website offers text manuals for many of their phones (including the Haven), information on how to order your phone bill or user manual in braille or large print, contact information for the Customer Service Center for Persons with Disabilities, and a summary of voice commands.

The Mystic Place blog has a podcast demonstration of the Haven, along with an index of all of the podcast segments.

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Copyright © 2010 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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