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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 June 2011 Issue  Volume 12  Number 6

Product Evaluations

Accessibility Review: The Verizon Accolade Cell Phone

As many AccessWorld readers are aware, Verizon Wireless recently started selling the iPhone with VoiceOver, which allows for a totally accessible smartphone, but what about Verizon's basic feature cell phones?

In our November 2010 issue we evaluated the Samsung Haven cell phone from Verizon and found it to be totally accessible with its built-in speech output. While the Haven set the benchmark for cell phone accessibility, people with vision loss would like more than one accessible cell phone to choose from. We recently learned Verizon had replaced the LG VX8360 with the LG Accolade with speech output, and were curious to see how it performed.

Documentation

The Accolade comes with a 75-page user manual printed in an 8-point font in a 3.5 by 4 inch booklet. The type is far too small to be read easily, considerably smaller 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 included in the manual that are simply too small for many people with low vision to see. This is particularly evident in the images of the keys, which have poor labeling and are extremely difficult to read. Fortunately, the manual is organized well and, with the exception of using images or icons instead of text, is clearly written and easily understandable.

Accessible electronic versions of the user manual are available on the accessibility section of the Verizon website. We are extremely pleased that Verizon has taken the time to re-format the print editions of many of their manuals, taking out all of the graphics and replacing them with text descriptions of what is being depicted. An example: "Two images first showing the rear View of the phone, Battery and Battery Cover. The second image showing front view closed phone pointing to the bottom center indicating the antenna is located inside your phone."

We can testify that because of these accessible manuals a person with vision loss can learn the layout of the phone without sighted assistance.

Physical Description

The Accolade is a flip style (clamshell) phone with external and internal displays. It weighs 3.0 ounces and measures 3.5 by 1.8 by 0.6 inches when closed. (The Haven weighs 3.7 ounces and measures 4 by 2 by 0.7 inches when closed.) Unfortunately, the displays on the Accolade are relatively small: the external display is only 0.8 by 0.6 inches, and the internal display is 1.25 by 1.4 inches. When closed, the phone is light and compact and fits easily into a pocket or the palm of your hand.

Photo of the LG Accolade open, showing menu items on its display.

Caption: The LG Accolade

The Accolade is a fairly basic cell phone, though it does include a camera. It does not use a touchscreen or touch controls. Along the left side of the cell phone, from top to bottom, are: a 2.5 mm audio jack for headsets and headphones, a volume rocker, the voice command key, and a USB port for the charger. The single button on the right side of the phone activates the camera. All buttons are raised and tactually identifiable, although because they are the same color as the background they can be difficult to see.

Keypad

The keypad for the Accolade is broken into two parts: the numeric pad on the bottom and function buttons on the top, surrounding a four-way navigation pad with a central OK/Main Menu button. The function button in the upper left corner of the keypad is the left soft key, below it is the speakerphone key, and below that is the talk key with a nib on it for easy location. The function button in the upper right corner of the keypad is the right soft key, below it is the clear key, and below that is the end/power button with a nib on it. Between the left and right soft keys is the four-way navigation pad.

The numeric pad consists of 12 dark gray keys with white lettering with a nib on the 5 key. The keys have tactile distinctions that make it possible to identify the buttons, although the tactile nature of the Haven phone was significantly better than the Accolade. The labeling on both the Haven and Accolade keypad look very similar, although the Accolade uses a slightly larger 14-point font than the Haven's 13-point font.

Speech Output

The Accolade has a human-sounding female voice output that can be emitted through the speakerphone or an earpiece, especially nice for those users who have trouble understanding synthetic speech. The phone will read menu items and provide speech for most functions, but does not provide verification for every menu item and key press.

When the Accolade is turned on for the first time, the speech output is not activated. Because there is no accessible method to turn on the speech function, a sales representative or sighted helper will need to go into the menu and activate speech. Following this activation, the speech remains on and will not need to be reactivated.

The volume of the built-in speech can be made louder or softer using the volume control on the left side of the phone. It is not possible to adjust the pitch or rate of the speech, the way you can when using third-party screen reading software.

Display Quality

The Accolade has two displays built into the phone: a small external display for use when the phone is closed, and a larger internal display 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 of the device. Additionally, the clock on the external display uses a large 18-point font.

The menus for the Accolade all use a black-on-gray color scheme, with selected items highlighted in white-on-red. We found the contrast for the Accolade was well above most cell phones on the market, although it was not as high as the Haven's. The internal display is smaller than you would generally find on this type of phone, and much smaller than you would find on a smartphone, but the information on the display is well organized.

All of the menus use high-contrast text, although the items in the Main Menu use small icons in addition to the text label. All of the menus and features on the phone use a 10-point sans-serif font, which is about average for this type of phone. The default color scheme can be changed in the Phone Settings menu, though there are only two alternatives (black-on-green and a slightly different black-on-gray) and no option for reverse polarity or customized color choices.

Menu Navigation

The Accolade features a simple menu interface that is easier to use than many phones on the market, but offers limited speech assistance. You can access the menu from the home screen by pressing the OK/Main Menu button in the center of the four-way pad, and the Accolade will announce the Main Menu items. The Accolade's main menu includes the entries: Text Messaging, Contacts, Ringtones, Alarm Clock, Calendar, VZ Navigator (a GPS program), and Internet.

As mentioned above, the Accolade's speech output is limited, providing spoken output for the Main Menu items, but none of the submenus. For example, using speech you can go to the Main Menu, arrow down and select the settings/tools item, then scroll and select tools, and lastly scroll to and select the alarm clock item in this sub menu. After this point, however, there is no spoken output, so you can't hear what options are available for the alarm clock.

This lack of speech output extends to many major features--a serious drawback that makes the Accolade only partially accessible. This has been the case with other LG phones we've reviewed in the past, including the LG VX4500 cell phone evaluated in the May 2005 issue.

Caller ID

The Accolade provides speech output for Caller ID, but the process for activating this feature can be confusing. To activate speech output for most functions, you have to go under Voice Commands in the Settings menu. Output for Caller ID, however, must be activated separately by going through Call Sounds under Sound Settings, and then choosing the option for Caller ID Readout. It can be easy to overlook this feature, and it's not clear why the setting is separated. Once the feature is activated, though, it does work very well--you can set it to speak the ID for incoming calls and messages, and it will speak either the phone number or, if the number is saved in your contacts, the name of the caller.

Text Messaging

The Accolade offers partial accessibility to text messaging. If you use voice commands, rather than manually navigating through the text message menu, you can send a text message. To do this, you press the voice command button, which will prompt you to say a command, then choose send message to name or number, then specify text message, then speak the digits or the name entered in your phonebook, then type out the message using the number pad, and lastly press the OK/Main Menu key to send the message. The Accolade announces each character as its corresponding button is pressed, but there is no accessible method for reviewing your message to correct errors or make adjustments.

While you can send text messages with this phone, it will not speak messages you receive, again rendering the phone only partially accessible.

Voice Commands

The Accolade has many functions that can be activated through voice commands: call name or number, send message to, check voicemail, battery life, signal strength, date/time, and account balance, go to menu item, contacts (look up, create new or delete), and redial. This is the only area that we found where Accolade has more accessible features than the Haven.

Pricing Plans

The Accolade is available for purchase through Verizon with the option of two pricing plans: $199.99 plus the cost of month-to-month (prepaid) coverage, or a free phone with a 2-year contract.

Bottom Line

For a very small population of people with vision loss--those who are more concerned with voice commands, want a camera, and only need a few features spoken--the Accolade may be a suitable cell phone. For anyone else who needs accessibility in a basic cell phone, the Haven, which offers better accessibility across the board, will most likely be a much better option. For more information, see our review of the Samsung Haven in the November 2010 issue of AccessWorld.

Resources

We encourage you to visit the Verizon website's accessibility section, where you can find accessible manuals for many of their phones (including the Haven and Accolade), 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.

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Copyright © 2011 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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