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

Product Evaluations

The Serotek HoverCam: A Portable Reading Solution for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

The hardest part of this review was getting the right product. After a number of failed attempts at connecting and using the device, I learned from Serotek that an entire batch of HoverCams was being recalled because they'd mistakenly shipped the mainstream version, intended for scanning images, instead of the version adapted for blind and low-vision consumers. If you purchased one of the original units and have been bewildered by its inability to function, contact Serotek and a replacement will promptly be supplied. This problem has since been corrected by the manufacturer.

The HoverCam T5V

HoverCam is a portable device used for optical character recognition in conjunction with DocuScan Plus (reviewed in the February 2011 issue of AccessWorld ), Serotek's Internet-based scanning and reading software. The HoverCam is truly a plug-and-play device, and it works on both Windows and Mac platforms.

When collapsed, the HoverCam is a slender pole on an oval base, with a height of 12 inches and a weight of 1.8 pounds. An additional piece comes out of the back of the pole, extending the height to 19 inches. From the extended piece, the 12-inch HoverCam "arm" unfolds, at the end of which are the camera lens and a tiny light with a simple on/off slide switch. The light is intended for use when ambient light may not be sufficient for the HoverCam to properly focus on the printed page.

In the Box

The HoverCam comes with a USB cable for connecting to your Windows-based or Mac computer, a skid-resistant mat on which you place your documents for scanning, and a soft drawstring bag for carrying these objects. It also comes with two unnecessary items for users who are blind or have low vision: a CD and a small piece of plastic that forms a right angle when unfolded. With the unnecessary items placed back in the box, you are ready to use the HoverCam.

Using the HoverCam

The Mat

The skid-resistant mat, which rolls into a compact bundle when not in use, has the kind of rubbery texture one might find in children's galoshes or kitchen mats for placing beneath pet dishes. It's not necessary to use the mat when scanning, but it can be helpful when aligning the camera and pages to be scanned. When laid flat on a desktop or table a variety of raised tactile markings are revealed. Most notable are the two curved lines at the top center of the mat that indicate where to position the camera base. The lower part of the mat bears various raised corners that can be used for aligning the documents to be scanned.

Scanning

With the mat in place, the camera set-up properly, and the USB cable connecting the camera to your computer, you are ready to read.

Launch DocuScan and select "Simple Scan." HoverCam will be recognized by the software as a device. Tab to the "Continue" button. Because the HoverCam itself makes no sound, Serotek has inserted a camera shutter sound into the DocuScan software to confirm for you that the picture has been taken

The sometimes reassuring (and sometimes annoying) tweedle sounds of System Access are then heard as the page is processed. You are reminded that "This may take a minute" and, indeed, a minute is almost what it often takes. Although Serotek documentation indicates that the scanning and processing will require less time after the first page has been scanned, I found that there was little difference in the time it took from one page to another. Pages typically took 35 to 45 seconds to process, with the shortest time I encountered being about 15 seconds.

While scanning, DocuScan provides its standard prompts, identifying that the page is being processed, announcing the orientation of the page, suggesting that the page might need to be turned over, and so on.

Reading Performance

I tested a variety of printed documents with the HoverCam, including magazines, books, receipts, business cards, and food in boxes from my pantry. The results were widely varied, but demonstrated certain predictable patterns.

Without question, the HoverCam performed best on large pages of dense text. This included magazine articles, book pages, and other 8.5 by 11-inch pages. Card advertisements, usually measuring roughly 8 by 5 inches, produced inconsistent results. Some words were usually recognized, but never was all of the print on these types of documents read aloud.

Product packaging netted similarly mixed results. On some packages, usually only after several tries, the HoverCam would process the name of the product, a portion of its ingredients, or a recipe on the box. Other packages, despite fairly uncluttered print identified by human eyes, were pronounced by the device as having no recognizable text.

Very small items such as receipts and business cards were rarely recognized at all, and when they were, the recognition results typically included a plethora of 1s and 0s.

In support of the ease of use of this product, the mat with its tactile markings was useful initially although not, as Serotek informs its customers, at all necessary to the success or failure of using the device for reading. Similarly, the absence or presence of the light seemed to make a difference only occasionally.

The Bottom Line

Despite its small size, I found the HoverCam to be somewhat clunky and less appealing to use from an esthetic standpoint than, say, a lightweight flatbed scanner of about the same weight. If you mostly need to read full pages of text, and you aren't particularly impatient, you might want to check out the HoverCam. On the other hand, the CanoScan LIDE scanner, also from Serotek, is much less expensive ($80 as compared to $499), extremely lightweight and portable, and provides much more consistent results.

Product: HoverCam T5V.

Price: $499.00.

Available From: Serotek, (612) 246-4818.

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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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