Product Evaluation: Victor Reader Stratus 12 M DAISY MP3 Player from HumanWare
The Victor Stratus is a tabletop DAISY player from HumanWare. It accomplishes many of the same tasks as the smaller and popular Victor Reader Stream and does a few things that the Stream does not. This review will examine features and drawbacks of the Stratus and, hopefully, help determine which customers will find it an attractive addition to their pool of technology and which might be more likely to find it redundant.
The footprint of the Victor Stratus is similar to many other tabletop players, such as the National Library Service (NLS) digital-talking book player issued to all library patrons in the US and other Victor models available from HumanWare. It measures approximately 8.5 inches by 8.5 inches and weighs about two pounds.
On the top face of the unit (from top to bottom) are three columns of two keys each for adjusting tone, volume, and speed followed by a 12-key telephone-style keypad. Next, there are Go To, Bookmark, and Eject keys near the left edge, a Power button near the right edge, and, then, a fairly common four-key configuration at the bottom. These four keys are arranged with three on the bottom (Rewind, Play/Stop, and Fast Forward from left to right) and a centered key above them that functions both as a Time Announcement key and a Sleep key.
The AC power connection is on the back of the Stratus. On the right-hand edge, from back to front, are: a secure digital (SD) card slot, a USB slot, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the front edge of the machine is a CD slot.
The built-in speaker is a two-inch diameter circle in the upper left corner of the Stratus; it delivers very nice, clear sound. Although it was not included with the model I tested, HumanWare can provide a cover that blocks all of the centrally located navigation keys, but leaves the controls for ejecting CDs, playing content, and controlling tone, speed, and volume accessible. This might be useful when using the unit with small children or anyone with cognitive challenges.
The battery is user-replaceable and reportedly operates for ten hours when fully charged.
What the Stratus Can Play
The Victor Stratus can play a fairly impressive array of file types. It can play your DAISY-formatted books, including those from Bookshare, Learning Ally, and the NLS. It can play your music collection, podcasts, and any MP3, WAV, or other audio files you throw at it.
In addition to playing both text and audio of DAISY books (when both features are made available), the Stratus can play a host of other text formats as well, including TXT, RTF, BRF, HTML, DOC, and DOCX. The familiar voices of Heather and Ryan make listening to text quite a pleasant experience. No matter the file type, you can also adjust the speed, volume, and tone to suit your own preferences.
While You're Listening
Like the popular Victor Reader Stream, the Victor Stratus gives you a multitude of options for managing content as you listen. You can set bookmarks (up to 99,998 of them) and navigate by level, page, sentence, word, character, etc., depending upon the mark-up available in a particular book. You can navigate to a specific heading, such as a chapter or section heading, as well as a specific page (again, if page indications are available in a given book). In text files, you can use the telephone-style keypad for text input to locate a specific word or phrase. You can jump forward and back by increments of time (1, 5, 10, or 30 minutes) or by percentages of the entire file. Navigation, in other words, is extremely flexible, intuitive, and quick.
Consider the Source
Probably the most appealing feature of the Victor Stratus is its ability to use a variety of media sources. While the Stratus has no internal memory for storing your files, it can have a ton of material on-board at any given time. You can, for example, insert an SD card loaded with talking books, text files, podcasts, and music along with a USB drive containing a similarly vast amount of content, while also popping in a CD of your favorite banjo player or DAISY-formatted textbook. By using the bookshelf function ("1" on the keypad), you can easily move among these sources of content, going from one to another and then navigating the folders or tracks contained therein.
A key describer mode is available to tell you the function of every key, and the user guide, which also comes on a CD with your unit, is always available internally. This guide has four levels of navigation as well as being navigable by word, line, sentence, or page (or by searching for a particular word or phrase) so that locating specific references is convenient and quick.
Above the Play/Stop key is the Sleep key. When first pressed, this key results in an announcement of the time and date. Second and subsequent presses are for the Sleep Timer and thus allow the user to set the machine to play for 15, 30, 45, or 60 minutes before automatically powering off. (By using the numbers on the keypad, you can also customize the Sleep Timer to play for a specific amount of time before shutting down.)
When playing a CD, the Speed control is still available to you, making it possible to speed up text or audio generated by a CD in the same way that you would with other digital material. Because the required folder structure is similar to that of the Victor Reader Stream, SD cards formatted for that device can easily be accessed with the Victor Stratus as well.
The Victor Stratus does not have an on-board recorder. Although it will play material first played on the Victor Reader Stream, it will not play notes recorded on that device and stored in the Notes folder. A further disappointment was that, even though the Stratus has a Copy CD feature, it only works when copying DAISY-formatted CDs. For that reason, the copy feature was not tested for this review.
When powering on, the familiar "Victor" voice welcomes the user, but the delay between the beep confirming that Power has been pressed and the subsequent "Welcome to Victor Stratus" message seems rather long. The particular unit tested would not accept a battery charge after the first few charging cycles. (After repeated attempts to charge the battery failed, removing the user-replaceable battery from its compartment for 15 seconds and replacing it ultimately resolved this problem.)
The Victor Stratus is a sturdy and compact unit capable of playing a wide variety of text and audio content. Its built-in speaker is excellent, so listening without headphones is pleasant and comfortable. It delivers clear, crisp sound and has the added advantage of playing both commercial and DAISY-formatted CDs. The presence of both an SD and USB port renders it an excellent choice for playing content from a variety of sources.
For a person who would prefer having just one device for playing music, books, and text files, it could be a great choice. If recording and portability are high priorities, however, the Victor Stratus would best play the role of supporting actor in your technology toolbox.
Product: Victor Reader Stratus 12M DAISY MP3 Player
HumanWare would like to thank AccessWorld for this thorough review of the Victor Reader Stratus. As the author highlights, the simplicity of the Stratus's hardware interface, high quality speaker, and ability to interface with a multitude of storage media, including the SD cards from the Victor Reader Stream, allows it to be a device that can be immediately used and enjoyed by users of all technological backgrounds.
Greg Stilson, HumanWare Technical Product Manager of Braille Products
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