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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 September 2013 Issue  Volume 14  Number 9

Product Evaluations and Guides

An Evaluation of the I.D. Mate Quest Talking Bar Code Scanner from Envision America

When the need arose to write a product review of the Envision America ID Mate Quest Talking Bar Code Scanner, I was eager to accept the assignment. Although I examine and evaluate new pieces of assistive technology all the time, I had never spent time with a stand-alone bar code reader. I've used a few products that do the job, but as peripherals or smart phone apps. And, to be honest, I haven't been particularly smitten by any of them.

The I.D. Mate Quest boasts a plethora of dazzling features. It has wireless connectivity, so that the database of product items and unit software can be easily updated. It includes an MP3 player, currency identifier, and Skype capabilities. Its premiere function is the identification of standard or customized bar codes, however, and that, naturally, was the feature of greatest interest.

First Impressions

Upon unpacking the product, the first thing you'll notice is that the I.D. Mate Quest doesn't resemble any other popular piece of assistive technology. About 8 inches tall and 2.5 inches wide at its base, it has a sloping cylindrical shape, wide at the base and narrower at the top. It has a rubberized, textured cover and six, yes only six, distinctly shaped buttons on its face. On the top edge are a thumb wheel to control volume and a connection port for the AC power adapter. Along one side is the power button and on the other a headphone jack and micro USB port. On the front face of the unit, above those six keys, is a small camera for the currency identification feature. When the ID Mate Quest is standing, its scanning surface is hidden, since the scanning surface is the entire bottom face of the unit, a good two inches square or more. As mentioned earlier, it has wireless connectivity as well as Bluetooth capability for pairing with a Bluetooth headset.

The unit ships with a convenient lanyard for hanging it around the neck, a sturdy carrying case with zippered pouches for cables, labels, etc., a quick start guide in both print and braille, and a user's guide in print, braille, and audio CD.

Refreshingly Straightforward Operation

Becoming acquainted with any new piece of technology requires a certain amount of time and patience, so I expected to spend a considerable block of time doing just that: getting acquainted. As it turns out, this is one product that is genuinely, refreshingly usable right out of the box.

It takes about an hour to read the entire user's guide (which the manufacturer tells you up front) and the documentation is commendably clear and concise.

Those six keys have been put to use with logic and efficiency in mind. As indicated above, the keys are all very easily distinguished by touch. The long key on the left changes from one Mode to another. There are two up and down arrow keys, with a Select key between them. On the right are a round Record key and a square Erase key. Each of the keys has multiple functions.

The unit powers up in I.D. mode which, after all, is its primary function. More about the other modes shortly, but since the identification of bar codes is this tool's primary function, let's first take a look at that feature.

Identifying Bar Codes

After charging the unit and reading through that clear and concise user's guide, I powered the unit on a trial run. To my surprise, the affirming beep sounded within a few seconds of my scanning a box on my kitchen counter. In a clear male voice, I was informed that the box contained Raisin Bran, weighed 18.7 ounces, contained 190 calories per one cup serving, and was heart healthy. The nutritional information, ingredients, and encouragement to recycle the box were all read aloud. For those of us who don't typically read product information, I admit that this was pretty thrilling.

Considering that this may have been beginner's luck, I proceeded to scan dozens of other items: boxes and cans from my pantry, items from the freezer drawer, a cabinet filled with long forgotten shampoos, lotions, and other cosmetics. The Quest identified them all. Typically, the product name is followed by ingredients, user instructions and, when the Google Price feature is enabled, suggested retail prices at various stores.

Next, I went to my CD collection, and was delighted to hear not only the artist and title of a CD, but the list of tracks and copyright information as well. It is just that easy. The manufacturer suggests a variety of ways to hold the unit for best results. Personally, I found holding it in one hand and the item to be identified in the other worked just fine. Using the lanyard to hang the unit around the neck is also convenient at times. The striking element of this experience was that the product could be used quickly and with high success when armed with just two simple bits of information: a) bar codes are typically located on the lower half or bottom of most products and b) the scanner should be held about eight inches from the item to be recognized.

Because the scanning "window" is so large, locating and identifying bar codes is simply much faster and easier than with apps or products that use a smaller lens.

The database now contains roughly 3 million product bar codes, so the chances of Quest recognizing your particular pizza sauce or toothpaste or Chopin collection is high, but of course there will be times when it doesn't. When the Quest sees a bar code that isn't in its database, it says, "Item not found" and prompts you to record your own label. To do this, you simply press the round Record button and speak as much or as little information you deem necessary for later identification.

Using this same feature, you can label anything using the proper labels and your own voice. Quest offers iron-on labels for clothing, adhesive labels for anything from folders and books to pet products or tools, and labels that can be affixed via rubber bands to leftovers in the freezer or medicine vials. To use any of these labels, you simply affix one to the item of interest, whether it's that t-shirt supporting your favorite baseball team or a casserole you've made and frozen, and record a message with any details you care to remember. Essentially, the kinds of items that Quest can be used to identify is limited only by the customer's imagination.

Other Modes

As the fifth generation Talking Bar Code Scanner, Quest has other onboard talents beyond identifying bar codes. To cycle through the other modes, press the Mode key repeatedly. Among these modes are a memo recorder, MP3 player, currency identifier, and a Skype function for placing calls, both audio and video.

The straightforward and easy-to-use Memo recording feature is the most logical addition to a device designed to identify products. The ability to record a grocery list, for instance, on the same device used to identify your groceries makes good sense. Of course, you can also use this feature to record recipes, other reminders to yourself, your dog singing "Jingle Bells" or anything else if so inspired. The remaining features work as you would expect. The MP3 player does an adequate job of playing music and other material. While Skype seemed to me an odd addition to such a device, the feature is easy to set up and works well. (In the event that you don't have a Skype account, the unit ships with a sample Skype username and password for convenient testing.) The currency identifier uses the small camera at the top of the unit's face, not the larger primary scanning surface. Although this feature did eventually work for me, it took several attempts over a period of days to make that happen. In fairness to Envision America, the company was having difficulties with the server dedicated to recognizing currency images on the particular days I was testing, so this may well be an unfortunate coincidence. It did ultimately work and the results were accurate.

Also included in the rotation of Modes are System and Help. In System, you can connect to a wireless network, set date and time, choose playback settings (yes, the speed of the text-to-speech voice can be increased or decreased), enable currency mode, enable the Google Price feature, update the unit's software or database of products, and more. The last Mode in the rotation is Help, where you can find most sections from the user's guide for instant onboard solutions to problems.

High praise is in order here for the beauty of simplicity exercised in managing any of these settings. There are only six keys, but the manufacturer has made ingenious use of those six keys, rendering all tasks exceedingly easy for all customers regardless of any technical expertise. In connecting to a wireless network, for example, the SSID and password are entered by using the Next and Previous keys to cycle through the lowercase and uppercase letters and numbers and pressing Select when the desired character is heard. The method is simple, efficient, and requires very little dexterity or technical ability.

Conclusions

The I.D. Mate Quest Talking Bar Code Scanner is an extremely well-designed product that does what it promises to do and does it extremely well. It can be used out of the box with very little technical skill or training. With a database of nearly 3 million products, it can recognize widely available commercial products including groceries, health and beauty aids, music CDs, films, books, and more. With its customizable labels, bar codes with extended descriptions can be affixed to papers, clothing, small appliances, and a host of other objects. Speech is clear with adjustable speed and volume, and recognition is fast and accurate.

Accompanying documentation not only comes in all formats but is written clearly and with merciful brevity. Although this fifth generation product has a number of other functions, they should be considered bonus items. In other words, if you want a device that makes Skype calls, plays your music collection, or identifies currency, there are better products out there. For identifying literally millions of household goods without sight, however, the I.D. Mate Quest is a fabulous addition to any blind or low vision person's technological toolbox.

Product Information

Product: I.D. Mate Quest Talking Bar Code Scanner
Price: $1,299
Available from: Envision America, 800-890-1180

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