July 2007 Issue  Volume 8  Number 4

Product Evaluation

An Image of Accessibility: A Review of the Icon

There are three approaches to making a PDA (personal digital assistant) accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. Some companies have designed products specifically for people who are blind or have low vision. Other companies have adapted mainstream PDAs to make them usable. There are also screen readers that run on mainstream PDAs.

This article reviews the Icon from LevelStar, which was designed specifically for people who are blind. The Icon is Linux based, with a 30-gigabyte hard drive and wireless capability. It includes an address book, planner, word processor, MP3/DAISY player, voice recorder, web browser and e-mail program, calculator, and stopwatch.

Physical Description

The Icon measures 5.09 inches by 3.35 inches by .975 inch and weighs 7.4 ounces. On the top of the Icon, from left to right, are an external microphone jack, a mini SD slot, a headphone jack, and a headset jack. At the top of the left and right sides are two stereo speakers. Moving down the left side, you find the Up and Down volume control, a button that toggles between speakers and the mono earpiece, and the Voice Record button. At the bottom of the left and right sides are buttons to open the battery compartment.

On the front of the Icon at the bottom is a standard, 12-key telephone keypad. Above this keypad are 10 additional keys. Just above the 1, 2, and 3 keys are, from left to right, the OK key, the Menu key, and the Cancel key. To turn the Icon on, you hold down the Cancel key. Above this row is the large, diamond-shaped Arrow key. You press the top, bottom, left, or right edges of the Arrow key to move up, down, left, or right in menus or documents. In the middle of the Arrow key is the small Select key. To the left of the Arrow key is the Status key, and to the right is the Help key. The top row of the keypad, from left to right, contains the hot key, Applications Menu key, and WiFi On/Off key. On the bottom of the Icon is the Power/Sync Cable port.

Photo of the Icon.

Caption: The Icon.

Getting Started and Getting Help

The Icon package includes an AC adapter, a USB cable, a case for the Icon, a CD containing the manual and a Quick Start guide in HTML format, and a braille Quick Start guide. There is also online help. The Quick Start Guide provides a thorough orientation to the Icon and tells you how to insert the rechargeable lithium ion battery. The manual describes the Icon's many functions and gives detailed instructions on such items as how to set the time and date.

The Icon has an intuitive menu structure. You can use the Arrow keys to navigate to an item and then press the Select key to open an application. You can also press the number of the item that you want, such as 4 for the Internet menu, and that item opens automatically.

Entering Data

You enter data using the Icon's telephone keypad. The default data entry mode is similar to text messaging on a cell phone. The letters a, b, or c are entered by pressing the 2 key once, twice, or three times, respectively. Pressing the 2 key a fourth time enters the number 2. Subsequent letters of the alphabet are found on keys 3-9. The 0 key enters a space, and the 1 key enters selected punctuation marks. You can also switch to a braille keypad. On the braille keypad, the 1, 4, and 7 keys enter dots 1, 2, and 3, and the 3, 6, and 9 keys enter dots 4, 5, and 6. You press all the necessary keys for each braille character at once. Obviously, you would not want to write a novel with this keypad, but it works for entering short notes, telephone numbers, and e-mail messages. A docking station, which is available for the Icon, gives you a QWERTY or braille keyboard to work with.

Planner

The Icon's Planner lets you add, modify, and set alarms for appointments. You can search for a particular day and hear a list of the scheduled appointments.

Music Player

The Music Player lets you play and sort MP3 files. You can adjust the volume of the music and the Icon's speech separately, so you can browse the web with music playing in the background. Music played through the Icon's small speakers sounds surprisingly good. Of course, you can also use the stereo headphone jack.

You can arrange your music by song, artist, album, and genre. You can create playlists of your favorite songs or hear songs played randomly by selecting Shuffle.

Address List

The Address List lets you enter and save contact information. Addresses are organized by first name. You can create contact lists to separate business from personal contacts.

Web Browser

The Icon uses the Firefox web browser. The browser opens on Google's search page. To open a new page, you go to the Program menu, select File, and select Go to URL. You then type in the web address and press OK. The Icon begins reading the new page as it loads. You can navigate by pressing Left and Right arrows to move by character, Up and Down arrows to move by line, 0 with Left and Right arrows to move by word, and 0 with Up and Down arrows to move by paragraph.

The web browser works quickly and well. Different voices are used to indicate text, links, and edit fields. You can navigate web pages by link, heading, and control. You can skip to the next block of text, bookmark pages, and open multiple web pages at once.

Library Menu

The Library menu is the place to go to read your books, magazines, and newspapers.

Bookshelf

In the Bookshelf, books are stored by author or alphabetically under All Books. The Icon can play books in DAISY3, BRF, Microsoft Word, RTF, TXT, and HTML formats. You can transfer books from your computer to the Icon or download them from the web.

Book Search

The Icon's Book Search works only if you are a member of Bookshare.org, a repository of scanned books that members can download. You have the option of typing in a title or author to search for or browsing book categories that are available on Bookshare. You also need to type in your Bookshare user name and password.

Newsstand

The Newsstand lets you search for and download magazines that are available on Bookshare. You can specify how long you want the Icon to store old issues of the periodicals to which you have subscribed. You can search for issues of one periodical or download current issues of all the magazines and newspapers to which you have subscribed at once. Doing so each morning will supply you with plenty of reading material for your commute to and from work.

When you open a book or periodical, the Icon returns to the point at which you stopped reading. If you are opening a book or periodical for the first time, the Icon begins at the beginning. You can navigate by word, line, or paragraph or read continuously. In DAISY books, you have even more navigation options, depending on how the book has been coded.

Calculator

The Calculator uses the telephone keypad and the Arrows, Select, and Cancel keys to perform basic functions. If you are ambitious, the manual says that you can perform additional, advanced calculator functions by using the Icon's programming language. Doing so will be beyond most users, however.

Stopwatch

The Stopwatch performs the basic function of counting the time passed, starting from zero.

Voice Recorder

An alternative to typing a telephone number on the keypad is to record it using the Voice Recorder and to enter the telephone number into the Address Book later. The Voice Recorder can be used to record and save a full range of voice and music recordings. Recorded files can be transferred to your computer.

What Would Make It Better

The Icon software was upgraded a number of times during testing. These upgrades took care of numerous problems and bugs. Here are some changes that would make the Icon even better:

  1. There is a loud beep when you turn the Icon on and when you open an application. This sound can be a problem if you want to use the unit in a meeting. Headphones help, but it would be good if the beep could be turned off.
  2. The Address Book and the Planner should have more fields for data entry. The Address Book needs fields, such as for a birthday, a job title, a company name, and a second address. The Planner needs a field for notes related to an appointment.
  3. You have to type in an e-mail address when you want to send a message. You should be able to select an e-mail address from the Address Book.
  4. The web browser should do a better job of reading tables. More navigation commands would make things easier for the user.

The Bottom Line

The Icon provides a powerful package of programs in a small device. LevelStar needs to keep improving the software to make the Icon even more attractive and easy to use. Judging by the company's efforts so far, the Icon will become a major player in the market.

Manufacturer's Comments

LevelStar

"LevelStar would like to thank Jay Leventhal and Access World for the in-depth and positive product review. During product development, our goal was to create a palm-sized, portable device with many powerful features. We are pleased that the Icon was found to work well and to be highly useful.

"As a part of our dedication to excellence, we have already made the Icon even easier to use by changing the e-mail address feature, as suggested. Now e-mails can be easily addressed by selecting recipients from the Address Book.

"We are committed to ongoing advancements in the Icon technology and will evaluate improved table-reading ability, user control of the audio indicator, and additional Address Book features during the next product-design cycle.

"LevelStar is delighted that our customers are enthusiastic about the contribution that the Icon makes to their independence. Some of the many features that AccessWorld readers will be enthusiastic about are these:

  • The hard drive has the capacity to store thousands of hours of books, music, or other information.
  • With the Bookshare feature, your password is stored and books are unpacked automatically when downloaded, so they are ready to read.
  • RSS allows you to get current up-to-the-minute newspapers, articles, and podcasts.
  • The recorder is high quality and stereo, so you can even record music and lectures."


View the Product Features as a graphic

View the Product Features as text

View the Product Ratings as a graphic

View the Product Ratings as text

Product Information

Product: Icon.

Manufacturer: LevelStar, 1500 Cherry Street, Suite D, Louisville, CO 80027; phone: 800-315-2305; e-mail: <info@levelstar.com>; web site: <www.levelstar.com>.

Price: $1,395.

Related Articles

No Second Fiddle: A Review of the Maestro by Jay Leventhal, Jim Denham, and Heather McComas
M Is for Mobile, and the Result Is Empowering by Deborah Kendrick


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