February 2015 Issue  Volume 16  Number 2

Product Evaluations and Guides

An Evaluation of the HIMS E-bot PRO Remote Controlled Video Magnifier with OCR, Computer and Tablet Compatibility, and Wi-Fi Capability

HIMS recently introduced the E-bot PRO, a video magnifier that is packed with an array of customizable features and is capable of operating on several platforms. As its name implies, the E-bot PRO is a highly advanced video magnifier that more closely resembles a remote controlled robot than a traditional video magnifier. This review looks at how this technologically advanced video magnifier performs on everyday tasks and situations in conjunction with multiple platforms.

It's important to be aware that HIMS provides three offerings within its E-bot product line. All three products provide close-up and distance viewing, wireless iPad and Android tablet compatibility, USB 3.0 compatibility, and auto-brightness. The major differences between the three devices are as follows:

  • E-bot does not offer remote control or built-in OCR
  • E-bot ADV offers remote control and built-in OCR
  • E-bot PRO offers remote control with joystick camera control and built-in OCR

This review focuses specifically on the E-bot PRO.

E-bot PRO Physical Design

The E-bot PRO has a white camera, adjustment arm, and base, and comes with a sturdy black reading table. When collapsed, the E-bot PRO rests securely on the reading table, and slips easily into the included carrying case. When unfolded, the E-bot PRO has a relatively small footprint. It stands at 15.2 inches tall, and measures 15.9 inches deep by 9.3 inches wide. As is becoming increasingly common with video magnifiers, the E-bot PRO's built-in OCR capabilities eliminate the need for the traditional X-Y tray. The base itself contains only a few controls. On the side of the unit, a rotor dial adjusts the volume of audio output and a switch allows quick and easy enabling and disabling of Wi-Fi. The two controls on the top of the E-bot PRO include the power button and the button to turn the unit's light on and off. Two small LED lights also indicate the status of the Wi-Fi and battery level. The back side of the unit contains a number of ports, including USB, HDMI, DC in, and DC out. There is also a very small channel switch used to synchronize with the remote control included with the unit.

The E-bot PRO also comes with the following: two AA batteries for the wireless controller; AC adapter; USB 3.0 and HDMI cables; HDMI to DVI adapter; carrying case; headphones; 16 GB SD card; user manual, and PC and Mac installation CD. The E-bot PRO does not include a monitor or tablet.

Photo of the E-bot Pro in use with a tablet computer

Caption: Photo of the E-bot PRO in use with a tablet computer

E-bot PRO System Requirements and Set Up

According to the HIMS documentation, the available E-bot PRO drivers allow it to interface with Windows 7, Windows 8, and OS X. It was necessary to manually install the Windows 8 driver for the E-bot PRO, since the installation wizard failed to properly install it using the Windows 8.1 Pro operating system. This manual installation involved approximately a dozen steps, including entering a specific command line within the Run command. It took some digging to find these additional instructions for manually installing the Windows driver on the HIMS website. It was necessary to access the HIMS Resource Center, and from there locate the E-bot PRO page. At the bottom of the page was a set of instructions under "USB Connection Failure." The documentation included a detailed .docx file that provided step-by-step instructions for manually installing the Windows 7 and Windows 8 drivers. After carrying out the steps, the E-bot worked successfully.

In order to streamline the installation process, HIMS could make these files easier to locate, using a link labeled along the lines of "Troubleshooting Installation." It would also be helpful to include the file as an accessible PDF as an alternative to a Word file.

I was unable to successfully get the E-bot to work with the Mac drivers using USB 3.0 on a Mac Mini, even after multiple attempts while following the instructions in the user manual.

Recommended Specifications for Connecting to a PC or Mac

HIMS suggests the following specifications for optimal use for the E-bot PRO:

  • USB 3.0 support
  • 4 gigabytes of RAM
  • 1 gigabyte graphics card
  • I5 CPU or faster

HIMS also warns that Windows-based computers running USB 2.0 will offer a low-resolution image. HIMS acknowledges in their documentation that at this point the E-bot PRO is not supported with USB 2.0 or Wi-Fi on the OS X platform. The E-bot PRO also does not run on the Windows RT platform.

Connecting the E-bot PRO Directly to a Monitor

The E-bot PRO comes equipped with a DC Out port, and an HDMI cable and DVI adapter to connect directly to an external monitor with HDMI or DVI connection. Though connecting directly to a monitor was straightforward, and no technical problems were encountered, there appear to be two major advantages of connecting the E-bot PRO to a PC or Mac (assuming the installation process of the E-bot Viewer is successful). First, the same monitor being used on the computer is also being used with the E-bot PRO. This allows for the ability to multitask between the E-bot Viewer and any other applications running on the computer. Multitasking worked seamlessly using the E-bot PRO with Windows 8.1. Second, when connected to a computer you are able to access and control the E-bot PRO itself using the computer keyboard and mouse, which is highly efficient since the keyboard and mouse are presumably already being used with other applications.

Connecting to an Apple iPad or Android Tablet

According to HIMS, the E-bot PRO will interface with iPads running iOS 7 or higher, and Android-based tablets running Android 4.3 or higher. In fact, the E-bot PRO also worked with smartphones running these same operating systems such as the iPhone 6 and Nexus 6. HIMS does not promote this fact in their literature, presumably since the smaller visual displays on smartphones are less effective than the larger tablets for individuals with low vision. I would assert that in some cases, and with specific individuals, syncing the E-bot PRO with larger smartphones could certainly serve a purpose. Downloading the E-bot Viewer app from Apple and Google's respective app stores is required in order to run the E-bot Viewer on a smartphone or tablet. Built-in accessibility features for low vision users, such as the Zoom and Magnifier tools, worked very well when running the E-bot Viewer app.

Using USB or Wi-Fi to Connect to a Computer or Tablet

Connecting to a computer via USB is straightforward. The E-bot PRO also offers a wireless method of connecting to a PC or tablet using Wi-Fi. The E-bot PRO actually provides its own hotspot that makes this possible. In order to set this up, you simply search for and select "Ebot…" within the list of Wi-Fi connections. You will be required to enter a predetermined password the first time you set up the E-bot PRO Wi-Fi connection.

Charging the E-bot Battery

The E-bot PRO is equipped with a removable Lithium-Ion battery. When fully charged, the battery will last for approximately four hours. The user manual suggests a five-hour charge when used for the first time using the power supply and DC jack located in the back of the device. The battery can also be charged using a USB connection. The user manual suggests a minimum of 25 hours of charging time, since this is a much slower process.

Documentation

The E-bot PRO comes with a comprehensive 101-page user manual that incorporates several colored images and hand-drawn graphics throughout. A detailed table of contents allows for quick access to any section of the user manual. The manual uses 14-point type for the headings and 12-point type for the regular text. Increasing the font size to 18, and providing a separate two- or three-page "Getting Started" guide with the most basic setup instructions, would increase the ease of use for the low vision population. HIMS provides a number of resources online for the E-bot PRO, including the brochure, the user manual, and the E-bot Viewer software for both the PC and Mac. These resources are located within the Resource Center link, and then within the E-bot PRO link. Providing a single link on the main E-bot PRO page itself called "E-bot PRO Resources" would make these electronic documents easier to locate. HIMS may also wish to consider providing a YouTube video on its site that demonstrates the initial setup and overall operation of the E-bot PRO. Providing such instructional videos is quickly becoming the norm for companies distributing access technology devices including video magnifiers.

Portability of the E-bot PRO

The E-bot PRO weighs just under seven pounds, including the battery. When completely collapsed, it measures 9.3 inches wide, 15.9 inches long, and 2.7 inches high. Unfolding the E-bot PRO is relatively easy, although the first couple of times it may take some practice to get the locking mechanism to secure the unit properly.

The E-bot PRO's battery and Wi-Fi capability make for rapid setup and use in a variety of settings--one of the unit's strongest selling points. It's important to keep in mind that the means to establish the optimal focal point of the tablet, computer, or monitor that is being used in conjunction with the E-bot PRO will need to be considered. One of the photos displaying the E-bot PRO on the HIMS website shows a tablet conveniently set up on a stand next to the E-bot PRO. The E-bot PRO does not include any additional stands of any kind for viewing purposes.

Various Methods of Controlling the E-bot PRO

The E-bot PRO can be controlled in a variety of ways, including via a PC or Mac, an iPad or Android tablet, or a remote control with joystick.

Controlling the E-bot PRO Using a Computer Keyboard and Mouse

The E-bot PRO user manual includes a long list of computer keyboard and mouse commands for activating specific functions such as OCR, and for controlling the movement of the device. For instance, the camera can be moved using any one of the four Arrow keys on the keyboard, or by using the left-mouse button and gesturing in the desired direction. The response time is fast with either the USB or Wi-Fi connection.

Controlling the E-bot PRO Using a Tablet

The response time is also fast when controlling the E-bot PRO using a tablet. An older iPad 2 was used for testing purposes, and the results were impressive. More than a dozen gestures are available to manipulate the movement and operation of the E-bot PRO. The intuitive pinch and reverse-pinch gestures decrease and increase the viewable area, and moving the camera can be achieved by simply tapping and flicking in the desired direction. When using the iPad 2, it was necessary at one point to restart the E-bot PRO and the app because the software locked up. This may be related to the slower processing speed of the iPad 2.

Controlling the E-bot PRO Using the Remote Control with Joystick

As its name suggests, the E-bot PRO comes with a joystick control that allows the user to remotely access and control the video magnifier. The remote control contains a total of ten buttons, not including the center joystick. The buttons are labeled using a combination of four colors for easier identification. They are also labeled with print, and have been designed with multiple shapes. It's clear that a lot of thought went into designing the buttons to accommodate the needs of people with low vision. The remote control with joystick runs on two AAA batteries, and fits securely in the palm of an average-sized hand. The response time with the remote control is also fast. It is also not dependent on a Wi-Fi connection, which allows for quicker and easier access when needed.

Magnification with the E-bot PRO

The E-bot PRO provides a broad range of magnification. The exact level of magnification, which is prominently displayed in large, high-contrast text near the bottom center of the display, ranges from Zoom 1 (minimum zoom) through Zoom 62 (maximum zoom).

On a 22-inch monitor, when in Near View mode--which is the mode used when reading material resting on the reading table--at Zoom 1, 11-point type appears an eighth of an inch in height. At Zoom 62, this same 11-point font is displayed at four and a quarter inches in height. These sizes will inevitably be smaller when using a tablet or smaller monitor, due to the decreased viewable area. The E-bot PRO also provides the option (easily turned off) of audibly announcing the exact level of magnification being used.

The level of magnification available with the Distance Viewing Mode was impressive, along with the camera's range of movement when panning a room. In Distance Viewing Mode, two angle modes are available to choose from: Normal Angle Mode and Maximum Angle Mode. Normal Angle Mode limits the movement to 45 degrees to the left, and 30 degrees to the right. In Maximum Angle Mode, the movement is increased to 90 degrees to the left. The motion of the panning speed is also significantly reduced for distance viewing, which helps stabilize the image, since even a small amount of camera movement when viewing objects in the distance can shift the viewing area.

E-bot PRO Image Quality

Four LED lights strategically positioned around the camera of the E-bot PRO serve their intended purpose of providing sufficient light to maximize the contrast level of the material being read for Near View mode. When there is sufficient lighting in the room, and the LED lights are not needed, the user can quickly and easily turn the lights off using a control on the base of the unit. Overall, the image quality is excellent when in Near View Mode. For Distance View mode, the E-bot PRO performed well in brightly lit environments, but under less optimal lighting environments image quality was noticeably reduced.

E-bot PRO Color Schemes and Contrast

The E-bot PRO offers a total of 56 color combinations. The choices include frequently used selections such as natural color, white on black, black on white, yellow on black and grayscale. It also provides a wide range for adjusting the contrast level. On a scale of 1 through 40, the default setting is 20. This range can be very useful when enhancing the contrast level of materials with different foreground and background contrast levels.

E-bot PRO OCR Capabilities

OCR is used for Near View mode only, as is typical with video magnifiers offering this feature. Running OCR on a single page of text takes just under 10 seconds. Within the OCR options, you can choose to have the scanned page displayed by word, line, whole text, or the actual image as it is read aloud. The speech synthesizer provides very clear speech output.

Saving and Retrieving Documents

The E-bot PRO includes a 16-gigabyte SD card for saving and retrieving images for future use. This media format is especially convenient, since the SD card can be easily removed from the E-bot PRO, and the saved images can then be transferred to any device capable of reading an SD card.

Overall Control and Noise Level

Control of the camera movement, adjustment of magnification level, and access to the various menu options of the E-bot PRO are designed well across all compatible platforms. The ability to also control and modify the panning speed of the camera as needed allows for a highly customizable experience that is conducive for a range of environments and personal preferences. The noise level of the E-bot PRO, particularly when initially setting it up, is a little loud and potentially distracting.

It takes approximately 18 seconds for the video magnifier to initialize for use after it is unfolded and first turned on. Once the E-bot PRO is initialized, it takes an additional minute or two to set everything up for operation. Although this isn't a particularly long time, it is not anything close to an "instant on" experience.

The Bottom Line

HIMS has made a valiant attempt to make the E-bot PRO video magnifier all things to all platforms. It has been on the market for a short amount of time, and for the most part, I believe HIMS has accomplished its objective. The E-bot PRO has a straightforward design while meeting the needs of people who use multiple platforms. There are clearly some improvements to be made, since HIMS acknowledges that the E-bot PRO is unable to use USB 2.0 or Wi-Fi when connected to a Mac. The installation process and instructions could also be improved by refining the software installation process, offering YouTube videos, and by providing a basic setup guide for an easier out-of-the-box experience.

The portability of the E-bot PRO, along with its ability to provide a wireless experience and to connect with two of the most commonly used operating systems for tablets, pushes the envelope when it comes to the versatility and features of a video magnifier. The E-bot PRO represents an impressive combination of both innovation and portability.

Manufacturer Comments

Comments from HIMS Inc., Austin, TX

We thank John Rempel for sharing his experience reviewing the E-bot PRO (and E-bot ADV) as well as all the staff at AccessWorld for sharing its monthly assistive technology reviews with blind and low vision consumers and professionals.

During the ATIA 2015 Conference in Orlando, FL, January 28-31, HIMS released updated E-bot firmware and Viewer Apps that enhance the Wi-Fi connection to tablets and PCs. These updates also enhance certain image quality imperfections, particularly in Color image mode, and all E-bot firmware and Viewer Apps are free at the Resource Center of our website.

We plan to make YouTube videos available on our website in the near future. John Rempel's comments encourage us to make these videos available soon. And, we agree to make a Quick Start Installation Guide available. Also, we will discuss the PC and Mac installation process with our engineers to possibly simplify the process or steps in a future release. E-bot's versatile compatibility is one of its powerful features for users as it interfaces with more devices than any other product in its class.

Product Information

Product: E-bot PRO
Price: $3,895.00
Available From: HIMS, Inc.
4616 W Howard Ln, Ste 960
Austin, TX 78728
888-520-4467
sales@hims-inc.com

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