May 2017 Issue  Volume 18  Number 5

Book Reviews

Book Review: Getting Started with Android by Ana Garza and JJ Meddaugh

If you'd like to learn how to use the Apple iOS mobile operating system with its VoiceOver built-in screen reader, there are a plethora of audio, video, and text resources for doing so. Educational resources for learning how to use Android with its built-in screen reader, TalkBack, are also available. Inclusive Android, the Eyes Free Google Group, and the TalkBack help pages are good examples. Even so, resources for using Android with TalkBack are still less common than those for iOS, and with TalkBack's recent rapid advancement in features and functionality, some older resources are falling out of date.

Now, Ana Garza and JJ Meddaugh have written Getting Started with Android, an extensive guide to Android and the TalkBack screen reader. The book is published by National Braille press and can be purchased for $24 in plain text, EPUB, DAISY, BRF, hardcopy braille, and Word format and for $26.50 in TXT, DAISY, BRF, and Word formats on a physical USB drive. I have worked briefly on and off with Android since the modern iteration of TalkBack was released with Android 4.1, but with the release of this book, I thought it was high time that I dove in and thoroughly explored what Android and TalkBack had to offer.

In this article, I will first detail what is covered in the book and follow with my thoughts and impressions. I used a Motorola G4 Play running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow for this review. I don't have a SIM card, so I wasn't able to test receiving and making calls, but with a few additional exceptions, I tested all the aspects of Android and TalkBack discussed in the book.

Getting Started with TalkBack and Android

The first four chapters of the book introduce the reader to TalkBack and the Android operating system, and provide information on setting up the device. The authors note that they considered common questions that are asked on the Eyes Free Google group when determining what to include in the book.

The first chapter provides a general overview of Android and TalkBack. The chapter includes information on the current state of Android accessibility, noting, for example, that the Android operating system as released by Google is highly accessible, but that the changes that manufacturers make to devices can cause issues with accessibility. They explain that this has been an issue in the past, and recommend finding a device as close to "stock Android"-- the operating system as released by Google, without third-party changes--as possible for the best experience. They also explain differences in experience based on which Android version is installed on your device.

The authors also discuss the great deal of variety and customization that can take place in the Android ecosystem, the benefits of this, and how it may cause some details stated in the book to be different depending on differences in the reader's Android device and operating system.

The second chapter describes setup, including how to activate speech feedback without sighted assistance as well as how to navigate through the various setup screens. The authors make helpful suggestions, such as keeping a set of headphones on hand as in some circumstances TalkBack will not read the contents of the keyboard when entering passwords when using the phone's speaker, though it will when headphones are connected.

At this point in the book TalkBack gestures have not been described in depth. The authors give some brief information that can get the user through these screens, but you may find it beneficial to review Chapters 3 and 4 for more details on TalkBack before setting up your device.

Chapters 3 and 4 introduce the Lock screen and provide a general overview of how most Android screens are arranged. They provide information on adjusting volume in Chapter 3 while providing information on various settings in Chapter 4. These two chapters introduce you to TalkBack gestures in depth, provide suggestions and steps for changing some recommended settings, and provide a framework that will be built upon in the upcoming function-specific chapters.

Learning More About Android and TalkBack Features and Functions

Chapters 5 and 6 discuss various apps and aspects of the Android operating system while also introducing other functions of the screen reader and methods of interaction and manipulation. Chapter 5 describes using the Phone app while also introducing the reader to the basics of entering information. The authors use the Telephone keypad to avoid jumping directly into entering text with the more complicated QWERTY keyboard. This chapter covers a range of methods available for making a call and information on receiving a call.

Chapter 6 describes the App Drawer and the Home screen in detail. The authors describe the "long press" in this chapter as well as how to make changes to the Home screen. Chapter 7 describes the Messaging app in detail and also provides more information regarding the long press. Chapter 8 details working with Contacts while also describing some more TalkBack gestures and Android design features. This chapter describes two-part vertical and horizontal gestures as well as introducing the reader to tabs in Android.

Chapter 9 describes several Android functions. In addition, the authors detail the differences among the gestures used by sighted Android users and how to modify these so that they will work with TalkBack. The Notification Bar is discussed in more detail and the authors also describe working with the Notification Shade as well as Quick Settings. The authors also detail working with OK Google and Now on Tap. This chapter finishes with a discussion of the Overview/Recent Apps function and working with Multi-Window mode in Android Nougat.

Chapter 10 describes working with the Clock app in depth. This chapter also introduces the Slider and Spin controls, describing the methods that can be used to change them, and also discusses volume in more detail.

Chapter 11 describes working with the Calendar, introducing the reader to the various methods available for selecting dates and times. Chapter 12 is primarily about using your voice to perform various actions. The chapter describes asking questions of OK Google and also details dictating text into a text field. The authors provide some information on Google Keep here as well, as it is used as the example for dictating text into an edit field. Also covered is how to edit text, something that is often necessary when doing dictations. This topic is covered in more depth later in the book.

Chapter 13 is dedicated to TalkBack's right-angle gestures. By association, this chapter also describes working with both the Local and Global context menus, as they are assigned to two of these gestures. Chapter 14 details working with the Web using TalkBack. The chapter discusses using both the Google app and the Chrome browser app for searching. The chapter discusses the other aspects of Chrome as well. The authors go into detail about working with the Clipboard both through the Global context menu and through third party apps such as Universal Copy.

Chapter 15 describes working with text in more detail. The authors provide more information about the default Google Keyboard as well as describe options for editing through TalkBack's context menus. Google Keep is used to showcase these features and the authors go into more detail about this app as well. Chapter 16 is an in-depth discussion of the Gmail app. The authors describe reading and managing mail as well as describing how to set up other accounts and adjust mail settings.

Chapter 17 describes apps and the Play Store. The authors detail working with the Play Store to find apps through searches or through the various lists of apps provided by the store as well as how to change settings. They provide an overview of what you may find when downloading apps and working with them, keeping the discussion somewhat broad, but also going into as much detail as possible regarding similarities among apps. They also describe methods for managing your apps, including updating and uninstalling them.

Chapter 18 describes working with Google Goggles and Keep to recognize text. It also discusses accessibility problems you may encounter in apps and possible methods for fixing these yourself through labeling buttons. If this solution isn't possible, the authors explore methods for contacting developers about accessibility and methods for sending feedback that gives the developers the information they would need to correct the issue.

Book Structure and Layout

The book uses a combination of numbered and bulleted lists as well as prose sections for conveying information. The authors first describe the app or function in question and then provide numbered lists for items where the reader will be taking action. For example, when discussing System Settings in Chapter 3, the authors describe what the settings are and follow the description with a list of actions that the reader can take to open the settings.

You can read this book linearly or jump from chapter to chapter depending on the information you need. Some sections may be useful to come back to and these are often identified in the text. For example, when the authors describe adding and switching among accounts on your device, they note that you do not have to do so at that moment but that it was a good place in the text to include those instructions.

The section that details setting up your device comes a chapter before you are truly introduced to TalkBack gestures. During this section the authors provide information on gestures you can use to access the screen and work your way through the setup process, but the details provided later may be helpful before you start the setup process.

Similarly, the book often briefly details a feature or command that is discussed in more detail later. You may need to perform an action for an app or process and a full discussion of that action may not fit well in the context of the chapter. In these cases, the authors provide a quick description of the action so you can complete the current task and will go into further details on the action later where it fits better with the Android app or function being described.

Overall, I found the use of numbered lists whenever a reader needs to perform a specific series of steps useful and efficient. I think reading the book from cover to cover can work for some, but would recommend keeping the Table of Contents on hand for easy reference in case you run into trouble.

The Table of Contents in general is quite well done. It provides both the chapters and subsections for the book. From the Table of Contents, you can get a solid feel for what the book contains before purchase and it will also provide a clear idea of where certain information is conveyed in the book.

Text Accuracy and Thoughts on Content

Android's many variations can pose a challenge when writing a book like Getting Started with Android. The book manages to be clear but concise and the authors are able to cover a good deal of material. Even with this conciseness, the authors make a point of discussing the variations that can occur in gestures, location of elements, and the like, both across devices and across different Android versions. The authors also frequently give a quick description of where elements are on screen so that a reader can find them directly without needing to hunt around the screen or swipe to the item.

When reading the book, I used a device running Android Marshmallow and found that I could always find the items discussed. The only discrepancies that I noticed were in the names of items: often items would perform the same function as the element being described and be in the same location, but they would have a different label that communicated similar information. Since the elements were in the same place and performed the same function, I came to the conclusion that this was something specific to my device.

When beginning this book, I was interested to see how the authors would instruct readers to perform various gestures as it seemed that these may be difficult to convey in text. Reader understanding may vary, but I found the gesture descriptions accurate and the techniques the authors' used for conveying the gestures was useful to me. For example, when describing how to perform a double-tap gesture to activate items, the authors suggest tapping once for each syllable when saying the word "Android" which seemed to mirror the gesture well.

Many of the metaphors used in this book use computer technology as examples and the assumption seems to be that a reader will be familiar with some sort of accessible electronic technology, whether that be a braille notetaker, personal computer, tablet or other smartphone or digital device. Because of this I came to the conclusion that the book would be quite helpful and easily understood for someone familiar with some sort of assistive technology. If this is your first encounter with accessible computers you should still be able to use the book successfully, though it may be more difficult if you do not understand the underlying concepts or metaphors.

The Bottom Line

Getting Started with Android is a great introduction to the Android operating system, especially for those who are familiar with some sort of computer technology. Even though I was fairly familiar with the operating system and TalkBack beforehand, I still learned quite a bit while working through the book. The details provided for adjusting TalkBack and ring tone volume on the fly (by placing a finger on the screen for TalkBack volume and keeping all fingers off of the display for adjusting the ringer volume) were quite helpful. The description of the layout of screens was also helpful. I found the description of the circular controls particularly useful as I hadn't exactly determined that the hour and minute pickers for the clock were in the shape of a clock face; after learning this I am much more successful at manipulating these controls.

If you are someone with a visual impairment who is either looking to change smartphone platforms or begin using a smartphone all together you may find this book quite helpful. Likewise, if you are aiming to teach the use of Android to someone with a visual impairment this may be a worthwhile text to add to your library.

Book Information

Title: Getting Started with Android by Ana Garza and J.J. Meddaugh (National Braille Press)

Publisher: National Braille Press

Available Formats: Plain text, EPUB, DAISY, BRF, Hardcopy braille, and Word

Price: $24 for Hardcopy braille, and digital download of Plain text, EPUB, DAISY, BRF, and Word; $26.50 for TXT, DAISY, BRF, and Word on USB drive.

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