HumanWare has a well-established reputation in the access technology industry for designing innovative software and hardware solutions that leverage the power of mainstream architecture. The BrailleNote that runs on the Windows CE operating system is one such example. The HumanWare Prodigi product line of electronic magnifiers also takes advantage of another platform, the ubiquitous Google Android operating system.
Prodigi is a feature-rich line of products for accessing printed materials. The cornerstone technology behind the Prodigi product line is an Android-based tablet customized for people with vision loss. The Prodigi product line offers all of the features of traditional electronic magnifiers—such as color inversion, multiple color schemes, and brightness adjustment—while offering additional features through its screen capturing and speech output capabilities. The following items are included in the Prodigi product line:
- Prodigi Tablet: a handheld electronic magnifier with a 5-inch screen.
- Prodigi Desktop: the stationary base that houses the Prodigi technology, but does not include the option of using the tablet as a stand alone, handheld electronic magnifier.
- Prodigi Duo: includes the portability of the removable Prodigi Tablet and the Prodigi Desktop.
The Prodigi Tablet and Prodigi Desktop can be ordered with a 20- or 24-inch monitor, and offer some impressive touchscreen and touchpad capabilities. This review will focus on the capabilities of the Prodigi Duo.
Caption: Image of Prodigi
The stationary base of the Prodigi Duo has a modern design with a black and silver color scheme. The Prodigi tablet itself uses the same color scheme as the base, and is equipped with a 5-inch display. The tablet and stationary base contain about 6 hard button controls, including the Plus and Minus buttons, Power button, Read button, and Back button. The tablet's display is touchscreen-capable. To avoid confusion, it is important to be aware that the LCD monitor included with the stationary base is not touchscreen-capable. Instead, the stationary base at front and center is equipped with a 3.5-inch touchpad. Also included with the Prodigi Duo is a protective carrying case and portable reading stand for the Prodigi tablet, a USB recharging cable, cleaning cloth, and a DVD that contains the user guides.
The substantial surface space required for the stationary base needs to be taken into consideration, since it may not fit on smaller desks, or on desk designs that include an overhead hutch. The Desktop's footprint measures 21 inches deep and 14 inches wide. The adjustable monitor can be positioned between 17.5 inches and 22.5 inches in height from the desktop surface. The image capturing technology of the Prodigi removes the need for an X-Y table, thereby requiring less side-to-side movement.
The mount of the LCD monitor allows for a 5-inch vertical lift, and it also tilts forward and back, and swivels from side to side. This is an important feature, since neck and shoulder strain is often the end result of not achieving the correct height and angle in relation to the monitor. This versatility allows for the accommodation of individuals at different heights, and differing optimal focal points to the screen.
System Requirements and Software Installation
Updates to the Prodigi software can be downloaded using a Wi-Fi connection. The Prodigi Tablet needs to be plugged in when using this method. The software can also be updated while the Prodigi Tablet is in the docking station of the stationary base by downloading the software onto a memory stick, which can then be plugged into either one of the two USB ports located on the side of the base.
HumanWare acknowledges in the user guide that the updating process of the Prodigi is not very accessible for people with vision loss, and sighted assistance is likely needed since screen enhancement and speech output features are not available. Although the Prodigi is an Android-based tablet, the user interface of the Prodigi overrides almost all of the features that would otherwise be made available with most Android-based smartphones or tablets. For the most part, this is necessary and effective, streamlining the operation of the Prodigi software and allowing the software to be used the way it was intended. The downside is that the user is unable to modify any Android-based accessibility options like TalkBack screen enhancements when setting up a Wi-Fi connection.
It appears that HumanWare has made a strong effort to ease the learning curve for the end user by including a number of well-written resources with the Prodigi Duo, including: a double-page set of instructions for safely packing and unpacking the base, an easy to follow three-page "Getting Started" guide, a detailed user guide for the stationary base, and a detailed user guide for the Prodigi Tablet. All of these materials are printed in 18-point font, and include well-placed, high contrast illustrations.
I was impressed with a series of 12 YouTube video tutorials on the HumanWare website, which offer step-by-step instructions. The videos include everything from unpacking the Prodigi Duo to exploring the deeper layers of the product's visual and reading options. The videos also provide the option of closed captioning for people with hearing loss, though the captioning process appears to have been automated using speech-to-text technology, so the captions do not always accurately reflect what is being spoken. Other than the questionable accuracy of the closed captioning contained within the videos, HumanWare is to be commended for offering such a solid set of multimedia tutorials for the end user. Users would have more luck finding these valuable tutorials if the user guides explicitly stated something to the effect of "Step-by-step tutorial videos available on the HumanWare website."
The Prodigi Duo software also includes an interactive wizard that provides an excellent overview of the Duo and its controls. The wizard also includes a series of exercises that customize the Prodigi Duo to reflect individual preferences regarding text size, contrast level, and preferred color schemes. One of the challenges with the wizard is that it is only available when the Prodigi is set to Standard mode, not the default Simple mode (these two modes are described in detail below). As a result, in order to get to the wizard it is necessary to know how to first switch it from Simple to Standard mode.
Set Up and Portability
When initially setting up the Prodigi Duo, I encourage you to make use of the accompanying documentation and online videos. The dual role of the Prodigi as a portable electronic magnifier, and its integration with the stationary base and its separate set of controls, will need to be clearly understood in order to use the system to its full capacity. The Prodigi Tablet is easily removed from the docking station of the stationary base by pushing apart the two latches that secure it in place. The user guide recommends the Prodigi tablet be charged for at least eight hours before its first use, and for four or more hours thereafter. The tablet can be charged in multiple ways: by placing it in the docking station, through its included power supply and USB cable, or through the USB port of a computer.
It takes approximately a minute and nine seconds for the Prodigi to boot up. When taking it out of sleep mode, it takes slightly less than two seconds for the Prodigi Tablet to become active and ready for use.
The included charging cable for the Tablet is not labeled with any recognizable marking to indicate which side is up. It would be easy for HumanWare to fix this by marking the cable with a high contrast bump/dot to indicate which side should face up. Doing so would make the process of plugging the cable into the recharge port much easier for individuals with low vision.
The Prodigi Duo boasts a long list of features, including touch and tap interactions, OCR technology that allows for improved image quality and text-to-speech capabilities, and the ability to save and retrieve documents.
Touch and Tap Technology
The stationary base contains a touchpad located on its front panel that measures 3.5 inches diagonally. In most instances, using the touchpad is very intuitive. Using the common pinch and reverse-pinch gestures quickly and easily increases or decreases the image to the desired size. The touchpad also allows you to pan the viewable page by moving a single finger in the desired direction. HumanWare has integrated several customized gestures as well. For instance, toggling from Read view (which captures and converts the text of the page into an electronic format) to Live view (the traditional viewing mode) is achieved by swiping up and down using a single finger on the left side of the touchpad. Double tapping with a single finger will toggle speech on and off in Read view. Overall, the touchpad works well, although its 3.5-inch surface is a little small, and therefore somewhat restrictive, when carrying out gestures. As a point of reference, 3.5 inches is the same size as the screen on the iPhone 4/4s. The gestures are essentially the same when using the Prodigi Tablet as a stand-alone magnifier. However, carrying out the gestures using the 5-inch display of the Tablet provides a little more surface space.
The Prodigi Duo offers a wide range of magnification. At the lowest level, 11-point text appears 1/8 inch in height. At the maximum level of magnification, which the Prodigi displays as 20 times, 11-point text is displayed at 2 3/4 inches in height. The magnification level is audibly announced, and the size also appears in large, high-contrast numbers near the bottom center of the screen. HumanWare has done an excellent job making this information accessible audibly and visually.
The Plus and Minus buttons on the right side of the stationary base control the level of magnification and are also essential for modifying some of the settings. Increasing the controls' physical size slightly and raising them approximately 1/8 inch more from the tablet surface would make them easier to identify via touch, and would align these controls more accurately with the center of the fingertip.
When using the Prodigi Tablet in conjunction with its small reading stand, 11-point text appears 1 5/8 inches in height at the lowest level of magnification and 2 1/2 inches in height at the maximum level of magnification. The Prodigi tablet uses the Plus and Minus controls located on its side to increase and decrease magnification. I found the positioning of these controls to be counter-intuitive. On other devices, such as smartphones and tablets, the Plus key is typically located above the Minus key. This is reversed on the Prodigi Tablet, with the Minus control on the top left, and the Plus control immediately below. Following industry standards in this regard would increase the transferable skills, and presumably decrease the learning curve, for smartphone or tablet users learning to use the Prodigi Tablet.
Quality of Image
Overall, the image quality is noticeably superior with the Prodigi Tablet when used in conjunction with the stationary base than as a portable magnifier. When using the stationary base, the camera is held in a fixed position at an optimal distance for page viewing, which makes for excellent image quality. The Prodigi Tablet creates a considerable amount of blurring of the image with movement. As a portable electronic magnifier, the Prodigi Tablet is therefore more effective at capturing images, as opposed to facilitating the reading of text that requires frequent panning from left to right.
As a desktop unit, the Prodigi Duo is highly effective at capturing and manipulating text displayed on a page. An X-Y table is not required, since the camera effectively captures the entire page from its fixed position. The image can then be processed using OCR to convert the displayed text into electronic text. The OCR conversion process takes approximately 10 seconds per page. The end result, which HumanWare refers to as Diamond Edge Text Technology, provides crisp, easy to read text at a size of your choosing. The downside to this process is that the OCR electronic conversion isn't 100 percent accurate, and is occasionally susceptible to errors, particularly with faint or decorative fonts, and with low-contrast text and background combinations.
Color Schemes and Contrast
As would be expected with a high-end electronic magnifier, the Prodigi Duo allows you to customize the background and foreground colors, as well as the contrast level and brightness of documents and images. It offers 16 color schemes to choose from. It also provides a brightness range from 0 to 100, and includes the contrast levels of positive (black text, white background), negative (white text, black background), and true colors.
The Prodigi Duo offers two interfaces: Simple and Standard. By default, the Simple interface is selected. The major difference between these interfaces is that the Standard interface allows more touch-based gestures, and a wider array of options. It will also perform an OCR scan of a page without being prompted, and gives you the option to save documents and images that can be retrieved at a later time.
The Prodigi Duo offers two viewing methods to access material: Live view and Read view. Live view does exactly what its name implies: it allows a person to access printed material that is placed on the reading tray in real time. Read view allows you to take a photo of the material on the reading tray by pressing the Read button located to the left of the touchpad, and then runs OCR on the captured image to parse and convert the viewable text into an electronic format. After the document is electronically converted, it can also be read using a high quality synthetic speech synthesizer. The Prodigi gives you the option of a male or female voice. The speech rate is also easily controlled using a left and right gesture on the touchpad.
A feature called Spot Reading allows you to isolate a specific section of the viewable page. When in Spot Reading mode, a rectangular-shaped lens with a bold red outline is displayed on screen. The lens can be positioned over any section of the page using the touchpad. After positioning the lens on the section of the page you wish to read, pressing the Read button will activate the OCR process and then display the text for the chosen section of the page on the screen.
Reading Mode Options
A powerful set of options that the Prodigi Duo offers is the ability to read printed material by line, page, or column. The names of these three methods are slightly misleading.
Reading by line allows an entire page of text to be displayed as a single line on the screen that scrolls horizontally while being highlighted and read aloud word by word. This can be a very useful feature for someone with field loss who may find tracking difficult.
Reading by page highlights and reads the document aloud while displaying the page as it appears on the base tray. This option displays more of a "true to form" representation of the actual page and its original layout.
Reading by column is not related to reading a column on a page, as its name might suggest. Instead, this method displays each line with a consistent left and right border, eliminating the need for side-to-side navigation.
Saving and Retrieving Documents
The Prodigi is capable of storing up to 100 documents, which can then be retrieved for future use. This can be especially beneficial when images are taken with the Prodigi tablet, and then viewed at a later time using the larger display of the stationary base
The Bottom Line
The Prodigi Duo represents one of the most sophisticated electronic magnifiers on the market today. HumanWare's offering of a feature-rich combination that offers a desktop magnifier and hand-held magnifier under one roof is an ambitious undertaking. The Prodigi Duo's greatest strength appears to be in its desktop magnifier's capabilities. The image quality, speech output, and formatting capabilities it provides via its OCR-based technology are impressive. The Prodigi Tablet as a hand-held magnifier is less impressive, since the image quality of the Prodigi is quickly compromised if there is movement involved. The Tablet's usefulness as a portable solution increases when it's deployed for brief spot-checking and image captures, or when the Tablet is used in conjunction with the portable reading stand for stabilization.
One of the most noteworthy features of the Prodigi Duo is the integration of the pinch and reverse-pinch gestures on both the tablet and stationary base. The majority of tablets and smartphones incorporate these gestures when viewing images and they represent an extremely easy and intuitive method for increasing and decreasing image size. Also, if a user already has experience using the gestures with a smartphone or tablet, applying them when using the Prodigi Duo is effortless.
HumanWare appears to be fully aware of the learning curve that the Prodigi Duo will present for some people, and should be commended for providing a wide array of resources and training materials for the Prodigi Duo. The user guides, high quality YouTube training videos available on the HumanWare website, and the interactive wizard provide the end user with a large number of resources for learning how to use the product effectively.
Thank you for this positive review; Prodigi is a great step forward for people with vision loss and HumanWare is dedicated to continue innovating and developing the next generation of Low Vision magnifiers! We are receiving constant feedback and testimonials from people around the world, that Prodigi has changed their lives; how easy it is now for them to read longer and enjoy reading again, how the natural text-to-speech is a great help, and how Diamond Edge is so crisp! Many of the comments in this review have been, or are being, addressed in ongoing development, for example: the Wi-Fi screen will be soon made fully accessible. Caption of highlighted text is being better synchronized. Our aim is to provide a smoother user experience, in live image panning as in reading. Some terminology such as word-wrap, will be revised. Also, errors in OCR text will be further digitally processed to improve reading. Similar enhancements will be brought to the Tablets image quality, to prevent blurring in movement. Although there is a tactile marker on the USB cable, effort will be made to visually identify it better. More videos, training-capsules will be done to help users gain complete independence. Consequently, to keep improving, all Prodigi owners will benefit from free and well-expected software updates; that will seamlessly improve image quality, feature-set and background intelligence, thus opening the door to infinite evolution. In this sense, Vision has been reinvented!