The profile of the CCTV, also called an electronic video magnifier, has changed a lot in recent years. These days, it's not enough to mount a camera above an LCD monitor. Professionals and students, for whom portability and connectedness are as important as powerful magnification, are embracing a new breed of magnifiers that also function as computing devices. This is especially true in the mid-range of the marketplace, where you'll find HumanWare's Prodigi Connect 12. The device, which combines a 12-inch Android tablet, a reading stand and, optionally, a distance camera, exemplifies the ways assistive technology companies can provide both important accessibility features and modern computing power all in a compact, lightweight package.
The Prodigi Connect 12 consists of a 12.2-inch Samsung Galaxy Note Pro tablet, a stand, and an optional distance-viewing camera. In addition to the standard Android operating system, the Prodigi Connect tablet includes a suite of apps for managing magnification, OCR scanning, and accessing popular services from Google, Dropbox, Bookshare, BARD, and others, along with apps that provide smart board connectivity. The Prodigi Connect 12 arrives in a compact laptop bag and has a total weight of less than two pounds.
Caption: HumanWare's Prodigi Connect 12
Set Up and Using Magnification
Getting started with the Prodigi Connect 12 for close-up magnification is as simple as mounting the tablet in its resting place atop the folding stand. The base of the stand is approximately 12 by 16 inches, with the stand's two hinged legs connected at the rear. The tablet clamps to the stand's platform oriented with the screen up, with the camera located closest to you as you face the unit. The camera lens is visible through an opening in the stand's platform, which is also hinged, to allow you to tilt it. With the stand's legs straightened, the tablet is held eight inches above the base of the stand. Because of the camera's location at the bottom of the viewing area, you will need to adjust the position of reading material, and/or the angle of the stand, to get the upper portion of what you're looking at to appear in the viewfinder. The stand can be adjusted in two ways: you can change the angle of the legs, or tilt the tablet itself. If you read and view items of varying sizes, like books, mail, package labels, or craft projects, you will use these adjustments quite a bit to get the camera and reading angle just right.
When you turn on the Prodigi Connect, you choose whether to engage magnification mode or activate the Android tablet. If you choose magnification, a banner with large, bright buttons fills the bottom quarter of the screen. You can zoom in or out, scan an image, turn the light on and off, or adjust a variety of display and audio settings. You can also zoom with a pinch gesture on the tablet screen, and quickly switch between positive and negative contrast with a vertical swipe on the right edge of the screen. The banner icons are easy to see and interpret, and the text-based buttons that control device settings are large and easy to read. The contrast and color settings you can apply to the magnifier display carry over to the settings screens, so if, for instance, you want a black background with yellow text under the camera, the settings screens will mirror that selection. In addition to options for positive/negative contrast, Prodigi provides eight color schemes.
The Prodigi can scan and read text, and save text to the Prodigi gallery. From there, files can be exported to the Android file system, so you can view, edit, and share them at will. Pressing the Capture button on the main icon banner initiates scanning. When complete, the scanned image appears onscreen, and can be zoomed for reading there, read with speech, or saved to disk. When scanned text is displayed onscreen, Prodigi Connect uses the color and contrast settings you've chosen for viewing with the camera. Choose to view text in line, column, or the default mode, which preserves the appearance of the original page.
The Prodigi Connect offers full-page scanning, but you'll need to turn your document horizontally to achieve it, since the camera cannot otherwise see all of a normal-sized page. To enter full-page mode, turn the document so that the top of the page is near the left edge of the tablet and press the Zoom Out button, onscreen. Next, do a long press on the Capture button. Prodigi will attempt to capture all of the page's text. Unfortunately, even with these settings engaged, the full-page mode is a challenge to use, since the camera, when mounted on its stand, is so close to the material to be read and the stand can't be angled with the same degree of flexibility that's available when you're viewing pages vertically.
Using the Tablet
The 12.2-inch Samsung Galaxy Pro tablet at the heart of the Prodigi Connect is a full-featured Android device. It's powered by a 1.9 GHz. Quad A15, and 1.3 GHz. Quad A7 processors, and ships with Android 5.0 (Lollipop) installed. The unit includes 32 GB of storage, plus a microSD slot, should you need more. The camera is an 8MP unit with LED flash. Networking features include dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, and Bluetooth. There's also a GPS receiver and accelerometer. HumanWare says the tablet provides up to 12 hours of battery life. Your experience will vary, and using the camera and LED light for magnification are likely to reduce battery life. Reviews of the Galaxy Note Pro do praise its battery's longevity.
Other vendors with tablet offerings have chosen to wall off aspects of the mobile operating system in deference to customers who are inexperienced with Android, or don't require all of its capabilities. The Prodigi Connect is definitely aimed at users who want to use all aspects of the mobile operating system, and who wish not only to use BARD and Bookshare, but also want the flexibility to choose their own apps from the millions available via the Google Play Store. The Galaxy Note Pro has standard Android accessibility features, most of which are not enabled by default, though large fonts are used. You can enable the TalkBack screen reader, inverted colors, and high-contrast options. The default home screen contains a small selection of the numerous apps installed on the tablet. If you explore the environment, you can easily find the rest and add your own from the Play store. In short, if you're an Android phone user, you'll feel right at home. HumanWare does not document the Android environment, or its accessibility options. Much of the information you need is available on the web and within the Android help documents provided on the tablet itself.
For an extra $300, you can add a wireless Sony camera for distance viewing to the Prodigi. Use the included clip-on mount to connect the camera to the reading stand, a table, or other sturdy object. The camera is small and round, about the diameter of a detachable lens for an SLR camera. You can view your surroundings with the distance camera, or take photos and video, which can be saved to the tablet, or to an optional SD card in the camera. You can choose distance viewing from the Prodigi's magnification interface, and operate the camera using the included app. The flexible but sturdy mount makes it easy to change what you see in the camera, and you can zoom in or out, using a rocker switch on the camera itself. HumanWare and the Sony documentation warn users against attaching the camera mount to an unstable surface, and this is good advice. Connecting the unit to the platform, or leg of the reading stand works well. The mount's mechanism allows you to swivel the camera easily. You can even use it for self-view functions by turning the lens to face you.
Portability and Documentation
The Prodigi Connect's compact but roomy carrying case is a standard laptop bag, which provides ample protection for the unit and is easily carried over one shoulder, or in one hand, using the handles. Packing the unit away is as simple as unplugging the charging cable (and distance camera, if you're using it), folding the reading stand down, and slipping the Prodigi into the bag. You can remove the tablet if you want to work with it on its own, but since the unit grips the tablet rather tightly it's easier to keep it in the stand when transporting. This is a feature, not a problem, in our opinion.
Assistive technology vendors who build custom products that consist of several other products have sometimes found integrating documentation for all the pieces to be a challenge. HumanWare does a better-than-average job of explaining how to use Prodigi Connect. The package includes a 66-page, large-print user guide that describes each component and hardware feature along with how to assemble the unit for use. You also learn how to work with Prodigi's magnification and OCR software, and how to switch among the unit's various modes. Use of the Android environment is covered briefly—full documentation of the tablet's functions is certainly beyond the scope of product documentation—but a bit of orientation to the Prodigi's Android Home screen and included apps, along with pointers to the tablet's accessibility settings, would have been welcome. The package includes documentation from Sony for the distance camera. The small, one-sheet quick start guide (an excellent candidate for magnification with your new Prodigi) explains how to charge the camera's battery, but doesn't offer much help for a user working in the Prodigi environment. HumanWare's user guide pictures the camera's components, and refers you to the Sony documentation (you'll need it to retrieve the Wi-Fi password for the camera). The Prodigi tablet does include the software needed to run the camera, along with links to web resources for its use, but we would have liked to a bit more explanation from HumanWare about initial camera setup for the Prodigi environment.
The Bottom Line
It is often the case that accessible technology products represent compromise for power users. Older hardware, locked-down software, and clunky styling are too often the rule. Prodigi Connect does not fit this stereotype. The high-quality, full-featured Samsung tablet at its heart uses a recent version of Android and provides access to the full range of apps from Google Play, while still offering a full suite of accessibility tools. HumanWare's magnification and scanning software is straightforward and flexible. The folding stand is lightweight and quick to set up, making the whole package highly portable and easy to work with on the go. Like most products in this category, the Prodigi comes at a high price, but if you intend to purchase a video magnifier, Prodigi Connect stacks up extremely well against competitors. It is truly a video magnifier for power users.
Product: Prodigi Connect 12
Price: $2,695, or $2,995 with distance camera
Available from: HumanWare, 800-722-3393
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