Small businesses always capture my attention and, if the product or service they provide proves to be of value, they soon capture my loyalty as well. Small businesses owned by blind or low vision people are particularly interesting to me, but also attract even closer scrutiny.
For some time now, I've noticed email ads generated by a guy named Laz (rhymes with jazz) Mesa and his small Florida-based company, Accessible Electronics. His specialty is talking MP3 players, players that do not have visual screens, players designed with blind music and audio lovers in mind. When he announced the availability of a Talking Daisy Book & Media Player, it was time to take a Laz Mesa product for a test drive and share the results with AccessWorld readers.
Accessible Electronics Company Overview
Accessible Electronics was born in the way many small companies are: as a response to a need experienced by its founder. Born in Cuba, Laz came to the US with his family when he was 6 years old. Diabetic since childhood, he lost his eyesight to the disease in 1996. He enjoyed using some of the early MP3 players on the market—Creative Zen and others—and, in 2009, was searching for a current player that would be fully accessible to a blind person. Whether there was a screen or not was irrelevant, of course. He just wanted a player that would speak such information as file name and size, how far he was moving backward or forward, and so on.
When he began using a Sansa player with Rockbox, it was like finding the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! All desired information was delivered via spoken words. Logic led to a quick realization that if he was so delighted to use such a player, probably other blind people would be as well.
To find out, his wife, Claire Mesa, put up a website announcing the sale of talking MP3 players and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, the company consists of three people: Laz, Claire, and the youngest of their four sons. The product line has expanded to include Bluetooth devices, headsets, chargers, and micro SD cards, and now serves as distributor for a few other players. One of those, the Talking DAISY Book & Media Player was introduced in November and is the focus of this review.
The Talking DAISY Book & Media Player: Good Things Come in Little Packages
The Talking DAISY Book & Media Player comes in a small box and is a very small player. In addition to the player, the box contains a USB cable, wall charger, lanyard, and headphones (earbuds) with inline volume control.
The player itself is smaller than most smart phones (half the size of some) and has a fairly simple configuration of controls. All keys are on the front, and most of the curved back houses the built-in speaker. Along the left edge is the micro SD slot, and on the bottom edge are the headphone jack, USB port, and inline microphone jack. All buttons are on the face of the unit.
In addition to the power button (the only one with a dot on it for quick identification), there are four arrow keys surrounding an OK button, plus nine other keys. The layout is easy to learn and tactilely friendly. The Power button is in the upper left corner; the Record button is in the upper right. The upper third of the face contains the four Arrows and the OK button. Next are a Menu key on the left and Escape on the right. And, finally, the lower group of buttons on the face consists of six buttons used for volume, bookmarks, the FM radio, and more. The player does not have a screen; all functions speak.
The player comes loaded with Ivona voices Sally and Joey, for your text-to-speech listening pleasure. It is possible to set one as the reading voice and the other as the system voice, although my personal preference was to use Joey for both functions.
In addition to 8GB internal memory, the player can handle micro SD cards of any size up to 64 GB, so the amount of recorded material you can have available is virtually unlimited. Both the internal memory and micro SD card will always display default folders named DAISY and RECORD, but you can add folders with any title that you create yourself in the usual way.
Navigating folders and files is easy and straightforward. Once in a file, you can adjust speed and pitch as well as the preferred increment for moving forward and back. Available choices are Page, Heading (such as Chapter or Part), or a time increment that you can adjust. Within a text of PDF file, you also have the options of moving by paragraph, sentence, word, or character.
The Talking DAISY Book and Media Player handles a large variety of file types. In addition to the obvious DAISY and MP3 formats as gleaned from the name of the device, I also enjoyed listening to PDF, TXT, DOCX, and WAV files.
Pros and Cons of the Talking DAISY Book & Media Player
Operation of this player is easy to learn and response time is satisfyingly quick. It is easy and efficient to transition from, say, a DAISY book from Bookshare, to a music file, and then to the radio for a while, and then back to resume the book. To resume your place when returning to a DAISY or MP3 file is a choice that must be established in Settings, which seems a bit quirky, but works just fine once the option is set.
Although the user's guide cautions that the radio is still a work in progress, I found that it worked beautifully. I was only able to pull in a few stations, but clarity of those few was excellent, and the ability to record programs from the radio with the press of a button is a definite plus.
Recording, in fact, is a strong point in this player's favor. Whether recording a quick note via voice and the pinhole microphone on the front of the player or transferring a professional recording via the line-in connection, the recording process is simple and the results commendable.
Sound quality, both through the headphones and built-in speaker, is excellent. This product plays only unprotected audio files, which means it cannot play books from the National Library Service for the Blind or from Audible.com.
One noticeable quirk occurs when disconnecting the player from a computer. After copying books, music, or other files to the device, removing it with the usual "safely remove" function in Windows never seemed to complete properly. When asked about this issue, Laz Mesa concurred that it doesn't seem to work in the normal way. In his experience, the removal takes much longer than usual. In mine, it simply never completed, so that, as a work-around, I waited until shutting down or putting the computer to sleep, and then disconnected the player.
For a relatively inexpensive player that is completely accessible and can hold tons of DAISY, MP3, and other files, and is a wonderful digital recorder as well, this is a product you might seriously want to add to your technology tool kit.
More about Accessible Electronics
Laz and Claire Mesa frequently offer specials and sales. Sometimes you might get a free micro SD card with purchase or a free wall charger. At other times, deep discounts are offered.
For 60 days following publication of this article, customers who mention reading this review in AccessWorld can purchase the Talking DAISY Book and Media Player for $219.99 ($40 less than the manufacturer's suggested retail price.)
Whatever the season, this is a company that consistently offers affordable, accessible audio products, provides friendly telephone support, and gives customers the satisfaction of doing business with a blind business owner.
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