While at this year's ATIA conference in Orlando, Florida, I had the opportunity to take a look at a variety of products on display. You can find out what my top picks were by reading Choice Finds from the ATIA 2016 Conference Exhibit Hall from the March issue of AccessWorld. While you're there, check out Shelly Brisbin's top low-vision picks from ATIA 2016 in the same article.
One of the products that caught my attention was the I.D. Mate Galaxy, a stand-alone talking bar code reader from En-Vision America. The company has been producing the I.D. Mate series for 20 years, and they believe that the Galaxy is their best bar code scanning and reading solution yet. You can also read An Evaluation of the I.D. Mate Quest Talking Bar Code Scanner from Envision America from the September 2013 issue of AccessWorld, where Deborah Kendrick evaluates the I.D. Mate Quest, the predecessor to the Galaxy.
Weighing in at just under a pound, and about 7 inches long, the Galaxy has a new ergonomic design that makes scanning bar codes a breeze. I was so impressed with the product from the short time I was able to play with it on the convention floor, that I decided to spend some time with a Galaxy to get a feel for what the unit was really capable of.
Taking the Wraps Off of the I.D. Mate Galaxy
When I received my review unit, the first thing that struck me about the I.D. Mate Galaxy was its leather case. I'll admit that I'm a fan of really nice leather products, and this case definitely fits the bill. The Galaxy fits snugly in place with room left over for a few bar code labels. A separate compartment holds the charger that includes a USB cable with a mini plug on one end that can be hooked to a computer if desired. Another small compartment would nicely hold a pair of earbuds should you not want the entire world hearing what you are scanning. The case can be carried by a leather handle, or placed on your shoulder with an included strap.
When removed from its carrying case, the Galaxy has an attached strap that fits around your neck for easy use. I find this strap to be invaluable, as I can allow the unit to hang down in front of me with the scanner pointed toward me. This frees up my hands to prepare the items that I wish to scan, and makes it unlikely that I'll accidentally bump the scanner—the glass portion of the unit—in the process.
The wand design of the Galaxy means that, when held in the hand for use, the controls of the device are under your thumb, while the scanner itself points down. Think of this as holding a hammer. The scanner is the part of the hammer that would hit the nail, and the controls are at the top portion of the handle. Perhaps mixing the image of a bar code scanner with a hammer might cause some to be a bit squeamish, but the illustration should serve the purpose, nonetheless.
At the top left of the Galaxy is the power button, which almost feels like a stick, rather than a button. It is very distinct and easy to depress. Holding the power button down presents the user with a long beep. Let go of the power button, and the Galaxy will beep periodically for several seconds until the unit has successfully turned itself on. The unit then plays a short song and announces its name, size of the SD card—8GB—battery level, and mode status, which should be "I.D. mode." Finally, if you are connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi, you will be told the name of the network that you are connected to. By default, if you do not touch the unit, it will go into standby mode within 45 seconds. This can be modified from within system mode if you wish to do so later.
Scanning Items with the I.D. Mate Galaxy
When you are ready to scan an item with the I.D. Mate Galaxy, you will begin to see the real power of this product. In order to scan, make sure you are in I.D. mode. The long button just below the power button will cycle you through the various modes of the Galaxy: I.D. mode, scan history mode (if enabled), memo mode, MP3 player mode, system mode, and help. Inventory mode is available if enabled, and will be a valuable tool for anyone who wishes to keep track of the quantity of items in a particular category. I did not work with this mode at all, but the user guide should give adequate information to anyone interested. Skype support, which was present in the I.D. Mate Quest, is no longer present in the Galaxy.
The improved bar code scanner in the Galaxy makes it possible to find the bar code on a product with relative ease. It is possible to be 8 inches or so away from the item in question and still locate the bar code. With practice, it is fairly easy to predict where a bar code will be on a product—along the seam of a soup can, on the front of a CD case, or toward the bottom front portion of a box of Lara bars, for example. These are not hard and fast rules, but they suffice for our purposes. I found a gallon of milk to be a challenge mostly because of its large size, and a bottle of test strips for a glucometer was also difficult because of its small size.
Most of the items I scanned were found, with the exception of a box of protein bars, and the aforementioned test strips. On several occasions, the Galaxy went online to try to locate an item not in its 3.5 million item database. Unfortunately, none of the online searches were successful. Had I wished to do so, I could have pressed the record button along the right side of the unit, and recorded my own custom label for later use. If enabled in system settings, it is possible to share these recorded labels with En-Vision America, and they will attempt to add the item to their database.
When an item is found in the database, the Galaxy announces the product name and indicates that more information can be obtained by pressing the "next" button. As a newly-diagnosed type-2 diabetic, being able to determine the number of servings in a package, or the number of carbs in a snack I am about to eat is very important to me. Also, I might not want to spend a lot of time fiddling with an iPhone app to get the needed information. The speed and ease with which the Galaxy gives me the desired information is invaluable. It is possible to have the Galaxy read all the information found on a bar code all at once, or you can step through each item as desired. As one might expect, there is a "previous" button that allows you to review information, as well. If enabled in system settings, you can keep a history of previously scanned items for later perusal.
It is possible to purchase adhesive bar code labels that can be placed on items such as manilla folders for custom recording. This would be a great way for me to keep track of several folders I use in the music appreciation class I teach. I could record a bar code for exams, one for study guides, etc. I probably wouldn't use the Galaxy in the classroom, but it would allow me to make sure that things were in order in my briefcase before I left for class.
It is also possible to purchase bar code labels that will survive the dish washer, bar code labels with attached rubber bands that can be re-used, and iron-on clothing labels. Recorded messages can be added to bar codes that are already in the Galaxy's database, and these recordings can be erased and re-recorded if desired. Also, multiple custom recordings can be added to a single bar code label.
The text-to-speech voice used by the Galaxy is the familiar Tom voice found in many screen reader packages. When I attempted to speed speech up past 100, I found that words were chopped off as I read product descriptions. I tried re-downloading the latest software update, and re-setting the unit to factory defaults, but I was unable to successfully speed up the speech rate. This isn't a deal breaker for me, as the default rate isn't terribly slow to my ear, but I would like to see this problem resolved.
Doing More with the I.D. Mate Galaxy
It is possible to record memos using the memo mode. This is as straightforward as it sounds. Simply press and hold the "Record" button, record your memo, and release the button. The Galaxy plays your memo back to you. The "Erase" button deletes any unwanted memos.
The MP3 Player allows one to play MP3 audio files on the device. The Galaxy's speaker is surprisingly loud, and can be adjusted with a volume wheel found along the bottom of the unit. Simply hook the Galaxy up to your computer, find the appropriate folder on the unit's 8GB micro SD card and place your files in the folder.
The System mode is where you set things such as date and time, choose in which of the six languages you wish the Galaxy to speak, and adjust voice speed. Setting up my Wi-Fi connection, including entering my password was quite straightforward, and I had no problems at all. There are many ways to control how the Galaxy behaves, and these settings can all be changed in the System area.
Finally, Help is exactly what one would expect. Navigate sections using the previous and next keys, and it isn't even necessary to press the "Select" key to begin reading. The I.D. Mate Galaxy comes with an audio CD that contains the user guide which is read by the ubiquitous Samantha voice all iPhone users have all come to know so well. The user guide can be downloaded from the En-Vision America Website as well.
The Bottom Line
The I.D. Mate Galaxy from En-Vision America is a rugged, easy-to-use bar code scanner and reader that is a pleasure to use. The unit has a rubberized coating that makes it easy to hang onto. The buttons are easily distinguished from one another, and tactile markings along the left side of the device differentiate the USB port, the earphone jack, and the SD card slot from one another. The neck strap adds another layer of security, and the well-designed leather case protects the Galaxy while allowing the user to store accessories.
I found that most things I scanned were recognized, and I was pleased with the level of information I received after a successful scan. The only issue I had was the inability to speed up the text-to-speech voice without having words chopped off when reviewing database information.
It is possible to update software and database settings from the unit using Wi-Fi connectivity, and the process was very straightforward.
At $1,299.00, The I.D. Mate Galaxy is not inexpensive, but it is possible to pay in installments of $200 per month until the unit is paid off.
For anyone who is interested in the speed and ease of use associated with a standalone product such as this, I highly recommend the I.D. Mate Galaxy. En-Vision America has been in business for a long time, and they continue to produce great products for blind people everywhere.
If you would like to hear a demonstration of the I.D. Mate Galaxy in action, Listen to Blind Bargains Qast 60 where Ricky Enger and Joe Steinkamp take the product through its paces.
- Choice Finds from the ATIA 2016 Conference Exhibit Hall by Jamie Pauls and Shelly Brisbin
- A Review of the New ScanJig Pro Scanning Stand by Janet Ingber
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- Audio Game Review: A Blind Legend from DOWiNO and France Culture by Jamie Pauls