If you use video magnification devices regularly, it's likely you've had occasion to think about their portability. Video magnifier vendors have addressed the challenge of transporting the combo of a camera, screen, and reading surface in different ways. And there are usually tradeoffs for users who choose devices that can be moved from school to home to work without undue back strain or requiring a lot of setup time and desk space.
Among vendors who sell mid-sized magnifiers, a one-piece foldable design has gained popularity in the past few years. Just collapse the unit, put it into a backpack or shoulder bag, and off you go. But finding a device that is both easy to carry and set up, and that includes all the desired features, is challenging—especially if you're stuck on a feature or two that might only be available in a device that's otherwise not exactly right for you.
The displays and cameras at the heart of video magnifier offerings have gotten lighter and better in recent years, as vendors have gained access to more components, many of which are used for mainstream applications, too. You can choose among cameras and displays of various sizes and qualities. What differentiates one magnifier from another begins with the quality of the build and the set of software options and accessories provided. When it comes to the MagniLink Zip line of magnifiers from Swedish-based Low Vision International, there are things to like and other aspects that may give pause.
MagniLink Zip Hardware
The MagniLink Zip is a transportable video magnifier. You can choose from display sizes ranging from 13 to 17 inches. You can also choose from different HD cameras. We tested a 13-inch model. Like many devices in its class, the MagniLink Zip is a foldable unit, with the display and camera permanently mounted on a sturdy stand and a reading platform below. There's an LED light built into the arm of the device, and notches at the back of the platform where you can attach an optional x-y table. The unit operates on AC power or an optional integrated, rechargeable battery housed in the arm of the unit and rated for 5 hours of use.
The camera is securely mounted at the end of the main arm of the unit, and can be pivoted away from the display for distance viewing or toward you for mirror mode. The arm is jointed in front of the camera, with the display mounted a few inches in front. The joint allows the display to be raised, lowered and tilted. Because the camera is integral to the arm, raising or lowering the display also moves the camera. That means you can tilt the display for easier viewing, but raising or lowering it is only possible when you want to fold the unit.
All hardware controls are on the front of the display. There are buttons for Power, Zoom, Theme Selection, and Function. All are large, and contrast with the background color of the monitor bezel. When activated, a control's function is displayed onscreen.
The MagniLink line of magnifiers can be configured in several ways, with several optional add-ons. You can order the device with an option for connecting the magnifier to a computer. This is done through a circuit board containing video ports that is soldered onto the back of the display. To access the ports, you'll need to remove a plastic cover and connect cables to one of the downward-facing ports. The detail that there is a cover that must be opened is unfortunately missing from the user guide, and even with sighted assistance, the knack of doing it wasn't immediately clear. If you order the computer connectivity option, you'll get HDMI and USB ports that allow you to connect the MagniLink to a computer running Windows, macOS, or a Chromebook.
As I'll discuss later in this review, there's also optional text-to-speech software and connectivity software you'll need for displaying the MagniLink Zip screen on a computer.
The MagniLink Zip arrives in a large shoulder bag. With the 13-inch display, the unit weighs 8.2 pounds. The monitor tucks under the camera, allowing the unit to lay somewhat flat for transporting in the bag. LVI offers a larger bag to accommodate the optional x-y table.
In practice, unfolding the unit is quick and easy. Just raise the arm and let the monitor and camera drop into position for use. Folding the device is a bit trickier: when you fold the unit down, you need to carefully tuck the camera, then push the monitor underneath. It takes a bit of practice to make this work, and it feels surprisingly awkward.
Getting started with the MagniLink Zip is as simple as turning it on. You can quickly zoom in or out and change from natural color to grayscale, or to one of several alternative color schemes. A Function button gives you access to more menu options, including Auto-Focus, Light Level, Reference Line, and Mirroring. You use Mirroring to send the MagniLink's camera image to a connected computer monitor. You'll find several other setting options that let you customize your screen view. You can also put the unit in basic mode, which hides some advanced features, for the simplest possible user experience.
The controls are easy to understand and use, and every action you take with one of the buttons is represented onscreen by large text, so you'll always be certain what feature you've chosen.
The LED light source is bright, but not overwhelming, and you can adjust the level of light and contrast. The MagniLink displays text and objects clearly, and there are enough customization options to accommodate many degrees of vision loss.
Our test unit did not include an x-y table. That's an optional purchase, but one you'll probably want if you intend to read books or scan significant amounts of text. The camera is positioned quite far forward in reading mode, meaning your reading material must also be positioned near the front of the unit. Without an x-y table to adjust the position of your document as you move down the page, you may find it difficult to achieve an effective reading position, especially if you sit close to the display to view it. The camera position is unfortunate, because it means that the area behind the camera becomes wasted space.
One of MagniLink's most useful features, especially in a school or work environment, is the ability to connect to a computer. You can display what the magnifier sees on your computer monitor, or split the screen to show both the computer's contents and the magnifier. Use the MagniLink Zip to enlarge a book you're using for research while you take notes in a word processing window on your computer—all on one screen. The MagniLink Zip supports connectivity not only with Windows PCs, but with macOS computers and Chromebooks.
Screen Sharing and Scanning
As mentioned earlier, you'll need the optional HDMI/USB port accessory, along with MagniLink software, which comes on a USB thumb drive, to take advantage of screen sharing and OCR features.
We used an iMac, running macOS 10.13.5 High Sierra, to test MagniLink connectivity and software. The software works on the Mac, but appears not to have been updated in several years. In fact, we received an error message indicating the application was not supported by the computer or operating system even though it worked after installation. The upside is that the software works with computers running quite old versions of the Mac operating system.
Once the software is installed and the magnifier is connected to a computer, the MagniLink software opens automatically. From there, you can control the magnifier with a variety of keyboard shortcuts. The MagniLink user guide offers help in configuring the shortcuts if the default ones conflict with any you're already using. Zoom in or out, change color schemes, add or remove a reference line, or perform any other function the MagniLink offers from your connected computer, and see the result on the computer's monitor.
The magnifier window can be set to display full-screen, or you can split the screen between the MagniLink view and other apps on your computer. This can be controlled with keyboard shortcuts. The MagniLink documentation says you can split the multiple views across multiple computer monitors, though we didn't test this option.
You can take a snapshot of what the MagniLink camera sees, or even record video with the MagniLink camera, controlling it from your computer. There are even keyboard shortcuts to help you locate snapshots and videos you've taken.
You can perform OCR on text under the MagniLink camera. When the scan is completed, the software will speak the text using one of the voices provided with MagniLink or a voice already installed on your computer. You cannot scan a full page of text, nor, as pointed out earlier, can you easily view a full page under the MagniLink camera if you don't have the optional x-y table. The OCR software is very fast, and will effortlessly scan multi-column text.
You can save the text you've scanned to your computer, but there's no effective batch mode for scanning multiple pages to a single file. Overall, MagniLink's OCR works well when you need to quickly get printed material onto your computer as text or speech, but it isn't a great choice for bulk OCR processing.
The MagniLink Zip offers all the features of other magnifiers in its size and price class, and a few unique ones. It's reasonably compact and easy to control. Its connectivity options will be especially appealing to users who need both magnification and continuous access to a computer. In fact, users who want to work with a Mac or a Chromebook might find the MagniLink Zip to be among their best options. The unit does, however, have the previously mentioned deficits that make it hard to recommend it without some reservations. The odd position of the camera, awkward folding method, and old, at least on the Mac, software, indicate the product could use some updating and tweaking.
Product: MagniLink Zip Premium 13 HD
Price: Varies depending upon configuration. Evaluation unit, including HDMI/USB computer connectivity, optional battery, and OCR software: $4,025.00
Available from: LVI America, Inc., 888-781-7811, email@example.com
- Highlights from the 2018 American Foundation for the Blind Leadership Conference, by Aaron Preece
- Getting the Most out of Sighted Computer Assistance: How to Help the Helpers, by Bill Holton
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