I confess: when it comes to wearable low vision glasses or goggles, I’ve been a bit of a hold-out. The goggles looked like they were heavy and uncomfortable, I’d heard some of them were pretty warm on your face when exercising, and some had additional cables coming off the goggles. It didn't sound particularly appealing and I wondered how could they be any better than a video magnifier or a smartphone with a couple low vision apps on it.
The Patriot ViewPoint wearable has me reconsidering all of this. At first glance, the ViewPoint seemed to confirm my concern about how comfortable wearing one of these devices might be. Afterall, the ViewPoint combines Samsung virtual reality goggles with a Samsung Galaxy S8 phone wrapped inside. An adjustable elastic headband holds it all in place over your eyes. They look like an over-sized pair of ski goggles. How can this be comfortable? Pulling the ViewPoint out of its hard shell carrying case, I was quite surprised by how light the goggles are at only 1.2 pounds. With the headband and center strap that runs from the back of the headband over the top of the head adjusted properly, I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable and snug the ViewPoint is to wear. The carrying case also holds a manual, charging cable, and pair of earbuds. No remote and no extra cables to plug in or wear.
With the headset in place over your eyes, the ViewPoint becomes an immersive experience—there is a screen in front of each eye, and the goggles block out any light or peripheral vision. You certainly want to be sitting down or standing in one place when these are worn! The red power button is located on the front center of the headset, near the top edge. Within several seconds of turning on the headset, the boot-up screens appear and stop at a warning screen that reminds users, “The Patriot ViewPoint is not intended for driving or mobility.” Pressing any button from here switches the view into a live mode, which is like immersing yourself into a video magnifier: whatever you look at is displayed on the screens in front of your eyes.
With the ViewPoint in Live Mode, the image quality is quite good from the 12-megapixel camera. The autofocus is quick, and there is very little delay or drag as you look around from scene to scene. Increasing the brightness really brightened up some of the darker spots I looked at without introducing additional glare. Initially, I was pretty skeptical of the idea of wearing goggles without a peripheral view, but found that the headset blocked out some of the light that might cause glare on the screen and made everything viewed through the screen sharper and easier to see. As for mobility, when I was ready to move around, I just slid the headset up to my forehead or took it off until I needed another closer look at something.
The controls for the ViewPoint are located on the right side of the headset, with the exceptions of the power button, described earlier, and the volume up (+) and down (-) buttons, which are located on the bottom edge of the front of the goggles beneath the power button. The Control Pad is a smooth surface with a slight bump in the center of it to make it easy to locate. When in Live Mode, a swipe forward with a finger increases the magnification from 1X to 20X, while a backward swipe decreases the magnification. To manage the brightness, a swipe up on the Control Pad will increase it by 10 percent with each swipe, while a swipe down will decrease the brightness. With each swipe of the brightness control there was an audio confirmation of the percentage of brightness, however there was no audio conformation of the magnification settings.
The ViewPoint offers 13 different color modes, which are available in both Live Mode and the Reading Mode. Just above the Control Pad on the right side of the headset are two buttons, each with a distinctive feel. On the right, the Color Modes button has a small dot in the center. To change colors just press the button. As the color changes there is an audio prompt of the color selection. Selections include high contrast, gray scale, white on black, black on white, yellow on blue, blue on yellow, etc. One of the nice features here is that the number of colors can be reduced to four options by pressing and holding the color button for seven seconds on a favorite combination. This changes the options available on the Color Modes button to the original color, high contrast, the favorite selected, and the inverse of that favorite, which reduces the amount of time spent scrolling through options.
To the left of the Color Mode button is the Read Mode button. Of course, for some users, just adding a bit of magnification in the Live Mode with a bit more contrast from the Colors Mode, can make reading print easier. For the rest of us, the Read Mode provides a quick text-to-speech option, completely built into the system, so no Wi-Fi connection is required. After you press the Read Mode button, the screen displays “Processing” for several seconds, then the text is displayed on the screen and is read aloud through the Galaxy speaker.
In Read Mode, swiping forward or backward will increase or decrease the magnification, just as it does in the Live Mode. With each increase or decrease in size, the text is reformatted so it wraps within the borders of the screen. Double tap the center of the Control Pad to pause or resume the reading. Swiping up will read the previous sentence and swiping down reads the next sentence. The text is highlighted as it is read, and the Colors Mode button can be used to change the text and background colors. By default, the text reading rate was comfortable with a male (Tom) voice. The voice rate and gender can be changed by going into the Settings menu and then pressing and holding the Read Mode button for about 7 seconds.
If you want to really simplify the controls, enable Voice Commands while you’re in the Settings menu. Once enabled, just say, “Patriot,” listen for the tone, and say the voice command you want. The ViewPoint responds to four commands: “make bigger,” make smaller,” change color,” and “take picture.” “Make bigger” and “make smaller” change the magnification accordingly. “Change color” switches from one color mode to the next, and “take picture” launches the Read Mode. Voice commands are really handy if you’re using your hands for a project or other task.
Reading with the ViewPoint Read Mode gave me the pleasure of picking up a book or magazine and just reading it where I wanted— in a comfy chair, out on the porch—wherever. No need to sit in front of the video magnifier at a desk, or make sure what I wanted to read was first downloaded to a tablet or smartphone. Before pressing the Reading Mode button, adjust the magnification so the whole page you want to read is in view. Press the button and wait a few seconds for the print to start scrolling before your eyes. You can adjust the size of the text and it will be automatically rewrapped to the screen and read out loud. For privacy, just plug in a standard set of earbuds to listen. The OCR (optical character recognition) seemed pretty accurate and the processing quick. The ViewPoint didn’t offer a way to process multiple pages or to save the converted text to read later, so rereading something meant processing it again in Read Mode.
Overall, the Patriot ViewPoint was easy and intuitive to use from the moment I picked it up. Even before powering it on it was easy to locate the controls because they’re individually outlined in bold white on a black background. The only thing difficult to locate was where to plug in the earbuds. The input is located on the Galaxy S8 tucked inside the headset. Fortunately, the directions are clear in the manual, and with a bit of reading I knew exactly where to find it.
One of the biggest drawbacks to the ViewPoint is a battery life of 1.5-2 hours of continuous use. Screen brightness is a significant factor in how long the headset can be used before recharging, and many users will have the brightness turned up to see more clearly. I also found the headset was unusable when charging, so users will need to plan their activities when using the ViewPoint to fit within this window of battery life.
One of the biggest advantages of a wearable like the ViewPoint is that your hands are free while using it. In addition to reading a book, the ViewPoint will be great for working on a craft project, watching a sporting event, doing projects around the house that require attention to detail, and really anything else that can be done without moving around while wearing the headset. Unless you’re using the ViewPoint like a monocular or binoculars, putting them on briefly to see a sign, look at a menu across the room, or spot a friend’s face from the distance, these will not be useful for mobility. It's hard to describe the difference the immersive quality of the view through the headset makes compared to other types of video magnification, like that from a desktop video magnifier, portable video magnifier, or smartphone. The Patriot ViewPoint isn’t going to be a solution for all low vision users, but many, like myself, may have a whole new appreciation for wearable magnification and OCR after trying out a product like the ViewPoint.
The Patriot ViewPoint is available from Magnifying America for $2,995. For more information or to find a retailer or get a demo near you call them at 800-364-1608.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
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