I am someone who has enjoyed using technology for as long as I can remember. I wasn't as adventurous as some blind people I know—I never set up a home-grown radio station in my bedroom for example—but I did play with cassette recorders, mixing my voice and music together. I'm sure the result would make me cringe today, so I'm glad I don't have any existing tapes lying around to embarrass me some day.
When HumanWare introduced the Victor Reader Stream back in 2007, I remember being enamored with this cool little device. It supported many different types of text-based and audio content, was fairly portable, and was very easy to operate.
When the New Generation Victor Reader Stream came out a few years later, I purchased one even though my original Stream hadn't missed a beat in all the years I used it. The second generation of the Stream allowed me to download content directly from the Internet, play Internet radio stations, and easily read magazines, including AccessWorld.
Even as the iPhone took over the world, I still had a soft spot in my heart for the Stream. I couldn't help noticing, however, that my old friend from HumanWare stayed in the desk drawer of my office more and more. BARD, Audible, Voice Dream Reader, and any number of music streaming apps made it possible for me to go through my day without ever needing to use any device other than my phone.
The day came when work slowed down for me and I found myself needing a bit of extra cash, so I started looking through my home office to figure out what I no longer needed. I had foolishly neglected to take the battery out of my first generation Stream when I stopped using it, and I also did not remove it from its Executive Products case. It eventually stopped working and, presumably, oil from the leather case created a sticky residue on the unit. Tough lesson learned there. Fortunately, my second-generation device was in good working order. I advertised it on a list and got a fair price for it. I was a bit nostalgic when it left my hands for the last time, but I figured since I was now firmly in the Apple ecosystem I didn't need it any more.
I didn't give much thought to my dearly departed friend for many months, though I did notice that my phone's battery took a serious hit from all the tasks I threw at it. Also, breaking news alerts, text messages, and phone calls—yes, the iPhone really does make phone calls—kept pulling me away from what I was reading or listening to. I could listen to an audiobook with my phone locked and stashed in my pocket, but I found myself constantly pulling the phone from my pocket, unlocking it, stopping the audiobook I was reading, attending to the task at hand, restarting the book, locking the phone and placing it back in my pocket again only to be notified of a supposedly urgent breaking news event that caused me to go through the process all over again. Let me add as a side note that I am not a fan of breaking news alerts telling me the name of some famous celebrity's new poodle!
In addition to the annoyance of constantly needing to juggle my phone and making sure it was always charged sufficiently, there were times when I wanted to listen to a piece of audio that I didn't intend to keep around for long. I might also want to set multiple bookmarks in that audio and quickly move between marks while taking notes on what I was hearing. This was certainly possible on my phone, but I noticed that I was beginning to wish for my Stream again. If I had a Stream, I could let my phone recharge and use a device dedicated to reading and listening to audio if I desired. The 15 hours of battery life on my Stream meant that I could recharge at my convenience rather than at inopportune times. I missed being able to pop an SD card into a computer, load random content on it, and hit the road rather than syncing content through a service such as Dropbox only to discover that the content wasn't always on my phone when I expected it to be. Finally, I missed the feel of physical buttons under my fingers when I was quickly moving through books, music, and other content on my Stream. I consider myself a proficient iPhone user and don't mind navigating using a smooth surface, but I still find physical controls on a device to be more efficient at times.
Eventually, I decided to purchase another New Generation Victor Reader Stream. I have placed several tutorials on my new Stream, including archives of some old CAVI classes on using Reaper, the audio editing software I use on a daily basis. Each MP3 file is quite long, and Voice Dream Reader actually had difficulty loading some of these files. The Stream doesn't even break a sweat. I still use the Audible app on my phone, and I use BARD on both my phone and the Stream. Bookshare content tends to live on my Stream these days. I enjoy NFB Newsline on my Stream, and generally read the latest issue of AccessWorld that way. Using the Stream, I can choose to read AccessWorld directly from the Internet, or move the latest issue to my SD card for offline reading.
One downside to owning a Victor Reader Stream is the price. Depending on where you purchase one, you will pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $350 for the unit. The Stream does a lot and it is a specialized device for blind people, but the price will definitely give many pause. It may be especially hard for some to justify the cost of a Stream if they, like me, already own a smartphone that admittedly can do everything the Stream can.
Totally coincidental to this article, a recent episode of the Double Tap Canada podcast took up this debate in a very lively discussion. There are those in the blind community who see no reason to even consider adding a device like the Stream to their technology arsenal, while others like myself still make a case for keeping it around.
One thing that may ease the sticker shock a bit is the fact that there are many people who are looking to sell both the original and New Generation Victor Reader Stream in good working order for a reasonable price. If you aren’t interested in using a Stream in conjunction with the Internet, the first generation unit may be sufficient for your needs.
There will almost certainly be a lot of passionate opinions on this topic. Some readers will find almost every point I have made to be totally opposite to their own views. Others will feel totally validated by my words. We would love to hear from all of you. Just remember to be kind. There really are no wrong answers here.
Product: New Generation Victor Reader Stream
Price: $395 from HumanWare
Phone: (800) 722-3393
HumanWare is based in Canada, but has distributors all over the world. Dealers may sell the Stream at a lower price than that shown on HumanWare's website.
Also, check out HumanWare's Youtube channel for training videos on all the products they sell including the BrailleNote Touch Plus and several popular Braille displays.
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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