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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Adaptive technology review

BrailleNote and BookPort Plus Review
By Ricardo Castellanos

A few years ago, we had resources for visually impaired high school-age teenagers: large print books that were heavy and bulky, humongous braille machines that weigh over 10 pounds, and Closed Circuit Televisions that took up an entire small table. It is true that these were liked and appreciated for their time, but their time is fading and we are looking at the next generation of low vision devices; smaller braillers, smaller C.C.T.V.’s, the braille note-taker, and much more. Unfortunately these are all ridiculously expensive with aPerkins Brailler coming in at $760.00. When you are faced with situations like these it is important to know what you are buying, so I am going to review the BrailleNote mPower and the BookPort Plus.
The BrailleNote is basically a brailler and a computer combined. It has a refreshable braille display below the ergonomic keys which you can order with either 18 or 32 cells. I prefer the 32 cell display because it offers more reading room but some prefer the 18, it just depends on what you need. I do find the battery life to be drained more quickly sometimes than others. I also do not like the weight. If you carry it around all day, your neck will be sore and the strap does not help much either. Using accessories like memory cards and Bluetooth is not hard, yet it is hard at the same time; to connect a GPS to your BrailleNote, you need the receiver, the GPS card, and the know-how. It can be a bit challenging but successfully connecting it on your first try is not exactly infuriatingly difficult. The GPS, however is not perfectly accurate. I once set a course for a small motel right next to another one while on a training class and it sent me to the wrong building. This shows it is not perfectly reliable for every-day use and it is not an isolated incident. Now, they also have the BrailleNote Apex which is smaller, faster, and lighter.
Even though I gave the BrailleNote such a bad review, I think it deserves a 7/10 because it actually is quite useful and other things CAN be relied on besides the GPS. Unfortunately, I still find it to have many glitches and accessibility limitations. The BrailleNote is a well-designed concept, but it has a lot of room for improvement and expansion.
I also want to talk to you about the BookPort Plus, a device that lets you store books in SD cards and listen to them on-the-go! This device is rather small, about the same size as an iPod Touch; however it is not nearly as thin. I do not see why it cannot be a little thinner. The layout of the BookPort is like a combination of a TV remote and a phone but it is well executed and makes for easy navigation. Basically on this device you hook it to your computer, dump some books on the SD card, and listen to them. There is not much to say except that it is a convenient substitute for the iPod for blind and visually impaired people. The BookPort in whole is very easy-to-use and can be picked up by almost anyone and be used. Overall, I give this reader a 9/10 for the well executed easy-to-use controls but the speech synthesizer is just awful. I recommend that you only download WMA (audio) files onto it.
This has been a review of just a few pieces of modern technology and I hope it is easier to consider what to buy for people with visual impairment.

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