Better with Age: The BrailleSense Polaris Shows Significant Improvement with Its Android Support
The BrailleSense Polaris has received several updates since our initial blog post on the Polaris at the end of August. Math support has been added to the word processor, there are more details in the quick start, and significant improvements have been made to the performance of the Android side of things. While the interface hasn’t changed, it is now discussed in the quick start guide, and the whole experience feels much more fluid and snappy. Even so, there are still occasional stability problems when using Android apps and the reset process is still a nightmare, taking the unit back to a skeleton of the firmware, requiring a lengthy upgrade process to get back up and running. What is even more odd is that if you attempt to add a passcode to your device during initial setup, the upgrade won’t even start.
The Polaris has had many quality of life improvements across the board. These include adding the Android settings into the Polaris settings menu, letting a user close Android apps with space+Z as with other BrailleSense programs, refining network stability and more. Allowing one to exit Android apps is a big one, as they used to stay in the multi-tasking list until the task manager was opened and each app was removed from the list. Now, the Android apps are closed just like any other program or menu on the Polaris. It is also possible to press enter+I to access the App Info dialog for an Android app, where it is possible to view data and storage usage, configure notifications, etc.
Nemeth in the Word Processor
Another new feature of the Polaris is Math mode in the word processor. After pressing backspace+M, it is possible to enter math in either Nemeth or UEB math. The Polaris supports a full range of symbols, from basic operators, exponents, fractions, and even geometric and calculous functions. Pressing space+H will bring up a help menu with a categorized list of all the different symbols and their Braille dot combinations. However, there is no way to enter the symbols from this menu. Once math is entered, it will display properly when printed or transferred to a computer.
Using Android Apps
The area that has seen the biggest improvement is Android app usage. Using them is now mostly smooth and fluid. Using apps like YouTube, Google Music, Amazon, and many others works very well. Contracted Braille is also usable in Android apps, unlike in the initial version of the software. When playing media from apps like Netflix or YouTube, it is not possible to control playback with the media keys, meaning it is necessary to go back into the app to skip tracks or pause playback. While I experienced almost no lag when using apps, I did experience the occasional hard crash, requiring a full reboot by holding in the power button until the device powered off and back on. With some slight improvements in stability, the Polaris is shaping up to be a serious contender in the Android notetaker space.
Some Thoughts on the Polaris Android Interface
In the initial post on the Polaris, I had issues with the interface the Polaris uses for Android apps. After using the product more and thinking about the situation, I think I’ve figured out why the interface felt so awkward the first time I used it. If you’re familiar with Braille on iOS, Android with BrailleBack, or the BrailleNote Touch, the expected behavior is that the mobile interface is navigated with space+dot1 and space+dot4, which have traditionally been representative of the arrow keys. This is further reinforced both by the use of the same combinations for moving through documents, and the fact that both iOS and Android use the arrow keys on a Bluetooth keyboard to navigate around the interface. However, the Polaris uses the equivalent of the tab key—F3 or space+dot4+dot5. Space+dot1 and space+dot4 are still used to navigate in documents and within some lists, which makes things slightly more confusing. Having this information added into the quick start guide helps, but it is still necessary to learn another mobile interface. I still find myself pressing space+dot4 to move through an Android app at times, and still having that momentary confusion when nothing happens until I remember to use F3 instead.
The Polaris has seen significant improvements in the overall feature set and especially the stability and responsiveness of Android apps. However, there is still a way to go. I have been told they’re coming in the future, but features like native support for Exchange accounts, document formatting such as headings, lists, tables, and integrated file management between BrailleSense and Android apps are still not implemented. Given the progress that has been made so far, I am confident that these features will be added and the issues with stability and resetting will be remedied in the near future. I look forward to seeing what new features and options the Polaris will gain in the coming months.