The Braille Me by Innovision
In the quest for cheaper Braille displays, a company called Innovision has a contender called Braille Me.
Sold in the United States by National Braille Press for about $500, the Braille Me has twenty cells of Braille and some basic internal applications. Though the technology that the cells use isn’t fully known, I do know that it uses some form of magnetic actuation. Physically, the device is configured differently than most displays on the market with the keyboard in front of the display. It also uses a six-dot cell, so cursor display is handled a bit differently. While overall the software seems solid, the dots are somewhat inconsistent and don’t always come up to their full height. Also, the control scheme is quite different from other displays, so there will likely be a learning curve for many people. Even when using the Braille Me with other devices, you will need to learn a significantly different set of controls than you are likely used to.
The Braille Me has a standard Perkins-style keyboard at the front of the unit, with dots seven and eight on either side of the space bar. The twenty-cell, six-dot display is behind the keyboard, with cursor routing keys above each cell and two panning keys on either end of the display. On the right of the display, from front to back, are the power button, the proprietary charging port, and a micro USB port. The left side has an SD card slot. The front and back edges are empty. The manual references the ability to change the battery by removing the screws from the bottom panel, though I did not see any ability to buy a new battery online. When turning the display on or off, a beep is sounded: a short beep for on and a long beep for shutdown. These beeps are rather loud and may be disruptive in a quiet environment but can be turned off in settings.
When the Braille Me is powered on, all the dots cycle and then the main menu comes up. You use the left set of panning buttons like arrow keys to scroll through the menu options. The usual space + dot one and space + dot four to move around the menu don’t work. This is the first example of the learning curve for this device. The first option in the menu is the file manager. Here, it is possible to view the files on the SD card and create or open files in the notepad. Next are the Bluetooth and USB connectivity options. Settings is the next option, which allows for changing Braille tables, turning the sounds on and off, and more. The last three options let you check the battery level, view a command reference, and shut down the unit. To select an option, press enter. Use space + backspace to back out of a menu or program. Finally, to answer a yes or no question, such as saving a document, you cannot type y or n, or even scroll through the options. You must use backspace + dot three for no and enter + dot six for yes.
The notepad is accessed through the file manager. After launch, you can browse the files and folders on the device. Once you either open a file or create a new one, you can begin editing the file. The Braille Me can open and edit Braille and text files, and provides translation in both directions. One noteworthy difference with the Braille Me is how the cursor is handled. Since it is only a six-dot cell, it is not possible to use dots seven and eight as the cursor. The Braille Me has two different cursor methods. The first way is that the Braille Me will blink any unused dots in the cell where the cursor is located. If the cursor is on a letter f, dots one-two-four, then dots three, five, and six would blink to indicate the cursor. If the cursor is on a space, then all dots will blink. This mode can be toggled on and off by pressing the right two panning keys. By pressing the left two keys together, the display will clear except for a full cell at the cursor’s location, and everything else except the cursor routing keys, the left two keys, and the back function are disabled. The editor is very simple, providing only basic cut, copy, and paste commands as well as bookmarking. Also, if you are working in a language other than English, you can press space + e to temporarily switch to English typing. Lastly, when editing a text file, you can press space + s to save the file as text, or enter + s to force a save as a Braille file.
To connect to a phone or computer, choose either USB or Bluetooth from the menu depending on how you want to connect. The Braille Me can connect to NVDA, BrailleBack, or Voiceover on iOS or Mac. Notably, JAWS connectivity is not currently available as of this writing. After selecting USB or Bluetooth, select the screen reader you are intending to connect to, then pair the Braille Me as you would with any other display if you’re using Bluetooth. Under the USB connectivity option is also a mode to connect as a USB drive, letting you copy files to and from the SD card.
Once the Braille Me is connected to a device, it behaves much like other displays in that you can navigate through the device and read and write Braille. However, as mentioned previously, the controls are generally much different than those on other displays. For example, using dot one + dot four to move by line doesn’t work. Instead, you must use the left two panning keys. This theme continues throughout both NVDA and iOS commands. Another example is that the command for performing a double-tap on an item in iOS is enter + p, though fortunately using the cursor routing buttons also works. Since the display is only six dots, the cursor will not show unless you redefine the shape for programs that allow this, or turn on one of the two cursor modes discussed earlier.
The Braille Me is a well-built display that could be a serious contender in the inexpensive Braille display market except for a few key issues. As mentioned earlier, the dot height can be inconsistent, which is disruptive to fluent reading and could easily throw off new Braille readers. I would strongly encourage Innovision to take a look at the common interfaces that most displays use and rework the Braille Me’s interface to be more similar. This especially holds true when using it as an external display, as it is a chore to have to relearn most commands with the current layout. If these issues can be resolved, or if you don’t mind dealing with a few issues, then I’d recommend giving this one a look. The editor, though basic, is solid and supports translation between various Braille tables and text, the battery life is very good, and it can connect with most of the common screen readers. For everyone else, keep an eye on this one. It has a lot of potential and may develop into a very strong product in the future.