Braille Display recommendations

Braille on Apple Products

Hello AppleVis community,

I am planning to purchase a Braille display for use with my Mac. I primarily will be using it for my college education. Are there any advantages between one Braille display model and another? For example, focus vs. brailleyint. Could anyone share any advantages/disadvantages that one Braille display has over the other. Is there any reason I should Favor one over the other?

Thank you in advance!



Submitted by Nathan Stocking on Monday, September 14, 2015

All this depends on how you want to use your display. Of course, the major consideration when deciding on display type is length. You can get displays from 12 (nearly useless) to 88 (super cumbersome) cells and prices will depend mostly on the size you choose. The standard sizes for use with a computer, not a mobile device are either 32 or 40 cells. This offers a happy medium between portability and reading area. However, as I cannot know your use case from what you have described, I will attempt to outline various considerations for braille displays and can give you more details if you have questions.
The first question to keep in mind is what type of input controls you want on your display. Some displays have braille keyboards, which some prefer to QWERTY keyboards for input. Not all displays have them, so it may be worth it to decide if you want this feature. There are also various types of navigational controls. Three major examples are thumb controls, which are located on the front side of the braille display, intended for pressing by the thumbs or hands, simple buttons located on either side of the braille display, or buttons located above or below the display. Some displays also offer a directional control that allows you to invoke arrow keys and similar functions, while some do not. On every braille display, however, you can count on having cursor-routing buttons to send the cursor immediately to the selected cell. Another consideration is the capabilities you want your display to have when not connected to a computer. Some displays have a minimal notepad system for taking basic notes if only using the display. Other systems have a more full-featured system that is capable of much more (this usually comes with an increased cost). Finally, some displays are intended purely for use with computers and will do nothing else when disconnected.
You should also decide whether you want your display to be capable of Bluetooth connection to devices as well. Using this feature can allow you to separate the display from a computer to some extent, and can also allow you to connect to a cell phone or other device lacking a USB connection. This system will use battery power, so will require periodic charging or at least periodic use with a USB cable to allow the internal battery to recharge.
Once you've decided these, I can suggest some displays you might like, based on size, as follows.
If you want a mid-range display (either 32 or 40 cells), my recommendation would probably be the braille edge from Hims. This display offers both USB and Bluetooth connection, and has a few basic applications when disconnected. In addition, it costs about the same as similarly-sized displays. It can fit conveniently in a backpack and can be charged purely from the USB connection, although it does come with a power chord. If you are not interested in the braille edge, many other companies produce such products. While I am not familiar with all of them, major players with popular products include Baum, HandyTech, and humanware among others. A new display of this size will probably cost between $2000 and $3000.
If you want a small display, be warned that you will have very low area for reading and will have to advance often. These displays may be more compact (some can even be put in a pocket) and lower priced, but reading lengthy material on them can be irritating. I would probably recommend the refreshabraille 18 for this connection. Not only is it the largest of such so-called mini-displays, but it is relatively resistant to shocks and seems well-built.
Finally, if you are looking for a long braille display, you should know that such displays are extremely costly, basically starting in the $8000 range. They can be convenient, especially if you are doing data-intensive work such as computer programming or mathematics, but they are also very large units and can be difficult to bring with you. In my limited experience, I would recommend displays from HandyTech--they are well-built and reliable.
However, all this information is rather general. If you can provide me with more details, such as what you intend to use your display with, your available budget, and what is most important to you, I may be able to provide you with more helpful information.

Submitted by Brian Giles on Monday, September 14, 2015

If you can, find an agency or a dealer that will let you look at different displays. That's what I did and I ended up going with a focus 40 blue because I liked the extra controls it has in adition to the Braille keyboard. I thought the Brailliant from Humanware is better built as it's aluminum and not plastic like the Focus. I thought the Brailliant's controls were a bit more complicated though, since it has 3 buttons on each side of the display, so you have to remember that the middle 2 pan forward and back. You can, however, do different things by pressing different ones together, but you can also do that with commands from the Braille keyboard.

Even though I got to play with them and my iPhone, I didn't get to play with them with my Mac and I wish I had. Braille in OS X has a lot of things that make it just annoying enough that I rarely use my display with my Mac. It mostly gets used with my iPhone. VoiceOver doesn't seem to allow the ability to customize the buttons on the display the way I would like, so I have to do a lot of moving back and forth between it and the keyboard of my MBP. I have also not found a way not to have the word that the VO cursor is on be expanded, making it really annoying to read a document in text edit or Pages.

I've heard that Windows screen readers (JAWS especially), allow you to do a lot more with modern bluetooth displays. One of my friends says she can control JAWS entirely from across the room with just her display. I'm uber jealous!

I wasn't a fan of the refreshabraille 18 when I saw it, but that's just me. I found the keyboard on the focus 14 to be a bit too cramped, but I suppose I could've gotten used to it. I kind of wish I would've gotten that one had I known I'd be using it more with my phone. I think Hims, who make the braille edge, have their new beatle display whish is smaller, but I don't know much about it.

Submitted by Cliff on Monday, May 7, 2018

Hi there, awesome AppleVis'ers! I'm in the process of getting 2 new braille displays, since my old once is getting to old and outdated, and thought I'd rather ask here on this forum topic so to not start a new duplicate tread.
I need one good 40 cells display for more serious working mostly from my Mac, and another smaller one to put in my pocket while I'm out on the run, that I'll mostly use with my iPhone.
I've had a Baum VarioConnect 12 for many years to use with my iPhone, and allthough I of course like the size of it, it is mostly useless with only 12 cells.
A minimum of 14 would be my limit and I think more than a maximum of 20 would make it to big to carry around in my pocket.
I also need a braille keyboard on both displays, bluetooth connectivity to more than 1 device at the same time would be very nice, and if it had simple note taking features, that would be awesome too since I might end up as a student again this fall.
But at the end, size is probably the most important criterium for me.
So what do you all experienced braille display users recommend?
I'm a pretty experienced VO user for many years, but I must admit that I've fallen in the speach-trap, and not used my braille displays as much as I'd wished I had done the last years.
One of the downfalls of only listening to VO, is that I'm getting progressivly worse and worse at spelling, since I almost never take the time to spell my way through a hard word, and I never get to see or feel how a word is spelled anymore. Another thing is that my braille reading speed never gets any better.
So this is something I now want to do something about, and that's why I want 2 new, fresh and updated braille displays.
So I've almost settled on the new fifth generation of Focus 40 and Focus 14, since I also hear that they are coming with basic note taking features in a coming firmware update.
But how do you all Focus owners feel about navigating e.g. on iOS with the rocker-buttons on them? On my VarioConnect 12, I have a joystick that I sort of like, so this would be a new aproach I guess. My old braille displays also have 3 buttons on each side of the braille cells, that can be used to do braille chord commands too, like H for home or M for mute, and I anticipate that it's a bit more tedious to being forced to do those only up on the braille keyboard on the Focus displays, since they don't have these buttons at the end of the braille cells. Perhaps one get used to it pretty fast.
So is Focus 40 and 14 a good option to settle for, or do you all have other suggestions that would meat my needs better?
I've also heard that the new generation of Focus Blue displays have eliminated the argument that they would break easily, since they now are made in aluminum rather than plastic, so they're quite resistant to drops or hits now.
Since I live in Norway, price isn't in theory any issue. I.e. we get those from the Norwegian welfare system, and we can practically get what ever we want, if the arguments are good enough.
Sorry, this got long, but I would really like your help in deciding on what to go for here!
Thank's in advance

Submitted by Piotr Machacz on Monday, May 7, 2018

I recently got my hands on a 5th gen Focus 14, and I must say that it's hands down the most well-built display I've seen. You get a lot of buttons that you can assign to do just about anything. The rockers are also very responsive which might be related to the fact that it's using Bluetooth 4. The buttons on the display seem to respond faster than the screen or a bluetooth keyboard. Because it's mostly made out of aluminum it's very light and I've managed to fit it into a couple of pockets. I'm not using it that much right now as my work requires me to take notes very quickly and quietly, but as soon as the note taking update hits it's going to replace the display i'm taking to work right now, which is a braille edge 40. It's another display I like a lot, like focus it has a lot of additional buttons but in a different configuration. Instead of having a lot of buttons at the front like the Focus, it has 2 sets of arrow keys on the left and right edges of the display as well as a handful of modifier keys right next to the space bar that can be used to press modifier keys like Alt/Command, CTRL, Tab and Escape. I find this arrangement really useful as I remapped one of the arrow key sets to move the cursor in iOS and left the other for the router, and this makes for a very natural and desktop like experience. The main reason I'm using this display right now is the on-board functionality for note taking. It's much larger than the focus and is build exclusively out of plastic, which creaks in certain places, so the build quality isn't as good. It can also connect to only 1 Bluetooth device at a time.

So in short, you will probably be happy with the Focus. I'd definitely recommend the Focus 40 and the 14 if obn-board note taking isn't crytical to you, though by the time you get it the feature might very well be implemented. For the smaller displays, the Handytech/Helptech Actilino might be worth a look. It's a 16-sell display which can do note taking, but also can act as a Bluetooth Speaker and audio player with a headphone jack. It also has a really cool feature which wil automatically pan the display forward or backward when it detects that your fingers have reached the edges. It looks really amazing on paper, but I can't say much more as I haven't seen one in person. But it looks like it might very well be the best smaller display out there right now.

Submitted by Cliff on Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Wow! So then it seems like the new Focus displays might be my best choice after all! The customizable buttons on the front also seems very promissing. I will definitely also check out the Actilino as an option for my smallest braille display, but I suppose that if it has speakers and 16 cells, it is probably quite bigger than a Focus 14, and size is pretty important to me, especially for the smaller of the displays, so it will easy fit into my pockets.
I would also think that if I first decide to go for a Focus 40, it would be benifitial to also use a Focus display for my smaller one too, since the menus and user experience in general probably is pretty similar on both.
Again, thanks a lot! :)

If anyone is still looking at this post, just know that the Focus 14 won't fit in a pants pocket. I have the Focus 14. I bought it to replace my Refreshabraille 18 that finally broke. I bought the Focus so that I would be able to put the display into a pants pocket so that I could use the display with my iPhone. The display was a lot bigger than I thought and honestly a little too long for my liking. Does anybody have any thoughts about the best braille displays to fit into a pants pocket for use with an iPhone? I tried searching the web and didn't find anything.
Thank you all in advance!

Hi Emily,
I share your pain. The original Focus 14 from long ago fit well. And the BrailleConnect 12. But displays have seemingly grown. And the Focus 14 5th Gen is very nice but too long. I need some sort of belt pack for it I guess.
I don't know of other displays that are not similarly challenged. For example the Actilino is shorter, but it is way deeper and also thicker, so it ends up having a different but same problem - doesn't fit. I think we need to find some sort of semi-fashionable and functional pack we can clip on. Fashion isn't my area so I'm stumped.

Well, nothing compared to the RB18 in terms of portability. Maybe one device I could think of is the BrailleSense U2 Mini which is the size of the RB18 and apparently is a note taker not a display. Maybe you need to create a new post where you post your request for better visibility by users.