finding the best braille display for my needs

Braille on Apple Products

Hello, I am looking to buy a braille display to use with my iPhone and Mac. I want it to be portable but not necessarily to small, and want it mostly for reading and learning how to spell in new languages I am learning.
I have not used a braille display before and are overwhelmed by the many brands and models there are. Also I live in Peru, so I don't have access to them to test them for myself.
I was wondering is you could help me figure out which braille display would best soot my needs, or if there are resources dedicated to comparing and reviewing displays.
Thank you.



Submitted by Chris Smart on Saturday, January 27, 2018

I love the HIMS Braille Edge. It's a portable 40-cell display and has some basic note taking features as well. It's not cheap though. Hopefully school or government can help with the cost.

The Orbit Reader is a 20-cell display supposedly coming out later htis year, and it costs a few hundred dollars, instead of a few thousand. It doesn't contain translation or note taking features and doesn't have cursor routing keys, but if you want a basic display for a much lower cost, it's one to watch out for.

Submitted by Eileen on Sunday, January 28, 2018

I have been following the reviews in Access World, a online magazine published by AFB.

I suspect a 20 cell display would meet your needs. If you plan to use a display for work or are an exclusive braille user, a larger display offers more speed but it's not so portable.

What I would love a 40 cell braille display that you could fold in half! There's a display that comes in 20 cell sections. Unfortunately, it comes with an even bigger price tag.

Submitted by Lielle ben simon on Sunday, January 28, 2018

Club AppleVis Member

Hi, i love the braille display from baum but i am understand that this company doesn't provide new braille displays. i suggest to you to check the VarioUltra braille display if you could.
I think that the new displays from Hims cold "Polaris" can be good to you. but it's 32 cels only.

Submitted by TJT 2001 on Sunday, January 28, 2018

First of all, the BrailleSense Polaris is a braille notetaker, not a braille display, and as such, it is about double the cost of a braille display of a similar length.

The main factor for you seems to be the number of cells you need. You say that you want something portable, yet too small. This in my mind means about 32 to 40 cells. In this range, you have the Focus 40 Blue from Freedom Scientific, the Braille Edge 40 from HIMS, the Vario Ultra or Vario 340 from Baum and the Brailliant BI series from HumanWare. There are also other manufacturers such as Handy Tech, but they have only a very limited presence around the world, so it would cost a lot more to send it for repairs.

The Focus is a very rugged display that will connect easily to both devices. It was just refreshed a few months ago, so will be on the market for many years. HIMS has a worldwide network of dealers, and on their website, they claim that Soluciones Integrales Ver Sac is their dealer serving Peru (contact details are on the Freedom Scientific website). It has very basic notetaking features.

The Braille Edge 40 was released in 2012, so is beginning to be a little outdated. However, HIMS generally supports their products for many years. It is a sleek display that also has basic notetaking features.

The Vario Ultra and Vario 340 are similar to the Braille Edge 40 in that they have basic notetaking features.

The Brailliant BI 32 and Brailliant BI 40 from HumanWare have no notetaking features. They are very popular.

Submitted by Brian Tew on Sunday, January 28, 2018

the vario ultra is made by baum, and they are in bankruptcy or something.
I would be leary of buying their products now.

It is very hard to find anybody with experience on many displays because they are expensive.
Also It takes a long time to learn each display.
If you find such a person treasure her.

One thing I have learned (I think) is Internet software on displays cannot compete with real computers.
Companies like facebook and youtube change all the time, and display companies cannot keep up like apple or ms can.
So make sure your display can connect well with real computers both via bluetooth and usb.

Submitted by Rafaela Freundt on Sunday, January 28, 2018

Thank you all for the advice and suggestions.
It seems like the braille edge could be interesting, mostly because it is not as expensive as other displays, but I am worried like someone mentioned that it is from 2012 and it might be updated soon. Does someone know if that would be the case?
Do you know if the vario ultra is as old as the edge display? I was wondering why the vario and the focus blue are so much more expensive than the braille edge having similar features.
Also the brailliant BI displays seems to expensive, given that they have no not taking features.
Any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Submitted by Warthil on Sunday, February 18, 2018

I know you said the Brailliant displays seem expensive but I will add two options. The first is not out yet the Brilliant BI 14

The second is the BraillePen. I bought one of these from a Canadian company that seems to have some that are gently used at a good price. No idea if they ship outside Canada…

Submitted by TJT 2001 on Sunday, February 18, 2018

Braille Pen is manufactured by Harpo, a Polish company. They have displays no larger than twelve cells.

Submitted by Dan TeVelde on Friday, March 30, 2018

In reply to by TJT 2001

I'm sorry I'm late to this thread. For the person looking for display recommendations here are a few thoughts. I use an iPhone 6S with a Focus 5 for my job. I need multiple connections so I can cycle between a Windows computer, my iPhone, and an Android phone. The Focus has reliable BlueTooth channels. I have had some hardware issues with the display, but I think the one I have now is working fine. I'll be interested to see what features VFO will be adding. For personal use, I own a Hims Braille Edge, Hims Braille Sense, Orbit Reader, and Refreshabraille 18. The Hims products have a terminal clipboard so the user can edit text using notetaker commands, and then send the edited text to their iOS device. The Orbit Reader is nice because of the quality of the Braille cells and the long battery life. One disadvantage is that the Orbit doesn't have cursor routing. The RefreshaBraille is nice but the display controls can't be adjusted. I would like to sell my RefreshaBraille. There are rumors that Apple will drop support for some older displays, but I don't have any more details. I think most of the displays I mentioned will still be getting updates. I don't know what will happen to the RefreshaBraille though.

I hope this information is helpful.

Submitted by Piotr Machacz on Friday, March 30, 2018

I don't know if Rafaela is still looking at this thread or not, but since people resurfaced it I'll throw in some personal experiences in case someone might be having a similar question a few years from now and looking for information.

The Brailliant BI 32/40 isn't that much newer than the Braille Edge, it came out either in 2012 or 2013. I have owned a Brailliant BI 40 since 2014 and used it extensively during school for note taking both on Windows and Mac, and occasionally with iOS. The Pros of this display in my opinion are its build quality (it's mostly made of medal and is very thin), large thumb keys for scrolling, spacebar placement (the spacebar is large and placed below the other keys and display) and its compatibility (it's the only display I'm aware of that doesn't require drivers to be installed on Windows to work with all major Screen Readers). The USB drivers are also really responsive, so if you have something like a very quickly changing number during an update, the display will keep up with every change.

A few disadvantages: I don't know how prices are in other countries, but here the Brailliant costs exactly the same as a Braille Edge, while offering extremely basic functionality in comparison. Connectivity wise I had a lot of issues with it. If I was trying to use it with multiple devices, it would often refuse to connect to some of the others that previously had a stable connection. So for example, if I had it connected to my Mac, then turned Bluetooth off or put it to sleep, then attempt connecting with my phone, iOS would refuse to connect to it 50% of the time. Using it with Mac OS seemd to work the best over Bluetooth. On the iOS side I often experienced lag spikes (display becoming unresponsive for a few seconds while navigating) and even more serious issues while typing. All that being said, for all I know the Bluetooth experience is more stable under iOS 11. I haven't been able to test this.
The most serious disadvantage I have noticed is that the Micro USB port is very flimsy. After a few years of extensive usage it began often dropping connections, until eventually the port broke off a few traces from the motherboard leading to the whole board needing a replacement (which cost me $400 to repair).

Next, the Braille Edge 40. In short I think this is probably the best value for money right now. As I said earlier, it seems to cost the same as a Brailliant 40 here and even a few bucks less than a Focus 40 blue, while offering a ton of additional features like a built-in note taker, calendar, calculator and stopwatch. The note taker is what drew me to it as I need to be able to really quickly write down information at work, so having a display that can turn on immediately in a file ready to type, versus having to turn on a display, then unlock the phone to have it establish a connection and switch into a writing app is very useful in my case. Even if you don't use these features,, the Edge gives you 20 hours of battery life (versus about half that for a Brailliant), and a lot of additional keys (you have 2 sets of arrow keys, and 4 modifier keys to either side of the spacebar that can simulate system keys like ctrl, alt/command, tab and so on).

For disadvantages, it's pretty clear Hims cut corners on the build quality. The display is all plastic and the front panel and buttons situated on it can occasionally creak. It's also considerably thicker compared to a brailliant, which is probably why the batterylife is better but does make the display a bit heavier. There is also no thumb keys for scrolling, you instead have buttons directly at the left and right end of the display, and the spacebar is directly below the keyboard but above the display, which makes the typing area a bit cramp at least for my large hands. Finally, there seems to be a limit of about 0.1 seconds for display refreshes over USB. This will never be a problem when moving around and reading but you might notice it when doing something that can cause the display to change quickly like installing updates or quickly changing a slider.

Finally, the Focus, specificaly I got to use the newest Focus 14 Blue 5th generation. This was the first time I saw one of these super small displays and I can see why people like the form factor. I could literarly fit this into the pocket of my jacket. What's even more impressive about this display is that both the Focus 14 and 40 offer 20 hour battery life. The build quality is also excellent, with all metal construction (including the Back), plus rubber bumpers on the left and right sides that extend outward slightly to give better grip and protect the USB C port from getting damaged if the display is dropped. With even this small size the keyboard has large keys, with a large spacebar below the display. You also have a lot of buttons, including small thumb keys for scrolling and a total of 8 rockers for navigation. Being this is a VFO product, these rockers are powerful with JAWS in particular as they can be set to navigate in smaller or large steps, much like the iOS rotor. Connectivity is also great, though the first thing you'll want to do if you get one is update the firmware to 5.90 otherwise chorded commands won't work. The Focus is by far the most responsive display to use with iOS, which may have something to do with the fact it's Bluetooth 4 but that's just a guess. You can have up to 5 BlueTooth connections active at the same time and switch between them on the fly.

As far as disadvantages go, the functionality is pretty basic. Like the Brailliant, the Focus is only a display. Rumour has it that a firmware update will add basic note taking features. If it does then this will be a really nice option to tick both the quality and functionality boxes, something that the Vario ultra used to do really well but sadly Baum has gone Bancrupt and we haven't heard much since from them. Until this update though, While the Focus 14 might be a good choice compared to the competition (the Braille Pen being much more cheaply built and having fewer keys) and the actilino being much more capable but also more expensive, the Focus 40 costs as much as a Braille Edge at least here while offering fewer features.

To summarize, my opinion right now is that the Braille edge is currently the best display out there. I would get the Focus 40 only after it gets the note taking update or if you want to often use it with more than 1 device at the same time over bluetooth or if you really, really like the sound of the tight JAWS integration, and I would skip the Brailliant as it's too expensive for what it offers. Now if the Vario Ultra was still being sold, this list could very well look different. :)

Submitted by Rafaela Freundt on Saturday, March 31, 2018

Thank you all for the recommendations.
Piotr, I have also concluded that the Braille Edge seems the best display with the most features. What worries me a little is that it seems to be some years old, and I wouldn't want to buy something only to have the new hardware come out soon after.
The focus hardware, for instance, has been updated recently, no? I am curious about those note taking features you say might be added, where could I find more about that? do you think it might be soon? I don't use JAWS, only voiceover in both iPhone and Mac, so I don't really care about the windows compatibility but all the other features you mention seem nice, including how its built.
If I have more questions I will post them here, and if anyone knows of firmware updates or new displays that would change the landscape, please let me know.