Merits of various portable braille displays

Braille on Apple Products
Hi all, I'm going to be purchasing a new portable braille display soon. The ones I know of are the BraillePen 12, the Focus 14, the Perkins mini display, and the APH Refreshibraille displays. Which of hess have people used? What are your thoughts on them? For those of you who've used more than one, which display did you like better and why? It would be nice, but not required, if the display worked under Windows with System Access. Do you know if any of these do? Lastly, are there any braille displays in this category that I've missed?



Submitted by KD on Tuesday, December 4, 2012

As far as I know, the Braille Pen does not have cursor routing keys, which I find essential for editing and navigating with a Braille display. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong. I haven't seen the Perkins, but I have seen both the Refreshabraille and the Focus. I personally prefer the Focus, as the keyboard is more comfortable for me to type on, and there are specific buttons for things like starting and stopping music on your phone, aka the equivalent of a 2-finger double-tap. However, if at all possible, you should actually get your hands on these displays before you make a decision, because what works for me may not work for you. I hope I've helped.

Submitted by ray h on Tuesday, December 4, 2012

In reply to by KD

There are a wide variety of displays available and see these two sites (which I do not believe have been fully updated) for displays supported by Apple: In addition to the prior comments, I think the keys are size and price. Are you looking for portability (smaller display) or more braille per display line? There are many trade offs and features and reading about each display will help, but getting your hands on them is the best idea.

Submitted by Shersey on Thursday, December 27, 2012

I recently obtained a Brailliant BI 32 from the Department of Rehabilitation. I like it quite a lot. It's keyboard reminds me a lot of the old BrailleNote mPower's keyboard, although the Brailliant's keys are a bit smaller and more concave than are the mPower's. The little nubs at the top of each cursor-routing key are more rounded than those on the mPower, and, in my opinion, at least, don't hurt your fingers like the mPower's routing keys do. They're more rounded, rather than pointy, like the mPower's are. I do wish they were the old rubber kind that HumanWare used to use on the old BrailleNote classic's, but they changed display manufacturers, and that's that. One thing to note is that there are 2 space bars on the Brailliant. They are located beneath the Braille line, rather than in the more traditional place of beneath the dot keys but above the Braille line, which takes some getting used to. There are 6 command keys located on either side of the Braille line, laid out in the pattern of a Braille cell. As you might expect, they are called C1 through C6, and perform various functions, depending on which screen reader you are using. The Brailliant also has HumanWare's thumb keys. Unfortunately, they do not perform as expected on iDevices. For some unknown reason, Apple decided that it would be a neat idea to have them perform the functions of going to the next selected rotor element and the flick gesture, rather than what they are really intended for, which is to control the Braille line itself. I plan on writing to Apple about that, but that's outside the scope of this comment. Another weird thing that you need to get used to with the Brailliant, (and I don't know if this holds true for other displays with dedicated backspace/enter keys), is that you must press the space bar with both the backspace/enter keys, respectively, to make your iDevice perform those key's intended functions. It's really strange, and another thing I plan on writing to Apple about. The display connects to devices either via USB or bluetooth. The battery lasts quite a long time, too. Speaking of the battery, that charges via USB, either through a micro USB cable connected to a USB-to-AC adapter, or a micro USB cable connected to a computer or external source of power, such as a portable battery for smartphones or tablets. There's not much more to say about the display. I think it's a good piece of hardware. I do have one more thing to say about displays in general, and that is that if you can, you might consider getting a 32 cell model. I chose a 32 cell model after a lot of debate, and I'm glad that I did. I saw what it would be like to type on something the size of the Refreshabraille, and I felt that I would be too cramped on anything smaller than a 32 cell model. I also didn't want to get anything larger, though, as I still wanted the display to be portable enough, and I felt that a 40 cell model would be a little too unwieldy. I hope that my comments have helped you in some way in the decision-making process. Thanks, Shersey

Submitted by Scott Davert on Thursday, January 3, 2013

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team
Hi. As someone who works with several different braille devices on a daily basis, including time with all the displays you've listed in your original post, I think it really boils down to personal preference and what you see as a priority. Do you have a budgetary concern? Do you want more portability or functionality? Do you have previous experience with braille displays? Do you want this to mainly function as something to read texts and emails? Do you want to read books and other longer documents? I stopped recommending Refreshabrailles for people, unless the user is really finding that display to suit them best, as the back order time through APH is about 3 months as of this writing. I like the Focus 14 for its portability and the fact that many controls are available to the user on the display. I'm not a huge fan of the feeling of the dots themselves, I find that they are just not something I enjoy reading, but that's personal preference. The Brailliant BI 32 is a nice display as written above, with one of the cool advantages of that particular display being that you don't have to enter an authentication code on your iDevice to pair with it. A draw=back to the Brailliant, in my opinion, is the spacebars which are too far away from the keyboard, but that again is personal preference. While it's true that the thumb keys don't perform the predicted movements, you can still use space with dot 2 to pan the display backwards and space with dot 5 to pan it forward. The Perkins Mini is kind of odd ergonomically for me. For more details on that, see my accessory review on this display. The advantage to the Mini is that it has some other built in functionality such as note taking, a clock, etc. I happen to like the Braille Edge 40, though I suppose that's getting close to not being considered portable anymore.

Submitted by Travis Roth on Thursday, January 3, 2013

In reply to by Scott Davert

Hi, See comment #3 of this review for some of my thoughts on the Focus 14. I also will add that I find it fairly comfortable to read with, though the background of the cells is a little plasticy, I prefer a more paper-like feel like the old BrailleConnect 12's had but I got used to it and really don't notice it that much. I discussed the Focus 14's power management in the above comment, now I have used the display more and have opted to power it on and off. It takes about 3 seconds to toggle it on or off. I still find that a bit slow, but you can get the display to turn on and connect to the iPhone when a text comes in and have time to unlock the phone via the display after the display connects if you are fairly quick about it. I do it this way because I prefer to read and respond to texts via braille display. As others have mentioned a braille display is one of these things which is quite personal taste. I like small displays for use with the iPhone because I want to be able to shove it into a pocket. If you generally carry something else with you such as a bag or purse, then you may have more room and be able to carry something bigger just as easily. At the same time when I am doing other work on computers versus a portable device, such as word processing, etc., I use a larger display, which I keep in the office. If you need a ones-size-fits-all you may need to compromise in the middle. Good luck and happy reading!

I don't own any of the displays mentioned here, however, to emphasize the point that getting one's hands on displays is really so very important, I wanted to comment that I had the chance to see the Refreshabraille and the Perkins Mini. I really liked the ergonomics of the Mini with the space bars vurther from the entry keys. I find that having space that close to he braille entry keys makes me have my hands in a very uncomfortable unnatural position. I also liked the Mini's note taking capability, but I decided that 16 cells were too few. So I have taken adantage of the sale that Humanware was offering at the end of the year and purchased the 32-cell model mentioned in an earlier comment. I haven't seen it, so I'm not following my own advice, but the fact that the space bars are below the braille ine gives me hope that it will be ergonomically reasonable for me.

Submitted by Shersey on Friday, January 4, 2013

In reply to by Mary

Good to hear that you're getting a Brailliant, too! I'm not too much a fan of the space bars being underneath the Braille line, but it was the only physical feature of the display that bothered me, so I decided I'd okay that one through Rehab. It does take some getting used to. Hoping you like your new Brailliant, Shersey

Submitted by UndergroundRiver on Saturday, January 7, 2017

I love my focus 14.
It has withstood living with me for 3.5 years now.
It still works and is so easy to pair.
I love how small it is.
It just didn't come with a good case though so not good for banging around in a bag of hard objects.
I received my Braillliant 32 yesterday and it's great.
The space thing doesn't bother me much, as prefer qwerty keyboards if I have to type.
I also bought two BraillePen 12 Touch units on sale, and they came wt such great cases!
Too bad the Pen won't pair with my device; it's kinda impossible to use without pairing. I don't know why. It just won't connect.
I am waiting for Monday to contact the seller.
One of them not pairing is maybe a lemon, but both of them won't work.
I think it might be an Apple issue that I hope an update will fix.
Anyway, I love my Brailliant and Focus and will love the BraillePen once it works.
Btw, the new BraillePen 12 Touch does have cursor routing, but it's not a physical button. You move your finger above the braille and it routes when it senses your touch.

Submitted by Maldalain on Sunday, January 8, 2017

You may need to consider Braille Edge 40. It is portable, and it has the basic functionality of a braille note taker. Also the price is low if compared to other braille note takers/displays.