I am interested in your experience using the QBraille XL from Hims. If you have used it what do you find as the pros and cons?
Does the hybrid keyboard work out well with iOS?
What is the quality of Braille like? I know this is subjective so overall if you have used any other displays how does it compare, e.g., versus recent generation Focus displays?
Thanks for you rinsight.
By Travis Roth, 23 December, 2019
Braille on Apple Products
Cramped and kind of crazy
I got to demo the unit for a few days on Catalina. I had a difficult time getting the display to connect and once I did I realized that I had only made the keyboard connection and not the Braille connection. You need separate bluetooth connections for each. I wasn't able to get the Braille part to work even if I connected the display via USB but the Braille generated by the onboard menus felt about as good as any other display. I'd put it on par with some of the older Brailliant displays. The surface had a lot of ridges around the cells. My guess is that they help you figure out which dots are raised but there are a surprising amount of them. The cells and keys are reasonably quiet.
Actually typing on it was not very fun. The experience is very cramped and the spacebar is positioned very high up. You either need to move a finger down from the Braille keys which breaks your typing rhythm or you need to shift an entire hand upward to hit the spacebar with a thumb. I also had trouble getting Mac OS to determine what kind of keyboard it was so some of the qwerty function keys did not work properly.
Doing keyboard ballet to hit some of the Voiceover shortcuts is not fun at all and those few days were enough for me to decide on not getting the unit. It's a little too crazy for me. One last thing is that it runs Windows CE which Microsoft dropped support for not long ago and I'm not very confident in HIMS support.
Re: Kind of crazy
Hi, Thanks for the comments.
SO you're saying the space bar is above the braille cells? That is a bit unusual and wasn't the impression I'd gotten from the description, so good to know!
I'm not sure about the ridges I guess. My big thing is cell background, I hate the ones that are to plasticy if that is a word. You know what I mean? Remind you of that old plastic thermoform paper they use to copy braille books.
I was surprised to read the Windows CE for the OS too but since it isn't doing any major outside connections to the internet I don't think that is a huge issue.
Braille quality and other bits and pieces
First off re braille quality, it is HIMS braille so if you have used a Braille edge or a sense, you will know what to expect.
The thing works beautifully with IOS not as beautifully with MacOS but there are workarounds - some teething problems there I hope will be fixed eventually.
Manual could be better written with more detail.
I have had my QBraille XL since March. Over all, I'm quite happy with it and I'm happy I went with it, as someone coming from a background of being raised on laptops rather than note takers and having a habbit of constantly forgetting which chord will do the thing I want if it's not something I use often. A couple things to note for anyone considering a purchase:
-Cell quality, nothing to complain about. They are nice and firm, and refresh instantly. There are some ridges running through the sells and a bit below them, but you won't really notice them while reading.
-The keyboard again, not much to complain about. Yes, the spacebar is above the cells, and I would have prefered it to be below. But other than that, I wouldn't consider it cramped. There's actually plenty of seperation between the keys. The 8-dot perkins keys and the spacebar are large, while the rest of the keys, which are in pretty much the same place they would be on a normal computer keyboard, are the usual size for a laptop and feel like high quality laptop keys. So while the display itself definitely has a larger footprint then something like a brailliant or focus with the extra keys, that's to be expected considering its concept.
-The software - when I got it there were some shortcomings with some keys registering in the keyboard mode, but over the months HIMS has been releasing regular updates - at least for the Polish language firmware. The most recent one of these that came out a few weeks ago fixed probably the most frustrating thing with the keyboard mode when using the QBraille with Mac or iOS, that being the arrow key combinations that needed you to press arrows together, like Left+Right to toggle quicknav, weren't supported and you had to perform them with various chorded commands. But with this latest update this is no longer the case, and using it this way is very comfortable.
I love the keyboard emulation mode, because at least with iOS it'll connect to the phone even if it's locked and let you wake it up. So I can text people and things like that even if my phone is across the room while charging. One thing to note in regards to using it with iOS, the keycode it sends for Capslock doesn't seem to be accepted by iOS as such. So while you can use Capslock just fine as a modifier while using Mac or Windows screen readers, you'll have to use CTRL-Option on iOS.
Finally, you can also just use it in regular display mode without connecting the keyboard portion. In that case you can use the regular VoiceOver chorded commands on the perkins keyboard to control your device. All of the additional keys will just send chorded commands to the screen reader that roughly correspond to the right command, though these are more aimed at Windows screen readers. So for example if you press Down Arrow while using it as just a display, it'll send a Dot 4-Chord. In NVDA on Windows this just goes to the next line, but on iOS it actually goes to the next item instead.
Funny that the english version has not been updated since June last year. or am I looking in the wrong place?
Ideal for a certain kind of power user
This is my main productivity display and, for how I like to work, there's nothing better right now. Compared to the Mantis, which seems to be its most direct competition, there are lots of tradeoffs and I can really see each display working better for different people.
The qBraille comes with a surprisingly sturrdy case, I'm generally not comfortable throwing something as expensive and fragile as a Braille display in my backpack but this is an exception. It's obviously nott portable but the Mantis, with its full qwerty keyboard has a much larger footprint. It's also built better generally, the keys in particular are noticeably quieter and more substantial feeling than the Mantis. Where Humanware prioritizes software and support, Hims clearly spends their money on hardware.
That difference becomes even more apparent when connecting the displays over bluetooth. the qBraille, built just before the advent of the HID standard for displays, requires two separate bluetooth connections with each paired device - one for the braille display, one for the hybrid qwerty keys. It's clearly more complicated but that complexity provides unparalleled versitility. You can use keyboard commands if you know those better, use regular braille display commands if that's what you're comfortable with on a particular operating system, and easily switch between the two. You're also able to switch between paired devices with a single keystroke which for some folks might be hard because you have to remember which paired thing lines up with which function key ... but if you're the sort of person who likes to multitask with all your gadgets it can be crazy efficient. My phone often vibrates in my pocket while I'm working on my laptop and I want to just check it really quick without leaving what I'm doing. With one keystroke I move from laptop to phone, one more keystroke brings me to my notifications, I can quickly see if it's something important and move back to my work. The Mantis sacrifices that efficiency in favor of a streamlined, user friendly menu for switching between devices. Of course the Mantis is more efficient in other ways but if I'm going to be writing a lot I'd rather use the more comfortable, less noisy keyboard on my laptop anyhow. The Mantis is clearly a better display for lots of people but I've rarely seen the other side presented so I hope this was useful for someone.