Access note review
Having an accessible and reliable note taking device is very important in my work as an attorney. In the past, I’ve had to haul my laptop or PacMate around with me throughout the day while my sighted colleagues simply pulled out a yellow pad or their iPad to accomplish the same thing. I’ve been waiting for someone to build an editing app that would finally transform my iPhone into the kind of notetaker that would let me leave my laptop on my desk at the office.
I think the developers over at AFB may have finally pulled it off with Access Note.
The app store offers scores of note editing apps, and only a few of those are sufficiently accessible with voiceover to be useful at all. I’ve had a Bluetooth keyboard for over a year and I’ve played around with over a dozen editing apps hoping one would emerge to meet my needs. I’ve not found any to be truly and fully accessible however. Inevitably, every one of the editing apps with some level of Voice Over compatibility have some buttons, controls, or editing functions that either cannot be used without vision, or which require fairly sophisticated manipulation with voice over to work, limiting practical every day usefulness for a blind user like me.
Here are my first impressions of Access Note.
I’d heard rumors that AFB was going to release something like this for months so was please when I saw the Access World announcement. I virtually trotted over to the Apple App Store and looked over the description. I popped for the $19.99 app, like I said, I’ve been looking for this kind of accessible notetaker for a while and I trusted that the gang over at AFB would have attended to accessibility. Heck, I’m sure I’ve spent at least three times that already on a bunch of semi accessible variations that are just sitting in a folder on my device.
When I launched the app for the first time, things were pretty straightforward. Everything was well labeled and pretty clear. I already had my Bluetooth keyboard synced to my device so nothing was needed there. I was able to sync to my DropBox account very easily, turned it on in settings and gave a simple confirmation and my notes appeared in an Access Note folder in my DropBox account. I poked around in the help screen for a while and was pleased to see that they included a basic text help guide with clickable sections, as well as an interactive tutorial that helps you walk through some of the features. I didn’t find the interactive guide very useful but the texts guide gave me what I needed.
I then opened a new note and did some typing. I actually wrote most of this review using Access note. The Review mode feature worked well as describe and I was able to navigate around in the note using the custom control keys. Later, it was a snap to pull the note up on my laptop from DropBox and finish it up for posting.
Overall, I had a very satisfying writing experience using Access Note.
Some additional Observations
Access note succeeds as a fully accessible notetaker, provided you are planning to use your iPhone or iPad with an Apple style Bluetooth keyboard. Many of the unique features of the app rely on functions that cannot be performed using only Voice Over gestures.
Access Note uses a set of quick keys, the option key on a Bluetooth keyboard plus a letter, for various editing and navigation functions while editing a note. I liked having the custom controls when using a Bluetooth keyboard with Access Note as it really made it feel like a traditional note taking device.
Many of the keyboard controlled reading and navigation functions can be performed using standard VoiceOver gestures without an external keyboard as well. However, I did run into a few functions that cannot be performed without an external keyboard that I definitely missed. In particular, I wanted to add a file I was reading to my favorites for offline use. To my surprise, there wasn’t a way to do this without a Bluetooth keyboard and the Option+M. I knew I could close Access note and open DropBox to do this but it would be good to have that ability from within the app using basic Voice Over gestures and controls.
Here are a few more functions I could not perform without an external keyboard: Option+R… rename a note; Option+F or G… Find a word in a note; Option+J or K… jump to previous or next note
Access Note is the first text editing app I have tried that makes using my iPhone and Bluetooth keyboard work for me like a dedicated note taking device.
The functionality of the app using a Bluetooth keyboard is definitely very nice as it is. Although it can be used without a BT keyboard, the overall functionality of the app would be enhanced with a few more voice over controllable functions.
I recommend Access Note for anyone who has been wishing for a way to turn his or her iPhone into a good note taking device and is willing to invest in a compatible blue tooth keyboard.