Handy Tech Actilino Review
Devices Accessory Was Used With
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hi all, is this product sold in the uk? i am attending Sight Village, a uk exhebition like csun and was hoping to see it.
Travis, thank you for this very well written, fair handed and thorough product review. Considering you were among the very first adopters of the Actilino, I’d say that a score of 4 out of 5 is a great beginning, now let’s just see if we can’t nudge it up a bit. By the end of today, (July 21, 2017) I will email you a firmware update that will bring you from version 1.0 to 1.4. Mind you I did not even see 1.1 or 1.2 and by the time I installed 1.3 I was being informed of 1.4. This should suggest the level of motivation on the part of the manufacturer to address issues and provide the customer with the best user experience possible.
In this response to your blog review, I will place your comments that I feel deserve addressing within quotes and then follow each quoted statement with my response.
“The keyboard is quiet an responsive. The space keys are at the bottom of the display so it is a bit of a reach and those with small hands may find it a bit large. For those with larger hands the Actilino provides a more comfortable typing experience than some smaller displays.”
Response: We are very happy with the keyboard and to address those folks with smaller hands who might have problems reaching the spacebars at the front of the device, I made an off-hand suggestion of having the option of pressing dots 7 and 8 simultaneously to issue the space command and I discovered by accident that this option was checked into version 1.3 a couple days later.
“It is a larger device than some Braille displays, most noticeably in its depth (front to back). It is 4.3 inches which is around 0.8 inches more than several other displays. It is also a bit thicker than some. For a typical front jeans pocket, which is my standard test, it is a pocket full and I can only fit it when it is not in its case.”
Response: It is worth noting that while slightly larger than other displays who’s manufacturer’s might tout them as sleek and sexy, the Actilino weighs in under 1 pound and the slightly thicker housing is simply a function of the space needed for the concaved cells which have a sensor under each and every dot necessary for the ATC functionality.
“Another feature of Handy Tech displays including the Actilino is that pressing m-space causes the display to return to its main menu. This directly conflicts with Voiceover’s command for muting and unmuting speech. I use this command quite a bit to mute speech when I want to work with Braille. There are two workarounds I have found: mute the speech with the touchscreen, or use a m-dot 7-space command (capital m in computer Braille). Voiceover seems to ignore the extra dot 7 and activate the mute toggle and Actilino does not go into its main menu. Note again this is as of iOS 10.3.”
Response: Yes, this keyboard conflict has existed from the early days of Voiceover; however, the command to switch from the connected device to the internal functions of Handy Tech devices pre-dates Voiceover by at least a decade so the tradeoff was to ask thousands of long-time Handy Tech users to use a different command or provide an alternate keystroke that it seems you discovered on your own.
Remember, Apple assigns the commands that they feel work best with their screen reader and all the manufacturer can do is work within those parameters. My favorite similar keyboard conflict along these lines had to do with a braille device who’s manufacturer will remain nameless, and presented a situation where when you issued the command to power the device on and off as it turned out was the same as Voiceover’s command to invoke keyboard help so if the device was on, you got into Voiceover’s keyboard help and turned off the display at the same time.
“An issue I have experienced using the Actilino with an iPhone 7 is that they do not always connect to each other. I assume this is due in part to the Actilino being new and at version 1.0 of its software. The other part of this is it seems that the Bluetooth component for audio support may be having an issue when using with iPhone. As I mentioned, the Actilino keeps this off by default. The iPhone will continue to look for the audio component since it was previously paired. On my display, eventually what happens is either they will not connect, or the display would connect and display Braille but the keyboard would not send commands to the iPhone. I was able to resolve it temporarily by removing the Actilino as a Braille device and then re-pairing it but eventually the issue returned. I then removed the audio support from the iPhone’s Bluetooth settings and this seems to have resulted in a more stable setup for now. Again, I suspect a lot of this is because of the new display and I would expect either Handy Tech or Apple to make this better over time.”
Response: The Handy Tech Bluetooth connectivity has always been in my opinion the most stable and reliable in the business and the Actilino is no exception. I can consistently establish a connection with my iPhone if I Power up or wake up the display before waking up my phone. Where audio Bluetooth is concerned, the Actilino audio is a separate connection from the Braille display connection; however it appeared that in version 1.0 they tended to get in each other’s way. You will find this to be greatly improved in subsequent versions of the firmware.
Keyboard command changes as they relate to Bluetooth audio:
1. The command to turn on Bluetooth audio is no longer Space with dots 4, 5 and 8. It is now Space with a dropped X or, chord with dots 2, 5, 7 and 8.
2. You no longer need to navigate to and start the Music player to adjust the volume. You may now press space with dots 1, 4, 7 and 8 to launch the player followed by Space with dots 1 or 4 to adjust the vollume.
“The Actilino has several types of tones enabled by default including error, warning, action confirmation and low battery sounds. These can be configured in the Actilino main menu system under Options. With all tones disabled, the Actilino still plays its startup chime when the main menu is loaded. This is not what I would expect to happen with all tones disabled. I prefer my Braille display to be silent and not calling attention to it powering on audibly. After all, the Braille cells are right there to confirm the action and I do not need the audio. Hopefully a future update will provide the ability to silence this chime. In the meantime, there is a workaround using the music feature of Actilino to adjust the synthesizer to a quieter volume though not entirely silence it.”
Response: The issue of not being able to turn off the tones on power on and off has been resolved. Simply uncheck the item under Tone Signals called Action Confirmations and you will be able to turn your Actilino on and off in complete silence.
“The Actilino is a new player in the small pocket-sized Braille display category. There are a few rough edges showing it is still at version 1.0. The incomplete documentation and a few software quirks being the two notable improvements being needed. The need for a proprietary charging cable in this day of USB-C is a little disappointing as well. The ATC feature being able to work on mobile devices is a possibly exciting development for making it even easier to read Braille on a smaller device. The ability to use the display for notetaking and stand-alone book reading by loading files on its memory card to save battery life on an iDevice is also a strong point worth considering.”
Response: Again, thank you so much for your very honest and candid review. You will be please to know a few things as they relate to your concluding comments:
1. The manufacturer has assured me that some of the omissions in the documentation that you mentioned are being addressed and will be quickly evolving.
2. The connector on the Actilino used for charging and connecting as a USB device is actually a Micro USB with a magnetic connector. The Actilino that you now have came with a cable with a dot on the top to indicate which way it should be connected; however, the Actilino are now being shipped with a different connector which does not need this orientation as it can now be connected either way. Last week at the NFB national convention, while in the company of Sigi Kipke, the owner of the manufacturing house and the brilliant mind behind Actilino and other Handy Tech ATC devices, demonstrated to me how the magnetic connector may be removed (by authorized service technicians only) and what resides beneath this connector is a standard Micro USB port. Those customers who have received units with the original connector may have it updated to the new connector at no charge if they feel it important. The original connector requires a special tool to remove so please don’t try to do it yourself.
Finally one customer who read your review who is waiting for her Actilino asked me if the proprietary cable would prohibit them from being able to charge the device off commonly used power banks or charging blocks and the answer to this is no. Only the end that connects to the Actilino is magnetic, the other end that goes into a power bank or charging block is standard USB, but with a battery life of 30 hours plus, it is doubtful that you will require the extra boost very often.
For anyone tracking this thread I thought it a good time to give an update on my experiences with the Actilino.
As I noted in my original review I had some connectivity issues between the iPhone and the Actilino. As of iOS 11 the Actilino was not alone in some issues with Braille support and VoiceOver. Handy Tech has actively been working on this anyways as several firmware updates over the last few months have shown. It is good to see a manufacturer doing what they can to help keep their users productive even if they could use a little help from Cupertino.
For the latest: there is a new version of the Actilino firmware v1.7. Today there also is an iOS 11.1 update. I have installed both and so far I can report more stability in using the Actilino with the iPhone including successful connections after locking and unlocking the iPhone, and turning on and off the Actilino as most users will do from time to time to save battery life, etc. iOS 11.1 still appears to hold the Bluetooth connection instead of releasing it when the phone is locked as previous version of iOS used to do; however it appears the Actilino is more gracefully coping with this new behavior. More testing is probably needed to be certain, but at this stage I wanted to report that there is an improvement and any Actilino user who is using an earlier Actilino firmware version or earlier version of iOS 11 should give serious consideration to updating both of these to the latest.
Lastly I want to publicly thank Handy Tech for continuing to support its users and improve the Actilino display. Here is to more success in using iOS going forward.
Thanks so much for this review, and the comments afterward. I'd like to know how the Actilino is holding up nowadays, as its been a year or so from the last comment. I'm looking into getting an Actilino myself, but am cautious, as the VarioUltra a few years ago now has pins that don't work, (Actilino has the 3 year warranty so I'm not too worried about that) and the BrailleNote Touch was slow, out of date from the gate, and now they have a new model out which of course one has to pay a life or two to upgrade to. But so far, I love the Actilino, and the support, from Earl in email and on here. That level of customer support is just amazing! Also, the updates, and letting users have newer versions to work around problems right then and there, really feels like a company that actually cares about the users who make such huge investments in their products, and I always love to see that level of support.
My Actilino is still going strong. To be honest, I do not work it that hard so my unit is probably not the best test case for durability. As far as Handy Tech products overall though, I use an Active Star that I pound to death daily and it is older than the Actilino. So I don't think you have any cause for concern about it being any more fragile than any other Braille display.
If you read my earlier comments you may have noticed I have some Bluetooth issues. I believe Handy Tech has fixed these overall. And iOS 12 is better. My unit still will drop the Bluetooth connection during a session and seems very sensitive to where it is positioned to the iPhone. From what I've heard my unit is an anomaly in this regard so you likely have no concerns. Just my luck to have an early model with a maybe iffy Bluetooth radio. I don't know and I don't have a way to prove it to the factory as you know if you try to give a demo it's the day it'll work perfectly. But my experience aside with that, I don't think you should hold it against it. Especially if you like the unit, give it a try.