Handy Tech Braille Star 40 (pre-HID Generation)
The Handy Tech Braille Star 40 is a portable, rechargeable 40 cell braille display with serial, USB and Bluetooth connectivity. Its physical dimensions are 331 x 227 x 24 mm (width x depth x height). The tactile surface of the Braille elements are concavely shaped. Each cell has exactly one cursor routing key located above. Below the cells you find 8 braille dot keys separated by two space keys. To the left and right of the reading area are the so-called tripple action keys which you can press on the top, bottom and in the middle position.
On the back of the device are two binary switches for setting the current connectivity type, a serial and an USB port. In the context of this review, only the Bluetooth setting is relevant. You also find a PS/2 keyboard jack to connect an external keyboard to the Braille Star 40.
This review is about one of the first generation models of this device which did use the braille protocol to communicate keypresses on the external keyboard to the computer. Newer models use HID to get keyboard input to the computer. The Pre-HID way of sending keyboard scancodes inband with braille keypresses is apparently not supported by iOS 5.0.1. I am guessing that newer (HID-based) models of the Braille Star 40 will actually support the external keyboard for providing input to iOS.
In other words, iOS 5.0.1 does not support the external keyboard feature of pre-HID Braille star 40 models. If you still want to use a keyboard with such a model thats technically no problem since you can simply place a Bluetooth keyboard of your choosing on top of the braille star 40, just make sure you pick a size that fits.
Braille input works as expected. You can use the 8 dot keys below the reading area to input text to iOS.
A few rather useful VoiceOver commands are bound to the tripple action keys as well as to braille dot keys in combination with the space key. Use the VoiceOver Learn mode to investigate them.
The initial setup was a bit supprising for me since I tripped across something I can think of as being a possible common error. When trying to connect the Braille Star 40 to my iPhone via Bluetooth I opened the Bluetooth menu in the Settings application, expecting the Braille device to show up there. It did not. I later found that you need to connect Braille devices in the VoiceOver settings menu. The Braille Star 40 showed up there in the Braille submenu.
Locking the iPhone screen immediately blanks the braille display. Upon unlocking of the touch screen it usually takes just a few seconds until the iDevice finds the Braille display again, which is announced with a sound effect.
Generally speaking, its a rather nice experience to work with an iPhone with a Braille display connected. The double-tap-with-3-fingers gestures comes handy here to temporarily disable speech output. It is also very nice being able to combine gestures on the iDevice and keypresses on the Braille display. So in a sense you are not just adding a Braille display to a Phone, you are also adding a touch-screen to a braille display :-).
If, for some reason, VoiceOver stops talking to your Braille display on unlock of the screen, check the Braille menu in VoiceOver to see if the Braille display is still connected. If not, just reconnect. It happened once that iOS sort of forgot that I just told it that I'd like to have this connection, but the following 20 or more lock/unlock cycles worked as expected without needing a reconnect.
Devices Accessory Was Used With
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