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Humanware Unveils new BrailleNote Touch at #CSUN16

Scott Davert Wednesday, 23-Mar-2016 4:38 PM ET
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It's been 6 years since Humanware has updated the BrailleNote, and today marks the end of that wait. Today at CSUN, Humanware unveiled the BrailleNote Touch, a device which is based on Android 4.4, but runs the Keysoft suite of products. Think modern support for mail and other applications, but with the familiarity of Keysoft. The best way to picture the device is that it has an iPad mini sized screen which a user can perform standard Android gestures on, or a new braille input method described below. There is a Perkins-style braille keyboard which comes down over the screen if the user desires to use that instead. The keyboard overlay attaches to the device and can be removed if the user prefers to use the touch screen and braille display exclusively. The unit also features support for SDHC cards, 16GB of built-in memory, a HDMI port for connectivity with external monitors or TV's, an 8 megapixel camera with LED lighting, a USB 3.0 host port, and Micro USB charging .

There are 3 buttons on the front of the unit which correspond to Back, Home, and Menu, which doubles as a context-sensitive help key for KeySoft apps. Menu can be held down for Android's Recent Apps screen.

Screen input is done through a process Humanware is calling Touch Braille mode, but there is also a mode that is very similar to what one would find with braille screen input on iOS, or with one of the supported braille keyboards on Android. Touch Braille mode, according to Humanware, allows you to lay all of your fingers on the touch screen in such a way that you would want to use the screen for braille input. The device will then recognize each of your fingers and then it will calibrate which fingers correspond to which dots. And while most touch screen braille keyboards do this to a certain degree, there are no gestures required for the user to learn to use this method. Instead of doing a gesture to backspace, for example, the user would just hit dot 7 on the screen with their left pinky. This technology also differs in that it's not only for text input, but also for standard Keysoft commands and first letter navigation within apps and the standard keysoft applications. SO, for example, space with O will still take you to the Options menu of the BrailleNote.

There are new versions for many of the most popular KeySoft apps. The new KeyWord includes expanded document formatting commands and reads and writes .DOC, .DOCX, and .RTF among other formats. KeyWeb is now built over top of the Firefox web browser. KeyBRF reads braille-formatted files while a Victor Reader app handles other audio and DAISY formats.

What is perhaps most interesting about this device is that Humanware says it will have Google Play support, but has its own screen reader unlike other Android devices which run a version of TalkBack. The BrailleNote Touch will also have an onboard camera as written above, which means that one could purchase and use the KNFB Reader app for OCR. HumanWare is currently working with the NFB to ensure the BrailleNote Touch is listed as a supported device for the KNFB Reader on Google Play. This could also potentially bring object recognition to the notetaker. It is also expected that one can use many other apps offered in the Google Play store.

18 and 32 cell models will be available, with pricing the same as what it has been for the Apex: $3,995 for the 18 cell model and $5,495 for the 32-cell version. Humanware expects it to be on the market in May 2016. No QWERTY keyboard version is available, though one could use a Bluetooth or USB keyboard with the device. Current BrailleNote users can get $1,500 toward the purchase price when trading in a 32-cell device or $800 for an 18-cell model. Users of other notetakers will receive $1,000 for devices of over 20 cells or $500 for devices of 20 cells or less.

More info will be posted when it is made available, and we'll have an in-depth podcast to follow.

Category: News
Displaying 8 comments.
The Rowdy Wednesday, 23-Mar-2016 5:40 PM ET:

Scott: I am glad to hear that HumanWare has finally begun the release process for it's new APEX. I am an APEX User, and have enjoyed the machine when I first received it in 2012. It quickly became difficult to use in a practical sense due to it's antiquated support for current apps. This was true even at that time. Now, though I still utilize the APEX for some tasks, it is largely used as a portable notetaker. I am hopeful that this new addition to the APEX will allow me to regain the use of notetakers. I am currently using the BRAILLIANT BI 32 as my current Braille Display, laregely because of the universality of access, which this device affords. Since it doesn't need to be compatible with any apps, except as a Braille Display for the 4major platforms: Ios, Android Phones, Ms-PC's and Apple PC's. Let us hope that Humanware, can continue support, within the Android Platform, better than it did using the CE Platform. Robert Gilchrist


darknexus Thursday, 24-Mar-2016 07:55 AM ET:

So it's a rip-off of Apple's smart cover, Braille screen input, and a Nexus 7, with a version of Android that is already two generations behind, with an inflated price and the limitations of Keysoft. Do I have that about right?


Louis D Thursday, 24-Mar-2016 11:22 AM ET:

Do we know what the other specs are? How many gigs of ram, what version of WiFi, Bluetooth, etc?


gallagher123123 Friday, 25-Mar-2016 8:00 PM ET:

I am very excited about this announcement. I was totally not expecting it to be this awesome. I’m glad they were able to port keysoft over to android, and can’t wait to have a play with it at the NFB convention this summer. Notetakers are still important to me, so I’m really glad they did this.


darknexus Monday, 28-Mar-2016 10:49 AM ET:

@Louis D: Given that it's already two Android versions behind, I'd not expect modern connectivity were I you. I won't be at all surprised if it's 802.11N draft 1 and Bluetooth 2.1, given Humanware's track record in these areas.


musical Monday, 30-May-2016 5:43 PM ET:

what i'm about to say some will not like but i plan to be reall, blunt, and straight up front on this? quite frankly, but i'm just about damn tired of seeing devices, particularly braille devices that are so made for us but, are overly priced. 4 and 5000 dollars makes no sense what so ever. i know braille is expensive but if it cost that much to make then they damn shouldn't be doing it. instead they do this and make some proffit off of us as we can help hour disability. i've be knowing braille for years but have had to adapt to the world and how they do things cause of pricing of displays witch bluntly put, down right fucked up! i'm sorry but i've had it. these displays are too much money, need actual payment plans, credit based or no, or then need to do away with them all together. i'm tired of companies making proffits of us. we can't help hour disabilities and truth of it all, we need things we all can benifit from. not just things for us and things for sighted. i like braille devices and displays like the next person but i'm tired of companies like humanware, etc, over charging for this shit! either make it afordable for all to purchase etc, or stop wasteing time making it for us. some people can drop that money but not everyone can. providing factors, of ways we can purchase using payment plans with or with out, credit involved. make it for us but make it what we cant aford it. i'm dun.


Jackjack Monday, 27-Jun-2016 11:41 AM ET:

Musical, we all feel that way about braille devices. Sadly, the reality is, braille will always be expensive, until the orbit reader and the introduction of rotating wheel braille displays in notetakers. I don't have exact stats, but I imagine it costs a few hundred to make and maintain every cell. Touch cursor technology is also expensive and patented by Alva BV, which is probably why the Orbit REader won't be having touch cursors. They need to get that investment back somehow, and sadly, the market for braille devices is menial compared to mainstream tablets. @Dark-nexus: Personally, I have no problem with the Braillenote Touch running android 4.4. From a logical standpoint, remember Google worked in collaboration with Humanware since day 1. If Google thought Kitkat was a bad idea, they would've said so. Google will still continue to support Kitkat, and continue releasing security patches. IN my experience, Android 4.4 may not have held as many accessibility improvements as Marshmallow, but it definitely was, in my opinion, the most stable foundation to build upon. Cyanogen, for example, was at its peek in Android 4.4. So Android 4.4 wasn't a bad decision on Humanware's part. As far as the specs, we have 802.11 b/g/n wifi, and Bluetooth 4.0. And TouchBraille is not exactly a rip-off of braille screen input. Braille screen input on ios calibrates your fingers to dot position targets that you have to hit once your fingers are calibrated. Braillenote Touch doesn't do that, and allows for slight position shift. Sure, obviously you can't put your left hand where your right hand goes, but if you have slight position shifts you won't lose calibration that easily. Either way, if you need to recalibrate, it only takes less than a second. And besides, the braille translation is far superior.


gallagher123123 Wednesday, 24-Aug-2016 11:31 PM ET:

Now that I have my touch for two weeks, I can honestly say that it's the best braillenote yet. It's a joy to use.


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