Blind Bargains

A ZoomReader Review from a Blindness perspective

We got our hands on a copy of AI Square's ZoomReader app for the iPhone. ZoomReader claims to offer video magnification features as well as optical character recognition to extract text from the captured image. Is it worth the $19.99 price tag? Read on for our impressions.

We had no problems downloading and installing the app to our iPhone 4, although we've received reports that the app hasn't propagated to all of Apple's servers. The app is quite large though, at 279 MB. Note that the iTunes page for ZoomReader states that this app is only compatible with the iPhone 4, we are unsure if this ap will run on the iPhone 3Gs, or 4th generation iPod touch. For this review, we will be focusing on how this app works with VoiceOver, and the OCR features of the app.

The app's main screen is quite simple. Buttons allow one to turn on voice control, adjust the flash and color controls, and take a picture or choose one from the photo library. A slider adjusts the zoom level of the image. However, the buttons seem to be labeled using the hint tag for VoiceOver. If "speak hints" is turned off in VO settings, you'll only hear "button" as you flick around the screen. If I didn't have hints turned on initially, this issue would have definitely caused me to think this app was inaccessible. Note that according to a tweet frim AI Squared, a fix for this issue is being worked on, and should be out soon. After capturing a photo, a screen appears with buttons to save and perform OCR on the image.

In our initial tests, the OCR seemed to work quite well for standard letter-sized documents. The phone was held about a foot off the page, and OCR took about 5-10 seconds to process a page. Scanning an envelope however, did not work nearly as well, and I was unable to get good results with several pieces of mail. Text can either be read using VoiceOver, or the app's built-in TTS, which is Nuance's U.S. English Tom by default. The recognized text can also be copied to the clipboard, or emailed. The font-size, highlight color, TTS speed, and voice can all be adjusted. Oddly, increasing the speed of the app's TTS also increases the pitch of the voice. Additional voices, such as US English Samantha, or other languages can be purchased for $2.99.

So is this app worth the $19.99 price, for a totally blind VoiceOver user? Probably not yet. There are no features to assist in taking a picture, such as the announcement of page orientation, or edge detection. It would be nice if ZoomReader also offered additional features for saving OCR results. The app DocScanner, for instance, allows one to output text to dropbox, and other cloud-based services.

This app is a good version 1.0, and definitely offers features for the low-vision market not found in other video magnification apps for iOS. In addition, AI Squared should be commended for their responsiveness in monitoring user reaction to the release, which will go a long way to ensuring a stable and robust product. However, until additional features geared to those who are totally blind are added, I would definitely recommend less-expensive alternatives for performing OCR on iOS devices for totally blind users.

Product: ZoomReader

Price: $19.99, additional voices available as an in-app purchase

Category: Software
Displaying 1 comment.
yado Monday, 04-Apr-2011 3:30 PM ET:

I still don't have an iPhone 4. I do however have a KN?FB reader. For 20 dollars, it beats the KNFB reader any day price wise. However, is the OCR isn't that great, why buy it? Well, in my opinion, a lot of people cannot buy a reader. So it may have some ugs, but it is worth it if you need a quick and inexpensive OCR solution.

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