Braille Monitor June 2006
The Milestone 311: The Epitome of Accessibility
by Michael D. Barber
From the Editor: Michael Barber is president of the Des Moines Chapter of the NFB of Iowa. He is an assistive technology analyst at the Iowa Department for the Blind, so he is used to dealing with gadgets of all kinds. Here is his evaluation of a new piece of equipment that may be of interest to lots of blind people, particularly those who do not think of themselves as technically savvy. This is what he says:
I was intrigued when I read the blurb from Independent Living Aids about the Milestone 311 digital voice recorder/MP3 player. And after I heard the audio presentation by Stephen Guerra of Independent Living Aids, I was sold. So intrigued was I that, being a gadget kind of guy, I put down the $369 to buy this little device.
The first thing I noticed was how very small it was. It's about the size of a credit card and fits nicely in the palm of your hand. It's a little narrower at the bottom and gets broader as you move toward the top of the device. Moving from the bottom to the top, you find the speaker and onboard microphone, a mode button with an X on it, a round circle that is the play button, and a left and right arrow on each side for rewind and fast forward. Just above the play button is a small button with a depression in the center. This is the record button. On the very top of the unit, moving from left to right, are the select button, which allows you to switch from internal memory to memory card to MP3 player; the USB port; and a place to connect the AC adapter for charging the unit.
On the right side of the
unit as you face it is a slot for an SD card of up to two gigabytes. On the
very bottom of the unit is a combination line in/earphone/external microphone
Here are some features that make this an outstanding device:
Operating the Unit
Recording Made Easy: You can make recordings in one of three ways. (1) You can hold down the record button and make a simple recorded message, such as a phone number, someone's address, or other contact information. However, you cannot do two things: pause the recording or insert/append to the recording. (2) You can make a continuous recording by first depressing the record button and then pressing the play button. This is very handy when recording a lecture or some other presentation. I used this feature at the recent CSUN conference in Los Angeles to record a presentation. The sound quality was absolutely superb. You can either record using the internal microphone or use an external mike plugged into the earphone/line in/microphone jack at the bottom of the unit. (3) You can connect to your computer's sound card or another external device and record that way.
Using the USB cable that is provided, you can connect the unit to your computer and easily transfer files to and from the device. This is handy for copying the onboard manual to your computer for later reading. Also you can create more folders if you need them. Not only can you transfer files, you can also charge the rechargeable battery using the USB connection.
If you like to listen to music or podcasts, this device will allow you to do so. Transfer your favorite music files to the Milestone 311, or download podcasts and listen to your heart's content. You'll be delighted with the sound quality. The files in a folder will be played one after the other. You can also cause the files to be played folder after folder by adding an "autonext.yes" file to each folder.
Switching from mode to mode is very easy. You simply press the selection key at the top left of the unit to move from internal to memory card to MP3 player. Using various combinations of the six keys moves you between folders. When you switch to a new folder, the Milestone 311 says "folder one" or "folder two," but you can add a voice label to each folder. As you press the key combination to move to a particular folder, just keep holding it down for a few seconds and then say the label you want on that folder. I used this feature to label a folder "CSUN" while at the conference.
The first thing I noticed when I opened the package containing the unit was the printed manual, but no Braille instructions or CD with the manual on it was present. I had to call to find out that the electronic version of the manual is in the unit itself. I have recommended to Independent Living Aids that it should provide some accessible instruction indicating that one must connect the unit to the computer in order to find the electronic version of the manual.
After I found the manual, I noted that it was written clearly enough to be quite useful. Everything seemed to be well organized and logical. The clipped and decidedly British female voice is easy to understand. Updating firmware is a snap. All you need to do is unzip the file you have been sent, switch the Milestone 311 to internal mode, connect the unit to your PC, and transfer the BIN file. Disconnect the unit and remove the USB plug from the device and wait thirty seconds, and you will be told that the update is complete.
Holding down the mode key
for two-to-three seconds will give you information on how much room you have
left either on your memory card or in the internal unit and whether your battery
is fully charged, charged, or low and needing to be charged.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Because of its simplicity and extreme accessibility, I highly recommend this unit to anyone. When I compare it with other digital voice recorders I've tried, this one ranks way above them in accessibility and recording quality. You don't have to count your way through menus and hope you've hit the right button to delete a file because everything speaks. It's a little pricy, but it's definitely worth the money. I would recommend the following enhancements:
1. The manual should be
included on a CD as well as being in the unit.
2. Add a pause recording feature.
3. Add an insert/append feature when recording.
For further information about the Milestone 311, or to purchase this unit, either visit Independent Living Aids at <http://www.independentliving.com> or call them toll-free at (800) 537-2118. You can also hear an audio presentation about the Milestone 311 at <http://www.accessible-devices.com/milestonerecorder.html>.