Braille Monitor                                                    December 2009

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A knfbReader for Christmas?

by Michael Hingson

The N86 cell phone in use as the knfbReader MobileFrom the Associate Editor: In the midst of the holiday season, a fortunate few may receive a knfbReader Mobile as a gift. Others may be saving to purchase this useful technology with a tax refund in early 2010 or may be looking at a number of alternative funding sources as the new year approaches. Michael Hingson, director of the NFB's national knfbReader Mobile distributorship, has asked that we provide some updated information about the new phone that supports this technology and publish testimonials of several satisfied knfbReader Mobile users. Here is the information:

Since its introduction in January 2008, the knfbReader Mobile has become an integral part of the lives of thousands of blind people throughout the world. This is a portable device consisting of software and specific cell phones that are powerful enough not only to take a high-quality picture of a printed page but also to process that image, recognize the characters on the page, and read the page out loud to the blind user. The Reader provides a level of reading independence that blind people have never before experienced.

We who are blind are finding new ways to use the knfbReader Mobile to make us more productive on the job and in our personal lives by reading what we want, where we want. Because the hardware platform used by the knfbReader Mobile is a commercially available cell phone, the Reader is so portable that people are taking it everywhere, including restaurants, classrooms, the office, libraries, and almost anywhere print is found.

The most common cell phone used to power the knfbReader Mobile has been the Nokia N82. It has served users well and has helped make the reader affordable. Earlier this year Nokia announced that the N82 was being discontinued and would not be manufactured after June 30, 2009. At the same time Nokia announced the introduction of a new cell phone, the Nokia N86. After considerable testing and evaluation by knfbReading Technologies, it was determined that the N86 would be a great replacement for the N82. In fact it has some features that may make it a better hardware platform as time goes on. Here is a brief description of some of the features of the N86 and the ways they contrast with those of the N82:

The Nokia N86 was introduced as a high-end multimedia cell phone with the ability to take clear high-resolution pictures as well as to record high quality audio. It incorporates an eight-mega-pixel camera instead of the five-mega-pixel camera contained in the Nokia N82. The N86 camera also contains a wider angle lens, which may in the future permit taking pictures of larger pages. The new hardware incorporates a dual LED flash instead of the xenon flash of the Nokia N82. Typically dual LED flash systems are not as bright and have not provided as high quality an image for good optical character recognition. The flash on the new system, however, is bright enough to provide excellent character recognition and to permit the elimination of the special polarizer filters that were required on the Nokia N82.

The Nokia N86 uses a faster processor, which means that the time between taking the picture and speaking the text is shorter. It takes no more than twelve seconds for the new hardware to take a picture, recognize the characters, and begin reading aloud.

One of the most exciting features of the Nokia N86 is that its keys are more tactile. The basic function keys are larger and more raised than those of the Nokia N82. The new phone is a slider phone rather than a candy bar phone, descriptions that describe the shape of the N86 and the N82. In the N82 the function keys and the number keypad are on the front panel of the unit. In the N86 the keys to operate the phone are on the front panel, while the keypad is accessed by sliding the entire top of the phone out of the way, revealing a keypad containing much larger number keys.

Other features of the new hardware include nearly eight gigabytes of internal storage as opposed to the two gigabytes of storage available on a micro SD card, which comes as part of the Nokia N82. A micro-SD slot is also available on the Nokia N86, should the user wish to add additional storage. The extra memory capacity means that more and larger files can be stored on the new knfbReader Mobile hardware.

The price of the N86 is a bit higher than its predecessor. We still have some Nokia N82s available, but we do not expect to have a supply of these older models for long. For pricing and availability of both models of the knfbReader Mobile, contact Michael Hingson by phone at (415) 827-4084 or email at <>. Also be sure to ask for the contact information for your closest NFB dealer.

The following personal accounts of the way in which the knfbReader Mobile can be used and has enhanced lives are taken from users who have offered their comments on the knfbReader Mobile listserv or who have provided feedback to knfbReading Technologies. Here are some user comments:

Gary Wunder: I use my knfbReader to handle the print mail that comes into my office, including my monthly pay stub--hallelujah--but I also use it in the many, many situations where people apologize to me for bringing in an agenda at the last moment. Another use I have for it, since many of us use a common printer, is to figure out which documents are mine and which belong to somebody else. Before I had the knfbReader, I would simply carry the stack away and bring back what was not mine. This caused something of a problem if the person who actually owned the printout I had taken came between the time I took it and returned it. It is great to be able to stand there at the printer and do what everyone else does.

At home I like being able to go out and get my mail, bring it back, sit on the couch, snap the envelopes, and determine which I want to deal with using a live reader, which I want to throw away, and which I want to read myself with either the knfbReader or the K1000 system. One of the things I like best about using the knfbReader is that I am not constantly tied to my office but can read wherever I want. I spend so much time in my office that any time I can step away and still do something productive is a blessing.

Jan Bailey: We have six-sided files at work, with a print list of what is contained in each side on the file's cover. These are bulky files that do not work well with a flat-bed scanner, but they work well with the knfbReader. I just look up what's on each side, find the correct side, and snap pictures until I find the document that I'm looking for. I don't have to take the file apart and try again to put it back together correctly. I am a counselor, and I use my knfbReader to read medical and school reports, agendas at meetings, and menus when I go out to lunch. I've even read some menus that are posted up on a wall. It's fabulous.

Marilyn Rushton: I am a vision teacher, and I work in three public schools. As you can surely imagine, a lot of printed information comes to my attention. The knfbReader does a good job with staff/student bulletins, particularly when the device is set to bills and memos format. It's great fun to stand at an office counter reading the daily bulletin.

Although most of my students use Braille, I have one student who has chosen to read large print. The knfbReader has proven invaluable for ascertaining what materials have come in for this student. It's wonderful not to have to ask another busy teacher or secretary to give me this type of basic information. I am pleased that the reader can process enlarged print, and it works well for most clearly photocopied worksheets. In addition I am able to sort and read most of my inter-office mail.

Kathleen Millhoff: We're using pretty old equipment here, and I'm not often sure if the printer has run out of ink, partially printed, or just spit out a blank page. Now with the reader I wonder no more. I used to take time during the day to mark in Braille all the papers I collect as I go from school to school or to other agencies. I still mark things or file them, but now I can wait until I get home to check what I have, decide if I want to keep it, and determine how to file it. I'm often asked to do various presentations; I always felt that such requests forced me to get really organized with my handouts. Preparing for these is much easier now, and, should that all-time accommodation known as a sighted person not be available, I'm good to go with my reader. Because of funding restrictions it is not always possible to order the latest in tactile children's books from APH or wherever. I've found I can pick up little board books at second-hand stores and make my own. The reader helps a lot with this; often just one or two words appear on a page.

Al Robbins: I find the knfbReader Mobile helpful at work. In addition to echoing the comments others have made, one task I manage is with envelopes. I have to write many letters and then print my envelopes out. I always like to verify that the address is printed accurately on the envelope. Prior to dropping my letters in the mail, I snap a picture of each to verify that they have been properly addressed. I also use the reader a lot at work to identify and sort currency.


There you have the views of several contented knfbReader Mobile users. This holiday season consider giving yourself the gift of independence, flexibility, and convenience that this revolutionary technology represents.

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