BAUM Vario 340: Expensive Simplicity
The Vario 340 by BAUM is an extremely simple, basic display designed for quick and easy connectivity with a computer. The display itself simply has the three buttons on either side of the display that simulate Braille dots as in other BAUM products, an on/off switch, and a USB C port. There is no Perkins keyboard, no battery, and no Bluetooth connectivity. The display fits easily in front of a keyboard, or would slip neatly into even a small laptop bag. However, the lack of a keyboard makes it less appealing to many users, and the price impacts the value equation even further.
Setting up and using the Vario 340
Plug the standard end of the USB cable into your computer, and the type C end into the Vario. Push the on/off switch on the left of the device toward the back. If your setup would work with the cable on the right, press and hold the middle button in each column while turning the display on to cause the orientation to flip. If you’re on Windows, you will hear the device connected sound and a “setting up device” message, followed less than a minute later by a “successfully set up” message. At this point you are ready to connect with your desired screen reader.
NVDA exemplifies the simplicity of this display. Simply select BAUM displays from the Braille settings, make any other desired changes, and press OK. Braille is displayed almost immediately. The downside here is that there are very few defined commands, just to go up and down a line. There are many others that can be defined, but each user will need to set them up.
As of this writing, JAWS does not have a built-in driver for the Vario 340. I had to go to the online manual at BAUM USA, which directed me to the BAUM Germany site, and then I could go to the downloads section to get it. I’d really like to see a direct link to the driver file in the manual. They do indicate that JAWS will eventually have a driver built in, so this shouldn’t be an issue forever.
Voiceover on the Mac
As of this writing, the Vario 340 isn’t supported by VoiceOver on Mac OS. Hopefully this will change with the upcoming release in the next month or two.
Who is it for?
While the lack of a keyboard and Bluetooth will be a turnoff for some, there are still several groups of users for whom it could potentially be useful. The first use case for this display is at a public computer. The plug and play nature means that those with minimal expertise can set this up, and it could be a very good option for a library or a disability resource center at a college or university looking to support Braille. The display is small enough to be easily tucked behind a computer or in a drawer when not in use. This could also be an ideal office display for someone who prefers to type with a QWERTY keyboard, but wants the convenience and flexibility to read the contents of their computer screen in Braille. For the home user, this will probably not be the right display, especially when cost is considered.
Fighting in the wrong weight class
As of this writing, the Vario 340 is priced at $2,895. This puts it squarely in competition with the likes of the Brailliant BI 40, the Braille Edge 40, and the newly upgraded Focus 40. All of these displays have Perkins style keyboards, all have Bluetooth, and the Braille Edge and Focus 40 have some internal functions for basic note taking. Because these more full-featured displays are all around $2,895 or even cheaper, it is hard to recommend the Vario 340 to a home user. If the Vario 340 was priced closer to $2,000, it could position itself nicely as the display for those who need the extra Braille, while not paying for features like a keyboard, Bluetooth, or smart functions if they don’t need them.
The Vario 340 is exactly as advertised: a simple display for quick, wired connection to a computer. Unfortunately, given the much more capable displays it is priced to compete with, it is hard to recommend for home users, but may be a very good option for higher education resource centers or for an office environment.