The Braille Edge: new firmware, new case, almost like having a new device

Blog Date: 
Wednesday, August 28, 2013

By Scott Davert

 

The Braille Edge 40— a display which has been a solution preferred by many consumers with whom I work, can connect to Windows, the Mac, iDevices, and Android phones or tablets capable of running the Braille Back app. It has some built in features which make it in to a light notetaker as well. For a more in depth review of the device, see:
https://nfb.org/blog/atblog/BrailleEdge-40-newest-offering-hims-inc
This brief blog entry looks at what is new in the firmware of the Braille Edge and puts it through its paces. I'll also discuss the new case built for the Edge made by Executive Products. Among the enhancements in the new firmware are the ability to read .doc, .docx, and .rtf files, the ability to read all these formats in contracted Braille, terminal clipboard, the addition of a few language Braille tables, and several other additional features.

Updating:

Updating the Braille Edge is quite straight forward, and takes about sixty seconds. First, you must download the update from the following link: http://www.himsintl.com/Upgrade/B40K/BrailleEDGE40_130809.zip

 

After extracting the .zip file to an SD card, place the SD card in the Edge's SD card slot, press the soft reset button while holding down the F8 key, and the update process will begin. A voice that sounds like Microsoft Mike will say "update started". You will then hear a series of tones to let you know that the installation is progressing. There is no Braille feedback, so if you cannot hear the tones, just wait until you are returned to the main menu, and this should indicate that the update has been successfully installed. Once the update process itself has been completed, if you can hear it, the same voice will say: “update success, unit will be restarted.” I've updated 3 units so far, and know of others who have updated their devices without difficulty, so it should go smoothly.

Reading and editing non-Braille files in contracted Braille:

If you wish to set the grade option to contracted Braille, start in the main menu, press O for options, then move through the various menu choices until you find "notepad grade". Press the Spacebar to cycle through the various options, and then press Enter to save the changes. If you wish to change to another of the Braille tables, you can also do this within the Options menu— cycling through your choices as described above.

I loaded a text file that was 212.3 KB, which is the size of a small book, and it accurately displayed in contracted Braille. The loading time was just over thirty seconds. A 91.6 KB text file, which is the old version of the Braille Edge manual, loaded in thirteen seconds, also with no trouble. The reason the loading takes longer than your conventional notetaker is because it is taking the text or other file that is not .brf and translating it in to contracted Braille. Smaller files, such as the text of another article I'm writing which is 9 KB in size, loaded in less than five seconds.

Editing documents in text format is also a pleasant experience, as you can edit the newly translated document in contracted Braille and then press control (F3) with the letter S to save your changes. The translation and saving process took about ten seconds when I changed a couple of minor things in the old Edge manual. With the aforementioned article, the saving back to .txt format took about three seconds.

Working with Rich Text format (.rtf) files was just as smooth. I opened an RTF document which was 309 kB in size and it took about forty-five seconds to load. Given the size of the text files listed above, it would appear that .rtf files don’t take any longer to load than .txt. After modifying the .rtf file, I was able to save it, however it is important to note that if you save modifications to an rtf file, the file will be saved as a plain text document, as the Edge only supports the reading of RTF and Word files. So, although you can edit documents in these file formats, all formatting will be lost when the file is saved as plain text. After modifying a few things in the rtf document, I saved it as a text file.  This process took about fifteen seconds, even though the file was so large. Doc and .docx files behaved similarly. I opened the same exact document in .docx format as I had previously loaded as an RTF file. It took thirty-four seconds to load, and about fifteen to save as a plain text file. Doc files gave me similar numbers.

Terminal clipboard:

The purpose of Terminal Clipboard is to allow a person to use the native Word Processor in the Braille Edge, then send the text to an external device. This is very handy with iDevices when you wish to write in contracted Braille. If you are a slower Braille writer, your contracted input will often get misinterpreted. For example, when writing with the Perkins style keyboard in contracted Braille, if you write the word job and decide to make the word plural, if you wait too long to add the letter s, you’ll end up with “jobso”. This is because the single letter contraction for s is the word so. The Mac does the same translation without context, but it gives you a bit more time. You can still use Terminal Clipboard with the Mac if you wish. Unfortunately, when you use this feature with NVDA, which only supports computer Braille, you cannot input contracted Braille with Terminal Clipboard and then have it interpreted correctly with NVDA. This was my hope, but no go. It is important here to note that the software on all these platforms is doing the interpretation of what the Edge is sending to it. As such, this is not something HIMS can control. It’s also important to note that Terminal Clipboard is restricted to entering text without line breaks, as you press the enter key to send the text to the device that the Edge is connected to.

Other changes:

 The power button, (which some users complained was too easy to bump) has been modified so that you must hold down the power button for a second to power the Braille Edge on and off. Also, one can now have the Bluetooth pairing disconnect automatically once the battery drops below 10%. That feature works well, though I don’t see myself using it. For those who typically run their battery down below 10%, it can come in handy, as this could cause the Edge to lose the pairing information for Bluetooth devices. When this happens, it creates significant issues for those who are deaf-blind, as they have no way to repair the two devices independently if they can neither see the screen nor hear Voiceover’s speech.

New case:

Executive Products has designed a case that costs $87.50. The bag which originally came with the Edge did not allow one to use the Edge on the go, as there was no way to open the carrying bag and use it while still having the Edge securely in its case. For example, when I was riding in a subway and needed to stand up, or when trying to read GPS information, I could not really do so with the bag that originally came with the Braille Edge. The only safe way to use the Edge was by taking it out of the carrying bag and sitting it on a table or my lap. The case mentioned above changes all of that. I can now read info I need while on the go, work on reports while standing in the subway or on a train, or do other tasks without having to remove the Edge from its case. It’s also great even for when I am stationary, as I do not have to put the Edge away, I can just close the lid on it and know that all ports and keys are covered. The case fits snugly on the Edge, and gives the user access to all ports and keys while still holding the Edge in place firmly. The top of the case closes via a metal flap which means no more annoying Velcro to disrupt a meeting or make loud noises each time you open the top of the case. This has been one of my biggest criticisms of cases that close this way. They also tend to pick up carpet fibers, dog hair and many other things that the user doesn’t want near their device.

Conclusion:

As one of the early users of the Braille Edge, I was quite satisfied before these updates were released. I’m even more so today with the new firmware and case. It really is like having an entirely new device, with the comfortable form factor and functionality that I’ve grown to love. With the new ability to read and edit text documents in contracted Braille, I’m able to much more quickly use the device to take notes that I can later transfer to my computer without having to translate the files from digital Braille to text format. While it’s true that I could use my iDevice to do this, I am not likely to, given the rapid translation and the very fast editing capabilities I get with the Edge’s word processor. Also, when I want to jot down a quick note, I do not need to wait for the display to pair with my iDevice. I’ve noticed that many consumers seem to choose the Braille Edge over other Braille devices for its meeting the notetaker and Braille display market half way, and these new features will continue to make this an even more attractive device for consumers.