Blog Date: 
Monday, August 13, 2012

Presented by

Michael D. Barber, Rehabilitation Technology Specialist
Iowa Department for the Blind

The BrailleEdge 40 is a very basic notetaking device manufactured by HIMS-Inc.  It features a 40-cell braille display, an nine-key Perkins style keyboard, 8 function keys, eight navigation buttons, four scroll buttons and 40 cursor-routing keys.   Additionally, it operates using the Windows CE 5.0 operating system and has a Lithium polymer battery which will last approximately 20 hours before it needs recharging.  The package will include a USB cable, an AC power adapter, a CD containing the manual, as well as a 2GB SD card. The unit measures approximately 12 inches long and about 4 inches deep and weighs about 2 pounds.  Its primary function is that of a Braille display, either for the JAWS, Window-Eyes and NVDA screen readers, or for IOS devices.  At present, it does not work with the 5.11 IOS software; however, it did work with the prior build, according to HIMS.  They are hopeful that Apple will fix the problem in the next software release.

Tour Of The Unit

Top Panel

With the unit sitting in front of you with the Braille cells nearest you, you will find the 40-cell display, above which are the 40 cursor-routing buttons.  To the left and right end of the Braille display are two sets of up and down scroll buttons These are used to scroll between menus, fields, lists, and text.   You can also use these scroll buttons to scroll by display length or line.  Above the display you have the nine-key Perkins style keyboard along with eight function keys and 2 four-way navigation keys.   The function keys are arranged four on the left of the spacebar and four on the right.  From left to right, the function keys are Esc, Tab, Ctrl, Alt, Shift, Insert, Windows, and Applications. Just below these you'll find a strip which has seven little dots which are located at five-cell intervals.  The Braille keyboard has dots 1-6, with the Backspace key on the left, the Enter key on the right, and the spacebar in the middle between the two sets of function keys.  On the left and right hand corners of the  top panel are 2 four-way navigation keys with up, down, left and right arrow buttons.  Between dots one and four is a speaker from which you'll hear audio alerts.  At the top of the unit on the right hand edge are two LED lights, one for Bluetooth and one for USB connectivity.

Left Panel

Along the left edge of the unit will be two items--a Bluetooth/USB switch and the SD card slot which is capable of handling up to a high capacity 32GB SD card.  The Bluetooth/USB switch is in the middle of the unit and is a slide switch.  There is a letter B just behind the switch going toward the rear of the unit indicating Bluetooth connectivity.

Right Panel

Along the right edge of the unit, going from front to back, is the USB OTG (On the Go) port and the AC adapter jack, respectively. 

Front Panel

On the front of the unit there is only one button, and it is the power on/power off button.

Back Panel

In the middle of the unit on the back is a recessed reset button.  Near the right edge of the back panel is a very small hole which contains a shutdown button.  This button is only used when using the reset button gets no results or when connecting the AC adapter doesn't power up the unit.


General remarks

With this unit, you can open BRF files such as those found on Web Braille, create new BRL files and edit text files.  It also has a calculator, planner, stopwatch, countdown timer, and an alarm.  Its price is slightly under $3,000, which is about half the price of other popular note taking devices on the market.

While this unit provides a nice ergonomic design for the keyboard, and the keys are easy to push and very responsive,   I experienced a problem in getting one particular setting to hold in the Options menu.  I wanted the unit to start in a new document and it would not.  HIMS indicates this is a known problem.  I did note that when I pressed the reset button on the rear panel of the unit that the unit would start up and I was placed in a new document.  Powering down and then back up produced the same result as before, and I was in the main menu once again.  I also noted that when you edit a text document and use contracted braille, it's best to read the saved file on a computer using a Braille display because at present there is no reverse translation and the speech synthesizer will not read properly.

I was able to successfully install the needed drivers so the unit would work nicely with JAWS.  When you connect the unit to the computer using the USB cable, the BrailleEdge automatically powers up and you're immediately placed in Terminal mode.  I then had to unload and reload JAWS to render the Braille display became active.

The manual which accompanies the unit was easy enough to follow and the steps to perform various functions were written in an easy-to-follow style.


My conclusions are these:

1.    HIMS has developed an excellent product which is principally for use as a Braille display or taking notes.
2.    With the price being about half of what other known note taking devices, this will be attractive to individuals and rehabilitation agencies alike.
3.    The unit is very comfortable to write on.
4.    The Braille on the display is very firm and easy to read.
5.    Although this is a nice unit, I fear that because of the small percentage of people reading or writing Braille, it may not sell as well as it could otherwise.
6.    I could live with a unit half its size using a 20-cell display.