Recently, the access technology team received our brand new Nexus 7, the famous Google tablet running Jelly Bean OS. Our curiosity got the better of us - we had to immediately open this new and shiny thing. Here is what we discovered. The tablet size and the form factor are extremely attractive and fits well in small hands. The tablet is light, so carrying it all day wouldn’t be a problem at all. The button configurations are as follows – on the right side edge of the tablet is where both the power button and the volume control are located. The headphone jack and the USB power plug are located at the bottom edge of the tablet. Other than that the touch screen area is about 7 inches, a very nice size for touch typing.
Once the tablet was turned on and there was no sound. We know that the accessibility mode was not configured to be on by default. Then we had a serious flash back to the Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) OS, oh, no! How are we going to turn the accessibility mode on independently? Remember how difficult it was to independently turn the accessibility mode on in the ICS OS? No accessible documentation of any kind was in the box, so off to the Web we went. And to our pleasant surprise, there it was! A comprehensive PDF user manual of the Nexus 7 is available and yes! There are quite a few sections in the document that are dedicated to the accessibility features of the Nexus 7. We were able to turn on the accessibility mode in less than 5 minutes. Wow! What a fantastic way to welcome a user to the brand new OS. To turn on the accessibility mode on all one has to do is just put two fingers slightly apart on the screen and keep them there until you here “Talk back” talking. If you have the Nexus 7, try it, it really does work. Wait! Before we go on with the review, that awesome PDF manual, well, it was an untagged PDF document. Even though the accessibility mode could easily be turned on…seriously Google, why can’t we have an accessible PDF manual?
After turning on the accessibility mode one can choose to go through the tutorial to learn more about the accessible gestures for the Jelly Beans OS. The tutorial is extremely useful and we recommend that all new users of the Jelly Beans OS should go through the tutorial. The manual also has a list of gestures for anyone who wants to read all about it. For your convenience, here is list of gestures taken directly from the manual.
• Drag one finger. Explore your screen and hear audible feedback for what is being touched.
• Double-tap anywhere on the screen. Opens or activates the item that you last touched.
• Swipe up or down using two fingers. Scroll within lists.
• Swipe left or right using two fingers. Change pages and screens.
• Swipe right (or down) using one finger. Move to the next item.
• Swipe left (or up) using one finger. Move to the previous item.
• Swipe down then up using a single motion. Transition to the next reading level when reading blocks of text, then swipe right to read forward or left to go back.
• Swipe up then down using a single motion. Transition to the previous reading level when reading blocks of text, then swipe right to read forward or left to go back.
• Swipe right then left using a single motion. Move to the next page.
• Swipe left then right using a single motion. Move to the previous page. And here are gestures specifically for the Talkback screen access on the Nexus7, please note that these gestures are reprogrammable.
• Up then right: Open notifications
• Up then left: Home button
• Down then right: Recent apps button
• Down then left: Back button
Overall, we find that the Nexus 7 is much easier to use than a device running ICS. With accessibility mode activated, we have been able to access Google Play store, the Chrome browser Google Play Books, and Google Play music without much difficulty. That said, we found that the touch screen on the Nexus 7 does not always register our gestures, and a user may have to execute our gesture commands more than once. Admittedly, the non-responsiveness of the touch screen can often be frustrating, but we do expect further improvements from Google in future releases. Another new accessibility enhancement that Google made for the Jelly bean OS is the online and off line voice search. For those of us who are accustomed to using Siri on the iPhone 4S, we will have no trouble using the new voice search feature at all.
If one wants to get a full accessible experience on the Nexus, we recommend downloading the BrailleBack add-on app from the Play store. Currently, the BrailleBack app is an experimental app from Google that provides support for a numbers of Braille displays on the market. And since the BrailleBack app is still an “experimental” app, one can only get uncontracted Braille output right now. With BrailleBack installed and a Braille display properly paired and configured, one can navigate the main screen and activate the various apps icons on the screen without using the touch screen interface on the Nexus 7. Currently, the BrailleBack app does not work in the Chrome Browser. And if you think that it is a good idea to use the BrailleBack app to read books in the Google Play Books app, you will be disappointed. The app does not work there either. BrailleBack currently is far from perfect, but to be able to have Braille access on the Nexus 7 is no doubt a good thing.
The bottom line is that the Nexus 7 is still a work in progress tablet, but we believe that it has serious potential to become a tablet of choice for many of us. If Google continues to build on its accessibility infrastructure, this tablet could be a serious competitor to the iPad.