As I mentioned in a previous blog post, it is all too rare to see additions to the small clutch of talking feature phones on the market. When some time ago, Odin Mobile approached us to demonstrate their intent to run a cell phone provider geared primarily to the low vision and blindness market, I admit that I got pretty excited about that. Still, you learn to be wary when it comes to promising ventures, and it wasn’t until I got a peek at the Odin VI that I really felt the enthusiasm was warranted.
The Odin VI is a phone for all the people who don’t really see the point of a smartphone, a phone for all the folks who call us asking for a phone that, well, just makes calls; and maybe sends text messages. It speaks the buttons that you press, such as numbers and letters, as well as information on the screen, such as menu names, contact names and text messages. It is a slider that reveals a standard phone keypad when you slide up the screen. The phone comes with a charging stand. When you insert the phone into the charging stand correctly it says “charger connected.” When it is removed, it says “charger removed.”
The buttons on the keypad are quite large and nicely separated. When you slide up the screen, the phone announces the time. The screen is quite large and has additional buttons below the screen. There is a square, green call button (marked in Braille, though it is very hard to read) on the left, a central up, down control with a blue OK button in the middle, and a round red end button (also labelled in Braille). These buttons have slightly varying functions depending on the context, and I will generally describe these varying functions, which are displayed on the screen, as soft keys. On the right side of the keypad section, there are up/down volume controls and a button that causes the phone repeat what is on the screen . On the left side of the keypad section there is a USB cable connector for charging and connecting to a computer, above that, a mini audio jack. The phone comes with a cradle into which the USB cable plugs, so you can charge the phone in a convenient position, a little like a cordless landline phone. When you plug the USB cable directly into the phone, it prompts a dialog that with options Mass Storage or COM. I was not able to read the volume on a computer. All actions described are spoken unless noted otherwise.
You can make a call directly from your contacts or by pressing the numbers on the keypad. If you use the keypad, the phone will speak each number that is pressed, and it will repeat what you have typed thus far if you press the repeat button on the side of the phone. After you press the call button, it will tell you that the call is in progress. When you receive a call, it will announce the name of the person who is calling if that person is in your contacts. If the person is not in your contacts, it will announce the number of the person who is calling.
Press the OK key from the home screen to access the main menu. Main menu items include a Call Log, Contacts, Messages, Settings, Alarms and Help. In the Call Log, the options are Missed Calls, Dialed Calls and Received Calls. In each of the sections, the most recent item will be spoken and the user needs to navigate down to hear further items. The soft keys are not spoken in any of these submenus, either when the submenu is opened or when the buttons are pressed. OK brings up details, End takes the user back to the previous menu. Details reads the number called and the date and time of the call. Again, the soft keys are not read – the Call button here calls the number, End goes back to the previous menu.
The Contacts menu brings up a list of contacts, exactly as does the OK key from the Home screen. The up and down keys allow you to scroll through your contacts and the phone speaks the name of each contact as you do so. If you have many contacts, you can press the first letter of the person’s name and the phone will bring you to your contacts that start with that letter. The Call button will call the number directly from your contacts, End takes you back to the previous menu, and OK brings up Modify and Delete options. If you choose Modify, it will prompt you to enter a new name, but again will not announce that if you hit the OK button, that moves you to the next field, and that End, unlike in other submenus, will clear a character rather than return you to the previous menu. If you modify the entry, you hit OK until it prompts you to Save. It does not tell you to hit OK to Save, which would be useful. End takes you back to Modify; this is not announced either. If you try to delete a contact, it asks you to confirm the action, but again does not mention that OK is Yes and End is No in this context.
The Messages menu consists of Inbox, Outbox, and Write Message. Inbox opens a list of messages. If the message is from someone in your contacts, it will speak the person’s name, otherwise it will speak the number. It will also speak the date that the message was received. The (unspoken) soft button options are OK to read the message and End to go back. If you choose to read the message, it will be spoken, including the exact time it was received. You can have the message repeated to you by pressing the repeat button on the right hand side of the phone. The OK button here takes you into Reply, and End takes you back to the previous menu. If you reply to a message, the system will read the message you typed once you hit OK, but will not announce the options – Send and Abort – unless you navigate up and down. The Write Message submenu will prompt the user with a list of contacts, selected by pressing OK. From that point the process is the same as replying to a message. The Outbox gives a list of sent items with the option to Send (OK button) or go back (End button). If you choose send, confirmation is needed.
In the Settings menu, the options are Date, Time, Voice Guide, Voice Speed, Contrast, Brightness, Language, S.O.S., Ringtones, Vibrate and Talking Watch. These work much as expected from the rest of the menus. In Voice Guide, you can use a male of female voice. Voice Speed lets you speed up or slow down the speech with the up/down keys under the screen, up to 120%, which is still fairly slow for an experienced user. Under Contrast you can choose from white on black and black on white. Brightness has five levels, chosen with the up/down keys. Under Languages, a lot of options are available, including Spanish, German and French. Apart from U.S. English, there is also simply English, which turns out to be British English. The S.O.S. option lets you set three emergency contacts. If you press and hold any number on the keypad for about five seconds, the phone will automatically start calling your S.O.S. numbers. In Ringtones, one of three ringtones can be assigned to contacts. Vibrate gives you a choice of when you want that phone to vibrate. The Alarms section accommodates up to 30 alarms where you can set date, time, ringtone, weekly repetition, and reminder text. Talking Watch allows you to turn the Talking Watch on or off. Remember that the time is announced each time you slide the phone open.
One of the most confusing menus, ironically, is Help, because it puts you into a menu exploration mode, so that at first it seems like the key press didn’t take, since the phone only reads “Call Log.” If you select a menu item, a brief description is read.
To determine your signal strength or battery level, press the repeat button on the side of the phone while at the home screen and these will be spoken.
Overall, the Odin VI is a decent phone for someone who wants a simple device, and a welcome addition to existing cell phone options. Users will benefit from working with a company that understands non-visual and low vision access. Once you learn that, usually, the OK button selects an item, and the End button takes you back, and the Call button calls the number where applicable, you’re mostly set. The exceptions are few enough that they will not pose a serious barrier to users without recall problems, but the question remains why this text explaining the function of the buttons in a given context, which is on screen visually, is not read.
The Odin VI can be purchased for $150 from Odin Mobile. Talk and Text plans run from $10 per month for 150 minutes, to $45 per month for 4000 minutes. All plans come with unlimited texting. Their website is www.odinmobile.com and their number is 855-217-9459.