Blog Date: 
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Clara Van Gerven

It's not too often that new and exciting devices appear in the realm of low vision, so it is not very surprising that the Prodigi talking digital magnifier is causing a stir. These talking magnifiers, as highlighted in an earlier blog post, have been making steady headway and are becoming more common. The Prodigi stands out from that group for a couple of reasons. First of all, it combines a standard (and might I say, sleek) CCTV with a talking portable magnifier. The portable magnifier--an Android tablet under the hood--slots into the arm of the CCTV. The tablet, though Android-based, can only be used for magnification and speech. It is a neat trick, and the transition from one screen to the other is mostly seamless. Secondly, it is not using a full computer. This may not seem like a very relevant fact, but the use of a mobile operating system means that the Prodigi boots up faster than the competition, and, of course, that it can fit speech and magnification in a smaller package.
The interface of the Prodigi is a combination of touchpad gestures and some buttons. You can swipe through menus, and use other gestures to switch between viewing modes, and tap to confirm. The buttons, and these are identical on the portable magnifier and on the tabletop unit, are a start button, a +/- control that controls volume or speed, a back button, and a Play/Pause button that starts and stops speech and which captures an image (saved to the Gallery) when you press and hold. The idea is that those used to using Apple or Android phones or tablets will find the gesture controls easy to use, and that those users who want simple controls can use the buttons. The buttons are small compared to what most competitors have on offer, so the focus is squarely on the gestures. At startup, there is a simple menu where you can choose Magnifier, Gallery (previously saved images), Settings and, on the desktop, a Wizard with an introduction on how to use the Prodigi. The menu items are very large, and easy to use.
Traditionally, this type of device has been used primarily by seniors losing their vision. I expect that even those seniors who are comfortable with touch controls will take some time to get used to not having visual controls in the magnified or reading view. It is a powerful device, and at $3,099, it's very competitively priced, but only if you use it to its full potential. For the user who mainly wants a regular old CCTV, this is going to be overkill and over-complication.   
The Prodigi is brand new, and it suffers from some of the upsides and problems of any new and innovative product, and it will take some time for it to find its niche. It's nice, for example, to see wireless updates making an appearance, but having to remove the portable device from the cradle to run an update seems counter-intuitive. Similarly, the gestures are a great addition, but using a touchscreen for the portable unit and a touchpad for the desktop magnifier takes a little getting used to. The touchpad in particular took some adjustment for me, and it is not always perfectly responsive. The advantage built into the system will prove its worth--being able to push out improvements easily and over wireless means that I expect that the Prodigi will only get better from here.