There is, without a doubt, a shortage of accessible simple feature phones for blind and low-vision users. We’ve discussed some of the options available currently on this blog, and I’m happy to be adding the Convoy 3 to the list. The Convoy 3 is a Verizon phone, and it costs $9.99 with a contract, and $239.99 without a contract. Both the description and the (small print) documentation that comes with the phone refrain from making any mention of the accessibility features, and that makes phones like these hard to find in the bewildering multitude of cell phones. It also makes it hard to know how to set up the speech, a process that requires sighted assistance. The good news is that if you go online and retrieve the full manual, it does detail how the speech works on this phone; still, that’s a high bar for the non-techies who are the target audience for a phone like this.
The phone itself is a sturdy flip phone. The main keypad contains a standard phone keypad which is somewhat tactile, with a marking on the 5 key, and above it there is a set of buttons. At the top left and right are the softkeys, which change in function depending on where you are in the menus. At the top center is a four-way keypad with an ok key at the center. The camera/video, send, clear, end, and talk/light buttons make up the rest of the main keypad. On the left side of the phone, there is a shortcut key that can be set, and below that is the master volume, with a micro SD slot at the bottom. On the right side of the phone, there is a headphone jack, speaker toggle button, and micro USB connector. On the front of the phone, there is a screen and three media buttons (rewind, play/pause, fast forward). The clear button functions as a back button, and the end key will return you to the home screen.
The speech options can be found in the menu under settings & tools>sound settings>readout. The user can then choose from a number of intuitive options – full readout, menu readout, digital dial readout, alert readout, flip open & talk, and text message readout. The speed of the speech cannot be changed. With full readout selected, the speech reads the home screen network, time, date, the left softkey, ok button, and right softkey. To get battery and network status, it appears necessary to use voice commands (simply say “status” when voice commands are on). Once the speech is set up, this hardy little phone actually performs pretty well. It’s a shame that the first menu choice that is read is the media center, of which the first two options, apps and mobile web (also separate submenus), are completely silent beyond this level. The other two options in that submenu, music & tones and picture & video work fine with speech, given the inherent limitations, and I’ll award points for them remembering to label the wallpapers for the text-to-speech. The rest of the phone’s critical functions mostly work without fuss--text messaging and contacts are especially important and work very nicely. A small quibble is that the phone reads the character limit as “number of characters used over total characters” as if it were a fraction, rather than saying, for example “of.” The Bluetooth submenu is accessible, an important advantage over many other simple talking phones, which often either have none or don’t speak it.
Social media setup, somewhat surprisingly, appears to be quite accessible, at least on this end–-there are some instructions for setup on the Facebook and Twitter end of things. The calculator isn’t the easiest to use nonvisually, but it is possible. There are some real problem spots, however. Frustratingly, the calendar reads, but if you navigate with the directional buttons, it will still only read the current date, rather than the selected date. If view is then chosen, the selected date, not the current date, is displayed. This is confusing, and would be easy to correct-–why not simply have the speech read the dates as navigated through? There is a go to date option, so this hiccup is not insurmountable, just a little odd. The email submenu is sadly completely mute, as is VZ Navigator after the spoken intro, and Mobile Web. Even if a user isn’t interested in using any of these, it is easy to get accidentally trapped in one of these menus; only the end key will reliably get you out. Annoyingly, the my Verizon section is also completely inaccessible.
Overall, the Convoy 3 will do what a lot of the folks who are searching for a talking feature phone want--make calls, take simple voice commands, read contacts and menus, and read and compose text messages. The remaining barriers are significant, as listed above, but as they don’t impinge on the core functions, I would still list this phone as a very viable option. I would rank it above the Kyocera Kona for the simple reason that where the Convoy works, it really works consistently, and reads what you need to know, instructions, softkeys and all. The speech is also a little clearer. The Convoy is at a (slight) disadvantage to the Odin VI, mainly because the main keypad is only somewhat tactile, and will be hard for anyone with poor fine motor skills or poor touch sensitivity to use, whereas the Odin VI’s keyboard is very easy to use. Two cheers for the Convoy, then--not quite three.