Blog Date: 
Monday, December 2, 2013
Clara Van Gerven

Basic talking phones are few and far between, though the news of them manifests itself on the NFB tech line every few days. The Kyocera Kona is the first phone we've seen since the Samsung Haven that has full speech, and that makes it a very welcome addition to the market. It would be great if Sprint was a little less shy about letting people know about it. The documentation in the box is completely silent on the topic. Sprint Accessibility lists the phone as having good accessibility for the blind, but doesn't explain why. The entry for the Kona itself makes no mention of accessibility features other than hearing aid compatibility. The full user manual does provide details and setup.

There is an inaccessible one-time set-up of the speech (OK>Settings>Others>Accessibility>Voice Services>Voice Guide>Speech Output), but with that on, it works as (not) advertised. The speech is a little muddy, and the fast speech isn't very fast, but it all works well enough. When entering a text message with speech, the speech will sometimes take so long to read the letter selected that it is confirmed automatically. This may make it harder for novice users of text messaging. In the contacts, the first option read is "Add new," which is what you do when you hit the OK key. It also tells you that the right soft key is Options. What it doesn't tell you is that there is a search box at the top, and that when you start typing, it will search the contacts and read search results. Missed Alerts will similarly not read when there are no missed alerts, though this is displayed on screen. Under My Account, you can select Account Details. This prompts a message reading "Net Guard - Connect to Sprint Data Services? Auto connect (checkbox) Yes/No" Only Yes/No is read, making that feature unusable. What's more, if you hit No, it takes you to a blank screen that the Back button does not exit. You have to hit the End Call button. The other My Account features (Hear Minutes/Hear Balance) do work fully with speech. In the Call History menu, only the most recent item is read, no indication is given of other items on the screen except left and right soft keys, but the user can navigate up and down to have them read (the list of items cycles). The same applies to the Send Message option in the Messaging menu. In the Photos Menu, Camera is read, but the left and right soft keys are not read. They are only read after a picture is taken. Help information is not read in this menu. The info is not read for any of the options in this menu. The other options do read correctly.

The My Stuff menu reads correctly, but any attempt to buy a ringtone, game, or the like will end in the same silent connection message encountered in My Account. Under Tools, the Device Self Service is completely silent. Alarm and Calendar do work correctly. Bluetooth presents another unread dialog--a pretty major problem if you use Bluetooth at all. Even if you guess that "Left key On" turns on Bluetooth, the devices within range are not read. Update Phone is more of the same. Voice Services is accessible, so you can set up voice commands with this unit. Settings are mostly accessible, although, here too, there are pieces that for unclear reasons don't read, and the Sprint Family Locator doesn't talk at all.

In terms of low vision, the display on the Kona is a bit dim, but the brightness and font size are adjustable and the contrast is better than average. The main ("Idle") screen is, for some unfathomable reason, partly black outlined white on white, but menus have good contrast. Low-vision users will fare a little better in some areas, since the larger fonts are a little more pervasive than the speech, but conversely, many of the talking features, like the Calendar, have small text.

On the whole, the Kyocera Kona isn't a bad option for a blind or low-vision user who wants a simple phone, though only because there are so few viable options in talking feature phones. If users do not stray too far from the basic features--calls, texts, contacts--then this may work for them. With a few small tweaks, though, this phone could be so much better than that, and it is very disappointing to find that so much work was done on it, and yet the final 20% has been left undone, cutting off the advanced functions for blind and low-vision users.