The SmartVision2: A Smartphone Made Easy
The SmartVision2 from Irie-AT is a smartphone built from the ground up with accessibility in mind. Its key feature is its simplification of many smartphone tasks, designed to reduce the learning curve of smartphone technology for those intimidated by mainstream iPhones and Android phones. Overall, I think that the SmartVision2 accomplishes this goal.
There are two versions of the SmartVision2, differentiated only by the software features offered. Irie-AT allows you to purchase the basic model but gives you a fifteen-day trial to test-drive the features only available in the premium model. Should you decide to upgrade, special pricing is available to make the upgrade a little more affordable.
The phone itself is nearly identical in size and weight to the iPhone 7. The front face of the phone has a four-inch touch screen with the tactile keypad comprising the bottom portion. The tactile interface is further broken out into two sections—the navigation section that includes call pick up and hang up buttons on the outer edges, home, return, menu, and delete keys closer to the center, and a four-way navigation button and OK button in the center; and a standard numeric telephone keypad. The number “five” is marked tactually.
Three Interface Options
The SmartVision2 offers three ways to interact with the phone:
- Tactile keypad
- Touch screen and gestures
- Voice command
All three interface options work fairly well, and most users will likely use a combination of them in daily operation of the phone. I personally enjoyed the ability to use a physical keypad for inputting phone numbers but preferred to use the on-screen keyboard to type text-based information such as names and email messages. You can, in fact, use the old-school method of typing alphabetic characters using the phone’s numeric keypad, pressing a number one, two, or three times to access the corresponding letter.
The tactile keypad on the lower portion of the phone appears to be a good option, especially for those new to smartphones or who have difficulty with using gestures on a touch screen. In particular, the numeric pad is fast and easy, even if you are comfortable with touch-screen keyboards.
The one caveat I would point out is that the navigation buttons are small and closely packed. The down arrow in particular butts right up against the number two and can be tricky to press, especially if your finger dexterity is less than optimal. One handy feature, though, is the OK button in the middle of the navigation keys—you can flick to an element, then press the OK button, rather than try to double-tap on the screen, risk moving focus to something else, having to find the right object again, and double-tapping.
As an iPhone user, I found moving to an Android-based, touch-screen interface easy and intuitive. Flicking left and right and double-tapping work as you might expect. Some symbols on the on-screen keyboard are located in different places, but touching and sliding your finger works easily enough to find what you need. On the downside, the responsiveness is a bit slow. In particular, exploring the screen (with the exception of the on-screen keyboard) feels sluggish.
I discovered, with both the keyboard navigation and touch-screen navigation, one unique feature is that in most menus and settings screens, navigation will cycle continuously, meaning that there is no “bottom” or “top” to a screen. If you flick right again past the last element, or press the down arrow again, focus will cycle back to the top. Likewise, if you try to navigate up from the topmost element, you will be brought back to the last element on the screen.
The SmartVision2 has a voice command button on the right-hand side, just above the two volume buttons. Press this button to “wake” the device, and you will hear a tone prompting you to speak a command to the device. One annoyance I found was that there was a delay, frequently in excess of ten seconds, between pressing the button and hearing the prompt that the device was ready to listen. One possible explanation is that I also noticed a tendency for the device to lose Wi-Fi connectivity, despite high signal strength. Once you get that far, however, response is quick and accurate. You can issue almost any command you would expect to be able to give on a standard Android or Apple phone. In addition, all edit fields allow you to dictate text, which works well. Note that you do need a network connection as the SmartVision2 sends your dictation off to Google for interpretation, as is the case for other smartphones.
The built-in software of the SmartVision2 is pretty comprehensive. It includes phone, email, text messaging, and web browsing, as well as a calendar, contact management, camera, and photo management, as well as other apps found on other mainstream devices. One unique feature I did not have a way to test is the ability for friends or family to “remote in” to help troubleshoot problems. If this feature works as advertised, it would be a nice feature for those not technically inclined when they run into problems.
Further, if there’s something you need that doesn’t come automatically installed, the SmartVision2 includes the Google Play Store, and will allow you to install third-party apps. The home screen is highly customizable, and you can assign shortcuts to keypad numbers.
The SmartVision2 also includes several specialized apps such as a color detector, lighting detector, and video magnifier. For OCR and GPS navigation, you will need to purchase the premium model, which also gives you an eBook and DAISY reader/creator.
The native apps generally work well. The color detector and light detector are not great, but I have not found any that are very reliable on other devices. For color detection in particular, the ambient lighting of the room strongly influences what color is detected and how true to life the detected color really is.
In terms of the premium apps, while they seem to work fine, I feel that there are other free or less expensive alternatives that perform as well or better. Google Maps does as well as the Kapten GPS app. KNFB Reader does as well or better than the premium OCR app. And there are alternative DAISY readers such as Voice Dream Reader and Writer that cost less.
To conclude, Irie-AT does a really good job delivering a solid phone that has the potential to open up access to many smartphone features to people who might otherwise be intimidated by mainstream phones and their many complexities. It is not a cheap solution, though. I do feel that the basic model will work quite well for most users.
The National Federation of the Blind is proud to offer this smartphone review as part of our celebration of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Thursday, May 16, 2019. Our accessibility resources—which center on consumer involvement, meaningful partnerships, and technical assistance—continually help inform and improve technology for all of us. Join us in our commitment to build a more accessible world.