Setting the scene
In my work with the Tennessee School for the Blind, I work with many of our classroom teachers regularly to figure out new and improved methods of incorporating assistive technology in their classrooms. This school year, I was pleased to help our upper grades' math teachers achieve wireless access to student's Nemeth work that was completed on Humanware BrailleNote Apex notetakers. Specifically, they are able to use the iPad app VNC Viewer to wirelessly view the Apex devices' content to check student progress in real time.
The upgrade...or is it?
Now, this solution should be able to continue working for us, but at some point we will need to replace these BrailleNote Apexes. Some of them are more than 5 years old, and they aren't compatible with our school's Office 365 emails! So, enter the seeminly natural upgrade, Humanware's own BrailleNote Touch. We have a couple of these devices at our school, and I have been testing them out for various functionalities and compatibilities to determine their viability in various applications and classes. In many senses, they really are leaps and bounds more advanced than the Apex notetakers. They can download and run Android apps for connectivity with nearly all of the apps we install on our phones. They also have word processors with the ability to input Nemeth Code. However, in testing out their screen sharing ability, I have come to a tentative conclusion: They can't do it!
What I've determined
To speak plainly, BrailleNote Touches appear to run too old/low a version of Android (4.4) to support screen sharing. Even if you install screen sharing applications like Join.Me and TeamViewer on the device, starting a shared session results in an error popup that says the device cannot support screen sharing. The only way to share the device's screen is to flip up the keypad, revealing the built-in screen, or use a physical HDMI cable and connect with a TV or computer monitor. However, resorting to this solution would be a huge hassle in my desired application in a classroom of several braille notetaker users. I can only hope that Humanware will develop an update to their Android software and bring this functionality to its newest device. Not to make this post a comparison game, but the BrailleNote Touch's direct competitor, the HIMS BrailleSense Polaris runs Android version 5.1.1, and a HIMS-official video exists detailing two easy to follow methods of sharing the device's screen with other devices wirelessly, in addition to still supporting a hardwired connection.
The issue I have run into presents me with a very interesting predicament. Do I still move forward with a recommendation to purchase new BrailleNote Touch devices, even though they lack a fundamental screen sharing feature that their predecessor, the Apex, possessed? Can I assume that the BrailleNote Touch will be updated to have screen sharing capabilities? If I do, our students will need to make a habit of continually flipping their braille keyboards up so their teachers can visually track their work; the thought of this feels like more of a hassle compared with how things currently operate.
Or, should I try to pivot toward the BrailleSense Polaris? It's a slick device, I've put my hands on the device before, but I believe it fundamentally requires a more independent user due to it lacking a screen to display its current focus and actions within the Android operating system. Also, teachers will need to reach outside of their comfort zones if they are to provide support to their students without the benefit of a screen for visual cues.
What do you think of this situation? Does lacking screen sharing on the BrailleNote Touch warrant my long-winded worries? Can screen sharing from the Touch actually be accomplished? I'd love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment!