Like many other folks in the AT for VI world I was very excited when APH started shipping their new braille device, the Mantis Q40. My agency purchased it with quota funds. I have several students I want to try it with next school year and so am taking advantage right now of exploring the device so that I feel confident with its function before introducing it to students.
For those of you new to the Mantis Q40, this is APH’s new 40 cell refreshable braille display with a QWERTY keyboard.
This is the APH description for the device: “With the Mantis Q40, users no longer need to choose between a keyboard or a braille device – at the same time a student or professional is typing on the Mantis, the refreshable braille below the keyboard is providing a multimodal braille complement to the screen reader, making it easier to participate in, and succeed at, school or work.”
The Mantis Q40 can be used as a display but can also be used as a standalone device. The standalone apps in the device include:
- Basic editor to function as a user’s pen and paper.
- Book reader to download and read books in braille.
- Calculator to perform basic mathematical calculations.
- Clock to check the date and time.
- File manager to organize one’s work.
I am still getting to know the device and this is not an exhaustive review but I wanted to share some of my initial observations and also suggestions for those just receiving the device based on my experiences.
When the device arrived inside the box I found the Q40 device, a charging cord and AC adapter, and a Getting Started Guide. At the time I received the device the User Guide was not available online and only in the device. They have sent uploaded to user guide to the APH website. I also did not receive the case but APH said they would be shipping the cases later.
I found the description of the physical layout of the device to be very straightforward and easy to figure out. The Getting Started Guide does a good job of describing the device layout. I am very familiar with using QWERTY keyboard but for someone not familiar with the QWERTY keyboard the orientation could take much longer. I like the feel of the device, it is surprisingly light and they fit a keyboard and 40 cell device into a pretty small package. The four thumb keys are well placed. On the front side of the device (where the thumb keys are) I was thrown off for a bit because the thumb keys sit in about two inches from each side toward the center. I think that from previous devices I have used my hands were trained to go to the outside edge of the device to find the first thumb keys but it didn’t take me long to adjust.
The QWERTY keyboard is compact but not overly crowded. I have very small hands but I found it very comfortable to type on.
Some Initial Observations/Suggestions for Your Own Exploration of the Device:
- Take time to go through the context menu. As I was exploring the device I found it very helpful to check out the context menu in each environment. You really don’t have to memorize any keystrokes except CTRL+M which gets you into the context menu. This context menu is similar to the menu you get when you right click on a PC. It tells you all the commands available in that particular context.
- Once you have done some perusing of the menus don’t forget about first letter navigation. First letter navigation is a very efficient way to move through the device. For example, from the main menu typing “s” jumps you right to settings.
- Use F12 to toggle QWERT typing mode and six-key entry mode. I am very comfortable with a QWERTY keyboard so have not needed to do this but it is nice that it is possible to switch to six-key entry if needed.
- CTRL+Alt+G to toggle braille grade. It took me a little while to figure this out and had to read the internal user guide before I figured it out. Very annoying to do so in uncontracted braille!
- CTRL+T will change the navigation level anywhere where you are reading text. What confused me at first is this is not a toggle. After hitting CTRL+T you need to use the previous and next thumb keys to choose the navigation level you want and then press enter or the cursor routing key on that navigation level.
- I found it very easy to login to Bookshare. I avoided it a bit because in my mind I thought it would be a pain but it took me about five minutes to login and download my first book. I have not tested Newsline but Bookshare was incredibly easy to use.
- If you are a sighted teacher and want to teach this device I recommend brushing up on your braille if you aren’t feeling strong right now. There is no built-in speech. While the screen reader provides speech when connected to the device the built-in apps are very useful and it would be a shame not to teach your student to use them because of a lack of speech output. I read braille tactually, but I assume the braille is relatively readable visually (as readable as any other RBD.
- Update your iOS device. I was running iOS 13.3 so thought I would not need to update to get the device to pair but I did. Before updating I could not get it to connect but now running iOS 13.5 I had no issues pairing with my phone.
- You pair through Bluetooth! Which is a bit discombobulating if you have used braille displays for a long time with iOS devices, but it works! The other odd thing is that you can use the device as a keyboard even when you don’t’ have a screen reader running. However, I found when I turned off Voiceover things got a bit wonky. My spacebar no longer worked but when I turned Voiceover back on the spacebar began to work again. Not really sure what the advantage of this is but maybe there is someone out there who could use the keyboard without the braille or the screen reader support.
- On iOS the CTRL+Windows key= the VO keys. The Mantis stays connected and it was very easy to open my iPhone after I had left it for a while and it had gone to sleep. I just selected my iPhone name from the Q40 menu and then VO+H woke it right up. This is a great feature because your iPhone or iPad can be in your bag and you can still access everything you need.
- The Mantis stays connected and it was very easy to open my iPhone after I had left it for a while and it had gone to sleep. I just selected my iPhone name from the Q40 menu and then VO+H woke it right up. This is a great feature because your iPhone or iPad can be in your bag and you can still access everything you need.
Those are my initial thoughts on the device. So far, I am impressed! While this is not intended to be an exhaustive review, I hope these tips what I have discovered my first week benefit you in your exploration of the device. Happy exploring!