So Many Braille Displays, Which One is Right for My Student: Part 3

NOTE: Please see other posts in this series including

So Many Braille Displays Part One (focusing on the Brailliant BI 40 and BI 80 models)

So Many Braille Displays Part Two (focusing on the Brailliant BI 14 model and touching on the Braille Trail Reader LE)

So Many Braille Displays Part Four (focusing on the Smart Beetle)

So Many Braille Displays Part Five (focusing on the Braille Trail Reader LE)

In the previous two posts (see above) we’ve looked at the Brailliant series from Humanware.  In this installment, we’re going to switch companies and review the Braille Edge from HIMS.

What is the Braille Edge?

The Braille Edgeis a 40 cell braille display from HIMS Inc.  What has set it apart from other models is the inclusion of an offline “notes” feature as well as calculator, scheduler, and other features which will be described further down.  

Layout

Photo of the top panel of Braille Edge 40 cell Braille Display by HIMS.

Top Panel of the Braille Edge:

  • The area closest to you is the braille display area, which contains a refreshable 40 cell displays with cursor routing keys and scroll keys that allow one to “scroll” through menus or by braille display length.

Photo of Braille Edge with 40 cells with corresponding 40 routing buttons above the cells, and up/down panning buttons to the left and right of the braille line.

  • Above the braille display area are eight function keys (four positioned to the left of the space bar and four positioned on the right) and are numbered F1-F8.   From left to right, they are as follows: Escape, Tab, Control, Alt, Shift, Insert, Windows, and Applications.  These will be described further down.
  • The standard eight key entry area, which includes the Perkins style keyboard, can be found above the eight function keys.  As previously mentioned, the Space key is located between the Alt (F4) and Shift (F5) keys.

In addition to the standard six entry keys, Dots Seven and Dot Eight are present.  Dot Seven is located to the left of Dot Three and functions as a backspace key. Dot Eight is located to the right of the Dot Six key and functions as an enter key or adds a new line to a document.

photo of Braille Edge with 8 Function keys, dots 7 & 8, and Perkins-style keyboard labeled.

  • Finally, in the upper right and upper left areas of the front panel are selection keys used for navigation.  As one might expect, each of the four keys in the circular pattern represent Up, Down, Left, and Right.  

photo of Braille Edge with circular patterned navigation keys, Function keys, and standard Perkins-style keyboard labeled.

The Left Panel of the Braille Edge:

  • Near the middle of the panel is a Bluetooth switch.  When the switch is positioned towards you, Bluetooth is turned on, but when the switch is positioned away from you towards the back of the unit, Bluetooth is turned off. Turning off Bluetooth can help conserve battery power when it is not needed.    
  • Towards the back of the left panel is an SD card slot.  This allows data to be saved and transferred to a computer or other device. 

The Right Panel of the Braille Edge:

  • About midway between the front and back of the unit and along the right edge of the device is a USB connector, which allows the braille displays to be connected to a computer. It also allows the unit to be charged via USB charging.  
  • You may also charge the unit with the included AC power adaptor, which would plug into the round hole near the rear of the right panel.  

The Front Panel of the Braille Edge:

  • The only button in this area is the Power Button, which is located on the right side of the front panel.  When held for more than one second, this button will power the unit on if it is turned off.  Conversely, if the unit is on, the button can be held down for more than one second to power the unit off.  

The Rear Panel of the Braille Edge:

There are only two buttons located on the rear panel of the device.  The “Reset” button is toward the left side of the unit and can be pressed if the Braille Edge is not responsive (please do not hold the reset button down for more than five seconds since it often takes fifiteen seconds for the unit to fully reboot.  The second button located on the right side of the rear panel is the “Hard Reset” button. This button is deliberately recessed into the unit and requires use of a small end such as a paperclip to press. The Hard Reset is a last resort for when your unit no longer responds to the regular Reset button.  

The Main Menu 

The Braille Edge has five items in its main menu:

  • Notepad
  • Terminal for Screen Reader
  • Applications
  • Options
  • Information

For the sake of brevity, let’s take a look at a few of the frequently used functions that can be accessed from the main menu

Notepad

As mentioned above, the Braille Edge has a built in notepad that is useful for taking notes, writing down phone numbers, or other similar tasks.  The notepad is NOT a fully functioning word processor, so you do not have capabilities such as checking spelling or formatting.  However, this notepad can be used in a pinch, and notes can be saved to an SD card. 

Files can be loaded on the SD card and opened in the Notepad so they can be read or edited on the display.  For example, a Bookshare file can be loaded on the SD card and opened using the Notepad. The user can then read the text on the display when it is not connected to an external device such as a phone or computer. 

It should be noted that editing can only be performed on .TXT or .BRF files, but .DOCX, .DOC, and .RTF can be read and not edited.  

Please see the Braille Edge Manuel for more information.  

Terminal Mode

To use the device with a consider, phone, or other device, you must engage Terminal Mode. 

To use the device with a PC, the Bluetooth Switch on the left panel of the unit must be positioned toward the back.  This will cause the unit to search for a manual connection via the USB connection.

To use the device with a Bluetooth enabled device, such as a Smartphone, the Bluetooth Switch on the left panel of the Braille Edge must be positioned towards the front of the unit.  This will cause the unit to begin using Bluetooth to “search” for available devices.  

In short, Terminal Mode is VERY important if you wish to tether it to another device. 

Applications

In the applications area, functions such as a calendar/scheduler, alarm, stopwatch, countdown timer, and calculator.  Each of these applications has its own set of functions and commands, so to learn more, you will want to consult the Braille Edge User Guide.  

Options

Again for the sake of brevity, the options menu is briefly summarized here.  For more specific information, please consult the Braille Edge User Guide

The following options may be adjusted on the Braille Edge:

  1. Eight dot mode (on or off)
  2. View Shortcut Keys (on or off)
  3. File Information (on or off)
  4. Startup Mode (choose what you want your Braille Edge to do when starting up such as creating a document, automatically engage Terminal Mode, go to Main Menu, etc)
  5. Play Sound (on or off)
  6. Braille Grade for Messages (contracted or uncontracted)
  7. Braille Table (choose your translation table, such as UEB, EBAE, or others)
  8. Message Display Time (choose how long you want messages to show on the display)
  9. Power Save Mode (on or off)
  10. Notepad Grade (contracted, uncontracted, or computer braille)
  11. Automatically Disconnect from Bluetooth at 10% (on or off)
  12. Restore (allows you to choose what happens when you reset your unit)

Information

Information on the unit’s power status, SD space remaining, firmware version, or Bluetooth name and PIN. 

Use of Function Keys and Tethering to a Computer

As you may have guessed from the names given to the function keys, they are designed to be easily used with a screen reader and PC. Below is a list of each function key, the function, and any additional key commands that may be performed in place of that specific function key if applicable.  

  • F1 or Escape: Cancels the current menu/program
  • Space-E (dots 1-5)
  • F2 or Tab: Advances the cursor to the next tab stop
  • Space -dots 4-5
  • F3 or Ctrl
  • F4 or Alt: Opens the menu
  • Space-M (dots 1-3-4)
  • F5 or Shift
  • F6 or Insert
  • F7 or Windows  
  • F8 or Applications

Initial setup for use with a Windows device requires some testing and when working with any sort of networked computers installing drivers and/or accessing them can be a challenge.  The best advice is to make friends with your network administrator and bring him or her cookies or other delicious baked good...because this may require some work and configuring on their part to make the display work with the screen reader. For users of non-networked PCs (such as your home computer) there are fewer obstacles.

Each screen reader handles the braille display just a bit differently.  For setup (such as braille translation code, cursor blink rate, and other settings), you should consult your specific screen reader’s user guide. More information is also available in the resources section below.  

However, Insert+1 in either screen reader will enter “Keyboard Help”, which echoes each keystroke and speaks its function.  This can be incredibly useful when learning a new braille display.  

Also, though the Function Keys are mapped for the Braille Edge in the manner described above, your specific screen reader may vary a bit, so you will want to consult the user guide.  

Pairing With an iOS Device

When pairing with an iOS device, such as an iPhone or iPad, you will need to pair it via Bluetooth in the VoiceOver settings.  Please see the resource section for further information since versions of the software may affect how connection is established.

Generally, all commands for braille displays and iOS devices are similar since it is the screen reader, not the device, that determines how the two interact.  However, the Function Keys have been mapped to work with VoiceOver and perform the following functions:

  • F1: select previous Rotor Setting.
  • F2: Select Next Rotor Setting.
  • F3: Toggle Contracted and Uncontracted Braille.
  • F4: Toggle 8-dot and 6-dot Braille.
  • F5: Page Left.
  • F6: Page Right.
  • F7: Page Up.
  • F8: Page Down.

Overall Impressions

Including functions such as a calendar, stopwatch, and notepad was a wise move for HIMS. Having these features available without the need to connect to an external device is certainly a great option to have.  It should be noted that these features should not replace a good fully functioning notetaker or computer, but they are good to have in a pinch.  

The Braille Edge has many features that make it ideal for use with a PC.  Inclusion of the Function Keys and mapping them to common Windows Keys is quite helpful for individuals who like the convenience of not removing their hands from the displays to interact with Windows but do not want to memorize a long list of emulator keystrokes.  The fact that the Function Keys also have been specifically mapped for use with VoiceOver is also a plus.  

Cursor routing keys, standard on most braille displays, are extremely beneficial and make editing much easier for braille readers.  There are other brands of displays (most recent of which is the Orbit) that do not have cursor routing keys.  This can make editing challenging, though not impossible.  Inclusion of these cursor routing keys on the Braille Edge will assist the user in more easily navigating and editing text shown on the braille display.

Generally, I have found these devices to be reasonably sturdy, but in my opinion, they are not as tough and rugged as others I’ve used.  

Regarding the user experience, I’ve found their user interfaces much more intuitive than some other products I’ve used.  On the other hand, tutorials and other support documents and articles are not as numerous as other products on the market. 

Resources

HIMS Support Page (includes links to download the latest firmware)

Braille Edge User Guide (Word File)

INDATAProject Review of Braille Edge 40 (YouTube Video)

Connecting the Braille Edge with an iOS Device (YouTube Video)

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