So Many Braille Displays, Which One is Right for My Student? Part Four

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 Three (focusing on the Braille Edge)

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

In the previous three posts (see above) we’ve looked at the Brailliant series from Humanware and the Braille Edge from HIMS.  In this installment, we’re going to continue with another product from HIMS called the Smart Beetle.

What is the Smart Beetle?

Smart Beetle  is a 14 cell braille display from HIMS Inc.  It can be paired with six different devices at once, which allows the user to more easily switch from using the device among three 


The Top Panel

  • The area closest to you is the braille display area, which contains a refreshable 14 cell display with cursor routing keys and scroll keys that allow one to “scroll” through menus or by braille display length.

Annotated image of Braille Beetle 14 - cell refreshable Braille Display with left/right panning keys and cursor routing buttons labeled.

  • Above the braille display area are four function keys with a longer space bar in the middle. There are two function keys positioned to the left of the space bar and two positioned on the right The function keys are numbered F1-F4 and are assigned the following functions: F1 (Control), F2 (Windows), F3 (Alt) and F4 (Home).  Use of these keys will be described further down.

Annotated image of the middle area of the Beetle with B1 (Control), F2 (Windows), Space, F3 (Alt), and F4 (Home) buttons labeled.

  • 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 F2 (Windows) and F3 (Alt) 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.
  • Finally, in the upper center of the unit are two small LED lights.  These lights indicate power and Bluetooth status.  

annotated image of the Beetle with Backspace (Dot 7), LED Lights, Enter (Dot 8), and Perkins Sytle 6-key entry labeled.

The Right Panel

  • The only button on the right side panel of the device is a power button.  To power the unit on or off, hold down the power button for three seconds.  When the unit is on, a short press of the power button brings up the Smart Beetle’s menu. 

The Rear Panel

  • On the right side of the rear panel is a micro USB port that can be used to either charge the unit or connect it to a PC to be used as an external braille display.  
  • On the left side of the rear panel is a small slightly recessed “Reset” button.  Pressing this button when the unit is frozen or behaving erratically will perform a soft reset. 

The Main Menu 

The Smart Beetle has seven items in its main menu:

  1.  Bluetooth Serial – This setting allows you to connect to a computer, smart phone or tablet using a Bluetooth Serial connection.
  2. USB – This allows the user to connect to a PC using a USB connection.
  3. Bluetooth Keyboard – This allows you to connect to a computer, phone or tablet using a standard Bluetooth keyboard connection.
  4. Pairing list – Displays a list of devices that are connected to the Smart Beetle.
  5. Pairing mode – Allows pairing with a new device by Bluetooth, USB, or via  
  6. Options – Opens an options menu, allowing you to change the following settings:
    • Bluetooth Keyboard – Allows you to select the keyboard language when using the Bluetooth keyboard connection. There are a total of 17 language choices including but not limited to English, Polish, Hebrew, Swedish, and English.  
    • Braille Grade of Messages – You may choose for the display to show messages in contracted or uncontracted braille.
    • Battery – The unit can display warnings when the battery level reaches 10%.  This setting may be toggled on/off with the space bar.
    • Sound - Set whether Smart Beetle provides audio alerts for things like powering on and off, device connection, and invalid key presses. This can be toggled on/off with the space bar
    • Clear – If enabled with the Enter key, you will clear all pairings and restore settings to factory defaults.  
  7. Information – Displays the device name for Bluetooth connection as well as the current firmware version and the power status information (i.e. battery level)

Bluetooth Serial Port and Bluetooth Keyboard: What’s the difference?

One thing that, in my opinion, is not well explained in the user guide is the difference between the Bluetooth Serial connection and the Bluetooth Keyboard connection, so we’re going to take a minute to explore that.

The Serial port option connects the display as a standard braille display (for example, on an iDevice, it would be done in the VoiceOver settings area) and the host device knows that the Bluetoothed display is a braille display. 

The Keyboard option is used through the standard Bluetooth connection area and is viewed by the host as a standard QWERTY keyboard. In this mode, the Smart Beetle can emulate QWERTY key combinations easier.  In other words, certain combinations using the function keys, Dot Seven, and Dot Eight can “stand in for” or “emulate” standard QWERTY commands (such as Alt+Control+J would be F1+F3+Dots 2,4,5).  For further explanations and a complete list of commands, please see the user guide.  


Pairing With an iOS Device

When pairing with an iOS device, such as an iPhone or iPad, you may pair in the standard braille display method (please see resources section) or you may connect the device as a Bluetooth Keybaord using the following method:

  1. On the Smart Beetle, press "Power-F1" to open Pairing Mode.
  2. Press "Space" to select "KBD" and press "Enter".
  3. On the iPhone, from the Home screen, open Settings/Bluetooth.
  4. If Bluetooth is turned off, double tap the switch to turn it on.
  5. The iPhone searches for devices and presents a list of available devices as well as devices previously paired with your iDevice.
  6. Locate the Smart Beetle in the device list and double-tap it. After a few seconds, the Smart Beetle should alert you that the connection is successful, and you should be able to operate your iPhone as well as input data using the Smart Beetle's keyboard.

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, there are some iOS specific Smart Beetle commands as follows:

  • Home Button: F 4
  • Up arrow-Left arrow: Space-3-4
  • Play / Resume media: Cursor button 13
  • Up arrow-Right arrow: Space-1-6
  • Alt-Del (remove items): F2-Space-1-4-5
  • CMD-Space (switching input language): F2-Space
  • Alt-Left arrow (move to previous page): F3-Space-3
  • CMD-Up arrow (move to previous page on fields): F2-Space-1
  • Alt-Right arrow (move to next page): F3-Space-6
  • CMD-Down arrow (move to next page on fields): F2-Space-4
  • CTRL-Up arrow (move to top item (0:F1-Space-1
  • CMD-Left arrow (move to top page on text field): F2-Space-3
  • CTRL-Down arrow (move to bottom item): F1-Space-4-CMD
  • Right arrow (move to end of page on text field): F2-Space-6
  • Alt-Down arrow (scroll to next raw): F3-Space-1
  • CMD-Shift-Up arrow: F2-Left scroll-Space-1
  • Alt-Up arrow (scroll to previous raw): F3-Space-1
  • CMD-Shift-Down arrow: F2-Left scroll-Space-4
  • Up arrow-Down arrow (Double tab):Space-1-4
  • CMD-Shift-Left arrow: F2-Left scroll-Space-3
  • Left arrow-Right arrow (Quick search On / Off): Space-3-6
  • CMD-Shift-Right arrow:F2-Left scroll-Space-6

Pairing With a PC

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.  

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.

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.  

Overall Impressions

The Smart Beetle is a very handy device and if you are someone who likes having a small portable display that can be connected to a variety of host devices as well as the ability to stay paired with more than one host device at once, this is a great unit. The one drawback is that it only has 14 cells, but for some people and in some situations, more cells may not be necessary.  

Inclusion of the Function Keys and mapping them to common keystrokes 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.  

For those that memorize keystrokes on a braille device, the Bluetooth Keyboard mode is a good option because it allows the user to emulate a variety of keystrokes from a given list if desired, but it isn’t “necessary” to either use all of them or memorize the entire list.  Even committing a few of the ones used most frequently can be a huge timesaver.

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 Smart Beetle  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 interfaces on HIMS products 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. 


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

    Quick Start Guide

    User Manual

Common Braille Commands to use With iOS


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