NOTE: Please see other posts in this series including:
What is the QBraille XL?
The QBraille XL from HIMS Inc is a display that combines use of a braille display with the convenience of having all of the standard QWERTY keys in easy reach.
Top Panel: Braille Display and Perkins Keyboard
- The area closest to you is the braille display area, which contains the refreshable braille cells. Above each cell, there is a Cursor Router button. These are primarily used for making menu selections or when editing and each fifth button is marked with a slight tactile mark above it for easier orientation.
- At each end of the display's surface are up and down scrolling keys, which can navigate menus or pan the braille display by either line or braille display length.
- The majority of the front face is taken up by what HIMS calls the “Hybrid keyboard” that consists of the traditional nine key Perkins style braille entry area as well as several unique keys that make interaction with a PC much more seamless.
Top Panel: The Hybrid Keyboard
The function of the keys in the bottom row (just above the Cursor Routing Buttons) depend on whether the device is being used with a PC or a Mac.
- When used with a PC, the order of these buttons are as follows: Control, Function, Windows, Alt, Space, Alt, Applications, and Control.
- When used with a Mac or iOS device, the order of these buttons are as follows: Function, Control, Option, Command, Space, Command, Option, and Control.
- Also in the row slightly above the Cursor
- Routing Keys and to the right of the keys described above, are the arrow keys. The bottom three are the Left Arrow, Down Arrow, and Right Arrow. Above the Down Arrow is the Up Arrow. Rather than displayed as a “cross” as in many other keyboards, more of a “top hat” shape where the bottom row is the brim of the hat and the Up Arrow is the crown of the hat.
Above the Up Arrow, is the standard “Six Pack” that is found on many keyboards, but the arrangement of the keys is slightly different. Rather than two rows of three keys, there are two columns of three keys. In fact, they are arranged like a standard six dot braille cell.
- The left column of keys from top to bottom are Insert, Home, and End
- The right column of keys from top to bottom are Delete, Page Up, and Page Down.
- Across the top of the display are the Function Keys, arranged in three sets of four keys, just like on a standard QWERTY keyboard.
The final set of keys are in the upper left area of the display to the left of the function keys. The upper leftmost key is the Escape Key. Directly below the Escape Key is the Pair Key and below that is the Mode Key.
- The Pair Key is used in various functions related to connectivity, which are explained in the Connectivity Section later in this article.
- The Mode Key is used to turn Hybrid Mode on and off. Again, please see notes regarding this in the Connectivity Section below.
The Right Panel
The right panel of the display contains two items. Nearest to the rear of the display is an SD slot that can accommodate a high density card up to 32GB. Closer to the front of the unit is a USB C port that is used to either charge the unit or connect it to a PC or Mac to be used as a braille display.
The only button on the left side of the unit is the power button, labeled with a small tactile dot. When held in for one second, the unit can be brought in and out of “sleep mode”. If the button is held for three seconds, the unit will be completely powered on or off.
The rear panel of the display contains only one very small recessed button that used to perform a soft reset. A pen tip, paperclip, toothpick, or similar item can be used to press the button if the QBraille does not respond as you would expect. Please see the instructions (found in the resources section) for details.
Menu Items and Menu Navigation
There are six items in the QBraille Main Menu. Menu items can be navigated using the arrow keys or first letter navigation. For example, to jump directly to the options menu, you may use the down arrow key or simply type the letter O. Space with Dot Four will navigate forward or Space Dot One to navigate backward.
If the menu you wish to access has a submenu, the word “pulldown” is displayed in braille and it can be accessed by pressing the Enter key then continuing to navigate using the arrow keys. Additionally, if a menu item will open a dialogue box, the word “dialogue” is displayed after the item.
Hot Keys are also displayed in menus or dialogues to assist you in learning to perform routine tasks more efficiently. One example of a Hot Key is pressing Control+N to create a new note in the notepad
The Notepad supports creation and basic editing of .txt and braille files. It also has read only support for PDF, .docx, and .rtf files. An SD card must be inserted in order to create notes. Files loaded on the SD card are easily accessed.
It should be noted that Notepad does not support more advanced features such as spell checking or other more robust functions that are typically found in Word, Pages, and other document editing programs.
For further information, please refer to the user guide linked in the References section below.
This menu item allows the user to establish a new connection with another device or quickly switch among various connections in the Pairing List.
The QBraille has three separate connection types: Bluetooth, HID (which utilizes the QWERTY modifier keys as well as the Perkins style keyboard), and SPP (which allows use of the device as a standard display without utilizing the control, alt, or other QWERTY keys). There is further explanation of these connection types in the User Guide.
It should be noted that before the QBraille can be used as a display with a screen reader, the driver for the appropriate screen reader must be installed. Please see the Resources section for a direct link.
The Daisy Reader allows books from Bookshare, Learning Ally, or other sources to be saved on an SD card and read using general Daisy navigation commands. Commands can be accessed from the menu by pressing Alt or Space+M. The menu will contain Hot Key information that may be useful. For example, Space+Dots 3-4-5 and Space+Dots 1-2-6 navigate a document by page and Control+H opens a headings navigation list. Additionally, marks can be inserted to bookmark specific places that the user may wish to refer back to. It should be noted that Daisy Audio books are not supported on the QBraille.
The QBraille has six built in applications. They are Calculator, Alarm, Date and Time, Stop Watch, Count Down and Scheduler. More information on each of these can be found in the User Guide.
The following options can be adjusted for the QBraille:
- Eight dot mode: On/Off
- View Shortcut keys: On/Off
- View File information: On/Off
- Startup Mode (this option allows the user to choose the program that will be executed when the QBraille starts up from a hard or soft reset).
- Play Sound: On/Off
- Braille grade for messages (the user may choose from Contracted, Uncontracted, or Computer Braille)
- Braille Table (allows the user to choose which braille table is used when opening .brl files)
- Message Display Time (the user may select how long messages show on the braille display; the default time is three seconds)
- Power Saving Mode: On/Off
- Braille Grade for Entry: Contracted/Uncontracted/Computer Braille
- Auto Disconnect from Bluetooth at 10%
- Bluetooth on/Off:
- Initialize Pairings On/Off:
- One-handed Mode: On/Off
- Keyboard Layout: Microsoft/Apple (this is where the user may choose the layout of the bottom row of the QWERTY keyboard to resemble a traditional Windows or Mac keyboard layout)
- Mass storage device Mode: On/Off (this setting toggles whether the SD card inserted in the QBraille is available when the unit is connected to a PC)
- Restore: Automatically/initialize (this option lets you set QBraille XL to restore settings automatically on reset or initialize all settings. The default is set to “Restore Automatically”)
The “information” dialog displays four items. Use the standard navigation keys to move among the items or press Space+Z to exit.
- SD card memory: total space, remaining space. The user may also access this information by using the Hot Key Space+S
- Power status: battery level, power source (adapter/battery). The user may also access this information by using the Hot Key Space+P
- Firmware version: Version number, build date. The user may also access this information by using the Hot Key Space+V
- Bluetooth: Bluetooth name (QBraille 000000), pin code (0000). The user may also access this information by using the Hot Key Space+B
There are some very interesting and convenient features on the QBraille, some of which are not available on other braille display models.
Auto Scroll is a great feature that can be used when reading a large file. This option can be turned on by pressing the up and down scroll keys on either side of the display simultaneously. This causes the braille display to refresh at a given rate without the need to deliberately navigate forward.
A very convenient and helpful feature is Context Sensitive Help. Pressing Space+H anywhere will bring up a dialogue containing Hot Keys for the currently running program. This is something that is found on most brands of braille display, but it is often an underutilized resource.
The Terminal Clipboard is a very interesting concept and makes editing on a mobile device a bit easier since text can be added to a clipboard, edited on the device, then pasted in. This option is particularly useful in iOS for example due to the fact that text is not actually inserted as typed until the user presses the space bar (this is due to the need for the translation to be complete prior to text being displayed/inserted). If a user wishes to see text appear as soon as a letter is pressed, he or she may wish to enter/edit text in the Terminal Clipboard.
In general, having the convenience of a standard QWERTY keyboard coupled with a braille display and six key entry is very convenient and something I wish were available much sooner. Having to remember specific key combinations designed to simulate the pressing of the Alt or Control key when used with a computer was tedious and many individuals kept a standard keyboard hooked up to their PC in addition to their braille display because of that.
- Downloadable User Guide (MS Word format)
- Productivity with QBraille XL (video)
- Firmware and Drivers:
- Read the NFB Review: The Best of Both Worlds: The QBraille XL Almost Perfectly Blends a Braille Display and a USB Keyboard