All At The Press of a Button: A review of the HIMS Blaze ET by Jackie Brown

My thanks to Sight and Sound Technology for loaning me the Blaze ET for the purpose of this review.

In 2014, Hims released the Blaze EZ multi-player. This year, however, they have incorporated many of the features of that device into the Blaze ET, but with added functionality.

 

WHAT’S IN THE BOX

The package contains a Blaze ET, rechargeable battery, AC adapter, USB charging cable that also acts as the connection to a computer, USB gender adapter, carry pouch, earbuds, Braille quick start guide, and documentation CD.

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DESCRIPTION OF BLAZE ET

Blaze ET is black in colour with primarily silver contrasting buttons. The unit is about the size of a Smartphone only thicker: 59.3mm wide, 116.86mm long, and 16.4mm deep, weighing 118g.

Holding the unit in your hand, the speakers are at the top of the ET with a square recessed red button between them. This is the power/time button. A long press turns the Blaze ET on or off. A short press tells you the current time, even when the unit is off. Below the speakers are three buttons. From left to right, they are Info, Home, and OCR.

Moving down the face of the ET, there are four arrow keys with a round button in the middle. Use these keys to navigate the various menus on the unit, and press the circular button in the middle to accept a command.

Next, there are three colour coded buttons which, going from left to right, are Cancel (red,) Menu (blue,) and Review (green.) Use the cancel key to go back a level in a menu, or stop an action. The menu button opens a dialog box within applications, while the review key allows you to read back what you have entered in a text field.

A normal telephone-style keypad occupies the remainder of the face of the ET, with a dot on number five for easy identification.

At the very bottom edge on the face of the unit are two LED indicators which show charging status and when the internal microphone is in use.

On the left side of the ET are three buttons. The top one controls the volume, speed and pitch of the TTS engine. When you select volume, for example, the other two buttons will increase or decrease the volume. Similarly, select pitch or speed of the voice, and the two buttons below will increase or decrease these elements.

Below these three buttons is an SD card slot allowing for extra memory of up to 32gb. Internal memory is 12gb.

The right side of the Blaze ET has two keys. The top one is the record button. Press it once quickly to ascertain a list of any previously made recordings. A long press of this button activates record mode.

A slide switch about halfway down the right side of the ET allows you to lock the unit to avoid accidental presses. Push the switch down to lock ET, or push it up to unlock it.

At the bottom edge of the Blaze ET are three ports. From left to right, these are 3.5mm headphone socket, micro USB port for charging the unit, and 3.5mm stereo microphone socket. The micro USB port enables you to connect ET to your computer, and to an external CD or thumb drive as well. You can use the external microphone socket as a line-in facility.

There is a small hole at the very top edge of the ET through which a lanyard can be fitted.

On the rear of the ET is the camera lens and a battery cover. Push down on the cover to remove it and insert the Lithium Polymer cell, giving you up to 11.5 hours play on a full charge.

 

EXPLORING THE FEATURES OF BLAZE ET

Power on the Blaze ET by pressing and holding down the square recessed button between the speaker grilles on the front of the machine for roughly two seconds. The unit emits a familiar musical chime. You can now explore what Blaze ET has to offer by using the up and down arrow keys, and activating an item by pressing the circular button in the middle. Choose from File Manager, Media Player, Book Reader, Radio, OCR, Webradio, Podcasts, Library Services, Utilities, External Apps, and Options.

Within Utilities, there are some interesting features such as Colour Reader, Memo, Calculator, Sense Dictionary (optional,) Alarm, Sleep Timer, and the ability to update the Blaze ET firmware.

The Options menu allows you to adjust recording and voice settings, turn on the Bluetooth feature and pair devices like a headset, set time and date, or connect to a wireless network.

The Blaze ET has a nice physical keyboard layout making it easy to navigate to its many features. You can either use the up and down arrows to do this, or press a defined key on the telephone-style keypad that takes you directly to an application. You can, for example, go straight to Webradio by pressing number five on the keypad instead of arrowing through the main menu to find it, or to Memo by pressing number seven.

A dedicated OCR button drops you into the application where you can take pictures of documents and packaging to identify them. You can turn the flash on and off, depending on the results you are getting, and you can set the unit to scan multiple pages, useful if you are working with a book.

The camera is also used for Colour Reader where you simply hold the ET over a garment and snap to recognise it.

Bookworms will find all the usual DAISY navigation features available on Blaze ET. There are also many supported file types including DOC, DOCX, TXT, RTF, and HTML.

 

USING BLAZE ET

I found setting up Blaze ET very straightforward. I was able to key in my WiFi password, adjust speed, pitch and volume easily, and set time and date without difficulty.

Adding music and playing it was a breeze, and making recordings was also very simple once I had adjusted its settings accordingly,.

In comparing the Blaze ET OCR feature with the K-NFB Reader app on my iPhone 6, I believe that the latter is much faster and more accurate. But the Hims devices are the only multi-players to offer this feature, and it is an extremely useful one if you want an all-rounder on the go.

Another useful feature unique to the Blaze ET is Skype. While I initially had difficulty in entering my Skype name due to a problem that is to be fixed in the next firmware release, I was eventually able to sign in, make a Skype call, and use the interface efficiently. So sitting down in the comfort of your armchair away from the computer holding Blaze ET in your hand like a telephone to Skype is perfectly feasible.

The Collins Dictionary has limitations at present. I could enter words to ascertain their meaning, but when I deliberately entered an incorrect spelling, the search result came back with nothing found, and no list to allow me to choose the correct spelling. Perhaps this is something Hims could add in the future?

Due to changes by the BBC, none of the BBC stations would work when I searched for them in the Webradio application. Other manufacturers of specialist players like HumanWare and Plexter have rectified this problem on their units, so perhaps this is another issue Hims could address in the near future?

 

CONCLUSION AND PRICING

If you want an all-in-one device that lets you scan documentation, identify colours, listen to music, books and podcasts, stream radio stations and even use Skype, then the Blaze ET is at your disposal. With a choice of UK or US Acapella TTS voices, connectivity options such as Bluetooth and WiFi, and the ability to set options for your recordings, Blaze ET meets most needs.

I had major reservations about aspects of Blaze EZ when I had some hands-on with it last year. But the ET offers greater navigation and flexibility thanks to its intuitive telephone-style keypad. Features such as Sense Dictionary (optional) and Colour Reader are welcome additions, while improvements to Webradio and Podcasts make it a real competitor.

An additional accessory pack offers a stand on which to place The Blaze ET for scanning, charging cradle, spare battery and charger. And Sense Dictionary is an add-on useful for students and writers alike.

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Blaze ET is distributed in the UK by Sight and Sound Technology, 01604 798070,

www.sightandsound.co.uk.

It will set you back £525.00 under VAT exemption. The accessory pack is priced at £97.00. And the Sense Dictionary add-on costs £25.00.

Blaze ET is an expensive piece of kit, so be sure to request a demonstration for some hands-on before you buy. But with OCR, music and books galore, colour identifier and wireless connectivity, Blaze ET is a one stop shop, all at the press of a button!

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