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A review of the HIMS Blaze EZ by Jackie Brown

BLAZE EZ GETS YOU FIRED UP –

A REVIEW OF THE NEW ALL-IN-ONE MULTIMEDIA DEVICE FROM HIMS

JACKIE BROWN

 
My thanks go to Sight and Sound Technology for loaning me this device for review purposes.
 
There are now several specialist DAISY players on the market that offer many features for listening to books, music, text files and personal recordings.  But Hims has introduced its new kid on the block, the Blaze EZ, that also includes a built-in camera for taking pictures of your documents using OCR technology.
 
Similar in size to its predecessor, the BookSense, Blaze EZ comes with fewer keys for direct navigation.  Nevertheless, it boasts a rich feature list that users have come to expect from a Hims product.  With 16gb of internal storage (roughly 12gb free), the Blaze EZ’s dimensions are: 5.89cm wide, by 11.67cm long, by 1.67cm deep, weighing 138g.  Its charge time is 4.5 hours, giving you 17 hours of use.  The unit is white with colour contrast on the power, Media, Radio, and Book buttons.
 

WHAT’S IN THE BOX?

 
The box contains the Blaze EZ, battery, micro USB cable, (for both charging the unit and connecting it to a computer), mains charger (useful if you are away from the PC), in-ear headphones, carry bag and lanyard, Quick Start user guide in Braille and print, plus documentation CD.
 

EXPLORING BLAZE EZ

 
With the unit facing you, its speaker grilles are positioned at the top on the front of the device.  A recessed round power button is situated between the speakers that you press and hold for a couple of seconds until you hear a start-up chime.
 
A round record button is located below the left speaker.
 
Below the record button is a row of three square buttons marked in Braille.  From left to right, these are M for Music, R for Radio, and B for Books.
 
Four arrow keys and a circular button in the centre make up the main navigational part of the player.  Arrow left or right, up or down and press the centre button to make your choices within applications.
 
Finally, there are three buttons below the navigation keys.  The left button is square-shaped, and is the Cancel key.  The middle button is small and round, and is the Explorer button that is used to access menus within Blaze EZ’s programs.  Finally, the key on the right is marked with a Braille letter O for OCR, (Optical Character Recognition).
 
A small hole in the centre on the top edge of the unit is to attach the supplied lanyard.
 
Headphone socket, micro USB port for charging, and a line-in socket occupy the bottom of the device.  An SD card slot takes up the lower portion on the left side of the unit, while rotary volume control, adjustment for speed and voice guidance, plus a lock key, are all positioned on the right side of the Blaze EZ.
 
To insert the battery, remove the cover on the rear of the Blaze EZ, and slide the flat rectangular cell into the compartment.  When this is connected, the Blaze EZ automatically boots from scratch, and you are given a welcome sequence of beeps and a chime as the machine loads.  The camera lens is also located near the top on the rear of the device.
 

USING THE BLAZE EZ

 
The Blaze EZ Home screen comprises the following programs.  Arrow left or right to skip through these options, then press the circular button in the centre of the navigation keys to enter an application.  Choose from Time and Date, Battery Status, Blaze EZ firmware version and available space, Guide Voice Settings, Record Settings, Bluetooth, WiFi, Online DAISY (not applicable in the UK at present), Web Radio, Podcasts, and Utilities.
 
Recordings can be made using the built-in microphone, or with an external one not supplied.  Recordings are made in a choice of standard quality, high quality MP3, speech quality, user defined, or high quality WAV.  Press and hold the record button for a couple of seconds to start recording.  Briefly press the button again to pause recording, and press the circular button in the centre of the four arrows to complete your recording.  To go through the list of recordings made, press the record button lightly from the Home screen, and use the up and down arrows to navigate your list.
 
The Blaze EZ can play a wide variety of file formats: DAISY, TXT, BRL, MP3, MP4, WAV, WMA, WMV, OGG, ASF, AAC, AVI, FLAC, 3GP, MPG, M4A, RTF, HTML, HTM, XML, DOC, DOCX, PDF, EPUB, and FB2.
 
An FM radio allows you to store stations, but is best used when headphones are connected to act as an antenna.  You can also set the radio to work on the internal speaker and headphones at the same time if you wish.
 
Listening to DAISY books provides a host of navigation features you would expect to find on a specialist player, such as moving by heading, page, paragraph, sentence, word, character, and by time increments.
 
The OCR facility is perhaps the Blaze EZ’s most attractive and unique feature.  Simply hold the device approximately eight to 10 inches above a document to be scanned.  Press the OCR button once to enter the application, and again to take a picture.  The 5MP camera identifies the image before processing it into text that is then read out using synthetic TTS, (Text-To-Speech).  You can also save these files to read at a later date.  An additional accessory pack includes a metal stand on which to position the Blaze EZ for taking pictures, and is very useful if you have a shaky hand, or are struggling to align the camera with the page.
 
Putting in a WiFi key is very straightforward.  When you activate this feature from the home screen, select the network applicable to you.  Then use the left or right arrow keys to find which letter or number you wish to insert, and press the round centre button to accept each digit.  Use the up and down arrow keys to skip between lower and upper case letters, numbers, and other symbols.  When you have entered everything correctly, press and hold down the centre  button until you are told that WiFi is connecting.
 
Setting the time and date only partly works with the latest firmware release.  When you choose this from the home screen, you use the up and down arrow keys to skip through hour, minute, date, daylight saving, time format, and time zone etc, and the left and right arrows to choose the increments for each setting.  But while the date and time are correct, the time zone defaults back to an American one, and it will not set correctly.
 
All files with music extensions such as MP3 go into the Music folder by default.  While this is fine for music, I found that audio MP3 files are stored in that folder as well.  Consequently, if you open a book and start listening to it, then open another book, your place in the first title you opened is lost, taking you back to the beginning again.  This does not happen in the Book folder where DAISY files are stored.  So if you need to jump between MP3 books, for example, you are going to be very disappointed that they are not holding your last position.  You can set bookmarks manually by pressing the centre circular button while listening to a file, and you will be prompted to confirm the bookmark number Blaze EZ has assigned, depending on how many you have already, because they are listed in chronological order.
 
For me, using the Web Radio was a huge disappointment.  Contrary to the manual, there is no list of stations in the folder.  There is also no direct search facility to hunt for stations yourself and add them to the folder.  What you need to do is connect the Blaze EZ to your computer, search for radio stations on the PC, and copy their URLS for pasting into the Web Radio folder on the Blaze EZ.  This is a very clumsy way of adding stations to your device in my view.
 
Podcasts work similarly.  There are no podcast feeds in the list within the Podcast folder, so you need to again connect the Blaze EZ to your computer to find the feed address in order to add it to your list.
 
I compared the OCR facility with the new K-NFB Reader for the iPhone 5 and later.  Scanning the same material on both my phone and Blaze EZ, I found the K-NFB Reader came out on top in terms of both speed and accuracy.  I tried a range of letters, leaflets, CDs and packages, holding both devices in my hand, and using the accessory stand for the Blaze EZ.  There are also more options for scanning with the K-NFB Reader app, but it was still an interesting comparison, and undoubtedly a very welcome feature on the Blaze EZ.
 

CONCLUSION AND PRICING

 
I feel that one of Blaze EZ’s big drawbacks is its lack of buttons.  Most users are familiar with a telephone-style keypad like the Victor Reader Stream, which can also be used as a text keyboard for making searches.  There are also direct keys on a telephone-style keypad for features such as deleting files, battery status, and a Where Am I function, that are not immediately accessible on this unit.
 
As outlined above, the clock facility needs to be rectified of the bug that clearly exists in setting the time correctly.  Similarly, the Web Radio application needs a lot of work to accommodate a more structured way of adding stations, with a simple search facility to look for them on the device.
 
I was concerned to see that books in MP3 format did not hold their place when more than one title was opened.  With more books than ever being available in MP3 format, the need for automatic bookmarking is crucial.
 
Sound and volume on the Blaze EZ are quite good, while many will be familiar with the Acapela voices of TTS.
 
The Blaze EZ accessory pack is probably worth paying the extra £97 for, because it includes the stand, spare battery and charger, remote control and charging cradle.  And while the OCR feature works pretty well when held manually, some people would definitely benefit from the stand for better alignment of documents.
 
When recording, you need to wait two or three seconds once you press the record button and hear Blaze EZ announce “start recording”, before delivering your message.
 
The Blaze EZ retails for £475 if it is purchased under VAT exemption, and can be bought from Sight and Sound Technology, 01604 798070,
https://www.sightandsound.co.uk/shop/products.php?product=Blaze-EZ
Image of a hand holding the new Blaze EZ
 

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