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Touching the Edge of Technology

A review of the HIMS 40 Cell Braille Display by Jackie Brown

As a long time Braille user, I am always keen to try out new refreshable displays, and my thanks go to Sight and Sound Technology Ltd for allowing me to evaluate the Hims Braille Edge 40.

I have a BrailleSense Plus 32 note-taker of my own, so am familiar with the Hims range of products and menu structure on their devices. Yet I was still pleasantly surprised by the quality and compact size of the Braille Edge 40 when I handled it for the first time.

The Edge, as I shall refer to it from now on, works under USB or Bluetooth, and is compatible with all screenreaders including Apple’s VoiceOver, and Talkback for Android. It is a light, sturdy unit measuring 31cm long, by 10.2 cm wide, by 2.2 cm high, weighing 785g.

The Edge is not just a Braille display, however. It contains a very nice Perkins-style keyboard for inputting grade one, grade two and computer Braille text. It is also equipped with a suite of built-in applications, the most useful of which is probably Notepad. Here, you can read documents in BRF, RTF, TXT, DOC and DOCX formats, and save anything you write as BRF, RTF or TXT files. One of my favourite features of this device is the fact it has an SDHC card slot, which means you can take thousands of documents with you as storage capacity goes up to 32gb.

Meeting the Edge

Placing the Edge on a flat surface, or on your lap, the 40 Braille cells run along the front of the device, with a corresponding cursor routing button for each cell above. The Edge is white with contrasting black keys. At each end of the display are two square-shaped buttons, one above the other. These keys are for navigating within a document you are reading.

Above the cursor routing buttons are eight long buttons, four positioned either side of the space-bar. From left to right, these buttons are: Escape, Tab, Control, Alt, Shift, Insert, Windows, and Applications. You can deduce from these buttons that it is possible to use the Edge as an input device on the computer if you prefer Braille to qwerty.

In the middle of the unit are the recognisable nine Perkins-style keys. At each end of the keys are four arrow buttons that have been arranged in a circle. These are also used for navigation within menus and applications. Positioned above the right circle of arrow keys are two LED indicators for battery and Bluetooth status.

On the left side of the Edge is a switch which is pushed towards you if you want to work with the device in USB mode, or away from you when the unit is in Bluetooth mode. A Braille letter B indicates where the switch should be for Bluetooth. Below the switch is the SD card slot.

At the rear of the Edge are two small recesses. The Reset button is roughly a third of the way along the back of the device, and using your thumb or fingernail should invoke the button to be pressed if the unit locks up. An even smaller recess is further along on the right. You would need to use a paper-clip to press the Hard Reset button here in situations where nothing is happening to your display, and a normal reset does not yield a result.

On the right side of the Edge is a round socket for the power supply, and a mini USB port. Interestingly, you can attach a mouse to this socket for use within the Edge’s suite of applications.

Finally, on the front side of the unit is a small square button. Press and hold this for a second or two to turn on or off the Edge.

Using the Braille Edge 40

I used the Edge with JAWS, Window-Eyes, and Mountain Lion on an iMac, all under a USB connection. The automatic installation of the Braille Edge 40 driver on the Windows platform gave me some difficulty to begin with as it seems you need to install the Window-Eyes driver before the JAWS driver for the device to be recognised. Having resolved this issue satisfactorily with Sight and Sound’s Technical Support team, however, the rest of my evaluation progressed seamlessly. I also paired the Edge with my iPhone 5 using iOS 7 under Bluetooth, and this worked a treat. It also works on the Android platform if you have BrailleBack installed.

When turned on, the main menu on the Edge comprises the following: Notepad, Terminal For Screen Reader, Applications, Options, and Information. Notepad will only open if you have an SD card inserted, as this is where the application obtains its memory. Notepad is a very acceptable tool; you can read, write, copy and paste, as well as manipulate folders and files.

Terminal Mode is where the device needs to be if you are using the Edge is a Braille display under USB or Bluetooth. If you know you are going to be using the device more as a display, you can set it to start in Terminal Mode when the Edge is powered.

Applications contains the following programs: Calculator, Alarm, Date and Time, Stopwatch, Countdown, and Scheduler. I am assuming that Notepad is a stand-alone application on the main menu itself because you require the insertion of an SD card, and because it allows you to jump between Terminal Mode and Notepad when you are using the device as a Braille display.

Options provides various settings relating to the Edge that you can customise to suit your preference. And Information offers details of your SD card, battery status, Bluetooth, and software version.

The internal rechargeable battery on the Edge lasts more than 20 hours, though this is subject to usage and Bluetooth connectivity. It will charge in approximately four hours. There is also context sensitive help available on the Edge, and the documentation is self-explanatory. Finally, the device comes in a protective soft case with detachable shoulder strap for carrying.

Conclusion and Pricing

This is a really lovely unit, and I took an instant liking to it. The Edge is lightweight and compact with nice ergonomic buttons. The keyboard is beautiful to write on, with springy, quiet keys that are a joy to use. The Braille display is very comfortable to work with, and I found myself reading for long periods without discomfort in my fingers.

As expensive and prohibitive as Braille devices still are, the Edge is perhaps more affordable than most, and value for money in the context of Braille technology. It costs £1,795 without VAT, and is available from Sight and Sound Technology, 01604 798070 www.sightandsound.co.uk

This is definitely on my wish list, simply one of the nicest and most user-friendly Braille displays I have come across.

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