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U2 May Meet the Mini

A Review of the HIMS Portable Braille Notetaker by Jackie Brown

The U2 Mini is the latest portable Braille notetaker from manufacturer Hims to hit the assistive technology world, and your ever present gizmo enthusiast is back with the low-down on their new kid on the block.

The Mini, as I shall refer to it from now on, is a small rectangular box packed with plenty to help you achieve a range of tasks, optimising your efficiency, and keeping you entertained wherever you happen to be.

Weighing just 427kg including battery, the Mini measures 10.8cm wide, by 1.8cm high, by 4.8cm deep. Replacing the BrailleSense OnHand, the U2 Mini not only has a new name, but is now lighter and faster, with better battery life and more features.

Exploring the Mini

The Mini comes with 18 Braille cells which are situated on the top front edge of the machine. Immediately behind the display area are 18 routing buttons for manipulating the cursor. At each end of the display are two small square buttons situated one above the other. These buttons are for reading through your document and other items on the Mini. Above the cursor routing buttons are four long buttons, two either side of the space bar. From left to right, these are: F1 – takes you from anywhere on the Mini to the Main Menu . F2 – acts as the Alt key, and the Menu key within programs. F3 – used as the Tab key, or the shift tab when pressed with the spacebar. F4 – this is the Escape key. The remainder of the top of the Mini is given over to the Perkins-style Braille keyboard.

On the left side of the Mini is a three-way switch. When the switch is towards you, the unit is unlocked. When the switch is in the middle, the top panel of the device is locked. And in the furthest away position, the entire unit is locked. These variations are useful while travelling or when using GPS, for example. The USB port and power outlet are also on the left side of the unit. You may connect a memory stick or external drive to the Mini USB socket.

The Reset button is located at the rear of the device near the right end. You can press this if your machine locks up or is not responding to usual commands.

On the right side of the Mini, an SD card slot enables you to add extra memory to the built-in 32gb, with the capacity for a further 32gb of storage. Microphone and headphone 3.5 sockets are also found here.

There are several small buttons along the front of the Mini which have a slightly different feel and operation, depending on which mode you are in. From left to right, the first is a small switch which slides across in three increments. Furthest to the left puts the Mini in Radio Mode. Pushing it once to the right presents DAISY Mode. And moving the switch to the right sets the Mini in Media Mode. The next series of buttons all control the media functions, so once you select which mode you want the Mini to be in, the following buttons work accordingly: left arrow or back, record, stop, play/pause, and right arrow or forward. Finally, the power button, at the right end of the same row, is a spring slider. You move this to the right to turn on or off the machine. Simply flick it with your finger to the right for one second and release it.

The Mini comes with two rechargeable batteries and separate charger that last approximately nine hours each. The battery compartment is underneath the unit, so you need to remove the Mini from its sturdy case. There is a small switch that needs to be pushed one way before you then slide and release the cover latch to reveal the battery.

The unit is also fully WiFi and Bluetooth compatible, and has a built-in compass and GPS receiver. The Sense Navigation software is an optional extra, but it is possible to use Google Maps as an alternative on the device.

Using the Mini

The Mini is equipped with a sophisticated suite of applications to accomplish most tasks. Its Word Processor allows you to create, edit and read documents in BRF, BRL, TXT, RTF, DOC and DOCX formats. The keyboard is also quiet and springy to write on. There is an Email client, Web Browser, Social Networking tools including Twitter, Dropbox and Messenger. You can keep a busy diary and address book, and even create a simple database.

The onboard Help section has a dedicated file for each application, as well as context sensitive help by pressing space with H at any time. And the Mini is an entertainment centre too, with full DAISY reader, Media player and FM radio, as well as a couple of games. Supported media files include: MP3, WAV, MP4, ASF, OGG, WMA, M3U, Audible (AA and AAX), WMV, FLAC, and MID. You can also make voice notes or recordings using the built-in microphone in either MP3 or WAV formats.

There are several useful utilities to be had, including calculator, stopwatch, alarm function, and Terminal for Screen Reader, which turns the Mini into a Braille display when connected to your computer.

Conclusions and Pricing

As with all Hims products, I absolutely love the size and usability of the Mini. Some of the applications like the games are just extra bells and whistles that I could frankly live without, and the database is very limited. But the word processor, Twitter, WiFi, file management and other applications more than make up for any discrepancies. The unit is responsive and has a lovely Braille keyboard to write on quickly and discreetly. It would be nice to see better battery life without having to swap cells, but at least there are two of these included in the price, and you can charge one separately and have it replenished when the other is in use on the Mini.

The U2 Mini is sold in the UK by both Sight and Sound Technology Ltd, and RNIB, for £3,474 including VAT, or £2,895 if you are entitled to VAT exemption. Contact Sight and Sound Technology Ltd on 01604 798070, or visit www.sightandsound.co.uk.

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