Category Archives: Accessibility

My review: IWantIt IBTLI14 Wireless Speaker Dock

I am a representative for the bar at college, which means I get to make decisions that could affect the bar, if we have any activity nights, etc.
In the old college bar, we had space for a pool table, stage and all this lovely stuff, but when we moved over to the new building, we only had the canteen, which as you may be able to imagine does not have space for a pool table. (It barely has space for us all to eat in it.) So, the pool table sat there, not being used and looking very forlorn. A staff member had made some noise about possibly buying it for a club he’s a part of or something like that (it was a while ago and the details escape me). We negotiated a price with him and eventually came to £50 which we were all happy with. The idea was to use this £50 to buy games or other activities to do in the bar. Long story short, I tried asking people what they wanted a few times but every email I ent out got minimal responses. I talked to the manager of the bar a few weeks ago and asked if the money was still there as on nights where I don’t DJ there are a small rather rubbish set of computer speakers on the bar that really don’t go loud at all. I asked her if she thought it was a good idea to replace them and use the money we have to buy something nicer. She agreed it was a good idea and asked me to find what I wanted. Enter, the IWantIt IBTLI14. I had a budget of £50, and this thing looked incredible for £49.99. (I’ve done a bit of research by the way, and amazon has the same dock for over £100, and this one is on sale at curries which is where we got it from.)

What does £49.99 get you?

For £49.99 you get:

  • An apple lightening dock
  • Bluetooth
  • USB play and charge
  • 3.5MM aux
  • 2 internal speakers rated at 30 W (15 W + 15 W)
  • signal to noise ratio of 50DB
  • A remote

What’s in the box

There’s not that much in the box, you get the dock itself with none-removable power cord, the remote, a 3.5MM aux cable and the paperwork.
First impression
When I first took it out of the box my first impression was the size; I was expecting something a lot smaller for £50, however on first look, it looks like this thing could put out some serious loudness, which is what we wanted from it as our old speakers didn’t go loud at all.

Description

On the front of the dock you’ve got the 2 speakers behind cloth, on the top you’ve got 4 buttons (a source selector, pause, and volume down and up). On the back you have a power switch, the permanently attached power cord, an Aux Jack (cable included) and a USB port. On the top you’ve got a release mechanism that pops open the lightening dock, and that’s about it for describing the unit.
The remote is your typical remote you’d expect to get with a dock like this; a rather small affair with a coin cell battery. On the remote you have a power button in the top left, then a source button then you have previous play and next, underneath previous there is a mute button, and under that is a treble down control, opposite that is a treble boost control, below those you have the same for bass and then volume is at the bottom.

Review

We’ve been using it pretty much every night in the bar since we got it, and I’ve honestly got to say, we made an excellent choice. It does exactly what we wanted, and them some. However, for this review I’ve borrowed the unit to really get a feel of how it performs.
Sound wise, it’s more than capable of going to a very high volume, which was one thing that surprised me. Paring with Bluetooth is simple, the unit defaults to this when first turns on. You can tell this as it admits a beep, and then the unit is in paring mode. Paring is as simple as tapping the device in your Bluetooth settings, Waiting for the connection to take place, and then enjoying your music. For my own listening, I would recommend that the EQ be all the way up for both, as this seems to make the unit sound its best. I really like the way the unit is designed, the wooden finish makes the unit aesthetically pleasing to look at, and also means that it doesn’t attract as many fingerprints or dust as a glossy finish.
Sound wise, it can pump out some volume, however, like with most systems, it does start to distort the lower frequencies at higher volumes. Speaking of that, lower frequencies are presented quite well, the midrange frequencies can sometimes get lost, vocals are well presented. Overall is a nice listenable sound, the one thing that really lets it down is the stereo separation. Nothing can really be done about it, I just think that the speakers are maybe a little bit too close together, and it’s hard to distinguish between them while casually listening. I have noticed that things do seem to get a little bit better once you start turning the dock up.
The remote can sometimes be very temperamental, as is the case with the majority of these sorts of systems, however I’ve found that for the most part, it’s responsive when pointed directly at the unit, however sometimes my iPod refuses to respond to the previous, play and next buttons when docked, but pointing it at either a combination of the speakers or the iPod itself seems to work. The line-in function works as expected, and one thing I have noticed, unlike some other systems like that, you don’t notice a change in quality greatly when playing from a Bluetooth and a wired source. As with most of my reviews, I’m using the review product while I write the review and this is no exception. I am currently playing a Spotify playlist, and it’s sounding all right in the background. The remote is responding quite well from where I’m sitting; which for once, is not right next to the dock, I’m sitting in a chair next to a radiator because it’s a little bit cold, and the dock is on a table against the opposite wall.

Verdict

This is a lovely purchase, and if I had the need for one in my daily life, I wouldn’t hesitate to grab this one. It has a couple of shortfalls with the sound, but for what it is, it’s certainly not bad.
I have no idea what USB play and charge is at all, however the USB port does charge my phone, but I don’t know what the playing function of that is, as the sources cycle between Bluetooth, aux and iPod. I reached out to curries to ask them if they had a PDF manual as I couldn’t find a thing anywhere else online but I didn’t have any response. The Bluetooth function of this dock has to be its best feature. And it certainly can provide room filling sound for say, a gathering, or a barbecue.
Thank you for reading, and see you in the next one.

Getting fit with a Fitbit: An Update

Hi guys,
Sorry it’s been a while since my last Fitbit update, and I have had a few requests for an update, which has humbled me slightly because I never knew people actually read the stuff I put up here. I do enjoy writing in here, I just don’t have the time really when I’m at college.

It’s been just under 2 months since I got my Fitbit charge, and I still use and like it. Nothing has really changed accessibility wise, although I have written a post of their forum about fixing a couple of gripes I have with the iOS app, but I’m not sure if the forum was the right place to get the developers to notice as nothing has been done. I’ll keep trying to find an actual email address. The post is here.

The problem I had early on was that I kept forgetting that it was another thing with another battery that needed charging, and sometimes the app wouldn’t give me a notification of its battery being low. However, once you get into a routine of charging it every couple of days or so its fine. I only know where its alive when I hold down the button to start a workout, or if its still syncing to the app.
I would like an optional vibration when the battery is getting a bit low, so I’m going to go post in the forums about that.
The charge has had an update which I did the other day, and I’ve noticed a few issues with syncing after the update; it doesn’t seem to be as instantaneous as it was before the update; it takes a couple of goes to get all info.
I’ve taken part in a few challenges and these are rather accessible in the app, you can see most of the info you’d want to. The only other thing I’d like to see is messages becoming fully accessible, as you can tell if someone has cheered or jeered you. If it’s a plain text message, you can see what it says and reply.
The leaderboard between you and all your friends is all accessible.
So, just a quick update then, but rest assured I will let you know if there are any big developments. If you have any questions at all regarding the Fitbit or the app and their accessibility, post in the comments and I’ll try my best to answer.
Thanks for reading, and see you in the next one!

Google Chromecast (2015) review

Welcome to another review from me. This time we’re taking a look at the actual Chromecast.

Background

I bought this because I enjoyed the simplicity and ease of use of its audio counterpart, and I wanted a way to turn my TV that isn’t smart, smart. This seemed like the easiest way to do it, rather than buying a hole new TV, or buying say, an apple TV. Sorry this review has taken so long to put together, but I’ve been away at college and I don’t have a TV there, plus the network restrictions make things like a Chromecast a pain to use there, so I just got it delivered home. I bought it on black Friday as Google were doing an offer where you got £20 google play credit when you bought one. Plus, it’s 30 quid for a little disk with an HDMI connector that means I can watch Netflix on TV. How can you not?

The box is pretty much the same as the Chromecast audio’s; same design, and the Chromecast is presented the same. The difference between the two is that the Chromecast has a permanently attached little HDMI cable, and the audio has grooves on it, like a vinyl. Under the Chromecast, you have the power adapter with quite a long micro USB cable.

Setup was just as easy at it should be. Plug in to TV, plug in power, switch TV to HDMI, open the Chromecast app and follow the instructions to add a new device. On my phone, like with the Chromecast audio, I had to join a network it had created to get the app to interface with it at first. As soon as that was done, I gave it a name, turned off guest mode, made sure the time and country were right, and joined it to my network. At this point, a small video played on the TV telling me a few things I could do with it, and telling me that I was all ready to go.
The Chromecast app told me I had 3 video apps that were castable, these were BBC iPlayer, Netflix and youtube. I loaded up Youtube, and the TV icon appeared and I connected straight up, found a video, hit play and it started playing out of the TV. You can even make a queue with youtube, and it’ll just play through your videos.

Review

So I started using it on Saturday, and it’s now Monday and I can say I bloody love the thing. Almost as most as I love its audio counterpart. I love how easy it is to load up the Netflix application, find your Chromecast, and watch Netflix on the big screen. I like that the audio described programs are not exempt from casting, (I’m watching house of cards at the minute), and it just goes up their straight away, no problem. This is also true of shows from the iPlayer. Getting audio described programs to play when already connected to the Chromecast on Netflix on iOS can be a bit tricky, as the elements to do this are not currently labeled, nor are any of the controls that are on screen; voiceover sees them, there’s just no label so it’s hard to tell where you are. On my Nexus however, all of this is labeled. I have contacted Netflix to see if they can resolve this. I haven’t tried it yet, but the Chromecast app on my nexus tells me that All4 (channel 4’s catch up service) also supports casting.
I really like the design of the Chromecast, but its glossy finish leads me to believe that it’ll be a fingerprint magnet, but as it’s designed to be one of those things that you set up and leave, I’m not too worried about that. I would have liked to see a removable HDMI cable, even if it was just a small one though, because if you don’t have space for the Chromecast to hang where your HDMI port is, you are going to need a HDMI extender, which I think google do sell, but still. Plus, if that plug breaks, you’ve pretty much got to buy yourself another Chromecast. I do however, like the length of micro USB cable you get with the device, just in case your sockets are quite a way from your TV. I like the idea of the backdrop as you if you have photos stored on google photos, flicker or Facebook, you can have the Chromecast shuffle these. I don’t have it connected to any of these services, and just have it display photos from around the web, and different landscapes and works of art, ETC.

Final thoughts

I personally love what Google are doing with the Chromecast line of products. I’ve always liked the idea of the Chromecast, but I wasn’t too sure about the design of the first generation, so I’m glad they’ve completely redesigned it. On my TV, the HDMI port is recessed slightly on the side with all the other ports, so the Chromecast just hangs there. My last thoughts, I think the Chromecast range is a way of smartening up your older not so smart technology that doesn’t need to be replaced as it’s still fully functional on the cheap. Hats off to Google.
You can pick up your own Chromecast from the Google store, or if you’re in the UK I do believe Curries stock them.
Thanks for reading!

Getting fit with a fitbit: Setup and initial thoughts

Ok, so the Fitbit arrived yesterday morning and I spent the afternoon getting everything set up and working; nothing ever goes to plan does it? In this post I detail my experience of setting up the charge, which could have been smoother but I blame my phone for that.

The box itself for the charge is a rather nice box and the charge is nicely presented inside the box.
In the box there is also a rather short charging cable, some warranty info and a USB adapter for syncing to your PC if you’re not using a smartphone.
I opened the Fitbit app on my phone, chose the first unlabelled button, and chose the charge. Then came the bit where I needed sited assistance. It was asking for my height and other info. I’m not sure about the gender or weight screens as I didn’t do those but the height screen doesn’t allow you to input your height using voiceover. After this though, you enter your full name, email and password, agree to their terms and then you’re ready to connect your charge. This is where I had a couple of problems. I plugged the charge in and held the button down for 3 seconds like it told me to and eventually when it connected I was presented with a keypad on my phone and I couldn’t tell what it was asking for. I know now that it was asking for the code that was being displayed on the charge itself but as soon as that was entered it was happy. It said that the process of setting up the Fitbit could take up to 10 minutes. The process bar was moving along nicely until it got to 98% and then it was stuck there. I let it for a bit and then tweeted Fitbit support asking them what I should do. They said I should restart the Fitbit by holding down the button for 10 to 12 seconds until the version number was displayed. After I’d restarted the app it brought up an error about not being able to complete set up but then it appeared to be set up fine. Cut out a couple of hours of frustration trying to get the thing to play nice with my phone, as it didn’t appear to be syncing properly as it still said the battery was empty even when it was fully charged. I need to email Fitbit about that actually as a side note, as textual information such as the battery indicator and version number ETC is not accessible with voiceover. Anyway I did a bit of research as my Fitbit said it had an update available but the app was failing to update it. I ended up connecting the wireless PC dongle to my mac and installing the application for mac, which showed that my Fitbit was up to date even though the app still said there was an update. I ended up having to reset my network settings on my phone to reset my Bluetooth connections, and after that it works fine with no problems; even the call notifications and silent alarms are working fine.
One of the main reasons I went for the charge was because I knew it had a button on the side which, if held down causes the Fitbit to vibrate and this starts a workout. Once you’ve finished your workout you hold the button down again and vibrates to let you know you’re done. You can then see how long you worked out for, calories burned and distance covered. I’ve yet to reach the goal of 10000 steps in a day, but its supposed to vibrate to let you know.
I also tried out the sleep tracking last night and although it’s a little bit confusing to read your stats with voiceover, if you spend a bit of time you can figure out what they mean.
I haven’t been using the device for a full 24 hours yet so these are my initial impressions but I think I’m going to really enjoy using it, and if Fitbit’s app team are as responsive as their twitter crew, we’ll get along just fine.

Please stay tuned to my blog as I will keep you updated on my progress with the device after using it in my normal day-to-day life.
Thanks for reading, and see you in the next one.

Getting fit with a fitbit: introduction

Ok, I’m going to level with you now. I’m not the fittest person you’ll ever meat. I could do with losing a bit of weight. These past few weeks I’ve been going to the gym and going to spin classes but I had a problem. Especially at the gym, I couldn’t see what the machines were telling me. It was all well and good going but I had no way to keep track of how many calories I had burned, ETC. I needed some way of finding this out. Enter, fitbit. Fitbit’s line of products are designed to help you lead a healthier lifestyle. You can get a range of products, ranging from trackers you clip on to your shirt, to a fully functional smart watch. You can even get a WiFI enabled scale that tracks your weight. I had seen a growing trend in sited people having these and I thought they were a brilliant idea. I decided other than going for an apple watch which was a little out of my price range, I should try one of these out.
In this series of posts, I’m going to be documenting my experience. The fitbit I have decided to go for is the fitbit charge. It is a wristband that tracks calories burned, steps, floors climbed and even helps tracks your sleep. You can see all of its data on its smartphone app or sync it back to your PC. I will be using an iPhone to track my progress.
I’ll be covering everything from taking the device out of its box, setting it up, setting an account up, using it, and how I’m getting along with it.
It is due to arrive some time this week; hopefully it arrives before I go back down the country on Sunday.
I hope you enjoy this series and I think I’m going to enjoy writing it as its something I’ve never done before. Not only am I challenging myself to get fit, I’m also challenging myself to keep this series up because when I looked for information on this topic I didn’t find much.
Thanks, and see you soon!

The state of accessible television in the UK

Introduction

Hi everyone,
There’s something that’s been bugging me recently, and that is that blind people haven’t really got it that easy when it comes to television in the UK, accessibility wise, that is.
This includes seeing what is on now, or flicking through the TV guide to see what’s on later.
If you don’t pay for your TV through a service like Sky or Virgin Media, where you can’t control your box through the mobile apps provided, you’re kind of stuck. Unless you buy a TV in the Panasonic Viera range of TV’s that have in built speech, that makes the EPG and most of the TV’s features accessible.
The other alternative is to buy a Freeview box, which acts like a satellite or cable box, accept it uses your regular TV arial to deliver the FreeView service. Most TV’s come with Freeview built in, but you still can’t access the EPG guide and other features. You can change channels, if you know the numbers, and turn it up and down, and that’s about it unless someone sited has sat with you and gone through button presses and whatnot. The RNIB used to have a solution to this, which was called a Goodmans Smart Talk freeview box

As I am registered blind on my TV licence, I was offered the opportunity to buy one of these for £40 as the analog channels were being switched off. This was a few years ago now, and it’s still just about working.
Then, the RNIB had another product. This was the TVonics DTR-HD500 talking Freeview HD recorder. As the name suggests, it is a talking FreeView HD box that also has a 500 GB hard drive built-in so shows can be recorded.

(http://recombu.com/digital/news/talking-freeview-hd-recorder-tvonics-dtr-hd500_M10371.html)

i wasn’t really interested in this when it came on to the market, as my current Freeview box was doing just fine. I decided to google around for it a few months ago, as my smart talk had started to become slow at changing channels, and was just generally showing its age by forgetting settings, ETC and I couldn’t really find much info on it. The RNIB know longer sold it in their online shop, however it was still mentioned on their accessing TV page. (No longer the case)

(http://www.rnib.org.uk/information-everyday-living-home-and-leisure-television-radio-and-film/television)

Can you get to the point please?

Fine. I emailed the RNIB, and asked them why they no longer sold it. At the time, it was still listed on the TV page, so I asked them why it was still listed. I also used the opportunity to have a little bit of a rant, and I’m going to have that rant again, but on my blog this time.

Said Rant

So if you’re still reading, odds on you’re interested in my rant. Well here goes.

This is the email I sent:
—-

“I would like to know why you no-longer sell the TVonics DTR HD500 Free-view HD Recorder: . It is a great shame because you are basically forcing people who want to have an accessible TV to go out and spend hundreds up on hundreds of pounds which they may not be able to afford on a Panasonic TV with talking features instead.
I was glancing around at new free view boxes since my smart talk is a few years old now and is starting to get slow (well it always was), and preferably wanted to stick with a talking one, and wanted one with a hard drive so I could record shows. I’d get sky plus, but I’m currently a student at the Royal National College in Hereford, so this is not at all feasible.
We have a Panasonic talking TV at home, and I think it is brilliant, but it cost us £800, and I’m quite happy with my little 19 inch TV that I currently have sitting on my desk.
We also have sky plus at home, and I can manage to control that fine with a combination of iPhone apps and the remote itself, but again, it’s not feasible; plus, I really can’t afford it.
Yes, I know, I could just watch things on catch up services like the iPlayer, etc, but 4OD is a joke for accessibility on the mac, as is ITV player.
It also really irritates me that audio described programs aren’t put in the iPlayer apps, which I have contacted the BBC about, and got a very closed response.
SkyGo is ok on android and iOS, as is netflics, but neither of these offer audio described content.
Please write back soon.
Thanks,
Kieran.”

I have also been told now that Virgin media’s television service is accessible with its iOS app, but that still doesn’t help my situation.

Did you get anything back?

As a matter of fact, I did.
I’ve cleaned up some of the formatting, but here it is:
“Dear Kiiran, (Notice the incorrect name)

Thank you so much for your E-Mail.
Appologies for the delay but we’ve been moving offices and are a bit
behind with responding.
It is not our choice believe us all of a sudden we found out that the
TVOnics is discontinued therefore we won’t be selling it anymore. It’s a
great shame, we know that and we ourselves really regret that we are not
selling it anymore. One of our comments has always been that it’s the
best thing after sliced bread. We are in communication with other
providers and hope to offer an alternative product in the future.

So not much comfort at the moment but atleast you know our position.

Best regards,

(RNIB employee; name removed, (call them XXX))”.

So not the response I was really hoping for, but it’s a response in any case.
The delay in question was approximately 11 days, so I’m not complaining about that, it didn’t really bother me, I just wanted to make my feelings known.
I will continue to enjoy sky Go and Netflics, and as much of catch up TV as I can, but as I am at home for the summer now, Sky has taken over as my main source for watching TV.
I will also point out here TV Catchup, but that doesn’t have as many channels as it used to.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I think a lot more could be done to make TV more accessible for visually impaired people in the UK, especially those on a budget who don’t have a high amount of income to have services like Sky, or Virgin Media.
I believe that visually impaired people have as much right to access as much television as they choose, as I believe quite a few of them would like to. However they still have this massive barrier in the way of finding out what is on now or later, unless they use the internet or a smart phone app, but I am yet to find a good TV listings app for FreeView channels that is accessible.

Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear your thoughts so please share them in the comment section below.

Why I chose to buy a nexus7

Hello there, and welcome to my second blog post on this blog.

In this one, I have decided to talk about why I bought a nexus7. I’ll be talking about why I think it’s a good device, how I use it, and my experience with it.

the background

If you know me, you’ll know I’m in to apple. Well, I have an iPod, an iPhone, and a mac. So you’d think when I went on the hunt for a tablet my first thought you have been the iPad or the iPad mini.

There’s a reason I go with apple: there stuff is reliable and is of a good quality (hardware and software).
But, as you’ve probably guessed by the title of this post, I didn’t go for the iPad. I had heard a lot about android accessibility in the past few months, and I really wanted to give it a go. Plus, I’d gotten a little bit stagnant with iOS. Yeah, it’s good, but if I got an iPad, it would be the same stuff, just on a bigger screen. So, I started looking at nexus7’s on eBay. I liked the idea of a 7 inch screen, as I can still hold it with one hand and be comfortable.
I also wanted something to watch catch up TV on besides the mac who wasn’t really accessible.

It took me ages to find a 2012 nexus 7 for less than £150, but I eventually won one.
The day it arrived was an exciting day. I had to get someone sited to look at it for me though, and it turns out the person who’d I bought it from hadn’t reset it to factory defaults, and had left it locked with a pattern. I googled on how to reset it to factory settings without gaining access, and to cut a long story short, managed to reset it.

what next

This was exciting for me, so I turn on accessibility set it up, and then updated it to android version 4.4, it being on 4.2.
I started playing with it, downloading apps and what not, (I should add that I had looked up the talkback gestures beforehand and they’re similar to iOS, so I knew how to get around) (The explore by touch tutorial also helped).

let’s jump a few months

so, that was all in January, and it’s now June. What are my thoughts now? Personally? I’m still in love with the thing.

However, I managed to crack the screen on my 2012 model, so sold it to my dad who decided he would get it fixed, and I bought the 2013 model on eBay instead for a similar price to what I’d paid for the 2012. That was in April.
I’m still in love with it, and use it every day. I use it to watch a whole host of things: netflics, BBC iPlayer, 4OD and demand five content. I also use it to watch the Sky go and TV catch-up services. Sky go providing a live TV and catch-up service.
I also use it to do a whole host of social activities, including skyping family and friends, using google hangouts, and using Facebook and twitter.
I am also able to get around the unlabelled buttons and elements in the Spotify app quite nicely, although I have contacted them, and they have replied saying that they are going to pass my message on to the development team.
My nexus has also replaced my Kindle device for reading, even though it is reading with the eloquence TTS, it’s still pretty good.
Yeah, you read right, I got the Eloquence TTS synth for my nexus. I did this because I wanted to know how it would perform and whether I would actually like it. The answer, I do. It reminds me of the talks on Symbian days and it’s actually quite responsive.

so there must be some downfalls with it?

Well I’m not going to lie here; there are a few little gripes that irritate me. The two strongest ones being that I can’t access my iTunes match subscription on there, which I could fix by getting google play music, but the music manager is inaccessible for both windows and mac.
My other really big gripe is the presence of Facebook chat heads where ever I am. I hate these as they get in my way, and they enable anyone who picks up my tablet to see who I’ve been chatting with. According to lots of googling, there used to be a setting to turn these off but it was removed. My solution for this at the moment is to move them right to the edge of the screen so they don’t get in my way.
There’s a stupid gripe that I have, and I’m not really sure why I complain about this because I know it’ll never happen, but it irritates me a little bit that my tablet doesn’t receive iMessages when my mac, iPhone and iPod do. There’s a simple solution to this, which is by an iPad or iPad mini but they’re outside my price range so that’s something I’ll have to live with.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I believe that android is now a very viable option to buy accessibility wise. It still has its downfalls, that being that there isn’t as many accessibility oriented apps or games for the blind and visually impaired, however if you’re looking for something that will let you watch some catch up TV, do some skyping, and some tweet and facebooking, or you’re just looking for a device that you can try android on, the nexus7 (2012 or 2013) is a great device for beginners.
The 2013 model comes in two sizes (16 and 32 GB), and can be purchased new for around £150 on amazon for the 16 GB, or £180 for the 32 GB.
I hope you’ve found this post useful in some way shape or form.
If you would like to add anything or ask me any questions, please either drop a comment in the comments below, or drop me a line through the contact page.
Thanks for reading.