Thursday, August 14, 2008

Review of TALKS Premium 3.52 mobile screen reader

Here’s the second half of my review of my Nokia N82, wherein I discuss the use of the Nuance TALKS screen reader. When I purchased this Smart Phone, I did so with the full intention of operating a screen reader on it so that I would get the full benefit of the phone’s functionality.

My previous experience with a text-to-speech (TTS) solution on a mobile phone was running the TALKS screen reader on a Nokia 6620. AT&T has a Center for Customers with Disabilities and at that time, offered to reimburse the cost of TALKS and discount the phone’s high cost if I committed to a two-year contract. Getting assistive technology for free and a 33% discount on a high-end Smart Phone was a no-brainer for me.

That was three or four years ago and I really liked the feedback that TALKS gave me. It allowed me to have unprecedented access to the information displayed on my cell phone. On top of that, it used Eloquence, my preferred speech engine, for TTS. I also bookmarked the TALKS web site for figuring out how to use this nifty technological wonder.

However, finding resources for support soon became difficult. As far as I knew, this was the only screen reader available for mobile phones and once I purchased the unit, I was basically on my own for figuring out how to use it. First, I misplaced the CD that came with the screen reader. AT&T offered nothing to help me out and the web site I had bookmarked soon began giving me that dreadful 404 message, “Web page could not be found.” That experience made me wary about ever using TALKS again.

So, when I was looking at purchasing a new phone a couple of months ago, I wasn’t so sure about getting one with TALKS. I looked at Mobile Speak, TALKS’ primary mobile screen reader competitor, which AT&T now features, offering it for only $89. However, because AT&T no longer sells TALKS nor do they sell the N82, they also do not have a license to support the N82 with the Mobile Speak screen reader. That meant if I wanted to change to Mobile Speak for my TTS solution, I was going to have to pay full retail, about $295, for it.

I spent some time doing some web research and found that I could get a handset license transfer for TALKS, which included an upgrade to
TALKS Premium
For only $99 from
TalkNav,
A U.K. company.

I read over the associated web sites and found that it seems that today’s support for TALKS might be better if I opted to do this. I said, “What the heck, its only $10 more than the AT&T subsidized offer,” and jumped on it. And, I found there were additional reasons that supported sticking with TALKS.

That explains how I got back on the TALKS train. Let me now delve into my thoughts about the latest version of TALKS Premium 3.1.

The Good


Of course, the familiarity of the Eloquence speech engine remained a strong selling point for me. My biggest concern was figuring out the keystroke combinations to perform commands with TALKS. This was resolved by receiving TALKS user’s guides in both audio and MS-Word format. Now, I can easily go in and figure out what to do if I inadvertently change some of the TALKS settings. This user support was what I was missing in my first go-round with TALKS. Primo!

TALKS Premium 3.1 is so much more than what I had the first time around. This package includes the Zooms screen magnifier, which would be a great tool for anybody who is low vision. Being I’m totally blind, it wasn’t anything major to me personally, but this is definitely a good thing to know for discussing this as an access solution for other people.

The ability to label icons is a big thing, though. Just as on most computer programs, mobile phones often rely on visual icons to present information and controls. On my PC, I have the ability to label graphics with JAWS, so it is a good feature to find this included in TALKS. And, this is one feature that their competitor doesn’t have.

In my previous experience with TALKS, just running the program on the phone was a battery killer. My Nokia 6620 couldn’t be turned on for eight hours without dying. And, that wasn’t even using it to talk. Just having it turned on and in standby mode, drained the battery. That’s not the case today, though. Whatever improvements were made with the TALKS program or the phone, it is all for the positive. I’ve gone more than three days without needing to recharge the N82. What a nice change that has been.

Though I am not a Braille user, TALKS does support the use a Bluetooth Braille display with the N82. For some people, I can see where this would be another strength of the TALKS application, particularly in meetings where the user could mute the audio and still access the displayed information.

The Bad


There is only one gripe I have with TALKS. It gets hung up sometimes and repeats what it is saying continuously. It is basically a hiccup, sounding like so many CD players used to be like in the early days, when a smudge on a CD or a slight bump would cause the player to get hung up on a word or note. I am not sure how long TALKS will go on hiccupping, because when it does this, I always press another button to perform some other operation. This works to make it quit repeating. Also, TALKS doesn’t do this all of the time, just sporadically. Still, its buggy in that regard.

Overall Thoughts


Three to four years ago, I got TALKS on the 6620 so that I could have access to the number of incoming calls, feedback on the numbers I was dialing, and the ability to know the battery and signal strength on my phone. These features were things I’d never known on previous phones and were exactly what I was looking for from a mobile screen reader. In that regard, my previous experience gave me what I wanted. Trading that off with the battery drain left me feeling a little lukewarm, but I still like the accessibility that I’d never had on a cell phone. The biggest downside was not having any kind of accessible user’s manual.

All that is history with the latest incarnation of TALKS. I enjoy its robust abilities and receiving the support material in various formats is a definite plus. With TALKS Premium 3.1 operating on the N82, I’m able to do so much more than just those rudimentary tasks I used to do on the 6620. I breeze through the menu-driven Symbian operating system, easily going to the various folders and applications I want. I operate the powerful 5-mega-pixel camera in both image and video modes, looke over the songs and play music with the music player, and I’m looking forward to doing so much more after I get a Bluetooth keyboard.

I have played a bit with the internet on the N82, connecting on open WiFi signals when I’m out and about. It has been encouraging to be able to read the latest news headlines on my default home page. There is so much more potential for me to use this with that Bluetooth keyboard. I personally dislike typing in letters from the keypad, finding it monotonously slow and mentally dulling. So, with the ability to type on a keyboard, I should find some smoking, new horizons on this phone, all made very accessible with TALKS.

Also, when I get the keyboard, I will more easily use and manage my contacts on the N82. This will lead to so much more personalization of the phone for me, as well. I love using the Goldwave audio editor and will assign specific, personalized ringtones to each of my contacts. But, I need to get this where it is a practical task first, meaning I need to get that keyboard soon.

One feature of the N82 that I’ve yet to explore is its built-in GPS application. A friend keeps asking me if I’ve tried it out yet, and when I reply in the negative, he chides that this is one of the best features of the phone. Perhaps, but I’ll use it when I’m interested and feel comfortable that TALKS will provide accessibility to the information just as well as it does in other applications on the phone.

Other aspects of the phone that I’ve not yet attempted are viewing documents in the N82’s included office package. While the phone will display them, I’m not certain if TALKS will read the Microsoft Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, or PowerPoint presentations. I will take on this task at a later date and possibly provide an update to this product review.

Finally, I am not certain if that hiccupping that TALKS sometimes presents is a unique problem, or it is something other users are experiencing. If it is a common bug, then Nuance should be able to remedy this with an update. If it is an individual problem, though, I can either just live with it or try re-installing the software. Either way, I perceive this as only a minor flaw at this time.

The price for the handset transfer was a great deal for me. However, if somebody is a new user of this mobile screen reader, then the initial cost would be approximately $295, the same as the retail price of Mobile Speak. I've not used Mobile Speak, so I can't offer a comparison between the two. For me, though, TALKS was the right choice.

The Bottom Line


I envision seemingly endless potential ahead for me in this new Nokia. It is such a powerful phone, with many features I find attractive. The key to enjoying these features, though, lies in the accessibility TALKS is providing. I am very glad that I made the decision to try TALKS one more time. Not only was it a very affordable TTS solution, but it also offers the comfort of familiarity and a well-supported user experience.

5 comments:

Peter said...

Hi Ron, I get those hiccups as well. Random and easily stopped. How did you get your Talks tutorials? The only other complaint I have heard and also experienced is that once in a while, Talks will lock up. The only way out of this is to remove the battery. As for GPS, Talks Premium and Wayfinder Access work well together, especially because you can label the right and left turn graphics. I am in the same boat with you, having just recently purchased the N82 and am excited by the possibilities. Let's flatten that learning curve! One last thing, take a look at the resources available at
www.blindsea.com/
I just found it and it's looking like a treasure trove! Cheers, Peter

Ron Graham said...

Peter,

Thanks for verifying the hiccup. I think it’s a bug worth reporting if it is more than one person experiencing this.

I downloaded the user manuals from the Nuance download site. I can give you the link or share this with you in your preferred format. I’ll email you about this.
Also, thanks for the input about Wayfinder Access’s compatibility, as well as the blindsea.com information.

I’m with you on flattening that learning curve. What good are resources if not shared?

RG

mgroeber said...

Interestingly, the hiccup is something I have never heard about before as a TALKS bug. Are there any particular screens where this is happening?

One thing I noticed about your report is that it is headlined "TALKS Premium 3.1" - is this really the version number shown in the About box?

The reason being that the current release is already 3.52, and for a phone like the N82, only the 3.51 and later releases provide full compatibility.

If you can use 3.1, then 3.52 should be a free upgrade to you, which you can download from the Nuance website.

Hope this helps.

ciao marcus

Ron Graham said...

Marcus,

I don’t know what caused that brain cramp. Of course, its not version 3.1, as it wouldn’t support the N82. I don’t know where I got that. TALKS version 3.52.6 is the one that I am actually running.

Interestingly enough, you are the second person in as many days that pointed this out. I find that interesting as this particular post and its companion piece where I review the Nokia N82, have been very popular posts and have drawn a good number of readers with a good global dissemination of the links. Given that high number of traffic, it strikes me that nobody else has mentioned the version number mentioned in the title.

As for the hiccupping, it occurs most frequently for me when unlocking the screen. Once I press Key 1 and then the star key, it sometimes begins to get stuck on the phrase “Keypad unlocked.” The problem is that it does not occur consistently, only some of the time.
Hopefully, this will work out soon.

RG

Jerome said...

The latest Talks version now is 5.20, with lots of improvements plus OVI maps are supported and more symbian devices are compatible. for more details check Talks website, or BlindBargain site and Talknav site.

For inquiring Talks license, pricing and discounts, email at
jrmcavallaro@gmail.com