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Review of TALKS Premium 3.1 mobile screen reader

Posted Aug 14 2008 10:16am
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.
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