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Phone Wrestling

February 22, 2013

Let me introduce you to a telephone. A sleek, easy to use, accessible little chap who plays music in a logical, intuitive way, and lets me make calls and send text messages easily. Also, if the need arises, I can connect to the internet and browse. I’ve even been known to check my e-mails and buy things off Amazon with him. Yes, this is my friend, my colleague, my confidant. My Nokia E52.

Allow me to introduce you to somebody else, sleeker, sexier and all together more modern. In the right hands she can do pretty much anything – record in crystal clear quality, stream films and music, download any number of apps, pointless and otherwise. This is, of course the legendary Iphone.

Last year I found myself pondering, spending many hours of chin stroking, browsing and researching in the attempt to decide whether or not to change my mobile phone. By modern standards my little Nokia is out of date, and most if not everyone I know has an Iphone. But, a lot of those people are blind and I find their fingers staggering around the screen in search of the right spot to press. When, at last the finger is on the exact position they have to make manic gestures whilst listening to a guiding voice to aid them. These same people admit that sending texts is hard work, as typing on the virtual screen is slow and punishing. However, I also know plenty of blind people who, through whatever reason – genetic propensity, magic, Faustian pact, have taken to the Iphone like a duck to water. Effortlessly navigating menus and using apps with startling fluidity and panache. But those average mortals who struggle, happily add a second piece of technology to the mix, a blue tooth keyboard that they have to secure on a chain around their neck along with a rucksack of spare batteries, for, both the keyboard and the phone need charging regularly.

I took my time, around a year to be precise before I decided to march confidently down the Android road, leaving the Appleites to their Itunes and gestures. Why? Well, at the time I had a logical argument that I will summarise:

1- Android handsets come in a variety of flavours and prices. I-phones, well, they’re just I-phones.
2- As a lot of Android apps are either open source or made by a number of different people and companies, the chances of finding accessible apps is greater than finding the equivalent Iphone app.
3- The Android operating system is customisable and ever evolving.
4- There is a greater choice of speech engines.
5- I want to copy and paste files, I don’t want Itunes to be my master.

I am sure there were other reasons, but I think I’ve covered the main ones.

I bit the bullet, took the bull by his horns and bought a new phone. Yes, a smarter, new model than my Nokia, a phone that has apps and intelligence, 3g and scope. I bought a Sony Xperia Mini Pro, a handset that… roll the drums, boasts a slide our qwerty keyboard, thus keeping swipe, drag, flick and tap to a minimum.

A week. A week of follicle-based torture. I tried, I really did, I didn’t eat or drink, sleep or even blink during those dark days. I had guidance and advice from a very knowledgeable person, but still I was defeated. The telephone simply failed to meet my expectations. This was partly due to my inability to devote my whole soul to the task, and partly due to a failure of the technology.

As soon as I’ve finished writing this I am going to find my old Nokia and kiss her awake. Why did I fail where others have triumphed? Am I stupid? Am I impatient? Well, maybe, but I do lack time, and am easily disappointed when technology seems not to do what it is allegedly designed to do. Namely, allow me to access the feature rich landscape of Android world and Googlesville.

Battery

My little darling can last a week without the need for a jack in her socket. My teenaged upstart Ericson – or do they say Sony? Anyway, him – he lasts a day. Absolutely pathetic. Every morning he’s begging for power like a Labrador for food. This means that going on trips is impossible unless you buy, wait for it, an “Emergency” charger. Yes, yet another electrical thing to lug around. So, at the moment it’s 1/0 to my old Nokia.

Input

The keyboard is ok, I can just about manage to stab it with one finger. But when I have to use the touch screen its mental! I found myself scraping my finger around the screen as if chasing an arrant grain of dust. And when you get to the app or button, you have to tap it in precisely the right place. I found myself trying to click on Ok for ten minutes! With a standard handset with buttons and arrow/cursor keys or D-pad life is so much easier. 2-0 to my E52.

Apps

As I have said, my old Nokia plays music seamlessly. Whilst I concede that the sound quality isn’t quite as good as the Xperia, the ease of use more than makes up for it. I was startled to discover that the phone doesn’t come with its own music player, so I had to – yes, get an app. Thankfully going on Google’s Play Store on my PC was easy, and downloading a breeze. But, I downloaded and tested no fewer than six music players before I found one that nearly worked. Nokia’s standard music player is seamless and accessible, integrating with my screen reader perfectly. However, there is not the same variety and scope of apps on the Simbian OS, so to be fair, a point each. 3-1

Speed

Everything takes so much longer, unless you have a screen full of shortcuts that is cumbersome to navigate around. If an emergency should occur you’d be in trouble. Imagine the scenario, a massive Raiders Of The Lost Ark style boulder is racing towards you and unless you make this call you are flattened – firstly you have to drag your finger around the screen, find the thing labelled “People.” Then you have to take your finger off it and let it open. When it opens you have a variety of different people to choose from. So, you go to all contacts and, if you can slide out your keyboard without touching any part of the screen you can press a letter or scroll down with the arrow key. When you’ve found the person you press the arrow again until you land on the person’s phone number. When you have safely got to this point you press “Enter” and make the call. Now, by this stage that boulder would have nailed you good and proper. Whilst, on the Nokia you can simply go to “Contacts” then right click on the name, go to “Voice call” and job done. 4-1

It is not only in the battery life, the music, the functionality that the phone lets you down, it is in the general clumsiness of use. It is just so fickle. Seemingly every app has a magic button like “Ok” or “Continue” that has to be pressed. But, they are always in different parts of the screen. I spent most of my time either trying to figure out what unlabelled buttons were, or exploring the screen in the hope that I would find the right pixel to tap on. But it goes deeper than that. My Nokia has Talks, a seamless piece of screen reading software that sounds good and does what it should. It reads what’s on the screen in a logical way and with a speech engine that can be made faster and slower and raised or lowered in pitch. The other phone has Talk Back, this utilises a human sounding voice and gives you feedback telling you what you are touching and reading out what’s on the screen. My major niggle with this is that there is no independent volume control for the speech, so changing how loud or soft it sounds is always a lottery. Pressing the volume rocker results in either the ringer volume being changed or the speech being altered in a seemingly random way.

And as for apps, I downloaded and experimented with around fifty. At least half of them didn’t work, and the other half didn’t quite work properly, meaning that buttons were invisible or just not labelled, or that edit voxes or tic boxes were hard or impossible to use. This is where Apple has it right. All their apps have accessibility built in to them to a lesser or greater extent, meaning that they have a much better chance of being useable with Voice Over.

I am willing to concede that at least some of my issues are down to my choice of handset. The Xperia Mini Pro is entrance level and has a small screen. If I opted for a dual core processor and a bigger screen, a Samsung Galaxy for example, it would probably run faster and be easier to negotiate around. That said, it wouldn’t have a keyboard. As for the learning curve, it is immense, and would be with any touch screen product. So why did I buy it? well, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to get handsets with physical buttons, bee they numeric or qwerty. I thought that very soon I would have to move with the times and go down the touch screen route. I thought this handset would be a compromise having a physical keyboard. But, what I can get the phone to do (call and text) my Nokia does a hell of a lot better. Anything over and above that, well, surely I either need eyesight or the patience to learn how to use an Iphone.

And so, it seems I have travelled full circle. From admiring and secretly coveting the magnificent genius of the Iphone and its ilk, I now believe in tools for the job. I want a mobile phone… that’s it, a telephone that is mobile, that keeps a charge, that can send and receive text messages an make and receive phone calls. As a happy accident, my Nokia doubles as an MP3 player, an accessible one at that. I don’t play games anymore because I can’t see anymore;. I used to love playing PC first person shooters. As for apps, well, in theory they are just another drain on fun. I mean, who wants a virtual piano when you have a real one? As for e-mails, internet etc, I have a laptop. So, if I want a computer, I use one. If I want a phone, I use one. Why use a Swiss Army knife when you have a shed full of tools that are designed for the purpose.

So, with a heavy heart, a sense of disappointment and frustration I rebox my Android phone. It just wasn’t meant to be. No doubt I will meet a similar one again, because mortality will strike and my E52 will meet the silicon valley in the sky. But for now, for now I shall have to be content with buttons, no apps, no bells and whistles, just a good old fashioned mobile that does exactly what you want it to do without complaining, moaning, crashing or running out of charge.

Let me introduce you to a telephone. A sleek, easy to use, accessible little chap who plays music in a logical, intuitive way, and lets me make calls and send text messages easily. Also, if the need arises, I can connect to the internet and browse. I’ve even been known to check my e-mails and buy things off Amazon with him. Yes, this is my friend, my colleague, my confidant. My Nokia E52.

Allow me to introduce you to somebody else, sleeker, sexier and all together more modern. In the right hands she can do pretty much anything – record in crystal clear quality, stream films and music, download any number of apps, pointless and otherwise. This is, of course the legendary Iphone.

Last year I found myself pondering, spending many hours of chin stroking, browsing and researching in the attempt to decide whether or not to change my mobile phone. By modern standards my little Nokia is out of date, and most if not everyone I know has an Iphone. But, a lot of those people are blind and I find their fingers staggering around the screen in search of the right spot to press. When, at last the finger is on the exact position they have to make manic gestures whilst listening to a guiding voice to aid them. These same people admit that sending texts is hard work, as typing on the virtual screen is slow and punishing. However, I also know plenty of blind people who, through whatever reason – genetic propensity, magic, Faustian pact, have taken to the Iphone like a duck to water. Effortlessly navigating menus and using apps with startling fluidity and panache. But those average mortals who struggle, happily add a second piece of technology to the mix, a blue tooth keyboard that they have to secure on a chain around their neck along with a rucksack of spare batteries, for, both the keyboard and the phone need charging regularly.

I took my time, around a year to be precise before I decided to march confidently down the Android road, leaving the Appleites to their Itunes and gestures. Why? Well, at the time I had a logical argument that I will summarise:

1- Android handsets come in a variety of flavours and prices. I-phones, well, they’re just I-phones.
2- As a lot of Android apps are either open source or made by a number of different people and companies, the chances of finding accessible apps is greater than finding the equivalent Iphone app.
3- The Android operating system is customisable and ever evolving.
4- There is a greater choice of speech engines.
5- I want to copy and paste files, I don’t want Itunes to be my master.

I am sure there were other reasons, but I think I’ve covered the main ones.

I bit the bullet, took the bull by his horns and bought a new phone. Yes, a smarter, new model than my Nokia, a phone that has apps and intelligence, 3g and scope. I bought a Sony Xperia Mini Pro, a handset that… roll the drums, boasts a slide our qwerty keyboard, thus keeping swipe, drag, flick and tap to a minimum.

A week. A week of follicle-based torture. I tried, I really did, I didn’t eat or drink, sleep or even blink during those dark days. I had guidance and advice from a very knowledgeable person, but still I was defeated. The telephone simply failed to meet my expectations. This was partly due to my inability to devote my whole soul to the task, and partly due to a failure of the technology.

As soon as I’ve finished writing this I am going to find my old Nokia and kiss her awake. Why did I fail where others have triumphed? Am I stupid? Am I impatient? Well, maybe, but I do lack time, and am easily disappointed when technology seems not to do what it is allegedly designed to do. Namely, allow me to access the feature rich landscape of Android world and Googlesville.

Battery

My little darling can last a week without the need for a jack in her socket. My teenaged upstart Ericson – or do they say Sony? Anyway, him – he lasts a day. Absolutely pathetic. Every morning he’s begging for power like a Labrador for food. This means that going on trips is impossible unless you buy, wait for it, an “Emergency” charger. Yes, yet another electrical thing to lug around. So, at the moment it’s 1/0 to my old Nokia.

Input

The keyboard is ok, I can just about manage to stab it with one finger. But when I have to use the touch screen its mental! I found myself scraping my finger around the screen as if chasing an arrant grain of dust. And when you get to the app or button, you have to tap it in precisely the right place. I found myself trying to click on Ok for ten minutes! With a standard handset with buttons and arrow/cursor keys or D-pad life is so much easier. 2-0 to my E52.

Apps

As I have said, my old Nokia plays music seamlessly. Whilst I concede that the sound quality isn’t quite as good as the Xperia, the ease of use more than makes up for it. I was startled to discover that the phone doesn’t come with its own music player, so I had to – yes, get an app. Thankfully going on Google’s Play Store on my PC was easy, and downloading a breeze. But, I downloaded and tested no fewer than six music players before I found one that nearly worked. Nokia’s standard music player is seamless and accessible, integrating with my screen reader perfectly. However, there is not the same variety and scope of apps on the Simbian OS, so to be fair, a point each. 3-1

Speed

Everything takes so much longer, unless you have a screen full of shortcuts that is cumbersome to navigate around. If an emergency should occur you’d be in trouble. Imagine the scenario, a massive Raiders Of The Lost Ark style boulder is racing towards you and unless you make this call you are flattened – firstly you have to drag your finger around the screen, find the thing labelled “People.” Then you have to take your finger off it and let it open. When it opens you have a variety of different people to choose from. So, you go to all contacts and, if you can slide out your keyboard without touching any part of the screen you can press a letter or scroll down with the arrow key. When you’ve found the person you press the arrow again until you land on the person’s phone number. When you have safely got to this point you press “Enter” and make the call. Now, by this stage that boulder would have nailed you good and proper. Whilst, on the Nokia you can simply go to “Contacts” then right click on the name, go to “Voice call” and job done. 4-1

It is not only in the battery life, the music, the functionality that the phone lets you down, it is in the general clumsiness of use. It is just so fickle. Seemingly every app has a magic button like “Ok” or “Continue” that has to be pressed. But, they are always in different parts of the screen. I spent most of my time either trying to figure out what unlabelled buttons were, or exploring the screen in the hope that I would find the right pixel to tap on. But it goes deeper than that. My Nokia has Talks, a seamless piece of screen reading software that sounds good and does what it should. It reads what’s on the screen in a logical way and with a speech engine that can be made faster and slower and raised or lowered in pitch. The other phone has Talk Back, this utilises a human sounding voice and gives you feedback telling you what you are touching and reading out what’s on the screen. My major niggle with this is that there is no independent volume control for the speech, so changing how loud or soft it sounds is always a lottery. Pressing the volume rocker results in either the ringer volume being changed or the speech being altered in a seemingly random way.

And as for apps, I downloaded and experimented with around fifty. At least half of them didn’t work, and the other half didn’t quite work properly, meaning that buttons were invisible or just not labelled, or that edit voxes or tic boxes were hard or impossible to use. This is where Apple has it right. All their apps have accessibility built in to them to a lesser or greater extent, meaning that they have a much better chance of being useable with Voice Over.

I am willing to concede that at least some of my issues are down to my choice of handset. The Xperia Mini Pro is entrance level and has a small screen. If I opted for a dual core processor and a bigger screen, a Samsung Galaxy for example, it would probably run faster and be easier to negotiate around. That said, it wouldn’t have a keyboard. As for the learning curve, it is immense, and would be with any touch screen product. So why did I buy it? well, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to get handsets with physical buttons, bee they numeric or qwerty. I thought that very soon I would have to move with the times and go down the touch screen route. I thought this handset would be a compromise having a physical keyboard. But, what I can get the phone to do (call and text) my Nokia does a hell of a lot better. Anything over and above that, well, surely I either need eyesight or the patience to learn how to use an Iphone.

And so, it seems I have travelled full circle. From admiring and secretly coveting the magnificent genius of the Iphone and its ilk, I now believe in tools for the job. I want a mobile phone… that’s it, a telephone that is mobile, that keeps a charge, that can send and receive text messages an make and receive phone calls. As a happy accident, my Nokia doubles as an MP3 player, an accessible one at that. I don’t play games anymore because I can’t see anymore;. I used to love playing PC first person shooters. As for apps, well, in theory they are just another drain on fun. I mean, who wants a virtual piano when you have a real one? As for e-mails, internet etc, I have a laptop. So, if I want a computer, I use one. If I want a phone, I use one. Why use a Swiss Army knife when you have a shed full of tools that are designed for the purpose.

So, with a heavy heart, a sense of disappointment and frustration I rebox my Android phone. It just wasn’t meant to be. No doubt I will meet a similar one again, because mortality will strike and my E52 will meet the silicon valley in the sky. But for now, for now I shall have to be content with buttons, no apps, no bells and whistles, just a good old fashioned mobile that does exactly what you want it to do without complaining, moaning, crashing or running out of charge.

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