Technology: Review on the Braille Sense Polaris by H. I. M. S. International

Hello to all of my beautiful nerds and welcome back from traveling the vast universe! It’s time for a technology review!

Braille Sense Polaris by H. I. M. S. International!

Disclaimer: This review is based on observations and experience of the lead writer of this blog. Please respect her thoughts and opinions!

It’s a long time coming but finally get to review this device and that’s the Braille Sense Polaris. As you know, I have been using Braille tech for a long time and this is the latest note taker that has been released a year ago.

Built with Android tech, the Braille Sense Polaris not only acts like a Braille note taker but also acts like an Android tablet using apps that can be downloaded from the Google Play Store and use a touch bar under the the routing buttons right above the Braille display. There are many functions it can do such as reading books, using the Word Processor to take notes and even read Excel Spreadsheets, on top of that also has a built in camera to use many apps that rely on it.

My thoughts on this device has a lot of pros but does have its cons with it too, let’s see what I think!

Thoughts: I have had much experience with the H. I. M. S. International Braille Sense line with starting with the Braille Sense plus QWERTY model which is basically what if you took a keyboard from a computer and attached to a Braille display and took notes that way. Reason why I went with this one is because being in college you have to pay attention to the lectures and and figuring out the contractions while the professor speaks then you will miss something important and having this one did help me out, even though I am a fast typist and there were times when it couldn’t keep up. Plus, it did help with reading some books that were hard to read for class assignments. This did go on with using during my earlier press jobs at MetroCon 2013 and 2014, Omni Expo 2014, and of course MythiCon 2014 until one of my keys ended up breaking off and that got me to the U2, which introduced me to the Perkins Brailler keyboard. I thought it would be simple but it wasn’t because unlike the QWERTY counterpart you have chords to use which is a Braille character with the spacebar combined. I did have to remember a lot of them as time went on but got a hang of it until the battery decided to give me issues and knew I had to step up and that’s where the Polaris came in.

There is another device I was introduced to and knew about and that was the Braille Note Touch which what if you took an Android tablet and placed a Perkins keyboard on top and you can also use the touch screen to Braille with it as well. You can even use Bluetooth devices with it too but one thing I didn’t like about it was that it was heavy. You not only have the tablet portion but you also have the keyboard on top to add to the weight which as you know I do press at conventions and having something lightweight helps so that is why the Polaris was better for me. As in, going from panel to panel, being able to access it easily to interview people and so on made me choose this device more. Plus, I am more familiar with the Braille Sense line than the Braille Note line which makes it even easier for me to use the Polaris more.

What Do I Like the Most: What I like the most about the Polaris is that it added more features to it since we are not only playing with a single product but with a second platform at added to it which is Android and it gave Braille a better advantage since nowadays people are using Android and Apple devices for their daily tasks. Besides note taking, I do love using my Polaris to pair with my phone in order to navigate through Facebook, Instagram, and even sometimes email with it since dictation likes to be tricky even in text messages but of course I have been using it with the video function on my phone because well if you have seen my earlier beauty videos, Siri talked a lot in them. Imagine with all the comments I got, I did get some tips from someone from a tech company who did demonstrate the two devices for me. It did help and using the Polaris with the phone while recording does tell me the video is still recording without having to get up and go to the camera to see if it is still recording. Nice little feature.

Another thing I did like is how the Help Topics were expanded because you have so many new features to use within the Polaris itself and remembering everything can be a hassle so having different Help Topics to go back on does help out, heck even there was a section for me to look at on the Touch Bar itself since I didn’t get much information about that which I will talk about that later and will talk about the Touch Bar now!

The newest feature that was added was the Touch Bar which is a strip placed in between the routing buttons and the Braille Display itself. You can turn on the Touch Bar by using the Global Settings Options and use this feature as if you’re navigating a tablet screen. As in, you can swipe with your fingers across this strip to go between the programs, double tap to go into apps, and so on. It’s a fun little feature and yes if you have long nails it can be tricky so I would say clip your nails back if you can.

Another feature is of course being able to download apps from the Google Play Store and being able to use them in this environment. Great thing about this feature besides downloading is that if you have an Android phone or tablet yourself you can download the apps you had on those devices and place them onto the Polaris itself which is great because you can use Google Docs and Sheets between the two and able to save and open these kinds of documents between the Braille Sense side and the Android side. Not only that, other apps can be downloaded too if you haven’t used them on other Android devices such as a printing app. My mom has a wireless printer and during the summer I didn’t have any ink in my printer so I decided to try out her printer with my Polaris and downloaded the printing apps I needed and it worked out beautifully! And remembered when I mentioned the camera? There are apps you can use with this feature and one app I did test out while using it is of course Be My Eyes! While I was at the NFB Convention this summer, I did ask if it could work on a Braille device with a camera and they weren’t sure about it and afterwards I put it to the test and downloaded it to my Polaris. It did work! Even though you can’t see the object through the camera but it does act like a video camera for the volunteer? I also heard that KNFB Reader can also be used this way so I am waiting for my chance to download it during a sale, if I can, to see how well it works out for me. I would love to read my documents during work with this app and it is a dream of mine to be able to have it.

Cons: Besides the Pros, there are cons to this device. First is and hearing it was fixed with the last update and that is how in Word Processor where writing gets jumbled. As in if I was writing something, it gets moved automatically like if you were using a laptop, trust me I didn’t like that due to the Mouse Track Pad. I wasn’t the only one who experienced this either since other people at the NFB Convention also went through what I went through. Now I have to see about it being fixed during Ranger Stop when I take notes.

Another con is using Google Docs and Google Sheets, I am not sure if this is the same issue with Slides but I have noticed while trying to type in Docs I sometimes get taken out of the document area and it’s hard to get back in. Now, I am not sure if it will work better since I have been trying the Touch Bar and if it would still have me in writing a document but this annoyed me while trying to write my latest fan fiction and had to restart the chapters over and over. I will see how it goes with using the Touch Bar feature and get back to you on that. And with Sheets it feels like when you add columns it’s hard to go back to previous columns since it can only fit a few on this kind of display. I did mention Touch Bar and I will see how that goes and may write a post about my experiences with the Touch Bar since apparently I am the only one so far trying it out. Anyways, I do like how I can just construct the spreadsheets on this device but trying to navigate the columns and rows not so much, wishing they can expand on this which I will mention in the Improvements area.

And finally, not all of the apps are optimized for this kind of environment. What do I mean by this? Well, while downloading some of the apps through Play Store, I did notice there was a message mentioning that this app is not optimized to the Polaris itself as in its optimized for tablets and phones only. I understand you’re using a Braille device but being able to have the Android system built in to add more functionality to the device itself the app should be able to operate normally and optimized to be used in this environment. Not sure how well the apps are able to work on the Braille Note Touch, I have a feeling since that that has a screen it is optimized better in their environment. Not only that, some apps can’t be used on this type of device which includes Kindle which makes me sad, I did suggest that they should add Kindle in order to have more reading options.

How Can This Product Can Be Improved? There are many ways such as making the apps be optimized to fit this device more since it is a new tech being used and of course it is new to this market. I would have to say the most would being able to use the G-Suite Programs without any issues as in being able to type in Docs without being kicked out of the document area. If we’re using Google Suite programs we should be able to use them to their fullest potential especially in the classroom. Yes, we can copy and paste what we wrote in Word Processor but being able to just type it right there it would be easier than just going from one area to the next. Goes the same with Sheets too, having that ability to just create spreadsheets and going back and forth between columns if they get added can be a better extension of using a Braille device with Google.

Another improvement is that that there are recordings of videos about how to use the Polaris and not only that recordings done with the audio recorder on the Polaris too. Sorry to say H. I. M. S., with my super bat hearing I can’t hear it! As in, the audio is so low it is hard for me to hear even raising the device volume to its fullest. It goes the same way when you watch the videos on YouTube on a PC and probably goes the same way on other devices that use YouTube. Hello, a microphone can help out and don’t just use the audio recorder on these devices, no offense I have used it before and it doesn’t record anything loud enough unless you put it closer. Best to just use a microphone and probably talk a bit louder if there is no mike. I even talk loud in all of my videos in a loud room, why not do the same?

Another thing is talk about the Touch Bar more. What I mean is that yes it can be a tricky thing to do and use which I admit I always find myself in the Global Settings if I’m not careful enough but being able to talk about this feature and train people on it, even doing it as an instructional video, can give more functionality to this device. This takes me back to the G-Suite thing, if you guys built it into a device then why not show how to use it? I did say I was able to find out how to use it on my own and as a new A. T. Instructor knowing about this feature does help. Plus, it is a neat feature to use after my small experience with it and its fun to play around with and being able to train someone after learning it first can help give new customers to the company and also show what else the device does besides using the Braille keys. It’s like using the Terminal Mode with the phone, I sometimes need to swipe in order to get around on my IPhone while navigating on my Polaris and cool thing is with the Touch Bar you can swipe to those apps too. So, talking about this feature more can expand what the capabilities are. If Human Ware has the touch options on their devices so does this one and as said before should be talked about more.

And one more thing, knowing with updating the Firm Ware on this device, there should be flash messages saying, “Hey! New Update!” Instead of just guessing. For instance, there was a new update and it was supposed to be released at the end of August but didn’t show up until mid-October. I did check the Update Firm Ware to see if there was one and having a message saying it can help because there are Notifications on this thing like a regular Android Tablet Apple Devices why not do notifications based on that since a lot of these note takers do use Wi-Fi.

Rating: 4 Star Paw Prints Out of 5! Not all devices are perfect and this one is one of them. I know I had some cons and some improvements that should be made. I wills see how the Touch Bar interacts with the Google Suite Apps because I feel like they would benefit more with it than just the keyboard use. Not only that I am hoping Kindle can be used on this thing since I have a ton of books needing to be read and if I’m at a convention and having a break and want a good book to read then that is what I can fall upon besides using the DAISY Player and Bard Mobile. In the end, H. I. M. S. has done a pretty good job but does need to make improvements along the way and hoping they keep making devices like these due to how much tech has been growing and it was a great step up for them due to how much Apple and Android has been big parts in the mobile devices market. Plus, good thing is this can help with getting into Android a little since not everyone uses this type of tech platform and I did say in the Life After Sight Loss live stream recently that you can see what’s best for you by being able to test both platforms and good thing with this kind of device you can use the Bluetooth settings with Apple devices so they can go hand in hand with each other. I think I did make a good choice with this device since I am familiar with the products and now Accessibility and Braille is starting to get more into the high tech field by catching up with Android so it’s living strong. I bet you’re wondering, would I have gone with the Braille Note Touch instead? Even though the features were nice on that thing, if it was lighter than I would but as someone who goes convention to convention, I’d rather go for a lightweight device and not slow myself down. If I were to save up for the Touch itself then I would probably consider it to see how it works and expand my tech knowledge more. Who knows what will happen but I am going to stick with the Polaris and see how much it will improve over time.

That is it for this review! I am glad that I was able to talk about this device since so many people have seen me use it before and always ask me questions. Ranger Stop will be its first convention that I will be using my Polaris at and will be having some fun with it. Let’s see how it goes! In the meantime, follow us on Twitter @ Nerdy Shique for the latest updates and until then stay beautiful while traveling the universe!

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