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A Review of the Orbit Reader 20 by Linda Welding

(Note:  This article appeared in the Winter 2018 edition of the TAVIP Newsletter.)


I purchased the Orbit about 3 weeks ago now, and someone on this list suggested that I write a little about it. It’s a bit long, and perhaps I should have given it the subject heading of “A lot about the Orbit”, so you’ve been warned!

If you are a member of the RNIB, this little piece of kit comes in at just under £400. My impressions, so far, are definitely favourable, and it’s fantastic that its price means that it is becoming accessible to a lot more people, and hopefully, helping to keep Braille alive.

So, how big is it?

It is approximately six inches wide, four inches deep and about one-inch high. Just a shade smaller than the average bumper paperback book. If any of you have seen the 14-cell braille devices on the market, then it’s about that size.

Description and Orientation of the unit.

With the Orbit in front of you, ensure that the 20 cell braille strip/display is nearest to you, with the keys furthest away.

On the lefthand and righthand edge of the braille display, there are 2 rocker switches, which enable you to ‘pan’ through your reading. These rocker switches perform the same function, so you can choose to activate them with either hand.

Above the braille display are 3 keys; running from left to right:

key 7 (or backspace/delete), spacebar, and key 8 (the enter or return key).

Above these 3 keys you will find the 6-key perkins style entry keys.

Between keys 1 and 4, but slightly lower in alignment is a round dial with tactile markers at the clock position 3, 9, 6 and 12. These are your cursor keys. 3 = cursor right and 9 cursor left; 12 = cursor up and 6 cursor down.

In the middle of this round dial is a button, which serves as a select or confirm button.

At the back of the unit, and slightly indented in the machine from left to right are the on/off button, the SD card, and the micro USB slot for connection to another device such as a PC.

The braille cells are quite pronounced, which is useful for those lacking sensitivity in their fingers. Unlike other braille displays, the dots remain rigid, so you can’t push them in! You can input using 6 or 8 dot braille, and you can read in grade 1 or 2 braille.

There is a slight noise when the braille refreshes, and some people have whinged about it – but you can’t please everyone I guess. For me, it doesn’t distract, and you can’t really hear it if there is background noise.

How the Orbit functions

There are 2 modes, a stand-alone and a remote mode.

The Stand alone mode means what it says. It isn’t connected to anything, it’s just you and the little beast. In this mode, you can create files and make notes with some simple editing; read books, which reside on your SD card. An SD card is supplied with the unit with some books already on it, categorised into Adult, Children, manuals, Music, and reference. In the Manuals section, you can read the quick start guide and the full version of the user manual.

Bear in mind, that if you put another SD card in, the items displayed would depend on how it was structured by the supplier – and that could be you of course.

I admit that I don’t spend hours reading books on it, but it’s a great little device when you don’t want the bulk of a braille book, and brilliant when travelling as it is so portable.

I’ve found it useful for taking notes, and already taken advantage for jotting things down. I used this only yesterday for taking the words of a couple of hymns down at a funeral service.

The remote mode.

This mode enables you to connect the Orbit to another device such as a computer or a mobile phone. Connection can be done via bluetooth or via USB connection. the Orbit relies on the screenreader of the device it is connected to, to provide the output display to the Orbit and, in turn, the screenreader receives the commands from the keys you press on the Orbit to carry out your request.

I did connect the Orbit to my PC and ran Jaws and NVDA, but I didn’t take either screenreader through its paces.

In terms of connecting to a mobile phone, I have only used this with the Iphone. I haven’t heard any adverse remarks in connecting with Android phones, although I have read a couple of remarks from those experiencing difficulties using the Orbit with the Kapsys phone.

Connecting (or pairing) to the Iphone is very straightforward. Once you are connected, you can basically access any app on your phone that you currently use with voiceover. As Voiceover speaks, you will notice the braille display change to compliment. There are a number of shortcut keys, which enable you to perform actions like ‘go to top of screen’, ‘go home’, go to the app switcher area’. A little learning curve, but this won’t stop you from being able to navigate around your screen and activating and using your apps, just by simply using the cursor keys and the central confirm key.

It means that you can use the Perkins-style keys to enter text anywhere on your phone where there is an edit box. So, writing emails and text messages should be a lot easier.

The keyboard entry does take a little getting used to, and you may find that sometimes a dot is missing when you check your input. But take it slowly and you will find that you can gather speed when you become more familiar with it.

If any of you use Kindle or Ibooks, you can access these apps and read the book in braille, although you might want to turn speech off with a 3 finger double tap first!