Tuesday, June 24, 2014

My First Smartphone, OMG!

OK, after lots of research via Google and Bell Canada, and some other cell phone carriers too, I found a way to possibly make a smartphone work for me.  I was told the iPhone was the best for accessibility, but the iPhone (and other newer Android phones that also have built-in screen readers) only comes with an expensive plan I can't afford.  Bell had one older Android smartphone that came with a basic voice plan, so after doing what research I could on the old fart I bit the bullet and got it.

As you can probably figure out from a couple of my previous posts, researching the accessibility of smartphones and other cell phones was in itself an exercise in frustration.  The next step was to find a decent case for the little guy that would be reasonably shock resistant, easy for me to grip, and affordable on a low budget.  While that wasn't easy for me either, I did find a really cheap ($5) TPU gel case on Amazon.ca from Skypillar that I thought might have some texturing on the sides for a better grip, and when I got it I wasn't disappointed.  This case has a pretty good design and its material and texturing makes it easy to hang onto (beats the crap out of Bell's $20 gel case that was slippery and not-so-easy to hang onto).  I modified my new case with some rubbery stick-on Braille dots and some rubbery, cushiony 3M grip tape to make it even more shock resistant and grippy, so my new case might look a little weird but it should protect my new old-fart from drops and bumps -- I hope.   I also had to search for a portable Bluetooth keyboard that have concave keys (the kind that are shaped to your fingertips instead of flat), so I could actually type on my new phone reasonably well and as quickly as possible.  Yes, this was another exercise in frustration, especially since it seems like all the cheaper Bluetooth keyboards have flat keys I can't type on (my fingers just go sliding off home row whenever I try to press any key that's not on home row).  I was lucky I'd been able to save a little bit, because the keyboard I figured would work best for me was about $80, and that was only because I got a really good deal on it.

So the case works well, and the keyboard works pretty good too, now for the phone itself.  When I got the phone almost 2 weeks ago I had the store staff turn on the screen reader for me, and then the fun started.  Although the screen reader works pretty good a touch screen is still a touch screen, meaning it's hard to know what you're pressing until the screen reader decides to tell you what your finger's on - another exercise in frustration, as I expected, especially since the screen reader doesn't always decide to talk when you touch something.  Also I have wide clumsy fingers that sometimes double-tap by accident or jerk away from what I want to tap, and that makes things even more interesting (well, interesting's one word for it anyway).  But once I got it home (where hopefully no one could hear my constant cussing) I did manage to get it set up the way I wanted, and even managed to put a strap on the little sucker so I can wear it.  Since then I've been learning tricks to make it work a little better.  I'm lucky I have a little bit of sight, otherwise it would have been even more frustrating and tedious, if not altogether impossible.  I spent the first week or more trying out and tweaking some basic stuff like the Contacts list, memos, texting, calling, and refining my settings.  Once I got familiar with the device I went online with WiFi.  I tried opening the web browser and accessing my GMail account.  While the phone's GMail app's pretty accessible so far, I couldn't read anything on the web browser until I found out scripts had to be installed from the phone's Accessibility menu.  Then it was doable, although not too easy.  Even before then I'd been looking into apps that would make my phone more useful.  I didn't want to get too many apps and clutter up my system, but I did get some good ones that were free.  The best app I got was a talking compass, and a couple of the apps aren't usable for me yet because of either accessibility issues or some other software glitches.

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you about the on-screen keyboard.  It's just as frustrating and slow as I expected!!!  I had no luck with the QWERTY keyboard, even in landscape mode, but luckily Samsung has a 3x4 keyboard that's kind of like the keypad on a regular phone.  It's still really hard and slow to use, but I can get by with it if I have to.  That's why I'm really glad I was able to get a decent Bluetooth keyboard that I can stick in my bag and take with me.  I can't type very fast on a physical keyboard, but I still do way better with that than with the nasty on-screen keyboard.

My conclusion: I still want to strangle, punch and shoot whoever got the bright idea to design touch screens, and a few smacks upside his/her head would be pretty cathartic too.  But at least there are options for making at least some smartphones usable for at least some things besides making a phone call.  I'm hoping it'll get at least a little easier to use this thing and that the apps I downloaded and can't use yet will get updated to something I actually can use.  But at least now when I'm out and waiting for the bus or occasionally having a coffee I can do something more productive than listen to my iPod.

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