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July 11, 2008 / Marco

Which Symbian Screen Reader Works Better on the Web

For quite some time, Nuance TALKS has allowed the visually impaired to use the web via their S60 3rd Edition handsets. Few days ago Code Factory joined the party by releasing Mobile Speak 3.40. This release also supports the full-fledged web browser which can be found on 3rd Edition cellular smartphones. Now the valid question is which one has the upper hand. Read on to find the answer to this question. Both screen readers use a virtual cursor to make the S60 web browser accessible and both provide easy element-based navigation commands.

TALKS and the web browser

As a web page is opened, TALKS announces this by reading the number of HTML elements which can be found there. Users can then move back and forth among HTML elements. For instance, sequential presses of “4” move users forward to headings. To move backwards, users should press “Star” (*). “#” (Number) is also used to help users quickly move to next instances of the same element. As such, the “*” key and the “#” key are used to define the forward/backward movement of users among different HTML elements. TALKS users can move to links, headings, frames, lists, tables, form elements, and so forth this way. This also applies to finding text on a page; that is, once you pres “Call”, type a word/phrase and press “Key one”, you can press “Star” and “Number” to move to prior/next instances of it.

One unique feature of TALKS is that it can help users move to list items or table rows by pressing “1” – this is missing in Mobile Speak. More important, however, is its ability to directly jump back and forth among HTML elements without having to define the “jump mode” first – see below.

Mobile Speak and the web browser

Mobile Speak also allows users to jump to different HTML elements, but you should first define your “jump mode” before attempting to jump, so to speak. The default jump mode is “jump by links”, meaning when a page loads, you can press “joystick left” and “joystick right” to move among previous/next links. To move among headings, for instance, you should first press “4” twice to alter the jump mode to “headings”. Afterwards, each press of Left/Right moves you to previous/next headings. To move among links, again you should press “5” to alter the jump mode to “links” before pressing Left/Right. In my opinion, this additional step makes using the web browser a bit difficult and time-consuming in spite of the fact that Mobile Speak has made the “jump mode” quite feature-rich by toggling among the so-called similar elements when a key is pressed. As a case in point, pressing “5” toggles the jump mode to the following elements:

  • Links,
  • Non-links,
  • In-page links.

Mobile Speak has a “move” feature which helps users move forward and backward on the page by a fixed percentage of the page size. To use it, you should first press “6” to define the percentage element. The available elements are 2 percent, 5 percent and 10 percent. Once the percentage is defined, Left/Right joystick moves the virtual cursor back and forth on the page.

Common features and a dissimilar implementation

When a page is being loaded, TALKS can announce the amount of the loaded page if “TALKS key+long 2” is pressed. This forces TALKS to say something like: “X KB” where “X” represents a number. Mobile Speak does the same thing if “Joystick Up” is pressed. It says something like “X of Y KB”, which is a more thorough message compared with that of TALKS.

I can’t use Mobile Speak to activate “in-page” or “same-page” links whereas TALKS does an excellent job of activating them. When I press “Select” on a “same-page” link with Mobile Speak, nothing happens. To see it in action, visit the Freedom Scientific home page. What’s more, TALKS annoyingly treats links and buttons as if they were just one HTML element; that is, pressing “5” moves you to next/prior links and buttons. Mobile Speak does a better job by treating buttons as belonging to the “forms” family. With Mobile Speak, pressing “5” alters the “jump mode” to “links” and pressing “3” alters it to “Forms”, “Editors”, “Buttons”, “Check box and radio button”, and “combo box and list box”, respectively.

Last but not least, both screen readers provide a “read-to-end” feature on the web. With TALKS, you should press “TALKS+Down” to activate it, and with “Mobile Speak the key is “9”. On my N82, Mobile Speak inserts relatively long pauses after each sentence whereas TALKS reads sentences quite smoothly. For your information, I use TALKS with Eloquence and Mobile Speak with DECtalk.

Which one is better then?

I can’t give you a precise answer other than mentioning the fact that I like TALKS direct jump-to-element feature as opposed to Mobile Speak’s so-called indirect jump-to-element. Also, TALKS provides context-sensitive keyboard help on the web via the training mode: “TALKS+0”. If you want to purchase a Symbian screen reader, don’t forget to give them a try first.

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