[tweetmeme service=”idbonline”] The word apex is defined in the dictionary as “the summit.” So it would seem that when HumanWare decided to call its newest entry into the field of Braille note takers the Apex, the company believes it has come up with the ultimate note taking device for the blind.
HumanWare claims that this is the thinnest and lightest Braille note taker in the industry. And they are correct.
I love the form factor of this device, and I love the crisp refreshable Braille. Unfortunately, that is where the love affair comes to an end.
HumanWare also claims the Apex contains the hardware that BrailleNote users have longed for. Let’s take a look at this claim.
The Apex has three USB ports, which is an improvement. They look as though they were made for the unit, not like they were welded on as an afterthought by some industrial arts students like the USB ports on the BrailleNote mPower do.
The Apex has 8 Gigabytes of internal storage space, a slot for high capacity (HC) SD cards, a user replaceable battery, and built in Wifi support. It also has a VGA port so that you can attach a monitor to it, and support for wired LAN networking.
But did HumanWare truly raise the bar? No!
First, one of its competitors, The Braille Sense Plus from HIMS (distributed in the United States by GW Micro), has 8 gigabytes of internal storage, built-in Wifi support, a VGA port, a slot for high capacity SD cards, and support for LAN networking. It also has a user replaceable battery.
And let’s talk about the battery for a moment. The BrailleNote Apex does not have the same battery life as older models of the BrailleNote. The Apex gives the user approximately 10 hours of battery life, whereas older BrailleNote models can get about 15 hours on a charge.
Now, let’s look at Wifi support. Many home wireless networks use DSL modems that have built-in wireless access points. I have tested the Apex using three different DSL modems, and the results are terrible. It can take nearly five minutes for the Apex to load a web page, and that web page could be as simple as Google’s home page. HumanWare says certain DSL modems do seem to be a problem for the Apex, and they say they will have a fix for this problem fairly soon. However, if this is the case, why would my findings be identical on three different DSL modems?
Now, we’ll look at the software that the BrailleNote Apex uses. This software, Keysoft, was an innovative set of programs when it was first released in 2000. However, some of the most frustrating problems that BrailleNote users have been complaining about for years have not been addressed with the release of this new unit.
First, Microsoft Word support is very poor. The Apex cannot open documents created in Microsoft Office 2007. In fact, it can’t open some documents that were created in Word 2003!
The Apex cannot read HTML email messages. The Apex has trouble with a number of web pages because it does not interpret them correctly. It doesn’t know where the hypertext links are. Two fairly simple web pages come to mind: Mushroom FM is the web site for an Internet radio station and Free Rice is a site where one can play a vocabulary game and donate rice to feed hungry people.
In conclusion, I would not suggest that a user of the BrailleNote mPower upgrade to the Apex. HumanWare is promising improved support for Microsoft Word, but until that support is a reality, I do not believe that the Apex offers current BrailleNote users enough substantial improvements to warrant the price of the upgrade.