A few days ago, in an RNIB promotional email, they advertised a new product called the Hable One. It's a braille keyboard designed to work with IOs and Android devices of all kinds, using a Perkins style keyboard with a couple of function keys to navigate phone screens via braille input. It is claimed that with this braille input, you can do everything via braille input, without having to use iPhone and Android hand gestures. Great! Just the thing for me, bring it on quick.
It's a quite brilliant piece of kit
At a cost of £240 or so, it's not cheap, in fact, more than double the price of an Apple Qwerty keyboard, but I thought, what the heck, go for it. Which I did. It arrived quickly too, and I was keen to see how it worked in practice.
I asked to be supplied with Braille instructions, which duly arrived with a print copy too. In the box as well as the Hable One, you get a USB C cable which you plug into the mains and a Lanyard wrist strap. And that's it.
The Hable One is very small, smaller than my standard iPhone 12. Apart from a charging port on its back, six Perkins-style keys and two extra keys for dots 7 and 8, [this latter also act as function keys], and an on-off switch at the front, that's it.
The instruction manual is very straightforward and easy to understand, and pairing the phone with the Hable One is also very easy. And off you go. Navigation is well explained as to what each key combination does, and even if you're a non-braillist, you could learn braille itself from this instruction manual.
Are there any downsides? Yes; just one, and it was a big one for me. The keys on the machine are arranged Vertically, not, as on most Perkins-style devices, horizontally. For most of the braille alphabet that doesn't matter very much, except when you come to vowel letters. So the arrangement of dots two and four, when for example writing the letter I, means in horizontal [normal mode[, that the hands mimic the shape of the braille letter being typed. But, in Vertical mode, it means the opposite is true, and to us experienced braillists, it feels like an "en"" sign. Dot four is in the wrong place. This is very hard to visualize on paper, but if you have the Hable in your hands, you'll find it a little confusing to have to adjust your braille thinking.
Initially, this caused me so much difficulty that I sent the machine back, claiming that was for me at least, unuseable. I asked for a refund and got it.
I got in touch with the chief technological officer of the RNIB, who promised to do some research on my behalf. Well, it turns out that about 50 percent of users of the Hable one share the same difficulties as I did. Unfortunately, the RNIB sent me an outdated instruction manual. Had they sent me a more up-to-date version, I would have learned that there is, in fact, a very easy workaround for the problem, and you can re-assign those keys to mimick Perkins-style braille shapes. So, it's ok after all and will be for anybody else. When you know what to do, it's simplicity itself.
The Hable One lives up to its advertising blurb. It's a quite brilliant piece of kit, and, as the instruction manual states, it makes using an iPhone or an Android phone "super easy." With my reservations gone, I warmly recommend it. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.