Having recently had cataracts removed from both my eyes just before COVID-19 and the pandemic kicked in, my interest was piqued by news of a product entitled OrCam Read. This product comes with the claim of being able to provide assistance to those with mild to moderate vision impairment or specific reading issues. While my vision has improved considerably since the cataract surgery, I could appreciate the difficulties impaired vision could cause and was keen to check out the capabilities of the OrCam Read offering.
Making up the OrCam Read kit is the actual OrCam Read device, Type A to Type C USB lead, 3-pin power adapter, wired earphones, lanyard, cleaning cloth and User Guide featuring ten different languages. Developed by OrCam Technologies, an Israeli based company, the OrCam Read device has the appearance of a flash drive that has undergone a course of steroids. With dimensions of 125 x 22 x 11 mm (H x W x D) and weighing 46g, the OrCam Read is portable enough to fit easily into a pocket or bag without causing a bulge or weighing you down if you do not fancy wearing it around your neck using the lanyard.
Decked out in matte black with decorative silver logos, the OrCam Read arranges it controls along the top of the device. Running from front to back, these controls consist of a circular trigger button, plus and minus volume adjustment buttons and a mini elongated power button. Held in either hand as if it were a pen, the various controls are easily accessible. Also decorating the top of the device is a row of power indicator LED lights and a Type C USB socket for charging purposes.
Situated on the front of the device is a combination of camera and laser features. With the laser acting as the means to select the text, the camera will capture the content which will then be read back to the user. OrCam Read offers the user two different modes for the selection of the text. These modes are entitled Frame and Pointer. As its title indicates, Frame mode targets a particular area enclosed within a laser generated frame. The targeted area can be increased or reduced by moving the OrCam Read closer or further away from the text. Once the camera has taken an image of the text it will be read using either a male or female voice.
Pointer mode allows for the selection of a precise point from which the reading can begin. In the mode it was noticeable that the angle between the positioning of the document and OrCam Read could cause some confusion as to where the reading should begin. I found that the most accurate results could be achieved if the document was laid flat or held upright with the OrCam Read positioned directly overhead or at an angle of 90 degrees facing the document.
When dealing with a large document, such as a newspaper, you may require OrCam Read to deal with specific information or a type of text. To help deal with this type of task, OrCam Read has a Smart Reading mode. Using this feature you can direct the read facility towards specific areas of the document by using vocal commands. In this way you can target headlines, amounts using currencies such as Dollars, Euros, Pounds and Yen or concentrate on specific articles or part of the document.
The OrCam Read voice commands can also be used to access various 'help' issues and settings commands such as a choice of male or female voice with an adjustable volume and number of words to be read per minute. While I was able to hear the various OrCam Read announcements and content being read, using either of the voices, it is possible to enhance the audio volume output by setting up a link to an external Bluetooth speaker as well as using headphones. Instructions for how to carry out this task are listed in the product's User Guide.
Using a variety of documents, whether printed or of the digital variety, the OrCam Read was able to handle a range of font types and sizes. It could even read back my reviews displayed on a computer screen. However there was one type of document that proved too difficulty for it to handle. This document consisted of my notes that I had scrawled during a presentation. I have to admit that I struggled to make sense of some of these notes so I cannot really blame OrCam Read.
It is almost compulsory for today's devices to have an accompanying app. OrCam Read does not disappoint in this respect but does not totally satisfy everybody. There is an app but only for those with an iPhone or iPad. Android fans are out of luck and will have to use the OrCam Read product without the aid of an app.
I have been informed that the price for the OrCam Read is £2000 + VAT and checking on Amazon I see it's currently available for £2,400. While you might consider this a high price to pay for a rather unimpressive looking device, you need to consider the internal technology it delivers to the user especially those with impaired vision. It may be possible to download a Read Text app from the Play Store that can capture and read back the text content, OrCam Read can do far more for those who could benefit from its functionality.
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