The Fred's Head blog contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Fred's Head is offered by the American Printing House for the Blind. It was voted best blindness-related blog three years in a row by BlindBargains.com.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Traveling with Books: a Review of the Book Port Plus



By Aaron Linson

            I was first introduced to books through commercial audio books while going on long car trips to Florida and Alabama and wherever else family vacations took us.  When I went to the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB), I was being taught braille and loved it.  Being able to have anything I wanted to read was awesome.  Magazines were a big part of my life, especially Boy's Life, a monthly publication relating to everything that had to do with scouting.  I enjoyed reading a lot and still do to this day.  I soon found out though that while braille was great for taking notes in school and leisure reading, reading textbooks for school in braille was annoying plus who wanted to carry around a volume of a book on a vacation (which I did for a long while).  When I was a sophomore at KSB, I remember hearing about DAISY format books.  The school library already had a lot of DAISY books on file and I read them a lot but what interested me was the prospect of a portable solution for reading on the go.  Enter the Victor Reader Stream from Humanware, the first DAISY player on the market in 2007.  I got my hands on one as soon as I could and loved using it. 
The VR Stream as it is now called was a joy to use and a leap in AT (adaptive technology) for the blind and visually impaired.  Over the years however many companies have seen the potential for the DAISY space and have created their own players.  I want to talk about one player in particular, the Book Port Plus (BBP) from APH (American Printing House for theBlind).  What led me to purchase this player? I've owned VR Stream ever since it came out in 2007 and have watched it grow into  a mature solid piece of technology that I couldn't live without.  I enjoyed using it but recently one morning when I was wanting to catch up on a book I was reading the night before, I turned on my trusty Stream and nothing happened.  Curious what might have happened, I ordered another battery from Humanware.  When that didn't work I contacted Humanware and told them about the issue. The representative said that he'd take a look at it and get back with me.  After a few days the news wasn't good--my VR Stream that had served me for 6 years had completely died, nothing could be done.  I had no choice  but to look for another DAISY player.  My immediate thought was to buy another VR Stream.  Seeing as how the VR Stream hasn't changed much hardware-wise when it was introduced I really didn't want to go with another Stream.  I had heard a lot about the BBP from APH and decided to give it a try.  When I first unpacked the BBP I noticed how much lighter and thinner it was than the stream.  After I drooled over the physical aspects of the device I immediately went online to see if the book transfer software was available for the Mac.  To my surprise it was.  After that program was downloaded and tested with VO (VoiceOver) I contacted the NLS (National Library Service for the Blind) in order to get my key for the BBP to play NLS books.  I was surprised once again when, in the e-mail I was told to just connect my player, open the book transfer software, go to a specific menu item press enter and the key would be placed on my BBP without me having to transfer it myself.  This just made my life a lot easier.  When it came time to download books and documents for school I just put all of my files onto the card without any folder system whatsoever.  I inserted the SD card into  the BBP, wondering if I had to format the SD card and create separate folders for different kinds of media since that is how I had to do it on the VR Stream.  Again I was surprised--the BBP took care of that for me.  I had heard that the BBP was a really good recorder and the most accessible one on the market.  I can say that this is true. I can't wait to use the recording features for my choir practices and piano lessons.  
  
Overall, my experience is positive. The only things I don't really like is that the battery life isn't as good as on the VR Stream. You really don't turn the BBP off unless you are going to be not reading anything for a few days.  The reasoning behind this is because you use the BBP like a cell phone.  You don't turn it off unless you need to.  I've found this to be somewhat annoying when I've been listening to a book at night. I have set the sleep timer and discover that my battery is at 75%.  Another feature that could be added would be the ability to highlight or bookmark.  This was a very useful feature for me when the VR Stream software supported it and I used it all the time. The highlighting feature on the VR Stream was the same things as a sighted student highlighting a passage for reference later  I wish a feature like highlighting or bookmarking could be added in the near future. 

After only a few days with the BPP, I can say I’m glad I made the decision to get the device. 

Note: you can order spare batteries, extra AC adapter and Battery doors from APH if you loose them.

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