By John Galloway
I had been looking forward to reviewing the Intel Reader since I saw it at a recent conference in Chicago and was impressed by its capabilities. It has not disappointed.
The technology to convert a photo of a piece of writing into spoken language has been with us for a while – optical character recognition of scanned pages for instance. And applications have been developed for high-specification mobile phones. All have been impressive, but the key to success is accuracy: you do not want problems if you need to rely on such resources, particularly for critical things like emergency notices. That level of reliability has yet to be reached, but the Intel Reader gets tantalisingly close.
It is a dedicated device designed, predominantly, to translate images into spoken text. Fairly portable – for your handbag, or the pocket of a coat rather than a shirt – it has a large screen and a camera at the base, so that the most efficient way to capture an image is to hold it about level with your nose, with the document on a flat surface, but without harsh, direct light.
While you would expect it to perform well with laser-quality black text on white paper, it wasn't thrown by a whole range of samples: an email printed out confirming car hire, with different font styles and layouts, which it read right down to the small print; a page of white writing on a pink background, with an introductory paragraph then laid out in three columns was read flawlessly; the black ink on pink newsprint of the FT, differentiating between the snippets (although it didn't manage to make them intelligible).
There are, of course, flaws. It is sometimes less accurate around the margins, particularly if the page is crumpled or uneven. Processing can be a bit slow, leaving a lag from taking the image to getting the output. And, despite its size, it can seem a bit chunky. The position of the camera is fine for documents on a flat surface, but less easy for notices on a wall.
As this device can be connected to a computer, it is not limited to working with images; other materials, such as MP3 files can also be uploaded, it can even be used to generate sound files from text (See YouTube video of novel homework use below).
The controls are straightforward, and configuration is easy, and mercifully limited. There are two voices, male or female, speaking British English, but each has five different pitches, and the speed can be increased or decreased as desired. Colour schemes for text playback are, again, limited, as is the variation in font size, but they will be sufficient for the vast majority of users.
Overall this device represents a step change in this area of technology, converting text into speech through the medium of images. It has its faults, but it provides a degree of reliability, and therefore confidence, that users will appreciate.
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 4 (needs to work on vertical surfaces too)
Ease of use 4 (easily learnt, and unfussy in operation)
Features 4.5 (impressive in its flexibility)
Quality 4.5 (easy-to-read screen with clear voice)
Value for money 2.5 (price will fall when others catch up - one day)
A portable, handheld device that helps students with reading difficulties - perhaps through dyslexia or impaired vision - to access printed material by using a high resolution camera to convert printed text to digital text, which is then read aloud to the user.
£995 (ex VAT) from Inclusive Technology
January 13-16, Olympia, London
You can see Intel Reader on the Inclusive Technology and Intel stands.
Inclusive Technology – Stand P2 and at the Special Needs Fringe 2010
Intel – Stand E40
John Galloway works as advisory teacher for ICT/SEN and inclusion in Tower Hamlets, London, and as a freelance writer and consultant. He is the author of Harnessing Technology for Every Child Matters and Personalised Learning.
You can see his round-up of 'don't miss' items for special needs and inclusion at BETT 2010 here.
John is giving two seminars at BETT 2010; one, "Making Learning Platforms accessible for pupils with SEN; wherever they are, and whenever they want", at 12 midday on Thursday January 14 in the main BETT seminar programme; the other, "Learning to live with a learning platform – one year on", at 3pm on January 14 at the Special Needs Fringe 2010 seminars in the Olympia Hilton Hotel.