Windows Phone 8.1 accessibility review

May 25th, 2015

The following is a brief review of Windows Phone 8.1 from an accessibility perspective of a totally blind user. The short summary is that for $50 a Windows phone is a decent emergency backup phone if you’re blind and want a $5 a month phone plan to make calls or text if your primary phone dies. It may also be worth the money if you’re interested in technology and are willing to deal with large accessibility issues to see if future updates improve the situation. While the phone works fine for making calls, sending email, sending texts, and basic internet browsing no other features such as third party apps, FM radio, etc work well with the built in screen reading software. This is a fairly brief review since Windows 10 for Phones will be coming out in the next several months and most Windows Phones will be upgradable to it. Windows 10 is a major change so I assume the accessibility software will change significantly.

I got a Lumia 635 ATT Go Phone as a Christmas gift since it was cheap and I was curious about how accessible Windows Phone is. The first thing to note is that there is no way to turn on Narrator which is the built in screen reader if you are totally blind. I had a sited friend enable Narrator in the accessibility settings for me. Once Narrator was enabled there was no tutorial. Unlike on Android or iOS I had to Google for basic Narrator usage info. The link that appears to be the only good source of info is

http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/how-to/wp8/settings-and-personalization/use-narrator-on-my-phone

Once Narrator was enabled I started to explore the phone. I found the phone to be quite responsive even though it is a lower end device. I found all the phone settings to be accessible such as changing narrator speech rate, reading my SIM card info, etc. Every third party app I have tried as well as most built in apps on the phone are not accessible do to lots of unlabeled buttons or having things announced such as “microsoft.phone.FileManager.models.storageItemModel” and other things that are obviously things internal to the application and provide no usable info. A brief list of things I found that were not accessible includes but is not limited to the weather app, Windows Phone store, FM radio, Microsoft Word, etc. Do to the large amount of inaccessible apps I will cover what parts of the phone I found to be accessible followed by a brief conclusion of overall accessibility.

Once Narrator was enabled customization of the phone was generally accessible. The first thing I did was sign into my Microsoft account. Since the initial phone setup took place before Narrator was enabled I had my friend skip the Microsoft account setup so I would not have to give them my password. Once I had narrator enabled there were no problems adding my Microsoft account. Once that was done I went into settings to look up my SIM card info. Since I switched the included ATT Go Phone SIM for a Pure TalkUSA SIM card in order to activate the card I had to get the ICCID number off the SIM. I was able to get this number by finding the SIM card info section in settings. Unfortunately Narrator only allows you to read by word or character when viewing a web page. Since this is a 20 digit number it was not possible for me to memorize it hearing it once. In order to get the number I had to set the speech rate to its slowest setting and write the number as the phone announced it. This was the only situation where not reading by word or character was a problem for me but I could see this being a large issue if I used this phone as my primary phone and sent a lot of texts.

After I had my phone service I imported all my contacts. This was accessible since I was able to export my contacts from the iPhone as a .csv file and upload them to my Microsoft account. After a while the contacts showed up on my Windows phone without requiring any extra steps other then insuring the same account I uploaded the contacts to be set up on the Lumia 635. Once I had my contacts I made a couple calls and sent a couple texts to test out accessibility. Both calling and texting are completely accessible and easy to use.

I found email to be accessible on the phone but clunky to use. Setting up email was easy to do, I entered in my email address, password, and the rest of the settings were filled in. Once email was set up reading, responding, and deleting email was accessible. Unfortunately although email shows up in a conversation view there was no way I could find to delete an entire conversation at once. I get enough email that this makes using this phone to triage email impossible. The email capabilities of Windows Phone may be adequate for blind users who do not get a lot of email but are inadequate for heavy email users.

Internet browsing is one of the bright spots with Windows Phone accessibility. Although performance is a bit slow I found the experience to be quite good. Windows Phone provides the standard brows by heading, table, link, etc features that you would expect in a modern smart phone. I found these to work well and was easily able to brows pages such as Wikipedia that make heavy use of headings for navigation. I was also able to use sites that required basic forms without an issue. For a $50 device I was quite impressed with how well internet browsing worked.

I found the Windows Phone store to be mostly inaccessible. While I could search for apps the buttons to install them were not labeled. In order to install an app I had to use my PC and Google the name of the app I wanted. When I found the app and went to the windows store page for it in my internet browser there is an option to install it to your phone. This is the only way I’ve been able to install apps. App updates occur automatically in the background. If you see a count on the store tile you need to go to downloads. There will be a list of apps each with an unlabeled button. When you click the button you will get a prompt to allow whatever permissions the new app updates needs such as location. The app will then update.

In summary Windows phone is a good option for a cheap backup phone that can allow you to text, call, and do basic internet browsing. I would not use Windows Phone in its current state as my primary phone. If my iPhone broke Windows Phone is good enough to allow me to keep in touch with people until I could get a replacement iPhone though. My suggestion would be that a blind person should not buy a Windows Phone unless one of the following is true. If they are looking for a cheap backup phone for use with a cheep prepaid cell phone plan Windows Phone is worth it. If they are interested in experimenting with new technology a cheap Windows Phone is also worth buying. Although I have not done it yet you can sign up to get operating system betas. $50 is not a lot to spend if you’re interested on keeping up with the latest Windows Phone OS beta’s to see if accessibility improves.

TiVo review

March 12th, 2015

This is a review of TiVo from an accessibility perspective. For those who are not familiar, TiVo is a DVR, which with a cable card, allows you to record and watch TV without using a cable company DVR. The TiVo device is not accessible, since it assumes you can see the screen when using the remote to browse recordings, schedule recordings etc. There are apps for iOS and Android that allow you to do most actions that would be done with the TiVo remote.

I am an iPhone user so most of my testing was done with an iPhone 5S. I also own a 2012 Nexus 7 running Android 4.4.4, so I did some brief testing of the Android app as well. In my testing with the Android app, I found it unusably slow, but generally accessible. Others with newer phones found it usable, so it probably depends on how new your Android device is.

I bought the TiVo Roamio Plus which has 6 tuners and a built in TiVo Stream. I believe that most things should be similar with the basic TiVo Roamio and a stand-alone TiVo Stream device, but cannot confirm this. Based on the fact that when ordering directly from TiVo a TiVo Stream is $130 and a TiVo Roamio is $199, I would recommend paying $399 for the TiVo Roamio plus to get the built in stream and twice the storage space.

The first thing I will go over is the ordering of the TiVo device. I ordered my TiVo Roamio from Amazon to save $50. When getting a TiVo, you need to create an account on tivo.com and enter your TiVo service number. If you order the TiVo from tivo.com, the TiVo service number of the device you ordered will be automatically added to your account. Since I did not order from tivo.com, I had to get the service number from my device and enter it after creating a TiVo account. The number is on the TiVo device and is not available in an accessible format. I had a friend read me the number and I wrote it down. After I had the number, the creation of my account on tivo.com and associating the service number I had written down was completely accessible on Windows with Jaws as my screen reading software.

The setup of the TiVo device was completely inaccessible. When plugging in the TiVo, you have to go through a setup process using the TV screen and TiVo remote before accessing the TiVo with the TiVo app. This setup process includes downloading updates, setting up the video signal to your TV, and activating your cable card with your cable provider. When setup was complete and I was able to change channels using the TiVo remote, I logged into the TiVo iOS app for the first time.

Logging into the iOS app was difficult. While I was able to enter my email and password, there were two unlabeled buttons. It was not clear that one of these buttons had to be tapped to accept the terms of service. Once I tapped this button to agree to the terms of service, it was announced as “wdw check” and I was able to log into the TiVo app. Once I was logged in, I was able to use the TiVo guide. The guide is generally accessible.

When swiping through the guide, you hear the channel number followed by the name of the current program on that channel. Tapping the program name allows you to view information on that program, watch the program, or record it. When tapping the watch button, you are prompted on whether you want to watch on TV or iPhone. Picking how you want to watch the show is not intuitive. When you tap watch now, rather than a popup, three buttons will appear at the bottom of the iPhone screen. They are TV, iPhone, and cancel. Once you find one of these buttons, you can easily swipe between the options but will need to explore to find the three buttons. Selecting TV automatically starts the requested program playing on your TV. Selecting watch on iPhone starts recording the program and playing the recording on your iPhone. The accessibility of the iPhone video player will be covered later in this review but it is generally accessible.

The TiVo guide has a slider that allows you to go up and down by 25 channel increments which I found useful. Performance of the guide with Voiceover is generally good. Instead of the program title displayed, To Be Announced is displayed, although waiting ten seconds usually clears this up.

Using the remote with the TiVo is fairly accessible. By default, the TiVo remote cannot power on/off your TV, change the volume, mute it, etc. Setting up this feature requires sighted help. One thing that is a bit confusing at first, is the fact that to control your TV in order to do things such as mute it, change volume, etc., you need to point the remote directly at the TV. When performing functions on the TiVo unit such as changing channels, pausing and resuming playback, etc., it does not matter where you point the TiVo remote. In order to easily fast forward and rewind when watching recordings on the TiVo, you need to configure your remote to use a 30 second skip. Instructions for this can be found at

http://www.weaknees.com/30/

Once I had someone help set this up, I was easily able to hit the fast forward button several times to skip in 30 second increments. If I skipped too far, I would hit rewind several times to skip back in eight second increments until I hit the end of a commercial. Pausing and resuming playback with the remote is also accessible. Selecting a show to watch has to be done with the TiVo app, since the on screen menus are not accessible. When you are done watching a TV show, TiVo prompts you to delete the recording. This prompt is not announced, but hitting up twice and then select will delete the show.

Browsing future shows and choosing to record them is accessible using the TiVo app. From the TV guide, you can either select a show that is currently playing and select record now or select a channel and get a list of what is coming up on that channel. When viewing a list of upcoming programs, tapping a program title brings up a description of the program, when it is airing, as well as the option to record it. When selecting to record the program, there are several options such as starting the recording early, adding extra time to the recording, determining how long the recording will be kept, etc. All these options are accessible. Another option is to set up a One Pass. A One Pass will record a program any time it airs, not just the currently selected showing. One Passes offer a lot of options such as number of episodes to record, record only new episodes, etc. All of these options are accessible.

Browsing recorded shows is fully accessible. From the TiVo app, selecting the “my shows” tab presents a list of recorded shows. You can select to view either shows on the TiVo device or shows that have been downloaded to your device. When swiping through the list of shows, the show title will be announced. If the show is part of a series, the number of available episodes will be announced after the title. If the show is not part of a series, tapping it will bring up the information on that show with the options to watch the show, download to device, or delete the show. This screen is completely accessible. If there are multiple episodes of a show, tapping the show title will bring up a new screen with a list of episodes. Tapping the title of an episode will bring up the show information with options to watch, download, or delete. To get back to the list of available shows from a list of episodes, you will have to hit the back button. When tapping watch, you have the option to watch on either the TV or iPhone. Tapping download will allow you to download the show to your phone. There are several quality settings for downloading the show. Each setting will be announced with how much space downloading will use on your phone. When starting a download of a show, to see the progress of the download, select to view shows on iPhone from the shows tab. If the show is not completely downloaded, the TiVo app will have a percent indicator of how much of the download is complete. If a show download has been interrupted you will be able to resume the download. Some shows, such as those on premium channels such as HBO, are copy protected. This means, when downloading the show, the recording will be deleted from the TiVo device. There is a check box that you must check in order to acknowledge that you understand the show will be deleted from your TiVo. This is an unlabeled button, so there is no way of telling whether it is checked or not. This is not a big deal since it is unchecked by default. In order to download a copy protected show, all you have to do is tap the unlabeled button and then select download.

Searching for shows is accessible. From anywhere in the app, if you click on the search button, you can enter a show name. When tapping a show name you get info on the show, actors, etc. There are options to watch the show or get this show. Tapping get this show allows you to record either the next episode or set up a One Pass. Tapping watch provides a list of streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu Plus that the show can be watched from. Assuming that your account on these services is properly configured, selecting a service such as Netflix will start the show playing on your TV after a bit of a pause. If your account is not configured, a setup wizard will appear on screen to log into the selected service. This wizard is not accessible and must be completed with the remote. I have had issues with my Netflix account not being remembered. If the show does not start playing, I ask someone sighted to help me set up my Netflix account again. Another option when viewing a show, is to get a list of episodes. Selecting a specific episode from this list allows you to either record that specific episode or watch it from streaming services it is available on.

The TiVo app provides a remote feature that allows you to use an iOS device as a remote. This feature is generally accessible. Most buttons are properly labeled, so you are able to do things such as watch live TV, change channels, etc. There is an option to use your device as a keyboard as well. This is somewhat accessible. While you can type letters, the letter is not announced when it is entered, unlike normal typing on iOS if you have that option selected.

The video player used to watch recordings on the iPhone is generally accessible. When watching a recording there are buttons to pause, fast forward, rewind, and done, which will stop the recording and bring you back to the show info. There is also a slider you can use to move by larger increments in the show. Swiping from button to button works well and double tapping them works as expected. Swiping from anywhere on the screen does not move to the next or previous control, though. You need to explore to find an initial button, and then begin swiping. I tend to find the done button in the lower left corner of the device when held in landscape mode with the volume buttons facing you and swipe from there. When skipping repeatedly, using fast forward or rewind sometimes causes the buttons to lose focus. In order to get to the buttons again, you have to double tap anywhere on the screen and then find a button to begin swiping from. While this is not the best, it is a large improvement from previous versions of the app where none of the on screen controls were visible to Voiceover.

There is a What to Watch tab on TiVo which is mostly accessible, but not easy to use. This section allows you to view currently airing shows in categories such as sports, movies, etc. Reordering the categories is accessible, so I have sports at the top of my list. Unfortunately, there is no way to move quickly from section to section. If I want to see what movies are on, I have to scroll through all currently airing sports before the movies will be announced. Another issue is favorite channels cannot be set up using the TiVo app. You can set your favorite channels up on the TiVo device using the remote, but cannot do this with the app.

The TiVo Mini is a device that you can plug into a second TV which will allow you to watch recordings and live TV using the main TiVo unit as a server. Instead of $100 plus $6.99 a month, the TiVo Mini cost me $149, with no recurring service fee. This was a holiday deal, so in the future you may have to pay a $6.99 monthly service fee. The setup for this device was completely inaccessible like the TiVo Roamio. Once I got it set up, in order to control the TiVo Mini, I had to select it using the “select a TiVo box” option on the more tab of the TiVo app. During setup of both the TiVo Mini and TiVo Roamio you are prompted for a device name. Give the device a meaningful name; in my case I named the TiVo Roamio Living Room and the TiVo Mini Bedroom. Once you select the TiVo Mini, the app behaves the same way it would for the TiVo Roamio. You are able to list shows, watch them on TV, etc. One thing to keep in mind is that the TiVo app does not show what box is currently selected. Since the TiVo Mini does not support streaming to an iPhone, there have been times when I have attempted to watch a show and have been told this device does not support streaming. There have also been times where I have started a show playing on the TV, while in the living room, and been confused because the TV did not start playing the show. The first time this happened it took me a few seconds to realize I still had the TiVo Mini selected as the active device. Even though you can watch TV on your phone, I have found the TiVo Mini to be a worthwhile device. It is much quicker to fast forward through ads using the remote, or go to a specific channel using the numbers on the remote, than it is using the TiVo app when watching on your phone.

In summary, the TiVo device is well worth the cost to me. While there are some minor accessibility issues and setup is completely inaccessible, even with the high cost, it is worth the money to provide a DVR solution that allows me to independently schedule and watch recordings. I would strongly recommend TiVo to any blind iOS user who has the disposable income and desire for a good DVR solution. I cannot recommend the TiVo device to Android users based on my limited experience, but other blind Android users have had good luck. So if you are an Android user, I would suggest trying out a friend’s TiVo unit, if possible.

An Android review/Android and iOS comparison.

July 25th, 2014

This is my attempt to compare the latest versions of Android and iOS from the perspective of a totally blind user. This article will be split up into three sections. The first section is a general overview of my experience with Android and iOS. Since I am primarily an iOS user, the second section will be my general experience with Android. In order to get an idea of what Android is like from a blind perspective, I will not be making comparisons to iOS in this section. I will just describe my experiences using an Android phone for the last month. The final section will be a comparison of Android and iOS from an accessibility prospective. The section about my experiences with Android is fairly long and can be skipped for those who want a quick overview of my opinion on Android compared to iOS accessibility.

When choosing an Android device, use this article as a general guide to determine whether Android is something you would be interested in, not a recommendation for a specific device. Some Android phones have customizations which make them more accessible than the default Android experience you get on Google Play devices such as the Nexus 4. Some devices have issues which make them less accessible than the default you get with a Google Play device. Since I cannot test all devices, I am going to use the Nexus 4 for this review. If researching other devices, keep in mind that everything I write may not apply to your chosen device. During this review, where ever possible, I attempted to use the default software applications included with Android. While in some cases these meant things might be somewhat less accessible, my goal is to provide a comparison of default Android accessibility to iOS, not a comparison of heavily customized Android to iOS. For information on specific devices, look at the eyes-free google group at

https://groups.google.com/d/forum/eyes-free

It is a group of blind Android users who have been helpful to me when I have had questions in the past.

I am a software developer and have been using computers every day for the last 15 years with Jaws as my screen reader. My first smart phone was a Nokia E71X using Mobile Accessibility as the screen reader. While this phone would not be considered smart by today’s standards due to the lack of an app store, I was able to use it for basic internet browsing and email. In 2009 I bought the third generation iPod touch, which was the equivalent of an iPhone 3GS. Although I was skeptical that a totally blind person could use a touch screen device, I got the salesperson at the store to promise that they would waive the 10% restocking fee if I returned it within 14 days. Although I initially had trouble figuring out how to use the iPod touch, within a week I was comfortable with it and had decided to keep it. In 2011, I bought an iPhone 4 that I used until I recently upgraded to an iPhone 5s.

My experience with Android started in 2012 when I bought a $99 Chinese Android tablet running Android 4.0. I was not expecting a lot out of this tablet, but was hoping to get a basic idea of Android accessibility. While I was able to get it speaking with sighted help, accessibility never worked quite right and I gave up on it. In 2013 I bought a 2012 refurbished Nexus 7. My experience with this device was more positive since I was able to set it up without sighted assistance. Although it was usable if you were totally blind, I never got comfortable with it since if I had trouble figuring out how to do something, I would just go back to the iPhone. When I decided I wanted to realistically assess Android for accessibility, I realized I would need to use an Android phone as my primary phone in order to avoid picking up the iPhone whenever I ran into something I could not easily figure out how to do. In order to do this, I bought a Nexus 4 from one of my co-workers and swapped the SIM from my iPhone into it. At the time of this review, I have been using the Nexus 4 as my phone for about a month.

Setting up the Nexus 4 was completely accessible, although it required you to have headphones. From the initial setup screen I held two fingers on the screen slightly separated for several seconds. Performing this gesture enabled Talkback. Using Talkback, I was able to connect to a wireless network, log into my Google account, and choose my keyboard layout and everything else that was required to set up the phone. The only issue is that by default, Android does not speak the characters you enter into a password field unless you have headphones plugged in. While you can turn this off in settings, when in the setup wizard, there is no way to get to settings and disable this option. In order to type in my Gmail password, I had to use headphones. While this is not a big deal, it is something to be aware of.

Google provides an explore by touch tutorial that is somewhat useful. The tutorial walks you through finding and activating apps, scrolling through lists and pages, text selection, and typing. In Android when selecting text, changing the way Talkback reads text etc., you need to use specific gestures such as swiping up and right, then exploring the screen with your finger to find the specific option you want, such as read by word. While the tutorial teaches you how to do this, the gestures are tricky to always get right. It would have been more helpful if the tutorial had required you to complete these gestures several times before moving to the next step.

Once I was done with setup, the first thing I tried to do was answer a call. This turned out to be impossible to easily do by default. While I could swipe through options when someone called, there was no option I could tap to answer the call. A quick Google search of the eyes-free blind Android users group confirmed that you had to perform a specific gesture to answer a call and that it had to be performed on a specific portion of the screen. Rather than making a friend repeatedly call me so I could practice the gesture to answer the phone and hoping I was able to do it properly every time, I just downloaded “shaking call receive.” This app allows me to shake the phone to answer a call. While it is ridiculous that Google does not offer an easy way for a blind user to answer their phones, at least this can be quickly fixed by a free app.

The next thing I did was to import my contacts from my iPhone. Many people will not need to do this since any contact you have in Gmail will be automatically accessible. Since I did not have my iPhone set to sync all my contacts with Gmail, I had to export all my contacts as a .VCF file. Using my computer, I then transferred this file to the downloads folder on my Nexus 4. I was then able to use the app OI file manager to select the file. When I opened it, I was able to import all the contacts from the file to my phone. This entire process was easy and accessible.

After getting my contacts imported, I tried out text messaging. When I sent a message to a contact, my phone prompted me to switch from the default messaging app to Google Hangouts for text messaging. Since I do not use Google Plus or Hangouts, I decided to stick with the default messaging app. I was easily able to send and receive text messages. It was easy, although slow to type messages using the onscreen keyboard. I found myself using dictation by activating dictation rather than typing on the onscreen keyboard. The one annoyance of the messaging app is a lot of unlabeled buttons. When reading previous messages, there was an unlabeled button after every message. This made reviewing past messages slower than necessary, although had no other negative effects on accessibility. It is worth noting that Android allows you to install alternative messaging apps. I have not tried any of these, but saw info on the Eyes-free list about an app called Accessible SMS. If I were using an Android phone as my primary phone full time, I would probably give this app a try.

The next thing I set up on my phone was email. I’m not a big email user on my phone, but I do like the ability to glance at new messages. Since I had heard that the Gmail app has accessibility issues and I wanted to use other accounts besides Gmail, I installed K-9 Mail. This app was easy to set up my email accounts on and I had no problem reading and responding to email. Deleting multiple email messages without reading them first was less intuitive. I had to enable multiple checkboxes in the K-9 Mail settings. Once I did this, to select a message I would have to tap the checkbox immediately before the email subject, as well as the checkbox immediately after the email subject. While this allowed me to select multiple email messages at once and delete them, it was a slow process. Since I’m not a heavy email user, this application met all my needs. If I had a lot of email triage to perform though, I would have quickly grown frustrated with how long it took to select multiple messages. One note on using this application, by default it puts new messages in your notification center. Since I had my main Gmail account set up in K-9 Mail in order to avoid duplicate notifications, I disabled mail for my Google account in the device settings so the Gmail app would not pop up with a notification.

After setting up email, I installed Firefox for Android in order to have an accessible browser. Let me preface what follows with the fact that I do very little browsing on my smart phone. If I know I am going to have to read or type a lot when using the internet, I will grab my laptop. Given the fact that I generally only do quick Google searches or quickly read a Wikipedia article, Firefox works well enough. Opening a webpage and reading it was completely accessible. In order to move by link, form field, etc. you use a three finger swipe left and right to move element by element. A three finger swipe up and down cycles through the type of elements you want to move by. I had a very hard time performing these gestures until I realized that on my Nexus 4 I needed to have my three fingers oriented vertically on the screen not horizontally. Once I figured this out everything, worked fine. In addition to swiping with three fingers, you can use a Bluetooth keyboard to move by element K and Shift+K will move to the next and previous link, h moves by headings, etc. Since I always carry a small Bluetooth keyboard with me, I found this the easiest way to use Firefox. I should note that as of mid-June an accessible version of Google Chrome has been released. Since I don’t use an internet browser much though, I did not bother playing with this.

In general, I was able to find accessible applications on Android for everything I use frequently on iOS. For podcasts I used Pocket Casts. I was able to import my podcast subscriptions from an OPML file and the app was accessible. For music I use Spotify instead of storing files on my phone. The Android version of Spotify was generally accessible. One issue I had was the inability to pause playback from within the Spotify app since the playback controls are not labeled. In order to work around this, I would lock my phone then pause playback from the lock screen. For reading books I use Kindle. The Kindle app on Android has just recently become accessible and worked well for me. When attempting to install the official Twitter client, I saw it wanted access to my text messages. Since this made me uncomfortable, I bought Tweetings for Twitter. This app is accessible and my only complaint about it is, when reading through my timeline, there would be a button after each tweet. While this did not reduce the accessibility of the app, it did slow me down when I had a lot of timeline reading to do. Since I am not a heavy user of GPS apps, I did not play with any of these. Searching the eyes-free list should provide several options for GPS apps specifically designed for blind users.

After using Android for a couple of weeks, I looked into customizing my home screen layout and using widgets. I experimented with different launchers but was never able to find one which would allow me to delete home screens. Since I was unable to find a launcher that would let me reduce the number of home screens from 5, I just stuck with the default launcher. Using the default launcher, I was able to add an app to a home screen by accessing the app drawer and long pressing the application. After the app was on the home screen, I could long press it and swipe left and right to move it from home screen to home screen. I could never control where the app would wind up on a home screen though, so I was unable to create folders of apps. I was also able to add a widget to the home screen by selecting the widget type I wanted from the list of available widgets accessed through the app drawer. Given these constraints, I laid out my home screens as followed:

Home screen one consisted of nothing but widgets to direct dial important contacts. The second home screen consisted of a weather widget and other widgets to access quick settings such as mobile hotspot and cellular data. My third home screen contained my most important apps such as Kindle, Tweettings, Pocket Casts, etc. My fourth and fifth home screens contained all the stuff that I dragged off the first three home screens when I was arranging them. This is due to the fact that I could not figure out how to delete an icon from a home screen, only move it to another home screen where it would be out of the way.

From an out of the box experience, I feel Android is close to iOS from an accessibility standpoint. Android, however, felt much less polished to me. While all the major functions of a smart phone can be accessed on both iOS and Android, Android requires more customization. The two examples of this that stood out to me were having to install the Shake to Answer app and Shades. As soon as Voiceover is activated on an iPhone, you can easily answer the phone. In order to answer the phone on Android without sighted assistance, you need to get comfortable enough with Android to launch the Android market and install Shake to Answer. The second major out of the box advantage of iOS over Android is a built in screen curtain in iOS. With Android, I had to install the Shades app to reduce the screen brightness to a level that someone could not read by glancing at my phone. Unfortunately Shades does not directly integrate with Talkback. On iOS if voiceover is deactivated, the screen automatically becomes visible. With Shades this is not the case, making it a two-step process to allow a sighted person to borrow your phone. Rather than just disabling your screen reader, you have to disable Shades then disable your screen reader. When the sighted person is done with your phone, you have to remember to enable Shades, since it does not automatically activate when Talkback does.

In general usage I found Android to be slower than iOS. I realize there is no good way to make this comparison since the hardware is not identical but there is one specific issue that I assume is not specific to the Nexus 4, since I also saw it on my Nexus 7. When scrolling through long lists, Talkback would pause as it was switching pages and sometimes repeat the last item on the prior page, before continuing to read items on the new page. This was particularly annoying in apps consisting of long lists with few items per page, such as Tweetings. In general, I found swiping from item to item to be slightly less responsive on the Nexus 4 than on the iPhone. I do not believe these are issues specific to the Nexus 4 since my 2012 Nexus 7 with half the ram and a duel core processor, instead of the Nexus 4’s quad core processor, had similar performance in daily use to the Nexus 4.

General screen reader usage is easier for me on iOS than on Android. While I understand some of this is due to more experience with iOS, the gestures on iOS are more intuitive than on Android. With iOS you can use the rotor to access all major options. On Android, there are multiple two part gestures, for example, swiping up and right or right then down. In some cases, performing these gestures on Android will immediately perform an action such as opening the notification center or activating the back button. In other cases, the gesture will bring up a menu of options. While in theory a menu of options is nice, you have to drag your finger around the screen without lifting it to find the specific option you want. I found this difficult and, after a month of use, still have some trouble quickly finding options such as reading by word or pausing Talkback after I’ve activated the menu. I also find the two part gestures difficult to perform. After a month, I’d say I only get them right about 90% of the time. With iOS I had a 100% success rate with any gesture I needed to perform after two weeks. iOS has two system wide gestures that I miss on Android. The first is a two finger double tap to pause and resume music playback. Since Android did not have this gesture, I often found myself having to search an application for a play/pause button or locking then unlocking the phone to pause playback from the lock screen. The second gesture is a double tap within a text field to start dictation. In Android you have to find the dictation button next to the space bar. This makes starting dictation slower. On the pro side for Android, I found text dictation on Android to be quite a bit more accurate and more reliable than iOS.

Navigation on Android and iOS was comparable, although different. On iOS it is easy to get home by pressing the home button or to switch apps by double tapping the home button. Generally back buttons in applications are in the upper left corner of the screen and are relatively easy to find. On the Nexus 4, there is not a physical home button. Instead, there is a home button, back button, and recent apps button at the bottom of the screen. While I was worried about the lack of a physical home button, within a couple days, I could find all these buttons easily so I would call this a draw. One advantage the iPhone has over the Nexus 4 is the availability of tactile screen protectors. While it is easy to find items such as the back button and status bar on the Nexus 4, a tactile screen protector would have made typing easier.

Following are some general comparison notes that do not fit anywhere else. The status bar is easier to read in iOS than in Android. In iOS if you touch the status bar, you can swipe left and right to hear individual pieces of information. In Android, you cannot read individual pieces of information. Tapping the status bar reads all the information. In Android it is impossible to tell whether your phone is charging. When you tap the status bar, it will announce your battery percent but does not announce whether the phone is charging, unlike iOS. In Android using Talkback, it is impossible to see if there is network activity. According to a Google search in the Wi-Fi indicator, a blinking up arrow represents upload activity and a blinking down arrow represents download activity. Talkback does not announce this. Talkback also does not announce that location services are active when reading the status bar, even though this information is available. Finally, I found Bluetooth keyboards to be much more reliable for entering text on Android than iOS. Before Fleksy (an alternative touch typing application I find to be much more efficient than the standard iOS keyboard) was released for iOS, I bought a $20 mini Bluetooth keyboard. I would often have issues with keystrokes not being picked up or repeated multiple times. I assumed this was due to it being a keyboard, but when I used the same keyboard on Android, I had none of these issues. I found using a mini Bluetooth keyboard on Android to be just as efficient as Fleksy on iOS when I was in a situation where I did not want to dictate text messages, such as texting at work.

In summary I was pleasantly surprised with Android accessibility. Both Android and iOS are viable smartphone platforms if you are a totally blind individual. Both allow you to perform main smartphone functions such as calling, texting, checking email, browsing the internet and using apps. The learning curve for Android is steeper than for iOS, due to the requirement of finding alternative apps such as an email client and way to answer calls. Android gestures are also harder to learn than iOS. While quite usable, Android performance is not as good as iOS. At any instant this is not a big deal, but having used the Nexus 4 for a month, I did notice that things did take slightly longer to do on the Nexus than on the iPhone.

Based on this, there are three different budgets I will consider. The first budget is money is not an issue. I could not recommend buying a high end Android phone that costs the equivalent of an iPhone. If you’re going to pay the same for iOS or Android, it makes more sense to go with iOS since it is generally easier to use and performs better. The second situation is if your budget is around $350. With having read multiple reviews, but not having a chance to play with a Moto G, I would either suggest trying to spend extra on a used iPhone or save $150 and buy a Moto G. Since I did not see a performance difference between my Nexus 4 phone and Nexus 7 tablet in daily use, I would assume there would not be a big performance difference to a blind user between a Nexus 5 and a Moto G. If you are blind you do not care about the screen quality, as long as the touch screen is good enough to register taps. Since a camera is not a big deal, I do not see the point in spending extra for the Nexus 5. If your budget is $200 or below, I would suggest getting an Android phone such as the Moto G or possibly the Moto E instead of buying an out of date used iPhone, or struggling to save enough money to buy a newer iPhone.

When I went to college, Smart phones were not really an option if you were blind. With everything I know now, if I were 18 and starting college, I would buy a $149 Moto G with the $25 per month republic wireless plan to save money, rather than spending $650 on a new iPhone and paying $50 for cell service. If money matters a lot, Android is good enough as a blind user. Even if you are giving up some usability and performance, you can still accomplish everything with it that you could with an iPhone. If money is not a major concern, the better usability of the iPhone is worth the extra cost.