Comparison of different camera apps for Low Vision / Blind users (with data)

Ok the last couple of posts have been:

Camera apps for blind users
Camera apps for low vision users

To come up with my recommendations for those two posts, I looked at 36 camera apps.

Today I thought I’d present the list of apps I compared, along with some brief notes on each, to help you investigate the options you might be interested in.

I’ve also included two screenshots of each option – one at normal DPI and the other at double that. That follows on from my recent post about Adjusting android resolution, pixel density and font size and my series on Rooting Android (You need to have a rooted device in order to adjust font size beyond the “Huge” size which is actually only 1.3 times the size of the regular font size, or to adjust the DPI). So this page should be of interest both to those looking at different camera apps, and those looking at how adjusting the DPI affects a range of apps.

So here is a list of all the apps I tested, some points on each (in a table) and some images of each in both standard DPI (320 DPI on my Galaxy Note 2) and after I manually doubled the DPI to 640.

A Better Camera

[Image of A Better Camera]

[Image of A Better Camera]

a better camera - high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-21-18-45-40

A Better Camera in normal (left) and double DPI (right)

Back Camera Selfie

[Image of Back Camera Selfie]

[Image of Back Camera Selfie]

Back camera selfi - high dpi - Screenshot_2015-06-01-08-49-15

Back Camera Selfie in normal (left) and double DPI (right)


binoculars Screenshot_2015-05-19-14-10-14

binoculars - high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-09-39-48

Binoculars in normal (left) and double DPI (right)

Camera (Google)

[Image of Google's default camera]

[Image of Google’s default camera]

camera google high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-09-40-35

Camera (Google) in normal (left) and double DPI (right)

Camera 2

camera 2 - Screenshot_2015-05-20-09-41-01

Camera 2 looked exactly the same in normal and high DPI.

Camera 51

camera 51 - Screenshot_2015-05-21-15-29-14

camera 51 - high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-11-34-56

Camera 51 in normal (left) and double DPI (right)

Camera Awesome

[Image of Camera Awesome]

[Image of Camera Awesome]

camera awesome high dpi - Screenshot_2015-05-20-08-52-20

Camera Awesome in normal (left) and double DPI (right)

Camera Fun Free

camera fun - Screenshot_2015-05-21-15-44-40

camera fun high dpi - Screenshot_2015-05-20-09-41-31

Camera Fun Free in normal (left) and double DPI (right)

Camera Fv-5

[Image of Camera FV-5]

[Image of Camera FV-5]

camera fv-5 high dpi - Screenshot_2015-05-20-09-41-57

Camera FV-5 in normal (left) and double DPI (right)

Camera HDR Studio

camera hdr studio - Screenshot_2015-05-20-09-45-48

Camera HDR Studio did not change appearance between normal and high DPI.

Camera ICS

camera ics - Screenshot_2015-05-21-15-31-48

camera ics - Screenshot_2015-05-20-09-46-46

Camera ICS in normal (left) and double DPI (right)

Camera Zoom

binoculars Screenshot_2015-05-19-14-10-14

binoculars - high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-09-39-48

Camera Zoom in normal (left) and double DPI (right). The app looked identical to Binoculars by the same author.

Camera Zoom FX

camera zoom fx - Screenshot_2015-05-21-15-36-06

camera zoom fx - high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-09-55-51

Camera Zoom FX in normal (left) and double DPI (right)


[Image of Cameringo+]

[Image of Cameringo+]

cameringo+ high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-09-57-17

Cameringo+ in normal (left) and double DPI (right)


[Image of Camu - with one of the easiest to see shutter buttons]

[Image of Camu – with one of the easiest to see shutter buttons]

camu - high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-09-57-51

camu - high dpi - Screenshot_2015-05-20-09-57-48

Camu in normal (left) and double DPI (middle and settings at double DPI right)


cymera - Screenshot_2015-05-21-15-43-21

Cymera did not change appearance between normal and double DPI.

DSLR Camera

[Image of DSLR Camera]

[Image of DSLR Camera]

dlsr camera - high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-09-59-20

DSLR in normal (left) and double DPI (right)

Fast Burst Camera

fast burst camera - Screenshot_2015-05-21-15-44-19

fast burst camera - high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-10-00-08

Fast Burst Camera in normal (left) and double DPI (right)

FX Camera

fxcamera - Screenshot_2015-05-21-16-30-15

fxcamera - high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-10-01-10

FX Camera in normal (left) and double DPI (right)

HDR Camera

hdr camera - Screenshot_2015-05-21-15-45-30

HDR Camera did not change appearance between normal and high DPI.

High Speed Camera

high speed camera - Screenshot_2015-05-21-15-46-03

high speed camera - Screenshot_2015-05-20-10-02-13

High Speed Camera in normal (left) and double DPI (right)

InstaCamera Pro

[Imstacamera - no controls to see here (there is another icon added to your apps to edit app settings!]

[Imstacamera – no controls to see here (there is another icon added to your apps to edit app settings!]

InstaCamera Pro did not change appearance between normal and high DPI.

Lapse It

lapse it - Screenshot_2015-05-21-15-47-30

lapse it - high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-10-03-27

Lapse It in normal (left) and double DPI (right). Interestingly some of the controls got smaller at higher DPI rather than bigger.

Night Camera

night camera - Screenshot_2015-05-21-15-48-00

Night Camera did not change appearance between normal and high DPI.

Open Camera

[Image of Open Camera]

[Image of Open Camera]

open camera - high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-10-13-51

Open Camera in normal (left) and double DPI (right)

Paper Camera

paper camera - Screenshot_2015-05-20-10-14-22

Paper Camera did not change appearance between normal and high DPI.

Pro HDR Camera

pro hdr camera - Clipboard01

pro hdr camera high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-09-11-36
pro hdr camera setting high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-09-12-06

Pro HDR Camera in normal (left) and double DPI (middle and right)


procam - Screenshot_2015-05-21-16-05-07

procam - high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-11-13-28

ProCam in normal (left) and double DPI (right)


[Image of Pro Capture]

[Image of Pro Capture]

pro capture - high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-11-17-02

ProCapture in normal (left) and double DPI (right)


[Image of Selfish]

[Image of Selfish]

selfish - high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-21-16-33-13

Selfish in normal (left) and double DPI (right)

Silent Camera

silent camera - Screenshot_2015-05-21-16-08-36

silent camera - high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-11-18-16
Silent Camera in normal (left) and double DPI (right)

Simple Camera Silence

simple camera - Screenshot_2015-05-21-16-08-44

simple camera - high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-11-28-59

Simple Camera Silence in normal (left) and double DPI (right)

Smart Selfie

[Smart Selfie - works really well, not sure why preview is so small though]

[Smart Selfie – works really well, not sure why preview is so small though]

smart selfie - high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-21-16-34-28

Smart Selfie in normal (left) and double DPI (right)

Snap Gallery

snap camera - Screenshot_2015-05-21-16-09-25

snap camera - high dpi Screenshot_2015-05-20-11-31-04

Snap Gallery in normal (left) and double DPI (right)


vignette - Screenshot_2015-05-21-16-09-49

[Image of Vignette]

[Image of Vignette]

[Image of Vignette waiting for movement to stop after pressing the shutter to take the picture]

[Image of Vignette waiting for movement to stop after pressing the shutter to take the picture]

Vignette did not change appearance between normal and high DPI.

Zoom Camera

zoom camera - Screenshot_2015-05-21-16-10-12

Zoom Camera did not change appearance between normal and high DPI.

Following is a table I compiled of information about each camera as I was making my notes. I contemplated different ways of presenting the information and in the end decided “as is” was probably the easiest as different elements of the table will appeal to different users.

Name URL Talkback accessible Blind useable Face recognition tap anywhere does hardware volume keys Size of shutter button size of other buttons focus type zoom Image effects available DSLR type options Preview of last photo Works with high DPI Wait for device to be steady Items on screen Notes
Camera FV-5 Buttons unlabelled no no focus pretty much any setting 1.5cm 5mm Auto / options regular none most (exposure / iso / focus / shutter time) icon some options overlap yes 12 – 16 Lots of options, medium size icons, thicker black rule of thirds lines
Silent cameraw Buttons unlabelled no no focus shutter 1.5cm 1cm tap regular none exposure, flash icon ok no 9 shutter button gets washed out in large white panel at bottom of screen, some small icons.
FX camera Buttons unlabelled no no focus 1cm 5mm tap no post processing flash, timer icon some options overlap no 7 Need to sign in with facebook / twitter / email and starts in its own social page rather than camera.
dslr camera Buttons unlabelled no visual indicator focus shutter 7mm 5mm Auto / options regular 10 many icon some options overlap no 12 Lots of DSLR features but small buttons.
fast burst camera Buttons unlabelled small controls and touch anywhere to shoot make it possible no Focus / shutter shutter, zoom 1.2cm 7mm tap regular none flash, exposure, scene modes icon some options overlap no 4 Slide to zoom, tap to focus and shutter in corner work ok with talkback even though buttons unlabelled
Camera fun free Buttons unlabelled no no hide controls 5mm 5mm auto regular 30 in full version flash icon ok no 6 Only does effects (no regular) buttons small
Simple Camera Silence Buttons unlabelled yes, tap to take photo, clear screen no shoot 1.5cm 5mm auto regular none flash icon yes no 6 Works well as a very simple camera, can touch screen to take, some small icons.
Camera HDR Studio Buttons unlabelled no no shutter 1.5cm 1cm Auto / options regular many hdr focus flash icon no different Yes – waits for good shot 8 graphical menus, HDR can improve pictures, complex icons
High speed camera Buttons unlabelled no no shutter 1.5cm 1cm auto regular 10 flash, torch, timer, icon some options overlap no 12 lots of small icons
A Better Camera Buttons unlabelled tap to shoot no shutter shutter, zoom, exposure 1.5cm 12mm – 2cm Auto / options regular Ad-in post processing Exposure / focus / flash icon some options overlap Yes – waits for good shot 8 Works well, large buttons and DRO mode lights well.  Grid and horizon lines very faint and zoom tucked off to the side.
Snap Gallery trial Buttons unlabelled no visual indicator shutter, focus shutter, focus,zoom,exposure 1cm 1cm tap regular 12 iso, white balance, exposure, flash, scene none some options overlap no 5 Sinple layout and menu options though small icons
HDR Camera Buttons unlabelled no no 2cm 1cm auto regular HDR options flash, exposure icon no different no 3 Works well, large buttons, but replaced by a better camera.
Night camera Buttons unlabelled no no 2cm 1.5cm Auto / options regular night mode no icon no different no 4 Not brilliant photos in most light, may get extra detail in low light for some?  Replaced by A better camera in any case which has similar options included.
Camera Zoom FX Can’t access all controls yes (voice activated) no pretty much any pretty much any setting 1.5cm 5mm touch regular many horizon, rule of thirds, flash, white balance, iso icon some options overlap Yes – waits for good shot 11 many fx, some small icons
Camera 2 no no no zoom 1.3cm 7mm auto regular many Exposure / focus / flash, iso icon no different no 5 Many options but mostly tucked away in graphical menus, small print, poor contrast (white on grey).
Lapse It Some buttons labelled yes no 1cm 1cm auto regular 12 iso, white balance, exposure, flash, scene none good though some icons smaller no 7 More designed for taking time lapse images, starts in menu rather than camera.
Selfish Some buttons labelled yes Audible and visual indication 1.5cm auto no some no none yes no 2 kept crashing on my Note 2, worked on my Nexus 10.  Spoke “point towards face” and “smile”, but didn’t give any indication of whether I needed to move camera.
Back camera selfie no yes, speaks directions and takes photo automatically Audible and visual indication 6mm auto no none flash automatically yes waits 8 Buttons unlabeled, also for some reason setup in 640×480 by default even though it can use full range of resolutions.  Also large instruction panel in centre of screen.
Camera 51 no no visual indicator focus 1.5cm 5mm auto regular none flash, exposure icon some options overlap no 7 beeps when in best position (though what that is I’ve no idea)
Cameringo+ no small controls and touch anywhere to shoot make it possible no shoot Zoom / focus / shoot 8mm 5mm Auto / touch regular many horizon, rule of thirds, flash, white balance, iso icon some options overlap no 5-12 lots of options and fx, small buttons.
Zoom camera no yes, large shutter area no shoot 10x6cm 12mm auto 10x many flash, exposure, wb, scene icon no different no 15 buttons reasonable size, and options like torch mode, negative and extra zoom nice.
vignette no yes, tap to take photo, clear screen no shoot shutter Whole screen 12mm auto regular many flash, exposure yes no different waits 0 – 8 large buttons, easy to use, more for ‘instant’ or effect than DSLR.
Camu no no no 1.5cm 8mm auto? regular many flash icon camera good, some options overlap no 5 basic camera with large coloured button and after effects.
Pro HDR Camera no no no shutter 1cm 1cm auto regular HDR options flash icon some options overlap no 8 Does HDR well enough and that’s it. Doesn’t work with talkback.
paper camera no no no zoom 2cm 1cm auto no many no icon no different no 12 Camera viewfinder only takes up half the screen, designed for effects photos
InstaCamera Pro yes Yes – instantly takes photo when started no shutter Whole screen auto no none no none yes no 0 Camera takes a picture instantly then exits, or double tap anywhere, no buttons
binoculars Some buttons labelled yes (shutter labelled) no 1cm 5mm Auto / options 30x (full version) none torch icon yes no 9 30x zoom with full version, zoom / torch etc small (can pinch zoom).
Camera ICS Some buttons labelled yes (shutter labelled) visual indicator focus shoot,af,zoom 1.2cm 5mm touch regular four iso, exposure,flash,whitebalance icon some options overlap no 7 large shutter button section though only button itself active.  Small other options.
Procapture Some buttons labelled Yes – physical buttons no shutter, focus shutter, zoom 1cm 5mm Auto / options regular 12 iso, white balance, exposure, flash, scene icon good, some options cut off no 12 lots of options, small buttons, reasonable sized shutter.
Camera Zoom Some buttons labelled Shutter labelled no 1cm 5mm Auto / options 30x (full version) none torch icon yes no 9 30x zoom with full version, zoom / torch etc small (can pinch zoom).
ProCam Some buttons labelled no visual indicator focus shutter 1cm 1cm tap regular none iso, white balance, exposure, flash, scene none some options overlap no 3 Camera buttons themselves labelled but not labelled to get into camera, also gets stuck in camera mode and starts in menu
Cymera no no no Focus / shutter zoom 1.5cm 5mm Auto / options regular many flash, exposure icon no different no 12 large shutter button, others smaller icons.
Camera (Google) yes yes no shutter 2cmx6.5cm 8mm auto regular lens blur / photosphere modes grid, timer, flash none some options overlap no 2 very large shutter button, but other buttons small .
Open Camera yes yes visual indicator focus most controls 1.5cm 8mm Auto / options regular 12 iso, white balance, exposure, flash, scene icon some options overlap no 0 – 11 nice big shutter button, other buttons smaller.
Camera Awesome yes yes visual indicator shutter 2cm 5mm auto regular many horizon, flash, white balance, exposure, iso icon some options overlap no 10 Works well, gives post processing effect options. Not a fan of flurry, good talkback access. I never quite figured out what awesomise was though.
Smart Selfie yes yes Audible and visual indication shutter (double tap) 5mm auto none none none left on screen yes waits 4 Automatically gets faces focussed and takes hpoto, advises direction to move, preview not full screen?

Certainly from the images, you can tell that with higher DPI opens up a lot more options for camera apps for low vision users, but sometimes at a price.

Has this week’s info changed your mind from what you decided after the last two posts?  Has it given you some more to think about and try?  Let us know in the comments below!


Camera apps for blind users

Camera apps for blind users:

[Image of camera icon]

[Image of camera icon]

If you are interested in the companion podcast to this piece, it is available from: The 22 Point website and addresses the same topic but contains slightly different info.


Last week we looked at camera apps for low vision users, concentrating on features like large buttons. This week, the main focus is on Talkback, however one of the most popular photo apps for blind users currently actually has neglected to label any of its buttons, so even then it’s not cut and dried.

So, the main criteria I used for a good, blind useable camera app are:

Talkback compatibility – Only five of the 36 apps (I added Back Camera Selfie to the list from last week) had all buttons labelled, another seven had some buttons labelled and the rest either had buttons you could access but which weren’t labelled, and some you couldn’t even get to the buttons, so the best Talkback accessible apps were:

“Smart Selfie” (more on this shortly)

[Image of Open Camera]

[Image of Open Camera]

“Open Camera” –

Standard camera controls (choice of camera / video, flash, focus, iso etc) with an uncluttered interface and a large (easy to find) shutter button make this a good option for general photography. Most controls, including shutter can be assigned to the volume keys.

[Image of Camera Awesome]

[Image of Camera Awesome]

“Camera Awesome” –

No volume key support but tap anywhere on screen to shoot ability make Camera Awesome a contender as well. There are a number of buttons on screen at once. Although most are small they are on a black background so easier to see if using some sight. The app also offers a number of post processing effects.

[Image of Google's default camera]

[Image of Google’s default camera]

“Google Camera” –

Similar to Open Camera has the standard features, not quite as many options as Open Camera, although the shutter button takes up the whole bottom of the screen so is about 6.5x2cm on my Note 2.

[Imstacamera - no controls to see here (there is another icon added to your apps to edit app settings!]

[Imstacamera – no controls to see here (there is another icon added to your apps to edit app settings!]

“InstaCamera” –

having no buttons to label means no unlabeled buttons!  InstaCamera works by snapping one or more pictures as soon as you start the app, and then exiting.  Two launcher icons are installed with the app – one to launch the camera, and one to launch the settings.  The settings are accessible and include options such as whether to automatically focus and whether to remain in the camera app after taking pictures, in which case additional pictures can be taken simply by tapping the screen (double tapping with Talkback).

ProCapture, Binoculars, Camera Zoom, Camera ICS, ProCam and Cymera all had some buttons labelled (particularly the shutter) but others unlabelled.

Useable without sight – I scored this seperately to Talkback, as for many apps, having them set to ‘auto’ mode (generally the default) for flash, focus, exposure, white balance etc may reduce the need to access some of the buttons, as long as the shutter button (hardware or software) can be used (or in the case of 15 apps, tapping anywhere on the screen can be set to take a photo). This meant that 19 of the apps were theoretically useable without sight while I would rule out the other 17. Camera Zoom FX was the first one I tried which had the option of voice control, so you could say “Cheese” to take the photo, however this wasn’t setup by default and the controls weren’t accessible to set it up.

Face recognition – One of the most sought after camera features by blind users, only three of the apps tested not only recognised when a face was visible, but gave the user audible feedback about it, and we can thank the “selfie” trend for all three:

[Image of Selfish]

[Image of Selfish]

“Selfish”  –

lets you set the number of faces and number of images to take. It has the option to give face centering instructions, though I found this generally didn’t say anything.

[Smart Selfie - works really well, not sure why preview is so small though]

[Smart Selfie – works really well, not sure why preview is so small though]

“Smart Selfie” –

Works really well and advises whether to move the device left, right, up, down, back or forward to get in shot and centred. Strangely I found the preview only takes up about a quarter of the screen.

[Image of Back Camera Selfie]

[Image of Back Camera Selfie]

“Back Camera Selfie” –

Breaks my rule of not using ad supported only apps.  Otherwise it works similarly to Smart selfie, though more responsive. While the preview is full screen, there is a large instructions panel in the middle which gets in the way if you wish to visually see the subject during the photograph as well.

In practice, for a blind user, I would recommend:

For photos of people: Back Camera Selfie works best, although set to a very low resolution by default. Although its buttons aren’t labelled, the resolution is announced on its button although after pressing it you need to explore down the right hand side of the screen to find the different resolutions (highest at the bottom of the list). Smart Selfie has more labelled buttons so try both and see which you prefer.

For DSLR type photography: With the same caveat as in last week’s article – that until Android 5’s Camera2 API is more widely adopted, there is only a certain amount of DSLR capability available in most apps. For now the app with the most functionality accessible is Open Camera or Camera Awesome.

For the simplest photography, I’d recommend Google camera for traditional ‘point and shoot’ as it’s large button is easy to get to. Alternatively I quite like InstaCamera which doesn’t use any buttons. It has a seperate ‘settings’ app which lets you setup how it works, and when you launch the main instacamera app, it simply takes it’s photo and exits (or can be set to stay in camera mode and you tap (double tap with Talkback) the screen to take additional photos). You can set it to take multiple photos initially although it does not have a setting to automatically pick the best (A Better Camera, one of the low vision recommendations has such a feature, however it’s buttons aren’t labelled in order to set it up).

Android camera apps for low vision

Quick recommendation: If you only want one large print photo app and want a bit of everything, Vignette is a good bet. “A Better Camera” is an app with a few more ‘standard’ camera controls and excellent photo improvement features such as DRO and HDR but without the real time ‘effects’ options.

[Image of Google's default camera]

[Image of Google’s default camera]

The longer answer:
I enjoy photography, so I thought I’d do a little series over the next few weeks looking at various aspects of photography for both low vision and blind Android users. I’ve taken a lot (35 – it’s a lot when you’re the one installing and testing each of them!) of the top paid and free apps (though as always, I’ve declined apps which only have a “free with ads” version), and put them through their paces.

This week I’ve specifically looked at how these apps feel for me as a low vision user. As with many things, there are some I quite like, but probably no single app which will ideally suit everyone.

So, the main things I was looking for were large buttons & controls and features useful for vision impaired users:

[Image of Camu - with one of the easiest to see shutter buttons]

[Image of Camu – with one of the easiest to see shutter buttons]

Large buttons, firstly a large shutter button of course. Of the apps I tried, only DSLR Camera, Camera Fun and Cameringo had shutter buttons which were smaller than 1cm, though DSLR and Cameringo (and 13 of the other apps) could both assign the volume keys as shutter buttons. The majority of options had shutter buttons that were at least larger than the other buttons, though not all were as easy to see. Camera FV-5 for instance has a large (1.5cm) shutter which is yellow where the other controls are white, though its controls are directly overlaid on the preview of what you are about to photograph so may not be as visible if looking at a yellow object. Camu had a nice red button on black and set on a black background so ensures it’s easy to see.  Cymera’s shutter button is also 1.5cm but aqua on black.  15 apps had the option of “tap anywhere to shoot” which will be a preferred option for some users, and Camera Zoom FX and Selfish both had the option of voice activation (saying “Shoot” or similar to take a photo).

[Image of A Better Camera]

[Image of A Better Camera]

The size of the other controls was where a couple of apps really shone for me as a low vision user. Selfish and Zoom Camera both had large buttons, but the best two for me were definitely A Better Camera and Vignette (Night camera was good as well, though that, and HDR Camera from the list have both been superseded by “A Better Camera” from the same developer).

[Image of Vignette waiting for movement to stop after pressing the shutter to take the picture]

[Image of Vignette waiting for movement to stop after pressing the shutter to take the picture]

I also had a look at other factors which might be useful. Particularly as it’s often hard to finely review images at the time to ensure they are adequate, the option to ensure everything is steady and unmoving before a photo is taken is useful (perhaps particularly so if using the volume keys to shoot as that almost guarantees moving the device). Only five apps offered such a feature, Vignette, Smart Selfie, A Better Camera, Camera HDR Studio and Camera Zoom FX. After you pressed the shutter, all waited until they detected no movement to take their photo. Camera FV-5 has an image stabilisation option which aims to minimise blurring from movement.

Which app is best for you is going to come down to what you want out of a camera app. I have come up with three broad categories below:


[Image of Manual Camera showing (among others) Manual White Balance in degrees Kelvin, Manual Shutter speed 1/30, Manu lISO set to 300, Manual exposure compensation 0.3 which all require the new Camera2 API]

Device which come from the factory with Android 5 have a new “Camera2” api which lets apps have more control over hardware settings (Camera2 should work on official manufacturer ROMs which get updated to Android 5, though not on custom ROMs like Cyanogenmod installed on older hardware unless the manufacturer has also released an updated camera module). As more compatible devices are released AND more apps which take advantage of it, expect to see DSLR apps with better features than ever.

[Image of A Better Camera]

[Image of A Better Camera]

For now, and for large print users, the best general camera app for my money is A Better Camera. This app has large, easy to see buttons, a simple interface, image stability and DRO mode which as advertised, improves most photos at the expense of taking slightly longer to capture each. It also has a HDR mode which is as good as any of the HDR camera apps I found and a night mode for shooting after dark. Overall it’s very easy to take good photos with this app, and it has a number of “DSLR” type features for those who want a bit more control. The only downsides I found are that the zoom is tucked away on the edge of screen which I don’t like quite as much, and the composition grid and horizon lines are quite faint.

[Image of Camera FV-5]

[Image of Camera FV-5]

[Image of DSLR Camera]

[Image of DSLR Camera]

If you’re really after more DSLR type control, Either Camera FV-5, DSLR Camera or Manual Camera (I don’t have a compatible device, but Manual Camera is one of the first Camera2 DSLR apps) all offer the most features – all three aren’t quite as low vision friendly though would work well using magnifier to setup options then all three have mostly unobstructed viewfinders to take the shot). The controls in Camera FV-5 and DSLR Camera at least both scale up if you are rooted and increase your DPI though with some overlapping of buttons.


[Image of Vignette]

[Image of Vignette]

If you like to add effects to your photos, while you can also do that in post processing with A Better Camera (or any number of other seperate post processing apps I might look at another time), my favourite here is definitely Vignette, it has numerous effects, which can be set specifically or randomly, and after each shot it displays the image with the ability to randomly change effects or frame, or save as is (if you set it to “multi shot”, it will just save the original, a copy with a random effect and not display a preview leaving you ready to take another shot and be surprised later). If using custom DPI, I did find that the app crashed in settings when I was at 640 DPI but worked fine otherwise. At my phone’s standard 320 DPI it worked fine. It has quite a few features for general composition (a rule of thirds grid option, control over white balance, exposure, iso and so on) so is right up there with “A better camera” for general photography as well.

[Image of Cameringo+]

[Image of Cameringo+]

Special mention in this category also to cameringo+ which while most of it’s controls are quite small, it can also be set to tap anywhere to shoot and to add specified or random effects to photos, again with or without a review. When using effects, while it displays the effect in the viewfinder preview, it does have the option of a 1/9th screen viewfinder without effect. Camera Zoom FX also works similarly, and was the only one I noticed with a voice activation function.

Simplest camera:

While most of the cameras can be set to automatically select most options for you, a couple which can be setup to be extra simple are:

[Imstacamera - no controls to see here (there is another icon added to your apps to edit app settings!]

[Imstacamera – no controls to see here (there is another icon added to your apps to edit app settings!]

Instacamera: I like having this one on my lock screen or having a shortcut in my notification panel (see apps such as Custom Notification for this), so if I really need to snap a shot in a hurry, I just launch the app and it automatically takes one (or more) images. You can set it to stay in camera mode so you can use it like other camera apps after that – in which case it has no buttons, you simply tap the screen to take additional images.

[Smart Selfie - works really well, not sure why preview is so small though]

[Smart Selfie – works really well, not sure why preview is so small though]

Smart Selfie: Great for taking images of people (either yourself or others), it looks for faces and advises audibly whether you need to move the camera to get everyone in, and then automatically takes the picture when lined up.

[Image of Google's default camera]

[Image of Google’s default camera]

Google Camera: comes setup with two buttons visible on screen – the whole bottom quarter of the screen is the shutter (with small white camera image in the middle of a black box) – press anywhere in that black box to shoot. There is a small elipses (…) you can use to open extra options and while these are quite small, ignoring those it is one of the cleanest displays out of the box (some of the others can be setup quite simply if you look through the options).

Vignette: setup to not use effects (actually the default setup), Vignette displays an empty screen with little arrows top and bottom indicating you can drag down to show more options, but otherwise just tap the screen to take a photo.

A few other large shutter apps: Camera Awesome, Camera 51 (This attempts to guide you to take the perfect photo every time and I can’t for the life of me figure it out – it puts a little icon on screen you should move towards where it recommends), simple camera has a fairly clean layout, Open Camera has a bit more info on screen but a nice large shutter button, Fast burst camera is easy to use (and taking bursts of images can be useful in capturing the right moment)

Lastly, I should probably mention Binoculars and Zoom Camera. I’m not sure what the difference is between these two as they look identical to me (I did write to the dev but haven’t got a response yet, I’ll update if I do) – certainly the 30x zoom promised in the paid version sounds attractive, although I’ve tried a few apps which use software zoom and while it can be useful, it does degrade very quickly. Stay tuned to the rest of this series as I’ll post more about magnification!

Which camera app(s) do you use?  Did i miss any good ones?  Please let me know in the comments!

Happy snapping!

Using Android Magnification Gestures.

I’ve been writing this blog for a couple of years now, and it occurred to me, I haven’t done a piece on what seems to be the most obvious low vision accessibility aid in Android – Magnification gestures. Note this refers to the ability to magnify what is on the screen on your device, rather than using your device’s camera to view small printed text or other items – I covered a few of the Android magnification apps in another post

Introduced in Android 4.2, Magnification gestures work similarly to the full screen magnifiers on other platforms, that is, you can enlarge what is on screen with the drawback that you can no longer see everything which was originally on screen. For instance at 2x magnification, you can see only what was originally in the top quarter of the screen, but it is now enlarged to take up the full screen.

[Image of Android Magnifier]

[Image of Android unmagnified (left) and with Magnifier running (right)]

The first thing you notice with the magnifier running is the blue box around the edge of the screen.

One limitation of the magnifier is that it won’t magnify the on-screen keyboard – if you have the magnifier running while the keyboard is shown, only the area above the keyboard will be magnified. Software navigation buttons (the ‘home’, ‘back’, ‘recent apps’ buttons which are physical on some devices, eg by Samsung, and software on others such as the Nexus) are also not magnified. I can’t help with the buttons, but my best advise for increasing the size of the keyboard, is to look at an alternate keyboard. I reviewed some of the popular Android on-screen Keyboards here and some do go fairly large.

One striking thing for lovers of options such as myself, is that there are no settings for the magnifier on Android. In “Magnification gestures” under Accessibility settings you can simply turn the gestures on or off.

With Magnification gestures enabled, the magnifier doesn’t necessarily come on straight away. You can turn the magnifier on or off by triple tapping the screen, anywhere, in any app, and turn it off with the same gesture. This is a nice convenient way to turn it on and off, and actually doesn’t change even with Talkback running – both work happily together.

As well as being able to triple tap to turn the magnifier on and off, one of the handiest features of the magnifier is that you can triple tap and hold the third tap to turn the magnifier on temporarily – then you can drag one finger around the screen to move the view, see what you want enlarged, and then let go and the view will return to normal.

The two issues I have found with triple tapping to turn magnifier on and off are:
1) for some users, triple tapping is tricky, particularly as it has to be done quite quickly (I’m not sure of the exact speed, but approximately you have to tap three times in under about a second), which is quite fast.

[Image of Rapitap]

[Image of Rapitap (left) and with magnifier (right)]

2) Conversely to the above point, if you are quite nimble and used to tapping quickly – I find in some games (eg if you are very quick at RapiTap!), or when typing (eg erasing multiple characters while typing), it can be easy in certain circumstances to inadvertently turn the magnifier on or off.

Once you have the magnifier running, it will keep working while you are in the current app (unless you turn it off manually). If you leave the app (by pressing the home key or if another app pops to the foreground, eg you receive a call), the magnifier will automatically turn itself off.

While the screen is magnified, you can pan around the screen with two fingers, as if you were “pulling” the screen into view – eg if you are viewing the top left corner of the screen, you can drag with two fingers from right to left to move right, or bottom to top to move down. Again, this works the same with Talkback running.

One thing I’ve found changes slightly from device to device is that on my Galaxy Note 2 (Rooted and running OmniRom), the zoom always starts at about 2x, but on my Galaxy Nexus, when you turn magnification on, it comes on at whatever you had it set to previously. In any case you can adjust using pinch zoom, just like you can in other places (like the web or viewing images in many apps). The zoom goes up to about 5x magnification (that’s just an estimate).

On my Galaxy Note 2 this means that text which is 10pt initially, goes to 20 point when I turn the magnifier on, and if I pinch zoom further I can bring it up to 48 point. To be honest, as someone who has worked with many clients with all levels of vision impairement, if you need text larger than that, you really are better off learning to rely more on speech (in the case of Android, that is Talkback). This is because even if you can read text at 72point, the amount of text you could fit on screen, and the amount of panning you would need to do mean that you would spend much more time finding your place and navigating, than you would relying on speech, even with the speech running relatively slowly.

The challenges I’ve found with panning and zooming the view, are again mostly things which are common to all screen magnifiers, and that is:

[Viewing the web with magnifier]

[Viewing the web with magnifier – do I pan or scroll down to view more content?]

– Remembering that what you see magnified isn’t everything that is there.
– Knowing where you are on screen – with the view only magnifying to about 5x, that’s not as big an issue as on say a PC magnified to 12 or 16x.
– When you in an app, say a web page, which is larger than the screen to begin with, it can be challenging to know when you need to pan the view down versus when you need to scroll the web page. If I’m reading a long page like that, I tend pan to the bottom of screen (two fingers from the bottom up) and then scroll the page (one finger upwards from bottom) until it reaches the bottom.
– Similarly, it can be difficult to know whether you are pinch-zooming the web page or other app itself, or the magnifier. Generally, in a situation like this, the accessibility option takes precedence – so if you are using the magnifier on a web page, and you pinch zoom in, what is happening is that the magnification level will adjust. If you want to zoom in or out of the web page itself, you’ll need to triple tap to turn magnifier off, pinch in or out as desired, then triple tap again.

One thing I do find personally, is that I don’t feel I have much room to work when dragging two fingers around the screen of my phone to pan. It’s not such an issue on my 10” tablet, but the size of the phone screen really feels small when I’m trying to move the magnified view around with two fingers.

Overall the magnifier is quite responsive, and the magnification is very smooth. At the highest magnification if you have good sight or take a screenshot and zoom in, you can start to see a little bit of pixelisation (where individual pixels or squares of colour become visible), but you can tell that Android smooths it so it never becomes too obvious. On Windows for instance as you zoom in further and further you can see artifacts and pixelisation caused by zooming in.

Windows zoomed in

[Cutout of O in Windows zoomed in]

[Image of just part of the ‘O’ zoomed in on a PC with Windows Magnifier]

[Image of p zoomed in with Android magnifier]

[Image of p zoomed in with Android magnifier]

Compared to Zooms on the iPhone, the magnification level itself is similar (I couldn’t take a screenshot as while I do have an iPhone, when you take a screenshot with the magnifier running, it takes the screenshot of the unmagnified screen, which was no help for the comparison above), the smoothness also is much the same – again starting to pixelise by higher magnification but smoothed out. I personally find the controls easier on Android – on the iPhone it’s three fingers for everything, though I do like the way the magnifier persists as you open and close applications on the iPhone. Overall if choosing between Android or iOS for the magnifier alone they are quite similar (and Android of course has many more options such as altnerate launchers and more freedom to set other apps in high contrast and large print).

Generally I have tried to locate apps and solutions for many tasks which have a larger font option without using the magnifier, but it depends on how large you need your text and what you are doing. Even using those other options, there are definitely times as a low vision user, when the magnifier comes in quite handy, so it’s very useful to know how it works, whether for quick one-off magnification (triple tap and hold) or regular use (triple tap to turn on, two finger drag to pan and pinch zoom in and out).

How do you use the magnifier? Let us know in the comments!

Unboxing a new device

This week I wanted to go through the process of unboxing a new device, and also, of doing a factory reset of an existing phone. If you’d rather hear me walk through the process with Talkback running, I’ve made a podcast of the unboxing and factory reset processes Also, if you wish to, jump straight to the “Unboxing a new device” section, otherwise see the steps for doing a factory reset below:

Performing a factory reset:

Performing a factory reset on your device erases all the data, apps and other information you have put on the device or downloaded, and returns the phone to the same state as if you had just unboxed it for the first time. The two exceptions to this are that it does not delete data off your external Micro SD card (if your device has one), and it does not reverse any system updates to the operating system itself. So if your phone initially came with Android 4.2 on it, and it has since received updates to Android 5.0, then doing a factory reset will make the phone the same as if you had just bought it from the shop but it had Android 5.0 on it.

There are several reasons why you might want to do a factory reset on your phone, including:
– If you are giving or selling the phone to someone else.
– If you want to delete everything and start again on your phone (remember again that this won’t reverse any system updates. If you received a system update you wish to reverse, the only way is to root your phone and either install a factory image of an earlier Android version for your phone, or install a custom ROM. See my articles on installing a custom ROM for the steps and information about doing this).

Note also, that like everyone else on the Internet, I won’t be held responsible for you deleting everything on your phone, you do that at your own risk.

The main precaution to take, as well as backing everything up, is to make sure your phone has a good amount of charge, I’d say at least 50%. I’ve factory reset a couple of devices a number of times without incident, but if the phone were to suddenly go flat in the middle of the operation, there is a chance of “bricking” your device (that is, making it unuseable).

Ok so the process to factory reset your device is:

1) Make sure you have all your data backed up, this includes your photos, recordings, notes, game high scores, list of apps, layout of apps everything! Not all of that can be backed up as such – eg depending on your launcher, some do have an option to backup your list of screens and location of items, but others don’t, so you may need to make a note of that manually. Often game high scores can’t be backed up though achievements on services like Google Play Games will remain recorded.

2) Go back and make sure you backed up everything in step 1! Even though Google+ offers to automatically back up your photos, it’s still a good idea to physically copy them to your computer, just in case, or at least your SD card.

3) Slide down with one finger to open the notification shade. On some devices the settings button (looks like a cog) is up the top right. On others, you may need to either press the “Quick Settings” button on the top right, or alternatively instead of swiping with one finger, swipe down with two fingers to open this screen directly. If you are using Talkback screen reader, then add an extra finger (swipe down with two fingers to open notification shade, or two fingers to open quick settings screen).

4) Locate the Settings button up near the top right and tap it (double tap with Talkback).

[Image of settings screen showing “Backup & Reset”]

5) Some devices have all the settings in one long list, and some divide them into sections. If you have a device which divides the settings into sections, what we want will be in the Device section, otherwise it will be just over halfway down the list and called something like “Backup and Reset” (yours may vary of course!). Select that option.

6) The Backup and Reset screen has options for how your data is backed up, the account to back up and whether to automatically restore data when you reinstall a backed up app.

[Image of Backup & Reset screen showing “Factory Data Reset” highlighted]

Now I must admit, I’ve factory reset several phones a number of times and I’m not sure if it’s because I have more than one phone linked to my account or something else I’m doing, but I’ve found that sometimes when I do a factory reset, it restores the apps I had on previously, and sometimes it doesn’t. Out of the last half dozen times I’ve done it, once it didn’t restore anything, once it restored the data from one of my other phones (the apps were different), once it restored an older copy of the apps (as in, some were there I’d uninstalled a few weeks ago etc) and the other times it has correctly restored the right apps. I’ve never actually had it reinstall the data that came with an app (eg game high scores, notes from a notes app etc) so I’m not sure what the conditions for that “Restore backed up settings and data” option are.

In any case, I would definitely make sure you have a list yourself of all the apps you want to reinstall (there are several apps that will do this for you, including the Play Store links, and I’m not 100% satisfied with any of them, so I’m working on my own which I’ll release in due course!)

7) Choose the “Factory data reset” option.

[Image of “Factory Reset” screen]

8) This takes you to a screen warning you that it will erase everything from your phone’s internal storage, including, Your Google account, System and app data and settings, Downloaded apps, Music, Photos and other user data and reminding you which accounts you are currently signed into. If you wish to continue, press the “Reset Phone” button.

[Image of final reset confirmation screen]

[Image of final reset confirmation screen]

9) You are given one final chance to back out, on a screen which asks you if you want to erase all your personal information and downloaded apps and warning that you cannot reverse this action.

10) If you wish to reset the phone, press the “Erase everything” button.

[Image of phone erasing everything]

[Image of phone erasing everything]

11) The phone reboots, initially showing simply the word “Google” on screen, then changing to a screen with an image of an Android with its back open and the text “Erasing” underneath with a minimal blue progress bar. Then the phone reboots again, and it is as if you were unboxing the phone for the first time. (Move to the next section).

Unboxing your new device:

When you get your new device, the first thing to do is to double check that you have everything that you paid for!

The next step (or perhaps, before that if you are impatient – but it really would be better to find out something was missing NOW before you throw the packaging away than in a couple of days and have to go hunting through the bin), is to turn it on and start playing with it. You do need to go through a couple of setup screens first and I thought I’d present them here so you can get an idea of what you are in for.

Now the process varies from device to device and manufacturer to manufacturer, but what I’m going through here are the steps for a 2012 model Galaxy Nexus phone – even though it’s made by Samsung, because it has the Nexus branding, it’s running the ‘pure’ vanilla Android as it comes from Google. Essentially this is what the other manufacturers (including Samsung for their own branded devices) start with, and they then tinker to make it suit both their hardware and their own ideas of how the phone or tablet should be setup and what options should be available. Being a Nexus, it’s also got most of the updates and is running Android 4.3. Even though Android 5 is out, most of the devices currently available in stores are still running versions of Android anywhere from 4.1 up to 4.4.

[Image of boot animation screen on my galaxy Nexus]

[Image of boot animation screen on my galaxy Nexus]

So here are the steps to go through:

1) Turn it on! This does involve finding the power button, and as I’m trying to make this as generic as possible, I don’t know where it will be on your device. On mine, it’s on the right hand edge, on some it’s on the top, but in any case, it will be a hardware button, even if the others are not.

2) Wait! When you turn the device on for the first time, you will initially see the “Google” logo, or possibly the name of your specific device. Then you will see the boot animation, this will vary from device to device. For my Nexus, it has an “X” with each arm being in a different colour (red, green, blue and yellow) and they alternately pulse brighter. There is no “progress bar”, but this first boot will take longer than usual.

[Image of welcome screen]

[Image of welcome screen]

3) Eventually, a “Welcome” screen will appear, asking which language you want to use. At this point, if you wish to have speech, hold down two fingers on the screen, slightly apart, for about 10 seconds. A voice will announce to keep holding down two fingers to turn accessibility on. Then the device will beep and launch the “Explore by touch” tutorial, which will guide you through the basics of getting around the device using Talkback. If your phone is running an older version of Android (This was introduced as standard in 4.1 but it’s possible some manufacturers may have disabled it, in which case, you’ll need sighted assistance if you can’t see the text or use a physical magnifier).

[Image of explore by touch tutorial]

[Image of explore by touch tutorial]

4) On the welcome screen, the default language selected will be based on the local language for where the device was originally intended. If you buy the phone at a reputable local dealer, this should be your default language, but if you buy the phone online or through a “Grey market” importer, it may be setup differently. I bought a phone online once and even though I’m in Australia, the phone was originally intended for the Belgium market and came to this screen offering French by default. In any case, to change language, swipe up or down with one finger (two if using Talkback) and choose the language you wish to use.

[Image of SIM card warning]

[Image of SIM card warning]

5) Press “Start” (or Next). Because the phone I’m using for this walkthrough is not my main phone, I don’t have a SIM card in it, so at this point I’ve got a warning telling me I should turn the phone off and put a SIM card in otherwise I won’t be able to use most of the phone features. If you are using a phone and it has the SIM card in it already – either pre-installed by the carrier, or by yourself, then you won’t see this, similarly you won’t see it if you are using a tablet which doesn’t take a SIM card (some do, which enables them to access 3G / 4G data as well as Wi-Fi). Anyway, if you get this screen, either turn your phone off and insert a SIM card, or press “Skip”.

[WiFi screen 1]

[WiFi screen 1]

[WiFi screen 2 - add new network]

[WiFi screen 2 – add new network]

[WiFi screen 3 - select security]

[WiFi screen 3 – select security]

[WiFi screen 4 - Type password]

[WiFi screen 4 – Type password]

6) Next you are asked to select a Wi-Fi network. If you have one, it’s a good idea to set it up now, as any system updates or app downloading can then be done over Wi-Fi rather than using 3G / 4G (if your device has a SIM card). Generally it should appear in the list, but if it doesn’t (mine for instance is hidden from view so you have to know it exists and know it’s SSID or name), then you can press the “+ Other network” and add the details in manually. (SSID, security type and password). You should have security on your network and have a password. If you don’t then talk to whoever set your network up, as unsecured networks are very risky.

To type in the information, you are presented with a keyboard which takes up the bottom third of the screen. This is laid out similar to a qwerty keyboard, so if you are familiar with a computer keyboard, this will be similar, albeit smaller. If you are using Talkback, it will announce each letter as you drag your finger across the keyboard, and enter the current letter (or symbol) when you release your finger. The keyboard will be customised to your current language settings, so if you select English UK as your language for instance, one of the symbols on the number page is a Pound Sterling symbol. If you selected English US, the symbol in that place will be a dollar sign. If you use a non-English language then the keyboard may have letters and symbols to suit that (eg accented characters).

[Image of Got Google? screen]

[Image of Got Google? screen]

7) Once you’ve setup your network, the device then asks if you have a Google account. It’s a good idea to connect this now as if you have your account set to auto-restore your apps then it will be able to do that straight away. If you do already have an account, select “Yes”, otherwise select “No” and it will walk you through setting up an account.

[Image of Google login]

[Image of Google login]

8) If you’ve already got a Google account then it will ask you for your (Google) E-Mail address and password. When entering a password, the letters and characters you press are not displayed on screen, rather a dot appears, just as when you type passwords on a computer. If using Talkback, it will read “Dot” for each character. To hear the actual letters, plug in headphones and Talkback will announce the letters, numbers and characters normally, although still display the dots on screen.

[Image of Google TOS]

[Image of Google TOS]

9) The device then gets you to confirm you agree to all the Google terms of service, each of which is a link to open the full terms in your browser if you desire. When you are finished reading, choose “OK”.

[Image of couldn't sign in]

[Image of couldn’t sign in]

[Waiting for code screen]

[Waiting for code screen]

[Google settings on PC]

[Google settings on PC]

[Image of going to account settings on PC]

[Image of going to account settings on PC]

[Setting an app specific password on PC]

[Setting an app specific password on PC]

[Image setting the app specific password]

[Image setting the app specific password]

[Image showing the app specific password]

[Image showing the app specific password]

10) If you are using two factor authentication on your Google account (you should be, it’s much more secure), then you will be prompted to log in online. What it will do at that point is send you an SMS and ask for the code. This is problematic if you are setting up your regular phone, as the phone is not yet in a state where it can receive text messages, so you will either need to have Google send the code to an alternate phone (if you have set one up, eg your spouse’s phone), or be sitting at a computer and log into Google on the browser, go to account settings and “app specific passwords” and generate one for your phone. You will then need to enter the 16 letter password which is displayed on your computer screen on your phone. See the images above for examples. If you like the mouse cursor in those images, you can get it from the 22 Point website cursors page.

[Image of Google services screen]

[Image of Google services screen]

11) Next, you are presented with a screen of account options, including which backup services you would like to use and whether to allow apps to access your location. You can change these later in settings if you wish. The options span more than one screen so you either need to scroll down or press the Next button to view the remainder. Once you are done, press Next.

[Image of entering your name]

[Image of entering your name]

12) The phone then asks for your name so that it can personalise services for you. Enter your first and last name and press Next.

[Image of setup complete]

[Image of setup complete]

13) You are now advised that setup is complete. When you press OK, the phone will automatically download any apps if your account was setup to do that, and also check for any system updates.

[Image of home screen]

[Image of home screen]

14) Finally you are taken to your home screen. By default the screen has:

– A “status bar” at the top with the time, battery level, Wi-Fi and / or 3G signal level, and icons for any notifications.
– The bulk of the screen is your “home” screen which can have icons, widgets and folders on it. Icons are small images which when pressed (double tap with Talkback) will launch whichever app is associated with them. Widgets are like ‘live’ icons – they can be bigger than one icon but have information visible which updates regularly. For instance the icon for a weather app might show an image of the sun. The widget for a weather app will tell you what the current temperatue is and possibly have an image of a sun, or clouds or rain depending on the current weather. Folders allow you to store multiple icons in one place. For instance often there is a “Google” folder with icons to many of Google’s apps (Google+, Gmail, Maps and the Play Store for instance). This section is divided up into a grid which depends on the size of your device but may be 4×4 or may be as large as 6×6 or larger. You can have more than one page or screen worth of icons and widgets and you move between them by swiping left or right (with two fingers for Talkback).
– The bottom row of icons is usually a “Dock”. This row contains icons to launch apps much like the others, only these do not change as you move from screen to screen. By default there are usually icons for the phone and SMS features on phones, and also an “all apps” icon to take you to a list of every app you have installed, and possibly an icon for the browser, play store or other apps.

So that’s a walkthrough of factory resetting and unboxing a device, and also my longest post yet! If you still want more, have a listen to the podcast on this topic and if you still have questions, please ask away in the comments!

Comparison of Tablet vs phone for large print.

[Image of Playstore on phone and how it would appear enlarged 'as is' to tablet size]

[Image of Playstore on phone and how it would appear enlarged ‘as is’ to tablet size]

I was very excited about buying my first tablet, a Nexus 10. Having put effort into making everything on my phone bigger, I was looking forward to the larger screen of the tablet making everything much bigger and more comfortable to read. After all, the 10.1” screen of the tablet is a nearly 3 ½ times bigger area than even my Galaxy Note 2 so what appears as a 10 pt font on my phone should end up about 34 pt font on the tablet! Right? (see above image for how the Play Store would look simply scaled up ‘as is’)

[How the Play Store actually appears on phone and tablet]

[How the Play Store actually appears on phone and tablet]

Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work that way (see above image for how the Play Store actually looks). Some apps actually do simply scale up and look very similar, only larger, on the bigger screen. A lot of games particularly, such as Talking Stones, TriXOR and of course our own RapiTap! have game areas which fill the screen and so end up much easier to see on the tablet than on the phone.

[Image of RapiTap! game on phone and on tablet]

[Image of RapiTap! game on phone and on tablet]

While some graphics, depending on how the developer has designed it, will scale up to the bigger screen (eg the playing area in the games I mentioned), text doesn’t scale in the same way. On my phone at “Normal” text size, Titles in the Play Store are about 16pt with description text 10pt. On my tablet, text is only slightly larger at about 20pt and 12pt respectively. On a bigger screen then, you can fit a lot more text while making it very slightly larger.

[Image of the Play Store description for RapiTap! on phone and tablet]

[Image of the Play Store description for RapiTap! on phone and tablet]

Many apps, particularly those mostly displaying text, try to take advantage of the extra screen real estate by fitting more content in rather than making the existing content larger, and indeed Google’s own guidelines encourage setting things out differently on tablets, particularly larger tablets. This is similar to the push for web sites to adjust themselves to display on the smaller screens of phones and tablets. In the case of websites, this is a good thing for low vision users, as a desktop version of a web site is generally more cluttered – often with three columns of text, which is (arguably) navigable on a 27” desktop monitor but requires a lot of panning (at best) on a mobile phone, even for fully sighted users. The parallel can be drawn between a multi-column broadsheet newspaper, which is quite large physically, while a paperback novel, which is much smaller, would almost never be printed with more than one column per page.

So coming back to apps, because each app, just like each website, is unique and setup to the developers ideal of how it should look, there are guidelines of how apps should consider best using the varying amounts of screen space on different devices, however it’s up to each developer to apply that to their own apps.

Another consideration is “orientation”. Since most devices have screens which are rectangular, there are two main positions they may be held in: “Portrait” has the longer edges to the sides and shorter edges top and bottom – as in a painting of someone and “Landscape” has the long edges top and bottom and short edges to either sides, as in a painting of fields or a beach scene.

[Image showing landscape and portrait device orientation]

[Image showing landscape and portrait device orientation]

Commonly, people tend to use mobile phones in portrait orientation, where it can be easier to reach much of the screen holding the phone in one hand while tablets are often used in landscape orientation, similar to laptop screens. Potentially an app might have four different layouts to cater for each combination of orientation and device size. In actual fact, apps may have even more depending on less obvious factors such as screen resolution. In practice, often there will only be a couple of main screen layouts with some elements designed to enlarge to fit the space available and others designed to automatically move down to make room as needed.

So lets have a look at a couple of common apps and see how they translate from phone to tablet, and portrait to landscape:

Nova Launcher:
I’ve picked Nova as it’s very similar to the stock launchers available on most devices and it’s accessible.

On the phone, in portrait mode, the default setup is 4 icons wide by 5 high. There is an unmoving “dock” of five slightly smaller icons wide at the bottom.

[Image of Nova Launcher in portrait mode on both devices]

[Image of Nova Launcher in portrait mode on both devices]

By default, the orientation is locked to portrait, but if I set it to auto-rotate and turn the phone to landscape, the 4×5 main part of the desktop rotates with the screen so the items are in more or less the same position, though as the main part of the desktop is now wider than it is high, the space above and below the icons has been pretty much removed, but there is more blank space on each side. The dock has now moved to a vertical position running up the right hand edge of the screen and you still swipe left and right to change screens.

On my tablet, Nova switches between protrait and landscape by default. In portrait, it looks similar to on the phone, however the grid is larger, at 6 icons wide by 6 high, with a dock of 7 icons at the bottom. Icons now are about 13mm high compared to 10mm on the phone. There is a gap nearly big enough for an icon above the top row of icons and again between the bottom row of icons and the dock.

[Image of Nova Launcher in landscape mode on both devices]

[Image of Nova Launcher in landscape mode on both devices]

With the tablet in landscape, the layout stays at 6×6 and the dock this time stays at the bottom. Again the gap between each row of icons diminishes and this time there is a gap of nearly an icon width at the left and right edges of the screen.

Overall the four modes are largely similar, particularly if you leave the phone set to Nova’s default of being locked in portrait. A sighted user shouldn’t have much difficulty in jumping between them although the larger screen arguably doesn’t provide a low vision user with much benefit here, as although the icons are larger, they are not considerably larger.

Nova does have the option to resize icons up to 130% of their original size (or shrink down to 70%). You can also adjust the number of columns, though this only changes the amount of space in between icons, it does not adjust sizes. Both of these options are available on phone or tablet.

Big Launcher:

One of the most popular launchers designed for users with low vision, Big Launcher tries to change as little as possible in different scenarios:

On my phone, in portrait mode, the screen has two columns of 4 icons, with the top icon in each row being replaced by a pane showing the battery level and date on the left with signal strength and time on the right. The date and time are in 24pt font, with the month and AM or PM being half that at 12pt.

[Image of Big Launcher in portrait mode]

[Image of Big Launcher in portrait mode]

In landscape mode, each icon rotates 90 degress but does not otherwise move. The information pane now takes up the two leftmost icons showing the time, signal strength, battery left up the top with the time at the bottom. The font size has dropped to 75% of its original size – 18pt for the time and date and 9pt for the other information.

[Image of Big Launcher in landscape mode on phone and tablet]

[Image of Big Launcher in landscape mode on phone and tablet]

On the tablet it’s exactly the same, only bigger with the fonts almost doubling in size. 40pt & 20pt for the two sizes in portrait and 34pt & 17pt in landscape.

Big Launcher has an option to adjust the font size, though this does not affect that information pane, only the size within the menus, app list, contacts, SMS etc. The font sizes range from 18 to 36 pt on my phone and about the same on my tablet which again means no advantage in terms of font size, although the icons are much larger, coming back almost exactly to the screen size ratio – an area of 10cm2 on the phone vs about 34cm2 on the tablet.

Now, lets look at the default Gmail app:

[Image of Gmail on both devices in portrait mode]

[Image of Gmail on both devices in portrait mode]

On my phone, Gmail pretty much gives me one thing on screen on at a time, whether it’s my list of emails, or the contents of an email, whether I’m in portrait or landscape. The main difference between reading in portrait or landscape mode is how long the lines are. I can see more email messages at once in the inbox list in portrait view, but in landscape, I can see more in preview (as more fits on two lines when the screen is wider).

[Image of Gmail inbox in landscape on both devices]

[Image of Gmail inbox in landscape on both devices]

On the tablet it works similarly in portrait mode, although in the inbox view there is a column of icons on the left to enable me to quickly jump to the main folders (If I could figure out the icons). If I press the three lines button on the top left to bring up the list of folders, or slide from the left of screen to the right to expand the icons, the list appears on the left 40% of the screen with the right 60% showing the items in the current folder.

[Image of Gmail message in portrait mode]

[Image of Gmail message in portrait mode]

In landscape Gmail adjusts how it presents things in the bigger space. I still have that expandable column of folder icons I can’t decipher on the left, then about 30% of the width is taken up by the list of emails in the current folder (interestingly almost exactly the same amount fits here as I’d see on my phone in portrait mode), and the right half of the screen is taken up by the body of the current message. This gets confusing as suddenly not only does it look different, but the behaviour changes too – If I read a message and then press the back button, instead of taking me back to the folder view (which was already visible), it exits the app back to the home screen.

[Image of Gmail message in landscape mode]

[Image of Gmail message in landscape mode]

Aqua Mail.

[Image of Aqua mail portrait message list on both devices]

[Image of Aqua mail portrait message list on both devices]

For a second email app lets look at Aqua Mail, one of the popular email apps (particularly as it has a dark theme with messages dark as well):

[Image of Aqua mail message list in landscape on both devices]

[Image of Aqua mail message list in landscape on both devices]

Aqua mail has a couple of options which are important for this comparison. In Settings – “Look and Feel”, there is a checkbox called “Two-panel UI (Use two side-by-side panels)” with an option to allow resizing and the options in portrait mode of splitting the screen horizontally (the same look at in landscape mode), vertically (a more logical layout on a tall, thin screen) or vertical with full screen message view. By default it sets itself up in two panel mode on a tablet.

[Image of Aqua Mail message in portrait on both devices]

[Image of Aqua Mail message in portrait on both devices]

This actually provides too many alternatives to try and present them all here, so what I thought I’d show, was how Aqua Mail behaves set to show a single pane view throughout. I actually prefer this view not only because it is simpler, but also because in full screen (there is a button on the bottom row), with bigger text (you can pinch zoom), I find it easier to read in landscape mode.

[Image of Aqua Mail message in landscape on both devices]

[Image of Aqua Mail message in landscape on both devices]

Setup with a single pane, it doesn’t make many changes from one view to another – everything appears in one list from top to bottom, regardless of screen size or width and the only difference I can notice is that on the smaller screen of the phone, in portrait mode, in the list of emails, the buttons which usually appear on the right of the line containing the current folder name don’t fit there, so appear in their own line at the bottom of the screen.

For a low vision user, I very much appreciate that it gives you the option to adjust the user interface. As a low vision user, I would rather the simpler single pane UI throughout regardless of whether I’m on my phone or my tablet. I had a conversation recently with a totally blind user who said he loves the way the “tablet layout” of many apps gives you more information on screen at once and he wished he could do that with his phone – well Aqua Mail would suit him then too as he could have that.

Because how an app adjusts between phone and tablet is different for each app, the only way to know for sure how it’s likely to look on your device is either install the app onto your device, or look at the description and screenshots on Google Play. Google encourages developers to include screenshots from each size of device, and if you look at it on your device, you will see the screenshots for your screen size first.

Also remember that if you want to try a paid app, you can buy it, and you have (currently), two hours in which you can return it without question (the “uninstall” button in Google Play instead says “Refund” during this time). Also remember that not all apps work on every device, so just because you have an app on one device, you may not be able to install it on another if it has a different version of Android or if one is a tablet and one a phone.

Hopefully that gives you a bit more idea of how apps behave from phones to tablets if you are considering a new device, and also encourages you to try out different orientations as some things are surprisingly easier in what initially might seem like the “wrong” orientation.

What apps do you prefer on one device over the other? When do you find yourself specifically changing your device to portrait or landscape orientation particularly? Let everyone know your tips in the comments below!

Using Google Now in 2015 – Part 1

This week, following a thread in the Eyes Free list, both myself and Warren Carr decided to do a podcast each on using Google Now.

Warren’s podcast is here:
and mine is here:

I thought I would do a blog post as well as not only have I picked up a couple more tips in the past day, but also it’s much easier to include links to other resources, so here goes:

First of all, if you’d like to see my initial impressions of Google Now from last year, there was an earlier blog entry here:

[Image of Google Now - get started screen]

In terms of how to use Google Now and what you can do with it there are many resources, from Google’s own promo page: and their How Google Now Cards work page:

Digital Trends did a good piece on it (the Complete guide) here:

Android Central provided us with the Ultimate guide:

TrendBlog have an Awesome list of 70 commands you can use with Google Now:

And Life Hacker also went with “Awesome” to describe their more modest Top 10 list of main features of Google Now:

So what is it – well if you weren’t tempted by any of those adjectives then in a nutshell Google Now is basically about providing information – an evolution of what we’ve all been doing with for years, now geared towards providing you not only with the information you need when you need it, but offering it to you before you ask.

What that basically means is two things:

1) You can bring up Google Now by either swiping up from your (software) home button, holding down your (physical) home button, or by saying “OK Google” (or “OK Jarvis” if you want to be a bit different). Note too if you are using Talkback, launching from a device with a software home button (like the Nexus series) is slightly different, you need to find the home button, double tap and hold for about a second and then slide up an inch or so. However you do it, this then starts listening and you can ask it pretty much anything, from what the weather is, or to call one of your contacts, to email someone, to tell you what the square root of 1764 is, or whether the moon is really made of cheese. You can do a few things on your device as mentioned, from turning the flashlight on (“Turn flashlight on”), lock the screen, play music or ask it to wake you at 7am tomorrow morning. If Google Now can’t find a specific action related to your search, then it will do a web search for whatever it was you asked.

2) Google Now, as it learns your habits and interests, will start to offer you “cards” (hopefully) just before you need them. Eg, when you first look at your phone in the morning, it will give you the weather for the day, and before you leave work in the evening, it will tell you how long your drive should take and whether there are any delays. When a website you like posts an update, Google Now will let you know, and when your favourite sports team plays a game, it will keep you up to date with cards.

All sounds great, and I can immediately see that there are some improvements since I looked at it last year.

– For one, the OK Google keyword, now seems to work even if you have Talkback running (previously it would work with Talkback, but you had to launch it manually, you couldn’t use the keyword)

[Image of Google Now - Ok Google on any screen setup]

– Next, there is a Google Now launcher on Android: This basically gives you a home screen which looks much like most other launchers, but if you swipe to the left, you get straight to your Google Now cards. It also listens out for the Google Now keyword (some other launchers, like Nova, do, and some don’t). Personally my only complaint about the Google Now launcher, as with so many others, is that the icons and text are small and there is no way of making them larger, which is why I tend to use launchers like Big Launcher.

– It understands more than ever and provides more cards than previously. When I set it up, it automatically offered me cards for some of my favourite websites (Art of Manliness, How to Geek and and also offered me cards on the Australian Football League, and my own favourite team, Essendon.

[Image of Google Now offering cards from recent searches]

– It integrates recent search activity into cards. It offered a couple of cards based on recent searches I’d done – particularly where I’d done multiple similar searches. Of course we all search for some things we are passionate about and would be interested in ongoing information on, and other things we just wonder or want to find out as a one off – if it gives you information you don’t care for, you can simply dismiss any of the cards with a swipe to the side (two fingers for Talkback users).

I did find that there were still some things it didn’t do for me:

– The directions home from work (not counting that I hadn’t updated my work info since I changed jobs) only offers driving directions in Australia presently. It does offer public transport information in the US and from what I’ve read they’re working on extending that, but for now it’s not so useful.

– It was inconsistent at times – when I first asked it to “Call my father”, it suggested ringing “Dad Mobile” out of my contacts – very clever! Yet when I then asked it to “Call Dad”, it had no idea and went off to do a Google search on the term. Interestingly it was keen to oblige with both terms on my tablet… before getting a bit lost when I realised my tablet has no provision for actually making phone calls.

– I could ask it to set a reminder to wake me in the morning without problem, but I couldn’t figure out how to get it to show me my reminders or cancel any, so I had to go in and find that manually.

– I could ask it to launch apps, and on my tablet it worked fine, but on my phone it gave me a page showing the app at the top of a general Google search with a button there to launch it, yet it didn’t do so automatically.

[Google Now listening]

I think it’s this dynamic interpreting of queries as you ask them which is both Google Now’s biggest strength and it’s biggest weakness. If I have a contact in my phone called “Dad”, and I ask it to call Dad, there is no ambiguity there, it shouldn’t have trouble with that. If it can figure out that I also want to call the same contact when I say “Call father” then that’s a bonus, but get the basics right first.

Similarly, it’s great that I can get driving directions and the driving time from the office to home, but from the doyen of information provision, I should be able to get the public transport information if that’s how I travel.

I think I’ve realised that for the Google Now cards to be most effective, it really needs me to use it for a couple of weeks to get the hang of it. So instead of pronouncing that it’s better but still not perfect, I’m going to give it a go for awhile and see how I find it.

If you’re setting it up for the first time yourself. One of the most important things you can do, is a) give it access to everything it needs to do its job – yes it’s scary how much information Google has, but then if you weren’t willing to have a go at this, you probably wouldn’t still be reading 🙂 and b) Wander through the options – there are a number of things you can tweak about Google now, and quite a few things it doesn’t necessarily ask you out of the box which could help your experience, such as what sports teams you like (it sometimes did and sometimes didn’t when I’ve set it up?) It also learns what apps you use and integrates with some of them. For instance if you use the default twitter app, you can post a tweet right from Google now (Say “OK Google”, then “tweet, look mum, no hands!”) but this doesn’t necessarily work with all the third party twitter clients (like Tweetcaster which I use).

In the meantime, please do let me know in the comments how you use Google Now and what tips or tricks you’d recommend to get the most out of it!

Adjusting Android Resolution, pixel density and font size for large print

The quick recommendation: What works best in one app, doesn’t necessarily work best in other apps, so the best solution is one which can be adjusted easily. Font size is easy to adjust and effective. Pixel density can also be effective in some cases.

The longer answer:

Recently I’ve tried rooting my phone and installing a custom ROM. More on that in another post shortly, but one of the big reasons I was keen to try this, is that it gives you access to settings you can’t otherwise touch and I wanted to see how I could manipulate these to increase the large print useability of my phone.

My previous post on DPI (Pixel density) and resolution on a Windows PC (here: has some explanation of the technicalities, which mostly translate across to a phone. On the PC I recommended setting he resolution to its highest, the DPI high and using the magnifier as needed beyond that, but I’ve never been a fan of using magnification on my phone if I could avoid it as the screen is so much smaller and more fiddly to pan around with my big fingers!


In my testing, I manipulated three settings

Resolution: This is how many pixels (dots) wide and high the screen is. On my Samsung galaxy note 2 for instance, it is 720 x 1280. Theoretically, lowering these numbers could make things appear larger as something which is 180 pixels wide will take up ¼ of the width of the screen at this resolution, but if I drop the resolution to 360 x 640 then that 180 pixel wide item is now half the width of the screen (that’s how it works on a Windows PC).

Pixel Density: (often used interchangeably with the terms Pixels Per Inch, PPI and Dots Per Inch, DPI) This is how many pixels are displayed in a line per inch of screen space – From a hardware perspective, the higher this number, the sharper and clearer the display looks. Adjusting this higher than the hardware specifications has the effect of enlarging things. If your phone has an actual hardware Pixel Density of 200 and you change the pixel density setting to 400, something which should be 1” high will be drawn 400 pixels high, but because your phone can actually only display 200 pixels to an inch, that object will render at 2” high.

Font size: I’ve covered apps which let you change font size before (here: ) and this time I’m looking at the effect that adjusting font size (along with resolution and pixel density) has on the useability of apps.

Testing methodology:

Currently, I have 200 apps on my phone, and even more conveniently, 100 of these could be considered to be ‘games’. I make the distinction because some will say they don’t play games, and I was also interested to see how differently games behaved to other apps. I tried using each app in six different scenarios:

  • Control: The native resolution (720 x 1280) and pixel density (320) of my phone at standard font size.
  • Most adjusted: A lower resolution of 450×800, higher pixel density of 400 and font size at 200%.
  • Slight tweaking: Native resolution, 150% pixel density (480) and 150% font size.
  • High DPI: Native resolution but double pixel density – 640 rather than 320, standard font size.
  • Lowest resolution: A resolution of 270 x 480 (pixel density scaled back accordingly to 120)
  • Large Font: Native resolution and pixel density but 200% font size.

The “most adjusted” setup was designed to affect the most parameters and so be more likely to have an effect (one way or the other). The “Slight tweaking” setup was designed to be a potentially practical solution which didn’t adjust any value too harshly, but provided a combination of effects which would hopefully be beneficial.

Effect of adjustments:

Resolution: Changing the resolution had the least effect in most cases. It turns out that most apps seem to be designed to draw things as a percentage of screen size so this didn’t make any difference to most things.

Pixel Density: Changing the pixel density tended to make things bigger, from the status bar to the size of icons and information within apps. Some apps handled this well and it was a great improvement and other apps, particularly some of the games, became unusable.

Font size: Changing the font size increased the size of text in many apps. Often this made the text easier to read, however in some cases the text was then bigger than the app was expecting and so overwrote other information or caused things to disappear off the side or bottom of the screen.

Some apps displayed exactly the same regardless of how I changed settings. In one way this was good as it meant that they were not negatively affected by any of the changes, but on the other hand it meant that I was not able to come up with a way of improving their large print readability beyond any settings in the app itself.

Just to take one marker, I’ve listed the size of app headings on their individual pages in the Play Store for each setting below:

  1. Control: 12pt
  2. Most Adjusted: 48pt
  3. Slight tweaking: 24pt
  4. Highest DPI: 22pt
  5. Lowest Resolution: 12pt
  6. Large Font 22pt

Usability results for (non-game) apps:

Leaving things untouched was the equal best case in 39% of apps and the equal worst setup in 89%. It was possible to adjust the pixel density, resolution or font size such that there was an improvement in 83% of apps, and in only 16% of apps, some combinations of changes caused a negative reaction.

The two biggest improvements here were in adjusting the font size (better in 71% of cases and worse in only 2%) and pixel density (better in 70% of cases and worse in 9%). While the slight tweaking scenario was only the best case in 3% of apps, this was mostly because there was an improvement (79% of apps) however it wasn’t as marked as when we doubled the DPI or font size. This setup was only worse than doing nothing in 6% of apps.

Adjusting the resolution had the least effect here – it was the same in 98% of cases (worse in one and better in one).

Results for games:

The default setup was the equal best setup in 78% of cases and the worst case in only 12%. Only 22% of games could be improved by adjusting the settings and 39% of games could be made worse or unusable with the wrong setup.

Similar to the non-game apps, lowering the resolution all the way down didn’t change anything for 93% of games though in 73% of cases this was still equal to the best setup. Adjusting the font size made 15% of games better and one worse and was the (equal) best setup in 77% of cases.

Changing the pixel density (and thus also the two combined scenarios) actually made things worse more often than better – not so much for font size alone, but just because some of games weren’t designed to cope with such an adjustment and only improved things for between 12 and 17 games but made things worse for between 14 and 35 games.

Overall results:


Above: The music Cyanogenmod music app, in the default resolution / pixel densit, in the most adjusted setup and in the slight tweaking setup.

Adjusting the pixel density seemed really good for many productivity based apps, but can be detrimental to some of the games. Adjusting the font size seemed overall to have the most positive effect with the fewest negative situations. In an ideal world, the best solution would be if there was a way of quickly changing the font size and pixel density for different situations.

Changing setups:

In my testing, I used an app called “Font Size Setter” by Cedric Gatay ( , to adjust the font size setting. I found this app good as the interface is basically just a slider you adjust to choose the size and an apply button which immediately makes the change. I also placed a shortcut to Font Size Setter in my notification shade using Custom Notifications, which made it even easier to bring up.

I used Resolution Changer by Lugalabs ( to adjust the DPI and resolution, and the way this worked was that after making the change, the screen would flicker, and then take you to the phone’s lock screen. During this time it also displayed a message asking if you wish to keep the changes and giving you 15 seconds to agree before going back to the old setting (similar to when you adjust the screen resolution on a Windows computer). While effective and potentially a safeguard in the event of choosing a setup your hardware could not display, I did find that this process took a little while, and I would be reluctant to want to change DPI too frequently. If there is another app which does the process more easily I would be very excited to learn of it.


With most of my previous recommendations, it’s been possible to choose one or several apps or setups which work best to achieve a particular outcome. With adjusting the display properties with the goal of making the font larger, there isn’t one recommendation which will work for everyone. Some apps respond great to some tweaks, whereas others become unusable, and depending on what apps you use, you will likely find that what works in one app, doesn’t work in another. For myself, I’m still using the slightly higher DPI mode though I tend to leave my font set at 200% except where this causes problems, but at least I can easily adjust the font size back. There are a few (games) I won’t be able to play in this setup, and a couple more I can play by adjusting the font size, but overall it’s definitely an improvement on the stock experience.


Adjusting the font size using an app like Font Size Setter is the easiest and quickest way of getting an overall larger font, and easy to turn off if needed. Changing the DPI can have more of an effect in some places (eg the status bar) but doesn’t work in some apps and can be a longer process to change back and forth. What works best for one person and one app, won’t necessarily work across the board so it’s a matter of trial and error to find the best setup. What setup have you found that works best for you personally? Please let me know!

OK Google voice commands and dictation

Voice commands and dictation have been greatly popularised by Apple’s Siri and are something which many who are averse to trying to type on a small touch screen have been keenly wanting. I’ve previously resisted using voice search, but Android has made some strides in this area recently so I’ve combined having a look at what you can and can’t do with the real world example of bacon in order to provide my impressions.

”OK Google”.

One of the biggest new features is the ability to start Google listening by saying ”OK Google” from anywhere and then being able to say a command or query. This mostly relies on new power saving hardware so currently only works on the new Moto X.

The best option I’ve found is placing a shortcut to ”Voice Search” either on the desktop, or in the notification area (using an app like Notification Toggle). Then you have relatively easy access to Google search which starts listening as soon as you go into it, and once you have given a command, you can continue to give additional commands by saying ”OK Google”.

One of the coolest variations I’ve found on this is that there are several other commands you can try. Several sites mention ”OK Jarvis”, which I couldn’t get to work, but ”OK Dude” did. Sadly ”Ok Bacon” doesn’t yet work, but I’m sure Google are working on this.


Firstly, one of the biggest problems I found was that on my Galaxy Note II, I couldn’t get OK Google to work well with Talkback. ”OK Google” keyword detection was disabled while Talkback was running, and when I did do a search by tapping on the button, I couldn’t get Talkback to interact with the web view of results. On my Nexus 10 with the newer version of Android, I could interact with the web view at least, though in fairness still not quite as smoothly as Siri with VoiceOver on the iPad.

What can you do with it?

So now we’ve got into Google search one way or another, what can we ask it? There are an ever increasing number of commands and variations you can use: Here is one list of OK Google commands.   See that link for detailed instructions but broadly they boil down to:

Searching for information about bacon on Google.
Setting events and reminders to buy bacon
Finding out general information (time, weather, sports scores, flight information, stock price of bacon etc)
Doing maths and conversions (length / currency etc)
Using the phone features (make a phone call or send SMS to order bacon, open an app etc)
Interacting with some apps (send an email, create a note, open a bacon related web page etc)
Maps and navigation instructions

Natural language and context

One of the big strengths is the variation in ways you can phrase your query, for instance:
”What is the weather”, ”Do I need an umbrella / a coat?”, ”Is it sunny / raining?” will all give you the weather (with comments on whether it’s raining or you need an umbrella depending on what you asked).

With many queries though, how you phrase things can make a big difference. For instance, you can say ”Search for bacon” or ”bacon recipes” and it will give you search results. You can also say ”Define bacon” or ”what is bacon?” and it will read out a definition, ask it to ”cook bacon” and it will read out step by step instructions. Interestingly saying ”Cook bacon” gives you instructions from The Art of Manliness, whereas ”Cooking bacon” gives instructions from The Kitchn

One very intuitive feature is that it will use previous questions to work out the context of the current question:

”When did world war 1 start”, reads an answer explaining the precursors to the Great War.
Next asking ”When did it end” gets reworded to ”When did world war 1 end” and gives the appropriate answer.
Asking ”How many were killed” will then also give the answer relating to WW1.

Interacting with your phone

When I asked it to ring ”home”, Google asked me ”Which home?” as I had a contact called ”Home” and one called ”Home visiting doctor”. Very cleverly she listened immediately and when I said ”The first one” she then went to dial my house. ”Take Photo” or ”Record video” opens your default camera app smoothly as well.

When I tried emailing my wife, it dictated my (short) message well, though when I told it to send, instead of sending the message immediately, it opened Aqua Mail with the message ready for me to edit further or send myself.

When I tried to open an app by saying ”Open aqua mail”, it actually crashed Google search – evidently the 700 bacon related apps I have on my phone are too many for it…. however it worked ok on my Nexus 10 with far fewer apps.

I also had trouble creating notes. I have several notepad applications on my phone, however it couldn’t find anything to save a note with. When I tried on my tablet, it happily saved my notes I dictated into Google Keep (which I didn’t have on the phone). One way around this, is to go into your preferred notepad app, and when you create a note and the keyboard appears, you can tap the microphone icon (or set ”Google Voice typing” as your default keyboard) and then you can dictate the note.


One of the main things I found OK Google can’t do, which many people would really find useful, is change settings, eg ”Turn on Talkback”, ”increase brightness”, ”magnify” would all be extremely useful.

The voice recognition was able to work out what I was saying most of the time, though not always and sometimes when it got it wrong, that would then flow on to following commands. There is an option to have it analyse everything you ask to facilitate better accuracy so it should learn over time. I also found it cut me off partway through long commands – eg dictating a longer email. I also sometimes said ”OK Google” and then had to try and think how to word what I was about to ask, though because it will accept quite a lot of ’natural’ language, sometimes just saying what you want without thinking of how to word it works really well. If you do pause first it often stops listening just as you start speaking.

Easter Eggs

As with Siri, there are a number of funny questions and commands you can give OK Google, including several good bacon ones:

• “When does the narwhal bacon?”
• “What is the Bacon number of [random actor]?”
• “Make me a sandwich!”
• “Sudo make me a sandwich!”
(I am assuming these last two are BLTs – what else would they be?)


Overall I found it actually worked better than I expected, and being able to say ”OK Google” feels much smoother for issuing subsequent commands than having to tap on the microphone icon like with Siri. I did find it jarring that it will sometimes read aloud what it has found, and other times it doesn’t and I need to concentrate and look at what is on the screen.

While I am still reluctant to randomly talk to my phone in public, I have the icon prominently on my home screen and will keep coming back to see how it advances and I can absolutely see it making accessing the device easier for some people, particularly once Talkback integration is improved.

Is it better than Siri? At this point in time, some things it does better, some not quite as well, particularly if you using Talkback, I would recommend using a device running Android 4.4 for best results. Overall though I think the rivalry between the two companies is good for all of us, as if one introduces a brilliant new feature, the other will find a way to do something similar. As much as fans of one platform or the other will cry ”copycat!”, if the end result is everyone being able to do something more efficiently, then it is the users who win from this.

Android Games for Talkback users

NOTE: This is no longer the current version of this list! Since making this post, and then updating it, I have decided to create a permanent page with an up to date list of accessible games here:

Following on from my recent post about Android low vision games (, I thought I would follow up with one for Talkback users as well – of course low vision or even fully sighted users can enjoy these games just as much!  I’ve roughly categorised them below, but aside from that they are in no particular order (ok I may have included RapiTap! first, but if you enjoy this blog, please do support me by at least trying it and hopefully buying the full version!).


Board games:


RapiTap! (Accessible game)

$2.99 with free version available

Tap targets fast and avoid decoys.  A reaction based game which offers options from full screen, to a 10×12 grid


Talking Stones:

$3.91 with Free version available

Match 3 type game with heaps of features and bonuses.


Accessible Memory:

$2.16 with Free trial available

Memory game with lots of options, different themes (remember colours / numbers etc).


Simple Simon


Simon memory game. The four buttons (8 in advanced mode) simply say button, so require a bit of practice to remember which button is which sound, otherwise it works with Talkback.

Blind-Droid Minesweeper


Accessible Minesweeper game (Each square is either empty or has a number in it signifying the number of mines in adjacent squares – try to clear all the squares without blowing up the mines.


Accessible Minesweeper


Another accessible minesweeper game by e-UCM who also made Eyes Free Golf.



Ad supported (no full version available).

Accessible chess game. Does require knowledge of where to place pieces (alternatives are visually highlighted but no talkback hint).


Tic Tac Toe (Another One!)

There are many Tic Tac Toe games, this one by Escogitare at least is accessible with Talkback, and yes it’s called Tic Tac Toe (Another One!).

Dice world


Dice World! Bringing the world together with dice games! Not just one dice game, but Six different games! Farkle, Yatzy, Balut, Threes, 1-4-24.. and PIG! Challenge your friends or random opponents to any or all games!
•100% Talk Back Accessible!

Word / Number games:

Hanging with Friends

$1.99 or free with ads


7 Little Words

Free (In app purchases available, also includes flurry Analytics) Join letter groups to make words which match clues to form the 7 words.


One number Down:



Given a list of nine numbers, work out which one from 0 – 9 is missing as quickly as possible.




A sliding puzzle – 15 pieces in a 4×4 grid. Unscramble to put the numbers in order. Works well with low vision too. Numbers are about 28pt.




Spelling game against friends or the computer


Trivia Crack

Also a free version available

Trivia Crack is the international smash hit game that pits friend against friend in different categories to determine who has the most trivia knowledge. And it’s FREE! Each of the six categories (Science, Entertainment, Art, Geography, Sports and History) has a corresponding character, and the game is won by being the first to obtain all six. Give Willy the Wheel a spin and let chance decide which category you get!

Quiz: QuizUp


A quiz game you can play with friends.


Exercise games:

The Walk

$4.99 (on special for $2.99 at time of writing – 21 May 2014) A cross between an adventure story and a pedometer, this ‘game’ encourages you to walk and as you do, you slowly unlock the story.


Zombies Run


By the same people as “The Walk”, Zombies run is an audio game you listen to as you run / ride an exercise bike or do any kind of cardio – you are a ‘runner’ for one of the last outposts of humanity after the zombie apocalypse strikes!


Adventure / Role Playing games:

Choose to survive


Fun turn and text based strategy / combat game.



$1.82 with Free demo available

Clever set time RPG game.  Four unlabelled buttons (to Game, Shop, Inventory, Statistics) but everything else works well.


Totally Random Hero

(Link currently down – waiting to hear back from author about whether this is permanent or temporary), hopefully temporary, this is one of my favourites.

$1 or free trial of first 7 levels

A text adventure with dragons and warriors, wizards and badgers.


Colossal Cave Adventure


A classic text adventure game where you move around, using objects you find and seek your fortune.


Detectives Choice volume 1 (and others by author)

$3 or free sample.

Detectives Choice is one of a group of text adventure games created by Delight Games. Different games have different settings and themes from detective to the moon to zombies.


Lighthouse Battery (and others by author)

$0.99 or free demo

One of a number of text adventure games created by Better.Apps




an audio narrative story game about a man in an authoritarian society who wants to escape his life by ending it.




An audio adventure game about eavesdropping and meddling with the future.


Codename Cygnus

First few levels free then in app purchase Interactive Audiobook / Audio game. Sometimes doesn’t read screen immediately (swiping left or right prompts it).


Simulation games:



Fly your starship on the assigned route at the highest possible speed!
Orbits of steel… Maximum power to the jet engines… Anti-gravity systems functioning at 100%… The crushing pressure of the hyperspeed!
Let the audio sensors guide you and follow the indications from your robo-navigator. Go full throttle!
Avoid collisions and be the first to cross the line!


VGZ Smart Tennis:


Virtual tennis game.


VGZ Sea Battle accessible game


Battleship game, try and sink your opponents ships by coordinates.


VGZ Mortal Maze


It is a maze game with shooter and adventure features. You are walking in the maze. Monsters and vampires will try to catch you. If you let them catch you, they will kill you. Works best with a physical keyboard.



Link currently down – if anyone has contact details for the author, please let me know so I can try and find out whether this is permanent!


Hold your phone like a key and try to pick the lock.


Eyes Free Golf:


An audio golf simulation game




Become the biggest predator in the ocean.  Designed to be playable without sight however requires talkback to be disabled while playing.


Orange Tree


Grow your own virtual orange tree and harvest virtual oranges


Other games:



Stem Stumper


Brain testing hidden object puzzle game.



Blind Run:

A ‘running’ game with audio prompts (which it seems, I’m a bit bad at).



Sound challenge:

Similar to Bop It, the game gives audio cues and you have to perform the correct action (rotate the phone, tap the screen etc) as quickly as possible.


The gameplay is simple. Listen for the instructions, and follow them as quickly as you can, without a single mistake. If you’re too slow or get one wrong, it’s game over!
▪Completely audio based, no visuals involved!
▪Gameplay with unlimited levels which speeds up as you go.
▪High quality voice acting, featuring rather cute voices (at least, that’s what the testers think)…
▪CD quality sound effects
▪Custom made music that speeds up as you complete more and more levels
▪It’s absolutely free! And not ad supported. We don’t like them either. Yay!

Crazy Bat

You take the role of a bat, and your job is to fly through obsticles without hitting them. Sounds easy? It’s not!
– CD Quality music and sound effects
– progressively speeding gameplay
– Lots of fun and addiction
Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, try to get the best highscore of them all!


Keep on Rolling

Link down – if anyone has contact details for the developer, please let me know so I can find out whether this is permanent.

Talking dice game, similar to Farkle / 10,000 / Yahtzee.


$2.85 or Free demo
Are you our Hero?

Help save Earth from the Evil Queen DarkSock in this exhilarating Space shooter!

JumpinSauceRS is a space shooter game aims to allow blind and visually impaired individuals to play a mainstream game with their sighted friends.
We have two versions available to download, this one is the paid version. If you like what we’re doing and wish to support us then please purchase this version, your contribution goes into helping us develop the games accessibility and the evolution of a game world/universe called “The Mists of Audazzle”. If you pay for the game your unique Mists of Audazzle character will receive a medal of honour showing you have supported our mission.

World in Shadow

First AudioGame 3D in Google Play!
World In Shadow is based solely on 3D game sounds.
It is a story where you have to kill wild animals and keep aggressive sound objectives.

Gone is all the light of the world and it has become dark. Scientists do not know the cause but rather know what happened. Your mission is to find out what had happened.
You will have to survive in a world completely dark where animals are aggressive and closer to targets , using only your ears .

Game Mode:
You have to have headphones and make sure you are well placed ( left atrial to left ear and the right on the right ear ) .
Orienta mobile in the direction you want to “see.” You have to hold the phone like when you take a picture.
You walk by holding two fingers on the screen.
To attack your enemies you tap on the screen.

The game is in Beta version, if you find an error please explain it in the comments.
There were several games which I wanted to mention but which I had issues with when I tried them:

B Blind: A clever maze game which vibrates as you get close to the walls. It has buttons to get into the game and select a level which are completely invisible to Talkback so you need sight to get into it.


Seenesthesis: drag your finger around the screen and with feedback, guess the shapes. The menu works with Talkback, but once you are in it, the levels only work with Talkback off.


Rockets and Pumpkins: input velocity and angle to shoot the pumpkin. With Talkback on the instructions aren’t read out. Also can’t double tap (triple tap) with both talkback and magnifier on:

Audio Archery removed as the dev has removed it from the play store.


Know any more games which work with Talkback?  Please let everyone know in the comments below!