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:

DSLR:

[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.

Effects:

[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!

An initial, low vision look at the Windows 10 technical preview.

[Image of the Windows 10 logo][Image of the Windows 10 logo]

Windows 10 is scheduled for release around September this 2015, and as is usual, there is an early version, called a “Technical Preview” available for people to look at. It’s freely available to anyone, whether you are a software developer, IT teacher, technical writer or just a curious consumer. The main point to be aware of are that while it will have some of the new features coming in Windows 10, it is beta software, and things might not all work, so it’s not recommended to use it as your daily PC just yet.

I’ve had a quick first look at the technical preview, and while there are plenty of sites detailing some of the key features which are new or updated, I’ve included my thoughts here as a low vision user.

If you are interested in an audio podcast, sampling some of the new voices available and hearing me ramble on aimlessly about my first impressions of Windows 10, then Step this way for my Windows 10 first impressions podcast

Firstly, if you’re still using Windows 7, please jump over here for my quick primer on Windows 8 to get you up to speed.

Ok so lets get to Windows 10. Microsoft have announced that it will be a free upgrade for anyone running Windows 7 or 8, which indicates that its hardware requirements should be relatively low. In order to fully test this claim, my chosen Windows 10 test machine is a 2006 vintage HP Compaq dc7600 with an Intel Pentium 4 640 / 3.2 GHz, 80GB HDD and 1GB RAM. This machine never actually saw action with Windows 7 – it shipped with Windows XP and that’s what it had on it (in storage under the couch) until I bumped it up four releases of Windows at once this week – quite an amazing feat in itself – could you imaging taking a Windows 98 machine and slapping Windows 7 on it? I’ve run Windows 7 on similar vintage machines and I have to say that while it worked ok early on, by now Windows 7 actaully runs a lot slower than it did on release and so running Windows 7 on this vintage machine is no longer pleasant. In actual fact, running Windows 10 on this machine isn’t overly great either, but it is possible, which means that most machines people have at home which shipped with Windows 7 from the shop should actually run better than they have in years under Windows 10.

As someone who still uses Windows 7 for my daily driver, I found the initial presentation looked more or less familiar, which was a relief given that the interface is most hated aspect of Windwos 8. You first get to a welcome screen with the time and list of users, you pick your user profile, type your password and then you are presented with a big pretty picture desktop background, with icons, a taskbar with system tray and clock and a start button.

[Image of Windows 10 desktop with personalisation window open][Image of Windows 10 desktop with personalisation window open]

The Start button has the newer Windows logo in a monochrome white on dark blue by default, and next to it is a large search bar – not unlike the search box the focus moves to when you bring up the start menu in Windows 7 – and it works much the same, although being on the taskbar, you can get to it directly now without also opening the start menu:

As a low vision user, one of the first things I did was fire up the magnifier by pressing WINDOWS and +, and indeed, it looks and works exactly as it has since Windows 7, and the options are the same as well (including the strange omission of leaving “Follow the keyboard focus” and “Have magnifier follow the text insertion point” both unchecked. If anyone knows why they are unchecked by default or why you wouldn’t want them checked please do let me know as I’ve been curious since Windows 7 came out!

Going into personalisation (I right clicked on the desktop and chose the bottom option in the context menu, but you can get to it from the search box – no difference there), I noticed the first difference – there is no real border around Windows now. Microsoft have gone for a Modern, Metro, Material, Minimal, whatever you want to call it, design which is aimed at being simple, clean and refreshing. (There I think I’ve covered all the appropriate buzzwords!) In any case, while I like it well enough overall, I do find the lack of a border to define where windows end somewhat jarring, particularly as it means if you have windows overlapping each other, it can be very hard to tell where one ends and the next begins.

Next lets have a look at the most anticipated feature: The Start Menu

[Image of Windows 10 Start menu]
[Image of Windows 10 Start menu]

The nice big red mouse pointer there isn’t a new feature in Windows, it’s a custom mouse pointer I made in Windows 7, which I could copy just fine into Windows 10. The default stock of mouse pointers really hasn’t changed since Windows 7, nor has the mouse options, so a custom mouse pointer like this is a good idea. There are a range of full mouse pointer sets, including this red one, available from the 22 Point Website here.

The Start menu itself actually looks pretty traditional: text items with icons on the left, and on the right something which looks like the Windows 8 start screen.

I could move around the start menu with the keyboard without problem (although as in the screenshot above, the mouse hovering over an item will visually highlight it, though the keyboard focus may be elsewhere entirely.

In Windows 7 you had your programs on the left and your settings and abstract folders on the right (Documents, pictures, control panel etc). In Windows 10 you have some of each on both sides. I’m not sure how best to rearrange it, but the left side certainly appears fluid with it’s “Recently added” and “Most Used” sections as well as a “Places” section which currently has File Explorer, Documents and Settings under it.

In Windows 7 you could pin things you used frequently to the start menu, and while that option does seem to exist in Windows 10 (if you go to the All apps list at the bottom of the start menu, you get an alphabetical list of everything sorted by letter, and you can right click or press the CONTEXT menu key to find “Pin to start” as an option. You can also choose a file of any type from Windows explorer, but it doesn’t appear in the default context menu, you have to press SHIFT and right click or shift+context menu key before it appears), I did try pinning a couple of items to the start menu and they never appeared there, so I presume that’s a work in progress.

[Image of Windows 10 full screen Start menu]
[Image of Windows 10 full screen Start menu]

You can also expand the start menu to take up the full screen and look similar to the Windows 8 start screen, which mostly gives you more access to those “right side” tiles, including live tiles for things like current news and stock market fluctuations.

Turning on high contrast mode, either with LEFT ALT, LEFT SHIFT and PRINT SCREEN, or from the personalisation screen, the start menu seems to come up ok too:

[Image of Windows 10 Start menu in High Contrast with Windows magnifier]
[Image of Windows 10 Start menu in High Contrast with Windows magnifier]

I did find some things ended up unreadable, such as most of the settings windows:

[Image of one of the Windows 10 settings screens in High Contrast]
[Image of one of the Windows 10 settings screens in High Contrast]

The ALT+TAB window works similarly to how it ever has, although the preview is now a bit bigger and the regular contrast seems ok:

[Image of Windows 10 ALT+TAB screen]
[Image of Windows 10 ALT+TAB screen]

Unfortunately the semi-transparent background doesn’t work so well in high contrast mode:

[Image of Windows 10 ALT+TAB screen in High Contrast]
[Image of Windows 10 ALT+TAB screen in High Contrast]

WINDOWS+TAB has been a flashier but less well known alternative since Windows 7. I found it confusing in Windows 8 as it didn’t treat all windows the same (anything which didn’t run full screen was lumped into a “Desktop” category, and in Windows 10 I must confess I still don’t really get its purpose.

[Image of Windwos 10 WINDOWS+TAB screen]
[Image of Windwos 10 WINDOWS+TAB screen]

It now presents you with previews of all of your Windows in a grid on screen overlaid over the desktop, and you can arrow through them or click on the one you want – pressing it again toggles between this view and the last window which had focus. The main benefit I can see would be that you don’t need to hold down two keys continuously, which would definitely be useful for some, though I much prefer the ALT+TAB interface visually.

One thing which was an issue in Windows 7 was that you could choose one Windows colour which shaded your taskbar, ALT+TAB window and title bars, however the text in some (Title bar and ALT+TAB) was black whereas the text in the taskbar and Start Menu was white making it hard to choose a well contrasting colour. In Windows 10 this still seems to be the case, although the ALT+TAB menu now uses a straight dark background with white text, only leaving window title bars with black text, so overall a dark windows colour seems to work best.

Finally, the other big thing I came across was Cortana. Familiar to smart phone users, the ability to issue spoken commands to your PC will be integrated in Windows 10. At this stage it isn’t as fully integrated as the Microsoft promotions tell us it will be, but it does work. I must confess I skipped through teaching it my voice so it’s not as accurate as it would otherwise be if I hadn’t been lazy, but I could get it to open and close programs and dictate text.

[Image of Cortana window]
[Image of Cortana window]

One amusing incident was when I had a phone call while playing with it, even though I wandered over the other side of the room, it still picked up random snippets of the conversation and opened and closed things (I’m pretty sure we never actaully said “Num Lock off”, or “Open network locations”, but it helpfully did those for me anyway). The system has the option of either being manually turned on or off, or a constant listening mode where you can say “Stop listening” to put it to sleep and “Start listening” to get it to start listening again. One issue I did encounter, was when using a screen reader such as Narrator or NVDA, Cortana would listen to the output of the screen reader, and try and decipher it as commands. So unless that changes, if you want to use Cortana AND a screen reader, you’ll need to wear headphones. Cortana at this stage also didn’t give any verbal feedback of commands as say Siri or Google Now does. Otherwise I can certainly see it being a preferable method of input for some users.

Finally, another reminder either that Windows 10 is still not ready for full release, or alternatively that the best days of my wife’s old HP are behind it, I inadvertently left it running when I went out this morning, and came back to this error:

[Image of Windows 10 error]
[Image of Windows 10 error]

Microsoft unfortunately still haven’t figured out that white writing on blue isn’t the best contrast, and unfortunately their blue is getting lighter, but the important bit of the message reads “The operating system couldn’t be loaded because the kernel is missing or contains errors.” and going on to suggest either using a recovery CD or contacting my manufacturer. Luckily for me, I recently bought my wife a new laptop!

Have you tried the Technical Preview of Windows 10 yet? What did you think?

One page primer on Windows 8 for Windows 7 users before looking at Windows 10

I sat down this week to have a first look at Windows 10 and my intention today was to share my initial thoughts with you. Before doing that however, I realise that a lot of people (like me for the most part), heard the bad reviews of Windows 8, had a quick look and agreed, and have stuck with Windows 7. If that’s you, read on! If you’re an old hand at Windows 8, then jump straight on over to my first look at Windows 10.

Firstly, please at least tell me you’re not still using XP! It’s no longer supported and that means any vulnerabilities found – and there have been several in recent months – will not be patched so even if you keep your anti virus up to date, you are still at risk.

Before delving into my first look at Windows 10 I thought it prudent therefore to do a quick runthrough of some of the features from Windows 8.

win8desktop[Image of the Windows 8 start screen]

In case you’re wondering what happened to Windows 9 btw, Microsoft have jumped from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 – either because it’s such a revolutionary jump in the future of Windows (if you listen to Microsoft) or to try and distance themselves further from the very badly received Windows 8 (if you listen to some of the analysts).

From a low vision perspective, here are some of the things you might have missed in Windows 8 / 8.1 if you are still on Windows 7:

– Windows 8 ditched the start menu and introduced a start screen which was a patchwork of ’tiles’ to get you into programs. On the surface these appear larger than traditional desktop icons, however one thing which was very confusing was that when you moved the mouse to edges of the screen, things fly out at you that you either weren’t expecting, or invariably forget where to go for them without the traditional taskbar to “anchor” them to. Even more confusingly, when in a program, you were either in it full screen, or in a window with a desktop and task bar looking very reminiscent of Windows 7, but without the start menu. You could get the start menu back by downloading a 3rd party add-on from the Internet.

– The Windows Magnifier works in full screen in all themes, including the High Contrast themes. In Windows 7 it only worked full screen in “Aero” modes, meaning if you preferred the better contrast of classic or high contrast themes but also wanted a full screen magnifier, you needed to use a 3rd party program.

– Windows Narrator has been greatly enhanced. Instead of the half a dozen options and commands, there are now a half a dozen screens full of options including an extensive command list, meaning you can perform a lot more of the tasks that you would have otherwise used a fully fledged screen reader like NVDA or JAWS for previously. (Most users I know still preferred to stick with their chosen screen reader though).

– Your Microsoft ID is a lot more intrinsically linked with Windows now. Where previously you might have used it for Hotmail / Outlook mail, or Skype, now you also use it to log in to Windows and it then automatically logs you in to those other services.

So that’s your one page primer on Windows 8, let’s move on and have a look at Windows 10!

Android low vision games.

The quick recommendation: There are lots of games suitable for low vision users, here are some.

The longer answer:

As much as we all buy our devices to ring people, be productive and find out important information…. Most of us want to have fun with them too – after all, everyone else does, and their power can be harnessed for entertainment just as much as utility.  So today I am tackling that all important issue – games!

With many apps, working out how accessible they are for low vision is a matter of seeing how large you can make the font, whether you can change the colour scheme, and if desired, whether it works with Talkback.  For games, it becomes much more complex – there are generally more than two colours, there is movement and often characters, spaceships, gems or other images which need to be interacted with.  Today I wanted to share some of the games I’ve found fairly easy to see – you might find some aren’t suitable at all for you, and you might have your own list of even better offerings – either way, please do share in the comments below!

To find these, I’ve often come across something which may be *almost* great, (eg I found a couple of colour flood games and I loved the idea but I really couldn’t see them well, so I went to “Users also installed” and do a search for similar names, reading the descriptions and looking at screenshots (and sometimes downloading to try) until I came across some more accessible examples.  I’ve picked 10 abstract or puzzle games as those type of games often lend themselves to being easy to see moreso than some other genres as they are often turn based, or have bigger, solid colour pieces to interact with.  This is by no means a complete or possibly even representative sample, and unfortunately none of these games work with Talkback.

TriXOR by Richard Warburton

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=prototec.TriXOR

$0.99 or free version.

Image

Similar to “set” – you are presented with a grid of nine images, which can 1, 2 or 3 of either triangles, squares or circles in either red, green or blue (with backgrounds in harder levels).  You have to tap three which for each attribute (shape, colour, number) must be either all the same or all different (eg one green triangle, two blue triangles and three red triangles, or two blue circles, two blue squares and two blue triangles).  The quicker you find the correct three items the higher your score.

Panels by Numerical

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=j.numerical.panel

free.

Image

Touch the lit panel as quickly as you can – repeat as many times as possible before the time runs out.  There are numerous similar games available.  I like this because it needs no permissions and you can set the size of the grid, colour of the panels and length of the game.

Colotrix by Mitz Pax

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.examples.quilt

Free

Image

Kind of like a 2d Rubik’s Cube – slide the rows and columns until you end up with all blocks neatly filled in one colour (different levels range from 4×4 with four colours up to 12 x 12 with 16 colours.  No time limit though your time and number of moves are saved in a high score.

Flood Wars by Viacheslav Filonenko

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.fva.flood.wars

Image

Working from the bottom left corner, choose a colour (4 to 6) and try and fill the board before your opponent (multiplayer available).  Grid size starts at 5 x 8 and gets bigger (smaller squares).  Turn based, no time limit.  Again there are numerous variations on this game available.  I’m recommending this one as it’s completely free and the 5×8 grid is one of the easiest to see I’ve come across.

Lights Out by John Boker

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.antiyes.lightsout

Free

Image

Another game with many variations available.  Tap a square and it changes colour, as do the squares directly above, below, left and right.  Try to change all the squares to black.  No time limit, moves and time recorded for high score.

Squarge by elph

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=pl.elph.squarge

$3.99 or free with ads.

Image

Swap adjoining blocks in a 6×6 grid to form rows or columns of the same colour of three or more.  There is a colour blind option with different colours.  There is a time limit (time increases each time you match a group).  There are lots of ‘Match 3’ type games, this one has one of the easier to see grids.

Poly Wars by load.me indie

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=me.load.gotter.polywars

Image

Similar to “Risk”.  Move armies around the board to capture it all before your opponents do.  Can zoom in and out.  Turn based, no time limit.  “Area” and “Vitrage” have squares with smaller numbers than other boards (try other boards first).

Hashi by Ivo Blöchliger

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=ch.bloechligair.hashi

$5 or Free

Image

Also called “bridges”.  Each circle has a number, connect circles by horizontal or vertical lines to nearby bridges.  Each circle must end up with the same number of lines coming from it as its number.  Board size ranges from 7×10 (biggest number) to 22×28.  No time limit.

Simon BSC by Markymark

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.markymark.simon

Free

Image

There are many variations of this available.  Tap the squares in the same order the computer does.  This one is basic, with only four colours, but most people can’t get beyond 10 or 20.

Break by Rock Solid Productions:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.rocksolid.breakgame

Image

Blocks slowly fall down the screen (speed and number of columns wide can be adjusted).  Tap in the column to add a block to make complete rows disappear.

Summary:

Often the best way of finding games is through looking at the “Users also installed” section of a game which is good but not quite accessible, or by doing a search for a similar name.  Let me know how you find the ten examples above!