Saturday, August 06, 2005

With A Stroke Of A Pen. A Dolphin Pen That Is..

The Dolphin Pen is the first full Screen Reader and Screen Magnifier to come on a USB drive. Some might say that the Freedom Box people have also released such a product, however, that product requires a bit more work to get it going and it is very limited in what it can access. The Dolphin Pen is the first full time supported USB based product that you can literally take to any computer and have it reading to you in less than 2 minutes. I say two minutes because you may need to install a .dll file and the computer will need to restart after this is done. But more on that in a second. Let’s look at the device shall we?

The Pen comes on a 256 MB drive and the software takes up 160 MB all by it’s self. The unit fits in the standard sized USB drive slot. Loading it is as simple as pie. Place the unit in a USB slot and then your off. Well maybe..

You see there is a little prep work that has to be done first. On three computers I loaded the Dolphin Pen. None had seen the unit before so the following steps I took to get it working was standard on all three systems.

Placing the Pen in the USB slot will most likely give you either the Windows Menu for selecting a media type from a removable drive or nothing at all but the USB connection noise. You may find yourself using Narrator to get to the drive menu if a Media Window Selection box doesn’t show up.

If your really lucky, however, you may get the boot up of the Pen drive. But let’s say you don’t what then eh? Well if you know what drive letter the Removable Drive is then you can go to Run and type in the following example minus the E:\ of course.


If you don’t know what the drive letter could possibly be you can browse My Computer for the drive. It’s usually called Removable Drive as the volume is 256 MB. Windows has an odd ability to assign drive letters straight on with no preamble once they get past 1.5 GB. Search for the above mentioned go.exe and now your really off to the races.

The software will run the typical Dolphin logo and then you will more than likely get a dialog box asking you to either choose the Escape key or the OK key. Escape lets you run the Pen without loading the Dolphin Interceptor software. If you’re a Screen Reader only user you can hit this and be on your merry way. If you utilize Screen Magnification then you want to hit the OK button. Honestly though it doesn’t hurt to go ahead and load the Interceptor for either side of the coin. In fact you might be able to avoid some Braille Display issues with the Interceptor running. So let’s just say we hit the OK button.

The Pen will load the Interceptor utility from it’s cashed list of programs. This takes only a few seconds and then a restart of the computer. When the system reboots, and let’s say there isn’t a network log on screen, Windows will find the Pen in the USB drive and it will then launch Supernova automatically. I believe the unit will work in the Windows log on menu, however, my time with our demo was limited and I will have to research this issue later.

The copy of Supernova now running is a full version of Supernova Pro. Our demo displayed it’s self as a Supernova Pen Edition at version 6.51. And for the most part it ran exactly as a CD copy of Supernova would. The Maps and the program it’s self can be updated like it’s hard drive counterpart. Additional Braille Drivers and Synthesizers can also be added to the Pen. But the best thing going for the Pen is that it saves your individual settings! That’s right no more reconfiguration of your Access Software every time you meet a new computer. I left Supernova at 5x with inverted text and a fast speech rate. Then I took it and added it to a new system. After loading the Interceptor I found my custom settings waiting for me on the reboot of the machine. Now just imagine what that means for those with portable Braille Displays. Two devices in two USB slots for full Screen Reader and Braille Access on almost any computer.

The Pen takes a snapshot of the System Volume Information and keeps it as a 1.2k file. It then loads this information when it is inserted into that same machine. So file A is set for my work system but the Pen loads configuration B when I place it in a laptop. The files are very small so hypothetically you can store hundreds of these files on the space remaining on the Pen.

The down sides to this device are somewhat locked to your user preferences. If you don’t like Dolphin’s speech then you will need to customize it’s voices, or use someone else’s, to your liking. If you’re a JAWS user then slipping Supernova into JAWS simulation mode is the way to go. And if you’re a big fan of Zoom Text’s App reader.. you’re out of luck. Supernova uses a Doc Reader styled auto reading pane. So you will have to take a non-visual approach to full screen reading of web pages and other fare.

The other downside comes from the price Dolphin software is notorious for being a bit expensive. $1,590 gets you the Pen and all the other extras that comes from Supernova Pro. That’s $100 to $190 higher than a CD copy [depending on your distributor]. If you are in need of quick access to multiple machines then this is worth it to you as Site Licensing is far more expensive. But if you’re an individual just looking for freedom then your gonna have to scrape up some pennies.

Dolphin is also adding a Cover Plan for the loss, theft or replacement of broken Pens. The plan is already working in the UK. It’s a small fee for a 12 month plan but that’s a nice price to pay for something that could be so easily lost. You don’t get a backup CD or anything with the Pen so it is going to be as important as a SMA to have this around.

The Dolphin Pen is the first of it’s kind in that it provides detailed support for Win Amp, Real Player and the full suite of MS Office products. The Freedom Box version called “the key to freedom” requires you to contact Freedom Box every time you load it on to a new computer. This becomes a real problem for systems with no internet access. So the Pen is the best solution for the Blind person on the go.

To learn more about the Pen check out Dolphin’s web site.

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