Rating the Accessibility Features on Android Phones
Tuesday, July 09, 2013
*The following is a guest post by Mark Flores of Handi Enterprises. Mark has 17 years of experience in providing adaptive technology and communication devices and is confident that Handi Enterprise can provide solutions to meet your adaptive technology and communication needs. He recently reviewed the accessibility features on the iPhone in this article.
Android phones are gaining in popularity. In part because of the popularity of the Samsung S series of smart phones. This is the 1st series of phones to use an Android platform that is similar to the iPhone operating system. Also, if you know what you are doing the open source format of Android operating systems allow you to customize the phone to meet your needs.
The Samsung S3 has a lot of almost gimmicky features such as hand wave call answer and the say cheese function to take a picture that are generating a lot of interest and as such we are seeing a lot of people with physical disabilities wanting to make the switch. In this blog post I will talk about my experience with using some of its accessibility features, and hopefully help you to answer the question of is it worth it to make the switch.
I found that the accessibility features on the Samsung Galaxy S3 were not that easy to find and even harder to turn on. Granted, this could be because of the operating system I was using. I was on the latest version of Jellybean. On the Jellybean OS, to find the accessibility features that I needed to use, I had to navigate a labyrinth of menus that felt like I was using a version of DOS. In my opinion, this would be very difficult for someone who does not have high finger dexterity. Also, some of the features that I used were not marked as accessibility features and were found in different menu trees. This was very confusing to me. Finally I had to do a lot of research on my own just to ascertain what some of these accessibility features did and how to use them - things like answering calls by voice were not clearly spelled out, it almost felt like they were hidden. When I had to find out what a particular function did, the Samsung YouTube became my closest friend. Again someone with a physical disability may not be up to doing a large amount of research; they may just want the features to be simple to understand and easy to use.
For these reasons I am giving the Samsung Galaxy S3 accessibility features a rating of 2 out of 5 for ease-of-use.
To me this is the category where the Android accessibility features on the Samsung Galaxy S3 really fall down. As a person with a physical disability the more I can control my cell phone by voice the better. This is why I was really excited to spend 30 days with the Android operating system. The voice control features like using my voice to answer a call, to take a picture or to unlock my phone are a set of accessibility features that the iOS system does not currently have and at least in my mind, could have meant a migration for me from iOS to Android. It could have if those features were able to work more consistently.
During my 30 days embedded with the Samsung Galaxy S3 I found the voice control features to be amazing… when they decided to work. As a matter of fact, I could not get them to work with any sort of consistency. I found myself screaming at the phone to try and answer it by voice 75% of the time. Unfortunately, this was my experience across all of the voice control accessibility features of the Android OS. I just could not get any of them to consistently respond to me. This tells me that the voice control engine that they are using which is Google Voice/S Voice is nowhere near that of Siri, which was created by Nuance. If you are a person with a physical disability looking to use the voice control accessibility options of the Samsung Galaxy series of phones it was my experience that you have to dictate the commands you would like it to execute with a super consistent voice and volume. As well I could not get any of its features to work at all in any sort of noisy environment. So be prepared for that.
Even though the voice control features would have helped me out a lot I just could not get them to respond to me consistently. Therefore the responsiveness of the phones accessibility features receive a rating of 1 out of 5.
Does the product perform as advertised?
I would say that the voice control accessibility features of the Samsung Galaxy S3 aside, the other features that I use, such as read text or text zoom performed quite similarly to what you would expect to see from the iPhone. Although these features did require me to jump through a few extra hoops to get them to work. Many of the voice control features that I used to make the Samsung more accessible to me felt as though they were flashy casino slot machines meant to attract early adopters and were not stable enough to really be referred to as assistive technology for people with disabilities. I am only awarding the Samsung Galaxy S3 a score of 3 out of 5 for its accessibility features performing as advertised.
How much physical dexterity is required to use the product i.e. can anyone with any disability utilize it?
I was disappointed at how much physical dexterity I needed to have in order to use the Samsung Galaxy S3, even with its accessibility features. I am a person with a physical disability with limited dexterity and as such I find it difficult to use technology that requires a lot of setup before I can use it correctly, this was the exact mountain that I had to climb with the Samsung Galaxy S3, which is something that the average user with a physical disability may not be able to do.
Because some of the accessibility features like answering a phone call by my voice, among others, barely worked I found myself having to subsidize my use of the phone with the use of my fingers, which I should have not had to do if the accessibility features of the Samsung advertised with this phone worked correctly. The fact that the Samsung Galaxy S3 required a high level of dexterity to use it even with its accessibility features activated, I am only giving it a rating of 1 out of 5.
Overall I have to say that I was underwhelmed with the accessibility features of the Samsung Galaxy S3. These features did not at all make it easier for me to use such a robust phone. They just were not stable enough and therefore were unable to perform as advertised the majority of the time. I cannot in good conscience recommend that someone with a physical disability look at purchasing it. The only way that I could recommend that someone with similar accessibility needs to my own look at using the Samsung Galaxy S3 is with the assistance of an alternative access device. Our next blog series will give an in-depth review of 2 of these types of devices. So stay tuned. I realize that Samsung has recently released the 4th generation in this phone series and with all new releases you would expect the features that I have detailed above to be better, and who knows maybe they are but I would not hold my breath. The Samsung Galaxy S3 and its accessibility features receive a disappointing overall rating of 7 out of 20.
Remember assistive technology is amazing when it works. We can help you get there.