Ever since the last significant drop in my hearing, I've found it more and more challenging to rely on said hearing to carry out such tasks as using a screen reader, knowing when water is boiling, and the topic of this review: waking up in the morning. As many of the adaptations made for the blind are addressed through the use of hearing, and many of the adaptations made for the deaf are done through vision, this complicates matters for someone who wants to maintain their independence through the use of technology. For the deaf and hard of hearing, there are alarm systems like those made by Sonic Alert, and many others. For the purposes of waking up, there are a few options on the market. One solution is to leave my iPhone under my pillow and hope that the vibration feature will do the trick. Whether it will or not depends on how heavily I sleep and also if the phone shifts while under my pillow during the night. Not only that, but before the days of the Do Not Disturb feature in iOS, I had to leave my phone in "airplane mode", or risk getting those drunk texts from friends, which aren't so amusing at 3 AM when you have to work the next day.
Along those lines, there is a product on the market which seeks to address this issue and also notify you of incoming texts, alarms, and calls on your smartphone. The DreamZon LightOn is a signaler originally designed for the deaf which sends out a flashing light to alert the individual that their phone is vibrating when it is set on the top of the device. There is an add on which allows for a bed shaker to be plugged in which can also act as a signaler when put in a pocket. One draw-back to this system is that it is often set off by a loud noise that vibrates the room you are in. Loud car stereos, thunderstorms, neighbors walking heavily in an apartment above yours, and slamming of doors are just some examples. There is also no way for someone who is blind to adjust the sensitivity. This device also runs on batteries, another thing that someone who can not independently check the status of because it is displayed by lights. IF the device weren't prone to going off on its own, this may not be a large concern, but because of the aforementioned sensitivity issue, it certainly can be. There are other solutions that have various issues, fsuch as the Helen Vibrating Alarm Clock, the Reizen Braille Quartz Alarm Clock with Vibrating Option, and the the Amplicom Talking Digital Alarm Clock with Vibrator just to name a few. These are the options I looked at and dismissed for various reasons. There is also the Apple Watch, which does work, but is much more expensive and has limitations of its own. However, I've now found a product I like and that seems reliable: the TCL Pulse seems to fit the bill quite well.
What is it and how would you describe it
The TCL Pulse is a piece of hardware that is very small and connects to your iDevice through bluetooth. It's square-like shaped, but the corners are rounded. It measures 2.8 x 2.8 x 0.8 inches, and weighs in at 5 ounces, also making it great for traveling.
It has 3 buttons on what I would call the top side, or the side facing furthest away from you. From left to right they are a button with bumps on it, which is the pair button, a small concaved button to reset the entire unit, and a small smooth button on the right which turns off the alarm. On the top of the unit, there is just 1 button for snooze. This device is controlled through its own iOS app, and can serve as either an alarm or timer. The type and frequency of the alarms are wide in range. You can have soft noise with a strong vibration, loud noises with no vibration, and every other combination you could want. You can also set alarms to go off every day of the week, each week day, only once, or any combination in between.
Speaking of time, you spent a lot of it babbling, now how does it work?
First, you will need to insert the 3 AAA batteries that came with the PCL Pulse. This process, even as someone who is deaf-blind, was very straight forward. After inserting the batteries, put the battery door cover back on, and go download the iOS app. Not only is this how you will control the PCL Pulse, as indicated above, but it's also how you will pair it to your iDevice. Once the app is installed, you will then press and hold the pairing button for 5 seconds. You will feel a vibration and, if you can hear well enough, a beep. This means the PCL Pulse is in "discoverable mode". When the app is launched, find the pair new device button in the app, and double tap or press a cursor routing button to begin the search process. The phone will find your device, and you can select it accordingly. I'm writing all of this in the review, because the pdf file on their website did not appear to be accessible with a screen reader. Since this was originally posted, however, a text version of the manual has become available.
how applicable is the app?
As of version 2.0 of the app, it works very well with VoiceOver. Some of the labels for VoiceOver were a bit verbose, but again, I still was able to clearly understand what those buttons did. The company has since fixed these issues, and it works very well with speech and/or braille. Setting an alarm, editing alarms, setting timers, and all other functions are usable for VoiceOver users who have some degree of experience using standard commands or gestures with their VO enabled..
One of the challenges of some of the iDevice specific solutions of this sort in the past has been that they tend to come unpaired from the iDevice. The version of the Lark UP system I tried that had a wrist band that would vibrate is an example of this. However, with the TCL Pulse, once the alarm has been set through the app, you no longer have to be in range of your iDevice. So if your iDevice is plugged in somewhere else, as long as the alarm was set to go off at a designated time, it will do so. Assuming, of course, that the batteries do not die. Speaking of battery life, which finding that status has been a problem with all of the other products mentioned in this post, it's not one with the TCL Pulse, as you can se this right on the main screen when a TCL Pulse is connected.
Certainly, an extensive review beyond what we've looked at here is out of the question. However, after having the TCL Pulse for nearly a year, I've found it to be both the most reliable and most cost effective way to wake up as someone who is deaf-blind. At $40 on AT Guys and Amazon, this works better than devices 3 times its cost and is more portable than any other solution I've found. The only criticism someone may find is that the device may not vibrate srongly enough to wake them if they are very heavy sleepers. In the past year I've been using it, probably 20 times a month on average, it has only failed to wake me 2 times. However, it's a solid option for many people who aren't very heavy sleepers.