In January of 2018, I reviewed the original Orbit Reader 20 From Orbit Research. It was “intended primarily as a braille display for reading braille files and for connecting to external devices. With a much lower price point than other 20-cell displays, the Orbit Reader 20 does not have onboard translation options, Cursor Routing Buttons or many of the other features found in braille devices that cost thousands of dollars more.” Fast forward to 2021 and Orbit Research has a new device that is a 40-cell display, featuring Cursor Routing Buttons, built in translation options, connectivity for up to 5 Bluetooth devices and much more. This was done while maintaining the idea of developing a solid braille device while still keeping the price far below other comparable options.
The Orbit Reader 40 is a 40-cell display which also has a Calculator, Clock, Calendar, Alarm, Word Processor, File Manager and Book Reader. It further has the ability to give both auditory and vibratory feedback. One of the compromises with the Orbit Reader 40 is that it does not contain any internal memory. Files must be stored on an SD card or USB thumb drive and then opened for viewing or editing.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
The box you receive should include the Orbit Reader 40, USB-C cable, AC adapter, a print only getting started guide and SD card. Note that the SD card may already be inserted into the braille display, and unless you purchase 1 of the 2 available cases, one will not come with the Orbit Reader 40. The absence of a braille getting started guide on a braille only product is disappointing, considering the product ships with one in print. Orbit Research has indicated that they plan to begin shipping units with the Getting Started Guide in braille before the end of the year.
The Orbit Reader 40 measures 1.28 inches thick by 3.7 inches wide by 11.61 inches long and weighs 1.6 pounds. Placing it on a flat surface with the Spacebar closest to you, the lay-out is as follows. On the front panel, there are 2 rectangular slots near each end of the display. These are used to secure the Orbit Reader 40 to one of the cases, or it is possible to attach a strap without a case. The closest thing to you on the surface is a Spacebar. Moving away from you, you will find the 40 cell braille display, with a Cursor Routing button located behind each cell. To the left of cell 1, and the right of cell 40, you will find a rectangular shaped key that can be pressed toward or away from you. These are the keys for panning braille. Behind the Cursor Routing Buttons, you will find a Perkins style keyboard. From left to right, you will find dots 7, 3, 2, 1, and then a 4-way navigational pad with a Select button in the middle. To the right of the keypad, you will find dots 4, 5, 6, and 8. The left side of the Orbit Reader 40 contains a USB-A port intended for connecting thumb drives. On the right side, you will find 3 items. The closest thing to you is the Power button. Behind this is the USB-C port, made for charging the Orbit Reader 40 and connecting to devices through USB and behind this port is a 3.5 MM headphone jack. Other than alarms and alerts, the audio does not have a purpose at the time of this evaluation in October 2021. Along the backside of the braille display, you will find the SD card reader. The Orbit Reader 40 will accept SD cards between 4 and 32 GB Flipping the device over, each corner contains a rubber foot which will help keep the display stable, several screws, and a place for a user replaceable battery which can be purchased for $44.95.
Though there is not a free case, there are 2 available for purchase. One is made and sold by Orbit Research which costs $59.95. The case is constructed of nylon and offers some padding to protect the device if it is dropped. It closes with a zipper and also contains a pocket on the top for storing things such as a smaller iPhone. I was able to fit an iPhone SE 2020 and an iPhone 12 Mini (without their cases and separately) into this pocket. This case also comes with an adjustable strap and zip ties which allow the user to secure the Orbit Reader 40 to the case. When the Orbit Reader 40 is inserted, the buttons and keys on the top surface are exposed. With the zipper open, the Orbit Reader 40 doesn’t seem secure, but this is where the included zip ties can come in handy. For instructions on securing the case to the Orbit Reader 40, please see this article written by Richard Turner which covers the process in great detail. If you did not receive zip ties with your Orbit Reader 40 case, you can contact Orbit Research Tech Support and they will ship them to you free of charge. Not exposed, though, are the Power button and the USB-C port for charging. One can reach into the case and activate the Power button, though it is much easier to connect the USB-C port to a computer or charger with the device removed. The other case, which costs $123.95, is made by Executive Products and can be purchased through Orbit Research or other resellers. It is constructed of leather and has 2 snaps on the back to help secure the display inside the case. Unlike the case developed by Orbit Research, the Executive products case closes magnetically. When open, the ports, keys, and braille display are exposed. When closed, the case covers the entire surface of the Orbit Reader 40 with the exception of small openings which provide access to both the Power button and USB-C port. There is also a small pocket on the top of the case which allows the user to store short cables or other items. The other nice thing about the Executive Products case is the anti-slip material on the back. I found that the Orbit Research case slid around on smooth surfaces whereas the Executive Products case did not. One advantage to the case made by Orbit Research, beyond the price difference, is that the pocket on the case is larger. Both cases include a heavy duty strap which allows the user to carry the device around securely.
INITIAL START UP
After charging the Orbit Reader 40, it will be time to turn it on. Press and hold the Power button for about 3 seconds and the braille will flash across the display along with a vibration to confirm the unit is turning on. When starting the Orbit Reader for the first time, the default loaded profile is uncontracted Unified English Braille. There are 2 other language profiles available by default: contracted UEB and 8-dot computer braille. These profiles can be chosen by pressing Select and then the dot number which corresponds to the language profile. If you wish to set it to contracted Unified English Braille, for example, you can do so by holding down the Select button and then pressing dot 2. The Orbit Reader will vibrate and also indicate progress on the braille display while it is loading the new profile. The user can also choose from over 40 languages, and you can get further details on supported languages and how to configure them by reading section 10.8 of the user documentation available in many formats. Shortcuts for switching profiles are available anywhere on the Orbit Reader 40 unless you are connected to another device, which would then control these settings. Other settings are available and can be accessed through the menu. From anywhere on the device, press Select with Up arrow to launch the menu. Within this menu, the user can configure the cursor blink rate, audio/vibration alerts, splitting words, word wrap, compressing spaces, indents, and many more settings. For details, please consult the user documentation. STAND ALONE MODE The Orbit Reader 40, like its 20-cell counterpart, has 2 modes of operation: Stand Alone and Remote. Stand Alone mode provides access to the internal applications which include a File Manager, Editor, Book Reader, Calculator, Clock, Calendar and Alarms. For more information about the Orbit Reader 40's internal applications, please see my full evvaluation of the Orbit Reader 40 on the Technology, Research and Innovation Center's blog. Remote Mode allows the user to connect to other screen readers and is covered below. Like the internal applications, the link above also provides information on using the Orbit Reader 40 with JAWS, NVDA, Android and Fire OS.
When connecting to an external device, the Orbit Reader supports up to 5 simultaneous Bluetooth connections along with 1 USB. It is compatible with almost any screen reader on any operating system, partially due to the fact that it can also emulate an older braille display called the VarioUltra which is compatible with much older versions of screen readers. For example, on iOS, the Orbit Reader 40 can connect to devices running iOS 8.3 when in emulation mode, which was released 6 years ago. Unlike devices developed by Humanware such as the Brailliant and Mantis, the Orbit Reader allows the user to jump between connected devices with a simple keystroke which makes things more efficient for power users. There is also a menu which allows the user to cycle between connections instead of having to memorize keyboard commands. Following is a write-up of how well I found the Orbit Reader 40 to work with VoiceOver on iOS and the Mac. All devices tested were running the latest public release of the screen reader and operating system as of October 2021. Instructions will not be provided for connecting to each device, as these are clearly laid out in the user documentation. One unique function of connecting with external devices to the Orbit Reader is the ability to control whether you will be switched automatically to a connected screen reader when it becomes active, or if you wish to have full control over when the Orbit Reader 40 changes channels. The setting is located in the menu and can be set to auto, manual, or off. All testing was done with the VarioUltra emulation, since it supports all screen reader options.
VOICEOVER WITH IOS 15.1
The connection between the Orbit Reader 40 and iOS is quite stable using an iPhone SE 2020 and an iPhone 12 Mini. VoiceOver responds to all commands as expected. There was a slight lag with the Orbit Reader 40 over Bluetooth, but it is almost always able to keep pace with my reading, which is typically around 75 words per minute. This is likely because of the difference in cell technology. Most braille displays refresh all of the cells at one time, but the Orbit Reader 40 refreshes 2 cells at a time.
VOICEOVER WITH MACOS BIG SUR
Connecting over USB was as simple as putting the Orbit Reader into USB Orbit and then starting VoiceOver. Unlike the connection through Bluetooth on iOS, there was very little latency between the Orbit’s display moving and the display fully refreshing. Commands over USB and Bluetooth worked as expected, and there were no challenges with the Orbit Reader 40 that were not also present when testing other braille devices on the Mac.
CONCLUSION AND PERSONAL REMARKS
One thing that stands out about the Orbit Reader line of products is the sharp and solid braille cells. I have worked with a few consumers who have been able to use the Orbit Reader displays successfully while not having such great luck with the braille displays from other manufacturers. The refreshing of cells is much more quiet than the Orbit Reader 20, but I found the keyboard to be much louder. I also found it to be quite an adjustment for typing, as the keys have a further distance to travel when pressed. Battery life is quite impressive, I would estimate about 20-22 hours of heavy use between charges. With a price point of under $1500 when compared with the cheapest 40 cell device on the market, it is certainly worth consideration. Orbit Research continues to innovate with more products costing less than their competitors, while maintaining a strong feature set. The Orbit Reader 40 is available for $1,399 from the link provided below.