Posts tagged with “testing”

I Bit the Apple, and It Bit Back

Well, I did see this coming for about a month and a half as I was trying to get accommodations set up for work. I do have to say that I was filled with dread at the prospect of having to try to learn how to use an iPhone for anything at all, even just for one app, especially since I played with one at a store about 10 years ago and said at that time that I wouldn't take one if someone paid me to take it off their hands. But as time went on, my dread decreased and my technically-minded nature asserted itself. Maybe, just maybe I could learn to use it. Perhaps maybe after 10 years, the technology has improved to become easier to use. After all, I learned how to evolve with Android when the manufacturers all took away the keyboards I relied upon, and I've heard lots of people say iPhones are easy to use, although there are just as many who need special classes to help them figure them out. Still, when I received it a week ago, I was ready to give it a shot. The company paid for it for me, and they pay me to work there after all.

This has to be the worst thing done to me with the best of intentions. How in God's name do people actually use this thing? It's even worse than it was 10 years ago. I just don't get it. How in the world do so many people apparently find it so easy, especially using its screen reader? I nearly broke down several times because it was such a pain to use. I'm technically minded enough to figure out any piece of technology put in front of me, except this. Hell, I flashed a new operating system onto my current Android phone with little difficulty, but this iPhone nearly made me quit my tech support business, as it made me feel utterly stupid, especially being touted by so many as the ultimate blind phone and some kind of gold standard that everyone else lags behind and is still catching up to.

Well, some of the basic functionality was easy enough ... I did find a notification of a spam text from some kind of fake home buying company wanting to buy Stephen's home, and I could find and dial the phone ... once I made it to the home screen, which seems impossible now that they removed the home button, both physical and the virtual button I'm used to seeing. I set up gestures on my Android phone to do that, but that's only because it told me what I was turning on and how to use it before I ever turned it on. By default, I had a set of navigational buttons: back, home and overview, which were easy to understand and easy to use. In any case, dialing was much like what I have seen in some third-party Android apps and on I think an LG phone I had some time back. The phone icon was in the lower left corner of the screen where I expected it to be, and although the dialpad wasn't a button accessible from just about anywhere in the phone dialer, I had no trouble finding its tab. And although the dialpad required double-tapping every number, I've seen that and worse before, usually as I said in third-party apps, so I was able to get a number dialed and place a call. The problem came in when trying to answer the phone. How does anyone call three different types of incoming call pop-ups depending on whether the screen is awake or asleep or an app is open before the call comes in easy? If the screen was awake and unlocked when the phone receives an incoming call, the pop-up is easy and intuitive, unless of course an app is open, in which case, it gets a little harder, but is still not impossible. In these cases, I could find something similar to what I'm used to: buttons on screen to answer or decline the incoming call. This was great, right up until I placed another test call with the screen locked. All I found on the screen was the number of the incoming caller near the top and an area near the bottom of the screen that said "slide to answer." Now I don't know about anyone else, but if something says "slide to answer," I expect to be able to answer the phone by sliding one or more fingers on the screen in a specific direction. After all, that is what it said to do. But I slid one finger, two fingers, three fingers and even four fingers in every conceivable direction, and could not answer the phone. Someone recently told me that I could have double-tapped two fingers on the screen to answer, but if I was supposed to double-tap two fingers, the damn thing should have said "double-tap with two fingers to answer," not "slide to answer" as it told me to do. Even then, how am I supposed to reject a call when the screen is locked before I receive it? Again, the buttons to answer and reject do not appear when the screen is locked. I'm used to seeing two different incoming call pop-ups on phones: one when I am on the home screen and another smaller version of the same pop-up with exactly the same functionality over an open app. And this is Android before 7.x Nougat I'm talking about, and even then only on a single phone that I owned. Even this was easier to use and more intuitive than having three different incoming call pop-ups with entirely different layouts and functionality depending on whether or not the screen was awake and unlocked or asleep or if an app was open before the call was received, one of which told me to do something that did not work at all, and was by all accounts far different from what I was supposed to have done.

What in the world is easy to use about a phone that wakes up every time I move it? I could not find where to turn that off, so it woke up every time I moved. I put it in a bag, it woke up. I moved the bag, it woke up. I put the bag on my shoulders, it woke up. I stood up and walked, it woke up. I took it out of the bag and put it in a shoulder harness that incidentally fits my own phone perfectly, it woke up. I walked with it in my shoulder harness on my body, it woke up. This is not only counterintuitive and counterproductive, but it's also annoying AF. The worst thing any Android phone ever did like this was the knock to wake feature on LG phones, but this was neither counterintuitive nor counterproductive, as it only woke up when I knock-knocked on the display screen, not when i put it into a bag, took it out of a bag, moved around, whenever it felt like waking up. Granted the notification wake thing on my current LineageOS phone is rather annoying, and it can be hard to turn off, but at least it doesn't light up real bright and start talking every time I move a muscle.

What does the buzzy sputtery vibration mean? I'm used to my screen reader vibrating only when the focus changes as my finger moves around the screen. But VoiceOver was doing this motorboat vibration every time I moved my finger, which was confusing AF, not to mention the beep tick tick beep tick tick beep thing it was doing at the same time, which seemed unrelated to the other similar clicks and beeps it made when I found some of the useful elements on the screen. As I recall, the motorboat vibration stopped for a very short time when I did get to a useful element, but it started right back up again if I left my finger there too long or moved it even slightly.

I mentioned this earlier, but I couldn't find the home screen if an app was already open. Worse than that, once I did get to the home screen, which I had to do by holding in the button opposite the volume controls and saying "Take me to the home screen" into the phone, if an app was not on the first home screen, I could not figure out what I needed to do to get to either the second page or to the screen that should show me every app installed on the phone in a scrollable alphabetical list or grid. And I only needed this for one single solitary app that I could have just as easily added to the phone I already own and know how to use. Yes, I could just keep talking to the damn thing telling it to open the app I needed, and yes, that worked. But that's not how I use my phone. I need my phone to talk to me, I don't want to have to talk to it to do simple things like closing an app and getting to the home screen, or opening an app that isn't on my first home screen, which on my phone takes less time than all that speaking even if it starts with the letter z. And I feel even more strongly about using voice dictation to send text messages or type anything at all in public places. I want my earbuds in and I want to be able to type messages manually without hunting and pecking or double-tapping every single letter, which is why I love my new cheap flip phone that really has buttons on it, along with a user-replaceable battery, a headphone jack, an SD slot, an FM radio and even a real USB-C port.

How am I supposed to connect bluetooth earbuds reliably? I got a really nice pair as part of the same accommodation at work, to work once because they had already been connected. But then after being turned off and put back into their charging case, they would no longer connect. They said they were connected, but I couldn't hear anything through them, and the voice was still coming out the phone's speaker when it should have come from the buds. I had no such trouble conecting the same buds to both my Android phone, a Motorola G7+ running LineageOS 19.1 with MicroG and a cheap flip phone running KaiOS 3.0. The buds work extremely reliably with both of these, and really they are some of the best wireless earbuds I have ever owned. But the iPhone would not connect them until oddly enough I connected to the flip phone and then turned off the bluetooth on that phone. After that, the buds connected to the iPhone without too much more difficulty. Still, I've never had this much trouble with a bluetooth connection on any device.

I think the worst part of all this is that VoiceOver simply decided it would no longer speak. Sure, it kept right on doing the motorboat vibration thing, and it kept right on making its video game sounds, clicks, ticks, beeps, bloops, blerps, etc, even the beep tick tick beep tick tick beep thing, but the voice just up and stopped. Well, maybe I had forgotten that I could talk to the thing, so I didn't think to tell it "Turn off voiceOver" and then "Turn on VoiceOver," but I'm not supposed to have to do that just to get the gold standard blind phone to start speaking to me again. Even worse, this did not happen only once, but it happened twice over the course of two days, with a total usage that probably added up to less than three hours. That for me was the last straw, and certainly was one of the times that I nearly broke down and cried, as it was either that or lose my cool completely. I am extremely heavily reliant on a working screen reader. Without it, I am completely lost. Talkback on a couple of the phones I had maybe 8 or 9 years ago would sometimes crash out, but it usually came back in just a few seconds. VoiceOver on the other hand simply refused to speak the first time until I found someone with eyeballs who could go to the settings and turn it off and back on for me, and then the second time it stopped, it did come back, but it was dead for more than a minute. There is no way on earth I could have kept using this phone effectively, especially not for a single app that could be installed on my phone that is far more reliable. I didn't find out until more recently that I could have triple-tapped the power button to toggle VoiceOver, but by the time I did find this out, it was too late. And still I was dumbfounded by the lack of reliable screen reader operation on a device that is said to be so rock solid stable.

So I had to give the phone back. I made it a point to say that I was not unappreciative by any stretch, but that I was unable to use the iPhone effectively. In short, I bit the Apple and it bit back. I'll never do that again, and can't figure for the life of me how so many other people have had so much better luck with it than I did. As a matter of fact, I now know why there are so many classes that go on and on trying to teach blind people how to use the iPhones and iPads that the state told them they needed. It really is that hard to use that it needs special classes. At least this was my experience.


As Smart Phones Get Dumber, the Dumb Phones are Getting Smarter

Last week I wrote a rather critical blog post about a line of overpriced junk phones that someone decided to call Blind Shell. It seems that these are being sold on Amazon, or at least I can see a product description for at least one of them, but that still changes nothing. Their overall value can in no way even come close to justifying the prices they want for any of them, and the website is still riddled with enough typos to make a dictionary bleed. That said, I did mention in that post a rather interesting phone simply called a TCL Flip that my phone service provider cells unlocked with a SIM included for around $95 including taxes and shipping, about 30% of the base price before any tax or shipping of the least expensive Blind Shell phone that can be purchased in the States where I live, and the TCL is said to be compatible with every major network in the States, although Visible tells me it's incompatible with their network, but nothing I have ever tried has told me it's compatible, not even the Moto E4 that I know is compatible with the Verizon Wireless network. In any case, these are my findings after using the TCL Flip as my primary phone for about 5 days.

Full Disclosure

I do not receive any commission for most of the links I'm including in this post, but if you do happen to like the cell phone service on the "my phone service provider" link above and you purchase any plan with or without a phone, you will get $25 off your first bill, and I will get $25 off my next bill as well. Still, I don't believe in writing dishonest reviews to get paid, so this one will reflect my honest opinions, both good and bad.

I Can Still Buy a Flip Phone

People tried to tell me that I couldn't have it all, that I would have to learn to love the flat touch screens that grow larger and larger with each passing year, as buttons were becoming a thing of the past. But while this is largely true of full keyboards, the flip phone with a real number pad still exists in 2022, and it's not going anywhere. In fact, it's getting smarter and better as it matures. People also tried to tell me that the removable battery was a thing of the past. But I can prove them wrong once again. In fact, my TCL Flip has a removable and replaceable battery, an SD slot and another thing they told me was going away, a 3.5mm headphone jack. Oh yeah and by the way, it also includes a modern USB-C power/data port, so I have the best of both worlds right on my oldschool flip phone that actually has real buttons and no annoying touch screen to hang up my call if it gets too close to my cheek and the proximity sensor goes wonky, as they are known to do.

Unboxing

The first thing I noticed when I received my new TCL Flip was that it shipped in a very large box, but most phones I have purchased do seem to ship in boxes that are far larger than the phones inside. This one however held a smaller box, but one that was still rather large, although the SIM was inside of that box, a SIM I actually didn't need to use, although I can hold on to it in case I lose the one I have. Inside of that mid-size box was the box that held the phone, its battery and its USB cable and charger plug, and this box was surprisingly flat, although it was wide rather than being thick as many phone boxes are. Aside from the box in a box in a box thing though, the packaging is functional and keeps the phone and its included components protected during shipping, so I really can't complain, since it did arrive undamaged and in perfect working order.

The Charging Kit

First, it must be said that although this phone includes a modern two-way USB-C charging and data port, the other end of the cable and its wall wart are USB-A, like most desktop computers, so they only fit one way. Still, it is possible and relatively inexpensive to purchase a wall wart or a powerbank with USB-C output and a cable with USB-C on both ends, so the included cable is not a deal breaker at all. In fact, since my computer has only USB-A ports on it, I can use the included cable to transfer files to and from the phone with no difficulty.

A Little About the OS

This phone does not run Android or iOS, though I was able to see a little of the internal directory structure using adb, which does look a little like Android. This phone is in fact running a different OS known as KaiOS. Before I ever decided to try out this phone, I saw that KaiOS is supposed to have some accessibility features including a screen reader, though it is still a bit hard to find any documentation of its functionality. The main thing that sets KaiOS apart is the fact that it is forked from the now defunct Firefox OS, so apps use web technologies such as HTML5 and JavaScript, and are consequently very small, with the exception of assets such as images and audio that may be embedded in an app. Some have said that this can cause some performance issues, but although I will dive deeper into that below, I will say at this point that up to now, I haven't experienced as much lag or freezing overall as I thought I would on a phone that essentially runs atop a browser and a Linux kernel.

First Power On

Wow! Someone got it right! The first time I powered on my new phone, although it took about a minute to start setup, I heard a voice coming out of the phone that said: "To enable read out mode, press the left software key." Now this is something that I definitely was not expecting. Usually I have to look up documentation to find out just how I'm supposed to turn on the screen reader, but this phone just told me right away how to do it. The single drawback to this is that it uses the somewhat old SVox Pico voice that we came to know from Android Gingerbread, which although it doesn't bother me, may be unintelligible or less than tolerable for some. It's certainly no RHVoice or Speech Services by Google, but it definitely gets the job done, and is far better than some other voices I heard on small devices and even desktop computers both before and after Gingerbread phones. The setup process went very painlessly from there, having me connect to a wifi network by entering a password via the number pad, tap 2 for a, double-tap 3 for f, toggle uppercase/lowercase/numbers etc using the pound key, stuff like that, then following a few prompts that were mostly all spoken. The worst parts were when the notification about finding out what's in the Kai Store interrupted it asking me whether I wanted the default media location to be the SD card, which can be set later in settings if necessary, and then the little tutorial at the end that just tells me that the right soft key will take me to the next screen. It changes at the end to allow me to press the select button that is in the middle of the d-pad ring, which in this case acts as the OK button. No, I don't yet know what is on those screens, but it didn't seem to stop me from figuring out how to use the phone. After I hit that select button though, it took me right to the home screen, which told me the time and date. From there, I can tap the left soft key, the button in the upper left corner above the d-pad ring, to read my notifications, the select or OK key in the middle of the ring to go to "all apps," or the right soft key in the top right corner above the ring to open my contacts. Or I can just dial a number and press the button at the lower left of the d-pad ring to make a phone call. Yes, it is all set up in roughly 2 minutes, and although an account may be desirable to remotely lock or erase the phone if it gets lost or stolen, having the account is completely optional; it isn't needed even to download apps.

The Basic Apps

Some apps are already included on this phone. These include of course the phone that is part of the home screen, call log and contacts, messages, clock, calendar, the app store that they call the Kai Store, web browser, email, news, weather, FM radio, notes, camera and gallery, utilities that include a calculator, todo list and voice recorder, a music app, maps and YouTube. There are also a few games preinstalled, though I couldn't get those to talk to me, though a couple did make sound and play music.

The Phone

It makes sense to talk about this first, because I for one buy a phone to make and receive phone calls. I thought everybody did ... before this whole "smart phone" revolution got started 😂. Using this phone is so dead simple, we're back to the days when a phone was really a phone. I dial a number, hear the touch tone sounds, hit the button near the lower left corner of the ring and it just calls the person whose number I dialed. To hang up, I can either hit the button at the lower right corner of the d-pad ring or just close the phone. Man I didn't know just how much I missed the good old days of the flip phone until I had one again. And it's so satisfying to close the flip on someone and let them hear that nice loud clicking sound that it makes 😈. But there are a few more things I can do while I'm on the phone as well. First, the OK key, middle of the d-pad ring, toggles the speakre phone and the left soft key, at the upper left corner above the d-pad, toggles mute. Those are most important, and work reliably, even letting me know via the screen reader what exactly I just did. The right soft key, upper right corner above the d-pad, offers some other options, including add call, hold call and messages. Yes, it is possible on this phone to text while talking, and it can even be done without having to look at the screen. What's more, a dying feature in Android works much better in KaiOS. This is the conference call. I was able to successfully call someone, add another call, merfge the two, then add another and merge it in. On my Android phone, once I merge two calls together, the add button goes away, so there is no longer a way to add a third call. This feature has been largely dead on Android at least since 9, and possibly earlier, with the exception of TextNow, which allows up to 5 participants in a conference call, instead of the usual 3. Perhaps there is a hidden Android setting that will allow more than 3 participants in a conference call, but I haven't seen it in the native dialer. It seems Google took this out of their phone dialer app. Good that KaiOS still has it. Better, I can once again merge the calls together when someone beeps in, then still get another beep in. I even successfully merged in the second beep. Everything on the KaiOS phone app works as expected, including VOLTE, also called HD voice calls, and some phone features work much better than they have since I had a Nokia 6682 Symbian Phone way back in the day, most notably conference calling. I also have 3 keys above the 1, 2, and 3 keys on the dialpad. These are "favorite contacts," "messages" and "clear." So if I dial something wrong anywhere, the clear key above 3 comes in really handy, as I can tap it once to backspace or hold it down to clear out everything. Favorite contacts, above 1, just gives me a short list of my selected favorite contacts that I can choose and call or text. Messages, above 2, of course opens the messaging app, which I will discuss below.

Contacts

I can still remember the old contacts app from the days of Gingerbread with a full keyboard that included either a d-pad or arrow keys. The contacts app on KaiOS phones is very similar, except that there is no touch screen input, only the d-pad, plus a search function that allows dialing in either a contact name or number and getting the results. Just like on Gingerbread, it does take partial names or numbers, and search results, unlike some reports I have seen, appear to come up very quickly. It's worth noting that I can search using either the T9 predictive dictionary or by tapping the pound key to cycle to capitalize, uppercase or lowercase and tapping out the letters individually, i.e. tapping 2 once for a, twice for b, tapping 5 twice for k, 3 times for l, etc. I decided some time back to store contacts only locally or via my NextCloud, so did not have Google contacts to sync, but I successfully copied my vcard file that has all my contacts on my computer and imported it from the SD card that I inserted when I inserted my SIM and battery. Because my contacts are stored in a vcard file stored on the SD card, I can reset my phone as much as I want and just import the file again to get my contacts back. KaiOS does not erase the SD card when resetting the phone, so everything I have stored there stays. Everything in the contacts app works as expected with the screen reader. I can call, message and compose email right from the app. I can also set speed dial numbers both from the contacts app settings and by holding down a previously unassigned number and selecting the contact to assign to it. Overall, this is a much more intuitive experience than working with the touch screen.

Messages

There's not much to say about the standard text messaging app other than the fact that IT WORKS! My text messages are read out to me, and composing is as easy as dialing in either a name or number, dialing in my message via T9 prediction, which actually works much better than it did on the Nokia 6682 that I like to say was probably about the best phone that I had used when I could get a screen reader working on it, before we had phones with full keyboards. I have needed to be aware of the partial words spoken at times with T9, and sometimes I still need to tap out individual letters, but overall, this is a joy to use, and can sometimes be faster even than Talkback's braille input, which somehow gets extra A's into my text, types B's when I want A's, and other things that make the experience less than ideal. I mean really, when I can quickly dial in "8447 47 2 8378" and "This is a test" comes out that quickly, and I don't have to hunt and peck e, ... v, ... e, ... r, ... y, ... space, ... s, ... i, ... n, ... g, ... l, ... e, ... space, ... l, ... e, ... t, ... t, ... e, ... r, or dealhtae bll the eaxtraa letters and dots, well, let me just say that T9 is much better than most of that crap, and it works nearly everywhere. Even passwords that have to be tapped out character by character are easier to enter than even the braille input that sometimes has to be spaced and backspaced to get the symbols right. The only thing I didn't try in the messaging app though was adding multiple recipients, though I suspect it will work in much the same way as adding only one person, although I did notice that group messages seem to come in under individual people's threads instead of showing up as a group, so replying to the group may be more difficult.

Email

This one needs a little work. Setting up an account was very easy, although I only set up my own email that I run myself; I did not try to set up Gmail with the email app, and I'm not sure how well that will work, considering the new limitations on Gmail IMAP access, which requires random generated app passwords now that I cannot choose myself. The problem I ran into with the email app is that I can only read parts of text email messages. HTML messages don't have their snippits read aloud, and opening either text or HTML messages only told me who the message was from, its subject and said "message body" without telling me what was in the message body. Scrolling to a link did change what the OK key does, and it opened the link I tested, but other than that, the email app, unless I missed something, seems less than usable in read out mode.

Clock

So I can't add alarms. This means I have to use what ships on the phone already. But there is a good enough selection of alarms. I just want to add one and can't do it from what I've seen, unless there is a secret way of doing this. Also, I have no ascending volume, meaning that it will not start quiet and get louder over a period of time, which is something I definitely like in an alarm. With this out of the way, the alarm clock works as expected and is highly usable with the screen reader. Timer and stopwatch are also usable, though in order to find out how much time is on the timer, I had to shift left to alarm or right to stopwatch then shift back, then close the phone so that it would read out the remaining time completely, otherwise it chatters and doesn't fully finish the time. Stopwatch does something similar, although it simply chatters as it runs, and stopping it reads out the elapsed time. Closing the phone also stops the chatter so that the stopwatch reads out the current elapsed time without stopping, and I can just open and close the phone to hear the time red out. Now going back to a running timer, I can also hear the remaining time just by opening and closing the phone, so the shift must only be done once after starting it I think. Sadly, it doesn't seem possible at this time to run multiple concurrent timers or save preset timers and name them. Still, the single timer works well enough in most situations.

Calendar

Again, I don't use Google on this phone, so I didn't see how well it integrates my Google calendar, which I rarely use, usually only if I'm invited to an event that goes through the Google calendar. And although the KaiOS calendar app is said to support caldav, it indicates the server is unavailable when I try to add my NextCloud calendar. So I use local calendar storage instead, which is still probably better than storing my calendar events even on my own server. The lack of a .ics calendar file import is a bit off-putting, but it is easy enough to create events I guess. This is probably best for those who don't have a "cloud" calendar and just want events on their local devices. I have seen that there may be apps that can be sideloaded that will add better caldav support, or that maybe updating certificates on the phone in some way will help get this working, but for now, either of these options is beyond the scope of this review, which is to say that I'm only really focusing on the stock apps, and will probably work with the technical stuff at a later time. For now, it's best to just use a Google calendar, which is probably fully supported, or don't do any syncing and just create and store calendar events on the phone itself.

The Utilities Folder

This includes a calculator, a todo list and an audio recorder. The calculator is your basic four-function calculator, and I got it to work perfectly. Numbers dial in just like dialing a phone, and the arrows on the d-pad perform operations: up subtracts, down adds, left divides and right multiplies. The left soft key clears the current value and the right soft key clears everything. The OK key reads the result of the calculation, although a bug makes the screen reader say "microphonetoggle" before reading the result at times. The recorder is very basic also, but does include two audio settings, 8KHz and 44.1KHz. It seems it records opus files, which is definitely a good thing, although it records only using one microphone where the phone actually has two. In order to keep the phone's speech out of the recording, I had to plug in headphones or use bluetooth. Covering the speaker temporarily also helps attenuate the speech, though it doesn't completely silence it the way a bluetooth connection or wired headphones would do. The screen stays on while recording, and closing the flip stops and saves the file. The only problem with this is possible battery life issues, since the backlight will stay on while recording. Audio recordings can be shared via bluetooth, messaging or email right from the recorder app. The todo list is a nightmare though. Of all the apps on the phone, this one is the least usable with the screen reader. I was able to I think create a couple of tasks, but could not figure out what in the world I was doing because the screen reader would not say enough. I did accidentally delete the tasks I had created, but accidentally deleting them means that I couldn't figure out how to delete them intentionally. Well, I think the right soft key followed by the down arrow, the OK key and the right soft key does it, but that was trial and error that did that, not actual feedback from the screen reader, so the todo list is a non-starter unless or until it can get an update that fixes its screen reader interaction.

Camera

I didn't play much with the still camera, but the video recorder is pretty nice. It does record in some sort of 3gp format that uses H.264 and AAC instead of the webm VP8/opus that I would like, but it records stereo audio from two very well-positioned microphones on each end of the open phone when the video resolution is high. The geek in me uses the video camera to record audio and just takes and copies the file to the computer, using ffmpeg to pull out the audio, deleting the rest, unless I want video. I only wish the audio recorder could record stereo opus files in the same way. I find the camera pretty easy to use. The left and right arrow keys change the mode between photo and video, or this can also be set using the right soft key options if you need the mode to be read out before changing it. The shutter or recorder is activated or toggled respectively using the OK key. It's only a 2MP camera, and it seems it has no flash, but although I can't really comment on the quality of the video, the audio is really not bad, especially since it records in stereo using both microphones.

The Browser

This is where accessibility gets a bit painful. It is in fact possible to browse the web in most cases, and I found that I was able to read my own website pretty well once I knew what I was doing. But still, unless I'm missing something, it's all trial and error. There is supposed to be some kind of accessibility cursor, or at least I saw mention of one, but unless it's the one that is on by default, I don't know how to activate it, and I had to read documentation on the shortcut keys elsewhere, as the window that pops up when I press the pound key tells me what they do, but doesn't read what key I'm supposed to press, and nothing mentions an accessibility cursor or screen reader cursor. The default cursor requires that I move left to right, down, right to left, down etc in order to hit what I want to read. Even my own website, which follows accessibility guidelines simply by not breaking them has a little trouble on the KaiOS browser due to the hit or miss nature of the arrow scrolling, which I would expect to more closely emulate tab, shift+tab, up and down or similar, but instead seems to only read an element when it stumbles upon it. This problem also affects other apps such as Youtube, since many such things are just websites that have been automatically pinned to the apps menu. The browser actually does allow pinning websites to the apps menu as well as to its own home screen, so if there is a website that you can get working well enough to use it effectively, you can always pin it to where you want it. Just be aware that the pinning option speaks, but where to pin does not, one of a small handful of similar bugs, but selecting the pin option and then pressing the OK key pins to the home screen of the browser, whereas selecting the pin option, hitting the down arrow key and then pressing OK will pin to the apps menu. In short, the browser works, but it needs a lot of work, unless I'm missing something.

News and Weather

Sadly, I can't get either of these apps talking properly or working properly. I was able to allow the weather app to access my location, but it's not offering me a weather forecast or conditions, and it still asks me for a city name, entering my city still seems to do nothing. The news app is doing nothing at all for me, and I didn't get BeMyEyes or Google Lookout from my Android phone on it to see whether it really was doing nothing or simply wasn't talking.

Note

The notepad app is working pretty well with the screen reader. I was able to write multiple notes, read them, share them, delete them, etc with no trouble at all. I would say editing is a bit problematic, as the arrows won't tell me what line or character my cursor is on, but as is expected on small screens, it's great for jotting down short text notes that can be shared via messages or email. Like any of the other apps where text can be written, long notes are also possible, just know that editing may be somewhat of a pain point in any app at this time.

FM Radio

Yes, since this phone still has a headphone jack, it does have a real FM radio. It seems to be just as sensitive as the FM radios on more expensive phones, and I was able to use it with the screen reader as well, although the d-pad would have made the radio easy enough to use even if it didn't work with the screen reader. It doesn't have more advanced functions like recording from FM, but it's not bad for what it is, a cheap but effective FM receiver built into a phone.

File Manager

This is the basic but functional and accessible file manager app. I can copy, move, delete and open any file on either internal storage or on the SD card. It sees all the same files I can see on the computer when I connect the phone. There's not much good or bad I can say, except that it works well.

Music

This is the most basic music app. It will play albums, artists, genres, etc, but it doesn't play from the folder structure of the SD card or internal storage. Still, it works with the screen reader, and all available options and settings speak. FOr folder playback, there is another player that can be downloaded from the store, and it also works well with the screen reader, as long as you don't mind ads popping up and having to use the clear button to back out of them from time to time.

Kai Store

There's not much in the KaiOS store at this time; it's mostly games. But most everything I tried worked really well, and nearly if not all options speak. I am especially fond of K-Music, which is the music player I mention above that allows me to play anything stored in only one specific folder if that is my choice, Radio Waves, which allows me to listen to radio stations from around the world and LibriVox Audiobooks, which is exactly what it says.

Conclusion

It's not perfect by any stretch, but about 80 to 90% of what I tried works well with the built-in screen reader. If like me, you wish that you had never seen a touch screen, you want something with real buttons, a headphone jack, an SD card slot and a removable battery that talks and has the ability to run apps, look no further. KaiOS will only get better with time, and the TCL Flip is one of the best KaiOS phones currently on the market, and is certainly one of the least expensive phones available unlocked in the States, although other KaiOS phones do exist in other countries as well. Yes, it's certainly missing some apps we could use, but with time, these may become available as well. If you're in the market for a dumb phone that is capable of becoming smarter, if you think today's smart phones are becoming so smart that they're actually getting dumber and you wish you could just go back to the basics, but you need your basic cheap flip phone to talk to you, I can now truly say leave the Blind Shell on the blind shelf and just get a TCL Flip for less than 30% of the price of the least expensive Blind Shell model available in the States. There are certainly some things I need the Android phone to do, but there's nothing better than being able to just open the phone, dial a number, start talking and then close it, or open the phone, send a text message and close it, all while being able to do more advanced things as well, and all with a voice that talks me through it all. Question: Android or iOS? Answer: KaiOS. I love my KaiPhone.


SimpleWebRTC.js: Maybe Not So Simple

I've been playing around with SimpleWebRTC.js and the very interesting-looking Talky website, which allows anyone to create a video chat room on-the-fly by entering it in a form or putting the name of the room at the end of the URL. I also looked at the SimpleWebRTC demo, because it seems to be a simpler version of Talky that I could use to get started. Apparently, something like this is extremely easy to implement, and can be set up in as little as 5 minutes. Sadly, it seems they were exaggerating just a bit when they said it could be set up in 5 minutes.

SimpleWebRTC.js

According to the website, SimpleWebRTC.js is a very simple modular library that allows developers to get a very basic WebRTC application up and running quickly and easily. There is some very basic documentation on the front page of the site that shows just how easy it can be, and a link to fork it on GitHub. All good so far. So I figured it would be fun to put a copy on my vps and play with it there. But the HTML and JavaScript on the page for some reason didn’t work for me. No problem, I decided that just for testing purposes, I would rip the source from the demo page. After all, it works there, so it should work on my VPS with minimal modifications. No such luck. Every time I enter anything into the form that is presented on the page, it just loops back to the same page with the same form, unlike the demo, which reloads the page, attaches the room name entered from the form to the end of the URL and appears to start the WebRTC chat room.

SignalMaster

The SimpleWebRTC.js website does mention that if I’m planning to do anything other than development or testing, I need to set up my own signaling server. It recommends using a very small JavaScript library called SignalMaster. Fine, at this point, I’m thinking that my problems are caused by the fact that my copy of simplewebrtc.js is still configured to use the development signaling server that is provided for demo/testing purposes only, so I decided to try SignalMaster. And now I find an entirely new problem. I have read just about all there is to read about SignalMaster, which only has a GitHub page and a couple of very short blog posts around the internet, none of which tell me how I’m supposed to get this thing running as a server listening on a port. I did see something that mentioned that I may need node.js, but there were no instructions on how to get the server up and running. In the SignalMaster source tree, there are only 2 json files, a server.js file and the README.md file that shows up on GitHub, which contains very little other than a very short explanation of what it does.

Conclusion

I like the idea, and I like the fact that it's open source, but it took less time to write this rather extensive blog post than it took to find out that there was no way I was going to be able to make SimpleWebRTC.js work on my server. So I guess since it took me several hours of messing with this thing only to find that something that is said to be usable within 5 minutes doesn’t work at all no matter what I try, and since there is too little documentation on how to make the signaling server run, I will have to table this project for now, and hope that the situation will improve with time.


Tumblr autoposting should now be seamless

This is mainly just a test, but if I did it right, my posts on my old TumbleLog should look nearly identical to the posts on The Kyle File. I notice that even the subscription links for the feed and e-mail subscriptions on Tumblr still work as expected, because I haven’t yet decided to replace Feedburner with my self-hosted feed. I may test that shortly to see whether or not e-mail subscriptions will still work using the form on the main page if I switch to the standard follow button plugin. The only problem I may have with that is that my e-mails may not go out at the same time, or may be formatted differently, but that isn’t really a big issue at this point.


Basic desktop posting client

Just testing this gnome-blog desktop posting app. It looks quite useful, although I may need to categorize my posts from the website or the phone, as I see no category listing here. There may possibly be a later version than this one though, as the AUR package is orphaned. I may adopt this one if I find it useful.