The Blind Shell Phone: Is This Some Kind of a Cruel Joke?
A few days ago, someone in a technology group I'm part of told me of this phone they called Blind Shell. I had seen it somewhere not long ago, but didn't think much of it other than being a little put off by the product name. The person telling me about it said it has all kinds of nice assistive technologies including BeMyEyes, and has physical buttons, actually a full keyboard was what was mentioned, to make it easy for those of us who don't care for or simply can't use touch screens - I fall into the category of those who don't particularly care for them, and find real buttons much easier to use, even if I have to use T9 for messaging, so I totally get it. And then I heard the price ... can you say my jaw hit the floor! I nearly fainted from the shock of it, nearly 500 dollars, and locked to a carrier at that. The description really sounded like something I may want to try, a nice inexpensive flip, but then the price matches more closely with a carrier-locked iPhone than an inexpensive flip, though the features match more closely with the flip.
So I finally went and did two things. First of all, I went and purchased the cheap flip phone I promised myself I would buy and test to determine its accessibility and usability, me being the off-the-shelf and universal design proponent I am, and then I took a closer look at this Blind Shell phone, "just for the halibut" as Pinkard and Bowden said ... I gotta say I love that song. I still can't attest to the accessibility of the TCL Flip, since I won't receive it until probably Wednesday of this week, the 14th of December. But what I found of the Blind Shell really made it look like someone's idea of a sick joke. The first thing I noticed just going to the website was the sheer number of typos. Here is one quote, used as an example of the rapid-fire hurry in which the website was put together, not from the front page, but it is on the product page for their flagship.
Frequenty Asked Questions
What are the main differences between Blindshell Classic and BlindShell Classic 2?
BlindShell Classic 2 has brand new especially designed hardware with great new speaker, long life battery and great camera. It has WhasApp and Facebook messenger, many assitive tools and BlindShell app catalog with many new functions. We took the best from BlindShell Classic and added new smart features and the result is BlindShell Classic 2.
Actually the whole website looks like a fifth-grader wrote it as a class project, and if I was the fifth-grader's teacher, it would probably get an A for the effort put into it. With the prices they are charging for these third-rate devices though, you would think that they would have hired someone who could at the very least proofread their writing, or maybe even run it through a spell checker to at least be sure all the words were spelled correctly. The prices were actually the second thing I noticed due to the fact that the website was just riddled with typos, the likes of which I have only seen on descriptions of cheap knock-off products that we are told to avoid based on the typos alone, as typos on product descriptions they tell us reflect poor product quality. Seriously, they have downloadable manuals as well. But if the manuals have as many typos as the website, I will definitely have to wonder if the product they're selling is some kind of a scam. It sure looks like one from where I'm sitting.
Now to the meat of things. Despite the typos, do the features in any way justify the prices? In a word or two: HELL NO! They do offer three distinct products as far as I can tell, and the biggest and best one does include quite a bit better hardware than my incoming cheap flip phone. Still, even the biggest and best product they offer can't justify the price even of the least expensive product they have. The least expensive product is not available in the States, nor should it be, as it is no longer compatible with any network we have here, since all have moved to 100% LTE or better now. Still, they price it at €249, which sits right at $262.50 according to Google as I write this. But here's the worst part. This is not in any way an internet capable phone. It can make calls and send texts, nothing more. The specs look exactly like my incoming TCL Flip, but with absolutely no internet access whatsoever, neither wifi nor cellular, no camera, and I don't think it even includes bluetooth. The physical keyboard it boasts is merely a numeric keypad best I can tell, as it boasts "big tactile buttons," which would not fit on such a small device in the bar form factor that is indicated. In fact, all three of their products appear to feature this numeric keypad rather than the physical keyboard that I was told of a few days ago, which would of course make them cheap bar phones rather than cheap flip phones, but at mid-range smart phone prices. This "Blind Shell Classic Lite as they call it can barely even be called a feature phone, but it is on the high side of the budget smart phone price, definitely edging up toward the middle. At just $80, the TCL flip will certainly run rings around this Blind Shell Lite, and I'm thinking that since KaiOS has had a screen reader built in since either 2019 or 2020, at the very least, the basic functions will certainly work as well or better, and at a much lower price point. In fact, the TCL Flip has more available apps than even the Blind Shell Classic 2 is claiming to have, and it costs nearly a fifth of the Blind Shell price.
The closest comparison I can make to the TCL Flip is the Blind Shell Classic, since it does boast of an "Android web browser." But with the severe lack of available applications, the price of $299 is simply too much to bear. Sorry, there is no Google Play Store on this supposed to be Android-compatible phone that does include Telegram. The problem is that although it is said to come with 23 applications out of the box, there is no way to install more, nor is there storage for them, and the applications I don't want cannot be removed to reclaim some of that space. This one is pretty much something I would call a feature phone, but it sports a very high price tag more a kin to the mid-range Android smart phone. The specifications I can see look nearly identical to the TCL Flip, complete with most of the same connectivity, although the bands available only work with T-Mobile and its MVNO's, whereas the TCL Flip is a full multi-network phone that comes unlocked and will work with all networks currently available in the States, and perhaps in other parts of the world also. The biggest difference other than the price and the form factor is that the Blind Shell Classic appears to run some sort of minimal Android, though I can't say what version or how minimal as the specs don't show it, whereas the TCL Flip runs KaiOS, which is said to have a pretty extensive app market available, which they call the Kai Store, again making the TCL a much better buy - but again this is predicated upon having a screen reader that actually does work out of the box, which I will soon find out for myself.
And now for the flagship, the Blind Shell Classic 2. Here they seem to pack something a kin to a Moto E4 into a bar form factor complete with the desired buttons, but again they skimp on the apps terribly. By this I mean that the specs are very similar, in fact nearly identical to the Motorola Moto E4, just with NFC instead of a fingerprint sensor. But they are again very much lacking in the app department, with their own catalog of "more than 30 apps." This also must be a joke, since I purchased my Moto E4 about 4 years ago for $130, and I got access to the Google Play Store and all the apps on it, and everyone knows that a keypad with less than 20 total buttons on it costs less than a touch screen that has to be pixel reactive. But they want $480 for this piece of junk. And my best guess as to why would be because it says "Blind" on the packaging. There is no justification for charging nearly 500 dollars for what by 2022 standards is literally a 5-year-old device, complete with its 2GB of RAM, its 16GB internal storage and its 13MP camera, and that's completely leaving off the CPU, which they don't even want to tell me about, so it must be greatly underpowered.
My conclusion is that from the name to the extreme poor-quality website to the specs to the price, these "Blind Shell" products have to be either a fraud or someone's idea of a very sick joke. There are many of us out here including myself who would greatly prefer physical buttons, and would even give up some "smart phone" features to get them. But there are much better devices to be had that do include the same real buttons for far less money, and these would appear to work better, both from a connectivity standpoint and possibly even usability. If you see anyone promoting such stinking devices at such stinking prices, run in another direction. From all I can see, they are nothing more than cheap knock-off devices at premium prices, assuming they even exist at all. Seriously, I thought the days of making windfall profits by selling cheap knock-offs at premium prices by putting "blind" or "the blind" in the name or on the packaging somewhere were over. My bad. I guess they're not. We will continue to have fraudsters and sick jokers that really should be prosecuted for their crimes who will continue to get away with their highway robbery even now.
Update on the TCL Flip I mention in this post
Having been able to play with one of these for a few hours now, I will write an extensive post about it. For this update though, let me just say that although it's not perfect, this is my recommended phone for anyone who needs a good talking "smart feature phone." For the price and the feature set, you can't go wrong with this one. Leave the Blind Shell on the blind shelf and just grab one of these TCL Flip phones instead. I'm glad I did.