Voice Mate - An Ideal Electronic Organizer for People with Disabilities
The Voice Mate by Parrot is a multi-task product; it is a talking phone book, voice notepad, appointment book, and talking alarm clock, useful for blind and visually-impaired people, people with learning disabilities, and individuals who cannot use a keyboard or write legibly. The device's female voice is clear, and recording and storing files is as easy as clicking a button. The Voice Mate is lightweight and can be easily carried in one's pocket or purse. It promotes independence and freedom for its users, and is an ideal tool for the smart professional who wants to look smarter.
Voice Mate has a clicker, LCD (liquid crystal display) screen, microphone, function key, edit keys, keypad, earphone jack and lid. When users open the lid, they will find (by sight or touch) four edit keys arranged in a circle. On the upper left is the menu key, which lets users access the options for each function selected. On the upper right is the delete key, which is used to erase messages and numbers. On the lower left is the YES key, which is used to validate, play back selected materials, and skip to the next function when changing settings. On the lower right is the NO key, which is used to cancel or to exit a process.
Underneath these four edit keys are left and right arrow keys. They let you scroll through entries or settings. The lower part of the keypad offers number keys from 1 though 0. As you enter numbers into a phone book or the calculator, they are spoken aloud.
The clicker, located on the left hand side near the LCD, is one of the most valuable features of this product. Double clicking is very useful; for example, in the Phone Book function, a double click will command Voice Mate to dial and speak the displayed number. In the Memo and Meeting Planner functions, double clicking plays back the message or appointment that is selected. By double clicking on the clock function, you will hear the date and time. And by double clicking on a number in the calculator, it will be read back to you.
Voice Mate lacks an ON/OFF switch. Any action wakes up the unit in the phone book function. Clicking once with the lid closed will display "Speak." The lid must be open for Voice Mate to speak anything. Opening the lid to wake up Voice Mate displays the function most recently used, such as the last phone number called. If you wake up the unit using the function key, you will hear "Phone Book." Voice Mate shuts down when it is not used for 30 seconds.
The Voice Mate operates on 4 AAA batteries. I suggest buying a battery charger or carrying additional batteries, as the batteries lasted me about 44 hours spread out over a month's time. There is no need to guess on the amount of life left in the batteries. A voice message told me to replace the batteries as they wore down.
Making an Entry
To record a name, I press the clicker while speaking a name such as Tom. Once the name is stored, Voice Mate asks me if I want to enter a phone number. If I want to enter Tom's phone number, I press yes and start typing it. Each time I type in a digit, Voice Mate speaks it aloud and displays it on the LCD. This improves my chances for accuracy. When I enter a wrong number by mistake, I hit the delete button. When I finished, I pressed YES and hear, "Tom has been recorded." You can also store addresses. I have more than 40 addresses and phone numbers stored.
With Voice Mate, you can record messages in the notepad menu. For a writer this is a valuable tool. Voice Mate provides two options for recording messages. In normal mode it will record only when the clicker is held down. Continuous recording, up to 40 minutes, lets you start and stop recording by pressing shortly on the clicker. Users can also edit messages and fast forward and rewind.
Once you have learned the different command functions, operating Voice Mate is as easy as operating a tape recorder or remote control. I can operate it with one hand. And while it is not as versatile as a pocket PC such as Compaq's IPAC, it is a valuable tool and consumers with disabilities should investigate it. Using it can eliminate the necessity of carrying a pen and notebook, address book, calendar, and travel alarm clock.
While I have not used these features yet, Voice Mate assists international travelers in converting U.S. dollars to foreign currencies and provides country codes for international calls.
I used Voice Mate for 38 hours over four weeks. I used most of the functions and had excellent results. I can use Voice Mate with one hand. Being a voice input product rather than a typing product should expand its appeal to people with and without disabilities who, for example, have a difficult time using a small keyboard such as that of a Palm Pilot.
I suggest the manufacturer expand the recording time feature. Forty minutes of continuous recording is not enough for a lawyer or writer or anyone else using the Voice Mate for recording purposes.
The manufacturers can expand Voice Mate's market and value to Braille users by brailling the 10 numbered keys and other functions on the keypad. This may require producing a larger product or a separate product. And, the manufacturers might consider adding a game feature to it. Games are in.
Manufactured in Paris , Voice Mate costs $259, shipping costs included. I believe the price is worth it.