This may sound like heresy to readers of a tech magazine, but smartphones aren't for everyone! True, some may relish the thought of embracing a shiny piece of glass and learning the many gestures required to make it work, but many users simply prefer the simplicity of a phone that does a few things really well, like making a phone call, sending and receiving a text message—just the basics—with simple accessibility. For those of you who have been looking for such a device in the world of flicks and swipes, you may have a new best friend in the BlindShell Classic Lite.
Like its older sibling, the BlindShell Classic, the BlindShell Lite is a candy-bar style phone with the display and touchpad on one side of a straight, non-folding phone. The phone is about 5.5 inches long (nearly 3 inches of that dimension is display), 2.5 inches wide, and weighs about 4 ounces. The BlindShell Lite's dimensions are very similar to the BlindShell Classic—it simply has fewer features.
While the BlindShell Lite is certainly not what you might consider a smartphone, it has one elegant feature that's quite smart: spoken menus from the moment the phone is turned on. Power on the phone to a spoken status update, and navigate through the menu with a large, centrally located directional pad, with each menu item spoken. You can feel the navigational buttons with your fingertips and you don't need to turn on a screen reader.
In addition to the text-to-speech, the BlindShell Lite offers a large-print display with high contrast and a dialing pad with a well-spaced number pad and navigation keys. On the side opposite the keypad there is even an SOS button that can be preset to an emergency number of 'your choice for one-touch speed dialing.
Getting Around the Phone
The basic navigation of the BlindShell Lite uses the keys above the standard dial pad. In the center, just below the display is a large, square directional pad used for moving through the menus. Press Down to go to the next item, and Up to go to the previous menu item. Press the center of the directional pad to confirm or select an item. On either side of this pad are two smaller, rectangular buttons. The top buttons on either side control the volume—left to decrease, and right to increase. There are eight volume levels and the highest offers decent amplification with clear sound through the headset speaker (this can also be changed to the loudspeaker in the back of the phone during a call, by pressing the Confirm button). Just below these are the Control buttons. On the left, the button has a green phone icon, and on the right, a red phone icon. Like the icon suggests, the right control button hangs up a phone call, and it also powers the phone on with a long press. With the phone on, this same long press takes you back to the top of the menus. A shorter press of the right control button takes you back up one level in a menu or deletes the last entry in an edit field. This is really handy if you get a bit lost in a menu. The control button on the left will both answer an incoming call and work as a confirmation key.
Pressing the Down button on the directional pad takes you through the main menu items: Call,, Messages,, Contacts,, Tools,, Settings,, and Turn Off the Phone. Continuing to press Down just takes you back through the menu items. As each item is spoken, it also indicates its position in the menu. For example, when Messages is selected, the phone speaks, "Messages, two of six," so you know that it's the second option in a menu with six items.
While the BlindShell Lite is a basic phone, it has a number of really handy features. Here's a closer look at some of the menu options.
The Call menu has three options: Dial Contact,, Dial Number, and Call History. Dial Contact opens the Contacts address book and allows you to select a contact. Dial Number prompts for a number to be entered, followed by the Confirm key. You can dial a number without being in this menu, however—just punch in a number and press Confirm.
The BlindShell Lite will send and receive text messages, also called SMS (Short Message Service) messages. Menu options include: Write SMS to Contact, Write SMS to number, Conversations. Like making a call, you can send a text to a contact or just put in a number. There is no dictation on this phone, so text input is done by using the dial pad.
This menu provides access to a basic address book with the following options: Contacts List, Add New Contact, Single Button Dialing, and Sort Contacts. The Contacts list has the basics, with fields for name, phone numbers and postal address, and can be sorted by first or last name. A single number can be assigned to a contact for speed dialing that contact.
Six productivity tools appear in this menu: Alarm, Minute Timer, Stopwatch, Calculator, Notes, and Calendar. The calendar in this menu simply allows you to check a date, there isn't an option for setting an appointment or reminder here. The Notes option opens a basic notes app, which uses the dial pad for creating and editing notes. In Notes, the directional pad can change how the screen reader reads the notes in the edit mode, by character or word. This is a great feature for a shopping list or recording a phone number. Another handy option here is the ability to send a note as a text message.
The settings menu options really enable some flexibility in the accessibility features. Options here include: Sounds, Display, Time and Date, Keypad Lock, Menu Navigation, About Phone. In the Sounds submenu, selecting Profile gives you the choice to silence the phone, use the default or Normal setting, or use vibrations. Volume provides separate settings for Alarms, Feedback Sounds, and Ringtones. The last submenu here, Voice Output, provided some pretty serious customization to the speech settings on the phone. Speech rate contains five settings, including a slower than normal setting and several that were incrementally faster than normal. Seven voices are available in the Voice Variant menu: four female voices and three male voices. For users wanting further voice customization, the menu option called Level of Intonation provides modifications to the voices that include: Robotic, Neutral, Natural, and Theatrical. There is a noticeable amount of difference between these intonations and the Theatrical setting sounds more like a conversational voice.
Like Sounds, the Display settings offer features other basic phones may not have at all. Six brightness settings enable the ability to reduce glare from the screen or really brighten it up. The Color Schemes menu provides four high-contrast choices: white on black, black on white, white on blue, and black on yellow. Only two text sizes are available, Normal and Huge. With Huge selected, only three lines of text appear on the screen, and words longer than six characters wrapped to another line. For many low vision users, these settings will enable them to leave the pocket magnifier in their pocket while using the phone.
The last submenu under Settings is About Phone. While this provides some information about the software and product information, it lacks the onboard user manual found in the BlindShell Classic. Granted, the Lite version has fewer features, most of which can be quickly understood by dubbing around the various menus, for many users it would be a welcome addition. Many users choosing such a basic phone may also not be experienced computer users or have access to the BlindShell Lite User Guide from their website.
Turn Off the Phone
The last menu item in the top-level menu is Turn Off the Phone. Simply press the confirm button or the center of the directional pad to select this, confirm, and the phone shuts down.
Although the BlindShell Lite is a basic phone with a tactile dialing pad, it has some terrific accessibility features that are on when the phone powers up and that are very customizable. The keys and tactile dialing pad are large, well-spaced, and have large, high-contrast print. Although the phone offers 4Gs of memory, an audio record feature, something you'll find on many other basic phones, is not offered on the BlindShell Lite. It would also be great to have the option of dictation included for Notes, Contacts, and to place a call.
Nonetheless, the BlindShell Lite cell phone keeps it simple and will be a delight to use for those who don't want or need the more complicated bells and whistles on a smartphone.
The BlindShell Lite is $249 and is available online from the BlindShell E-Shop, or partners: A T Guys, The Low Vision Shop, or LS&S in the U.S. The BlindShell Lite ships with a USB charging cable and charging AC adapter, a set of earbuds, and a printed Quick Start Guide. In addition to the User Guide mentioned earlier, several tutorials are available from the BlindShell YouTube Channel. To take a closer look at a BlindShell model with more features, be sure to check out the AccessWorld review of the BlindShell Classic.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
- The BlindShell Classic Accessible Feature Cell Phone, a Smart Alternative by Steve Kelley
- Maximizing your Efficiency as a Student Using Leasey Tools for the JAWS Screen Reader by Jamie Pauls
More by this author:
- GuideConnect by Dolphin, Part 1: Getting Started
- Dolphin GuideConnect: Accessible Computing Made Simpler