Our Favorite Phone Apps
There really is an app for just about anything, and there are many, many of them that make things easier when vision loss. Here are some of our favorites, with reviews from real-life users.
Have a favorite app or two? Let us know!
The New York Times Company
Some years ago I lost the ability to read newsprint, and not until I tried this app was I able to get it back. I no longer pine for the Sunday Times or feel envy as my fellow bus riders consume their news. Now I’m skimming headlines, scanning articles, and moving through sections with Voice Over reading sweetly into my ear. I can (and often do) share articles with friends via text message or email. If you prefer larger print, the text in every article can be resized by tapping a button at bottom of screen.
This app could be perfect if Voice Over could read photo descriptions (instead of 30 digit ID codes). The only other minor issue is that VO repeats paragraphs here and there -- whether you want it to or not.
I use the iPhone app on my iPad too, because I like the format. The app is free – the subscription will cost you. As far as I’m concerned, reading The New York Times again is priceless.
Standard on iPhone
Dora the Explorer I’m not, yet I often consult with my Compass to insure I’m moving in the right direction. Just this weekend I found my way from one side of the park to the other by staying on a north western course. When I come out of an unfamiliar subway exit I shake the compass to recalibrate and tell me which way I should be going. And, if that is not all this Compass does -- tap twice and it will give you the address you’re at.
KLR Applications $1.99
Whenever I’m going to a place I’m not very familiar with, I stay tuned into this app. It’s good to know that I’m on the right side of the street, and that I’m heading toward the address of my destination. This is a comforting little tool to have and very simple to use. The maps are not useful to me – so I ignore them. The accuracy of this app is as good as any and I love to hear it say exactly what I’m thinking, “Where the hell?”
Standard on iPhone
At this point, writing notes is as hard as reading them. The Voice Memos app transformed my manual records to digital recordings. It’s so basic I can use it without Voice Over. just record, pause, stop, show recordings. I’ve recorded podcasts, presentations, music, phone numbers, shopping lists, and voice messages to send via email. I am reading an iBook at the moment and keeping notes in Voice Memos for a review I will be writing, using the App Switcher to go easily back and forth between the iBooks and Voice Memos.
Standard on iPhone
This app solves all my time troubles. The clock replaces my watch, my alarm clock, my kitchen timer. I will never again have to figure out the time in Rome by counting ahead 8 hours on my fingers – the world clock does that instantly. And, if I should need to clock the quickest time from here to there – I’ve got a stop watch, too.
Where the Hell Am I?
by KLR Applications
Oh, how often do I ask myself that very question? This app provides a quick, one-step solution for orienting yourself in a sea of buildings and out-of-view street signs. With sufficient signal, the app can narrow in on your current location, often right down to the address. This is my go-to tool when I get off the subway in an unfamiliar neighborhood or when I’m on my way to a new destination in the city. I have tried it in a few locales outside of New York, as well, and have found it to be remarkably accurate. I even used it recently on a bus trip to Boston, and for once, I was the one who could answer the question “Hey, where are we now?” The layout is enviably simple: a heading, a map, and a latitude-longitude marker. I focus on the heading, a line of text that states the most precise location the app can surmise. Don’t expect it to be perfect, however. Sometimes you have to let it triangulate for at least 30 seconds before it finally nails down your whereabouts. One should also note that this is not a GPS app, and it does not provide directions to a destination. It is strictly a general orientation tool, but a very handy one, and I’m thrilled to have it. Currently, the app sells for $1.99, about 1% the price of some other locator devices on the market. Well worth it.
by Pandora Media, Inc
Pandora is an easy to use, fully accessible music streaming app. You simply type in your favorite singers, bands or songs and it will create entire “radio stations” based on the music you like. It’s an excellent app for the casual music lover who doesn’t particularly want to organize albums and playlists from iTunes. And it’s free. Pandora works very well with VoiceOver, with one rather pesky exception: the button to disregard an advertisement is not clearly marked. VoiceOver will thus read it as a series of numbers or other unrecognizable label. This is pretty easy to work around once you realize where the issue is, though. If you’re willing to throw in a few extra bucks for a premium Pandora account, you can dispense with the ads altogether.
The name says it all! Put the manual flashlight back in the drawer; now you can have one on you at all times, right in your iPhone. I downloaded this app at the suggestion of a friend, all the while certain that I would never actually use it. And I was wrong! This app has come in handy more times than I can count. If you need a little extra light here and there – in dark restaurants, for example – you should consider adding this to your app inventory. It’s free, as simple as they come, and you never know when the need will arise. It works perfectly with VoiceOver, and if you use any residual vision, the on-screen button is quite large and prominent.
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standard feature on iPhone 4S+
I actually have a very good memory, especially for numbers. Tell me a phone number or a passcode and I will remember it for years. But ask me to remind you to buy milk later today, and you might as well have asked your pet iguana. I am painfully, horribly, embarrassingly bad at remembering personal tasks. If I don’t write it down, it’s not going to happen. That’s why iPhone’s Reminders app is an absolute treasure for me. It’s the digital Post-It note, and I use it almost daily. It reminds me to pick up groceries, make phone calls, get to appointments, pay bills, and really, anything else I ask it to. Reminders are very easy to set using the iPhone 4S’ personal assistant, Siri. All you need is a quick spoken phrase such as “Remind me to pick up the dry cleaning today at 5:30.” There are a few more steps to set a reminder without Siri, but it’s perfectly doable. Given that this is a standard app on the iPhone’s iOS 5 platform, VoiceOver works seamlessly with it, once you learn the steps.
Standard iPhone feature
Remember the old days -- like, four years ago -- when you had to buy and carry around an entirely separate device to take photos? Well, kiss those days goodbye, and go ahead and throw out that typewriter while you’re at it. As technology advances, internal cameras in cell phones are becoming more and more advanced. The iPhone’s camera is in fact one of my new obsessions. If you think you can’t take decent photos if you have low vision, think again. With a quick swipe across the screen, and with the help of VoiceOver, you’re ready to take numerous high quality photos and videos. VoiceOver will even let you know, audibly, how many faces are within the shot and if they’re in center, left or right of the screen. While a camera in your phone is not a novel feature, the presence of iPhone’s accessibility options, and the sheer quality of the camera, make this product distinct. One slight annoyance, I will say, is that videos will pick up the sound of VoiceOver in the background if you leave that feature on during recording. But, overall, the camera is a great tool and toy, and is likely the most accessible digital camera you could find on the market.
People probably don’t believe me when I tell them that I purchased an iPhone for the pre-installed Weather app but that is indeed the case.
I’d been longing for an app that would simply display the current temperature so that I would wear the appropriate clothing. Imagine my envy when my colleague double-tapped on the weather app and there was a large-print number that I could easily see and hear. I was nothing short of thrilled and have used it every day since last May. It is an app that is displayed on the Home screen and once opened, you can check the seven-day forecast or double-tap the screen and check the hourly forecast for the particular day.
For those of us not privileged to have the illustrious Siri, we strive to find apps with even a small bit of her power. Assistant is a simple app that allows you to dictate the subject, time and date of your appointment and it adds it to your iPhone’s Calendar app. I’ve had a few chuckles over some minor mistakes but I am thoroughly satisfied with the app and use it at least once a week for professional as well as personal events. To correct any mistakes, open the Calendar app and double-tap on the appointment followed by the Edit button.
Secretly, I’ve always admired those people whose noses are stuck in their daily newspapers. Although, I consider myself well-informed, thanks to social media services such as Twitter, I jumped at the chance to sign up and download NFB’s free Newsline app as it would offer the same satisfying experience of reading a daily paper.
Additionally, such venerable magazines as Reader’s Digest and PCWorld a publication that was the size of a small phone book are also available. You’ll need to fill out a form, offering proof of a print disability. I offered my longstanding membership to the Andrew Heiskell Library for People With Print Disabilities. Once approved, you’ll receive a username and password—effectively, your keys to all of their Newsline services, including the NFB Newsline app. For more information, visit http://www.nfbnewslineonline.org.
Siri, oh, Siri, how I long to have you as my personal assistant.
Until I do have that brilliant feature, though, I use the Voice Dictation app. It’s a lovely voice recording app that allows you to dictate notes, text messages, e-mails, Tweets for Twitter and Facebook status updates. I even spiced up some mundane report writing and was pleasantly surprised with the accuracy. It’s really true that you can dictate faster than you can type. There are many dictation apps but I’ve found this the easiest to use with the Voiceover speech program.