One of the things that I’m most excited about with Android is that now, it’s possible to activate TalkBack when the device is first booted. While folks today may take this for granted, this ability to be off and running right out of the box wasn’t always the case. Back in the day, with my first Android device, I had to get sighted help to walk me through the initial setup and then had to have them help me get TalkBack from the Google store since it didn’t even come pre-installed. So yes, I’m very excited that I can order an Android device, have it arrive and without assistance, can get the thing talking.
The Moto G4 Play is a very small device which feels like it’s made entirely out of plastic. The device is very thin, thinner than my iPhone. While the device appears to be all plastic, it also feels rugged. On the right side of the device are two controls, the top most being the sleep/power button which contains tactile markings. Below that is another somewhat long button which serves as the volume control. The bottom edge of the device contains a micro-USB port for charging. There are no controls at all on the left side of the device. The top of the device contains a headphone jack. Quick side note here, it’s actually taken me a while to get used to the headphone jack being on top of the device because for many years, Apple has positioned theirs on the bottom of the device. Anyway, this brings us to the front of the device which has an ear piece on top followed by the touch screen. At the bottom of the touch screen is a tiny tiny little hole. I actually initially thought the screen was chipped or something, apparently, this hole is for the microphone. Flipping the device over, the back is pretty nondescript except for the camera which does protrude a little. The entire back of the device can actually be pealed away revealing a removable battery, a SIM slot and a micro-SD card slot. To clarify, when I say that the back can be “pealed away”, I mean it quite literally. Using a finger nail or something extremely thin, the back can literally be pried off the back of the device. The plastic actually bends when doing this and I confess that when I did this for the first time, I was totally sure the device would not go back together again. Having done this multiple times since, I continue to be amazed that the back does snap back into place with no ill effects other than my own slightly elevated heartbeat.
Getting this thing up and talking
One of the really neat things about many Android devices is that when they’re booted, the user gets a small vibration to indicate that something is happening. Personally, I love this added bit of confirmation as I don’t have enough light perception to tell if the screen is on or not. Anyway, after waiting a little while, i placed and held two fingers on the screen, this is the shortcut I was told would activate TalkBack. And sure enough, after a few seconds, it did! TalkBack helpfully launched a tutorial to help me learn its gestures and become more familiar with how I could navigate different types of objects on the screen such as edit boxes, lists, multi-page scrolling and so on. The tutorial is broken up into small lessons each of which contain exercises that can be performed to make sure the user understands what’s going on; it is in one of these lessons that I encountered my first real problem.
A bit about TalkBack gestures
One of the things the initial TalkBack tutorial does is acquaint the user with the basic TalkBack gestures. Coming from the perspective of an iOS user, some of these gestures seem weirdly complicated, like the swipe up then right to open the global TalkBack menu, or the swipe right then down to open the notification shade. Still, my goal here is to learn and so I followed the directions given in the tutorial. Eventually, I got to an exercise which focused on changing the reading level, the reading level meaning whether TalkBack should read line by line, word by word, character by character … you get the idea. “Swipe up then swipe down,” said the tutorial, but this didn’t accomplish anything. Well that’s not entirely true, what it did accomplish was getting TalkBack to read random things on the screen. I tried this multiple times and try though I might, I could not get the reading level to change from its default. Was I doing something wrong? Maybe I’m not swiping up and then down straight enough? Maybe a swipe means something slightly different in the Android world than it does in the iOS world? The other thing I found myself doing at this point was slightly tilting the device. This had the effect of causing the screen to change orientation between portrait and landscape modes. Not a problem except in this instance where half of my up/down swipes were probably being interpreted as left/right swipes because of the change in screen orientation. Eventually, I got frustrated enough to press the “next” button and continue on with the tutorial. The next tutorial lesson tried to teach me about cursor movement, but guess what? Yep, the cursor can also be moved by characters/words/lines/… and yep, I couldn’t make that work either.
Surviving the tutorial and beyond
Eventually, I “nexted” my way through the rest of the tutorial and reached the “finish” button. Setup continued at this point and I was able to log into my Google account, answer questions about syncing, location sharing and eventually got a screen that told me I was ready to go. Ready to go, but where? I’m going to write a separate post detailing this next topic in more detail, but the thing I discovered is that the concept of a home screen like exists in iOS is not as cut and dry in Android. I’ve learned that many “Launchers” exist for Android and that depending on which came bundled with the device, or which the user may have downloaded, one device’s home screen may not look at all like another. I’ve had my device for a few weeks now and still cannot figure out any logic to its home screen. What I have figured out though is that along the bottom edge of the touch screen, there are a few virtual buttons. From left to right these buttons are: “back” “home” and to the far right, “overview”. Just above the “home” button is an “applications” button which takes me into an alphabetized grid-view of the applications installed on my device. Maybe there’s a more efficient way to access apps, especially those I frequently use, but for now, I rely on this alphabetized grid to find just about everything. I figure: if it’s not in the grid, I probably don’t need it right?
- I really love that I can enable TalkBack right out of the box. This means that I can impulsively order a $149 phone from Amazon Prime Now, have it delivered and start using it right out of the box.
- TalkBack has a really neat tutorial that helps me learn in a very structured way. Each lesson provides detail on specific TalkBack-related tasks I may wish to accomplish and then provides me with exercises so that I can practice accomplishing them.
- I have no idea at this point how to change my reading level so that I can have TalkBack read word by word or line by line, I'm just stuck with the default for now. The big problem I have with this is, well, the tutorial was pretty specific on how I should change from level to level and it just didn't work. Quick note: I've since solved this problem with a number of updates, I'll get to that in a future post.
- I have a home screen that doesn't make sense to me. I've shown it to sighted folks who always respond the same, "huh, that doesn't look like mine." Research has told me that I can change this by installing something called a Launcher, but I don't know where to even begin with that yet. In the meantime, I have this very nicely alphabetized grid which while not super efficient, does help me find everything I need to find.
More to come soon, so please stay tuned. :)