[bksvol-discuss] A Library in Your Hand

  • From: "Shelley L. Rhodes" <juddysbuddy@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Blindnews Mailing List" <BlindNews@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>, <bksvol-discuss@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>, <bookshare-discuss@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>, <blindbooks@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 24 Jul 2004 15:20:08 -0400

A Library in Your Hand: A Review of the Book Port and the BookCourier -
AccessWorld® - July 2004
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AccessWorld ®

July 2004 .
Volume 5
Number 4

Product Evaluation

A Library in Your Hand: A Review of the Book Port and the BookCourier

Jay Leventhal

This article reviews two small, handheld e-book readers with speech output,
the Book Port, from American Printing House for the Blind (APH), and the
from Springer Design. The main function of these readers is to read
articles, books, and other files aloud. They can also play MP3 files in

Although both devices are stand-alone products, they require that files be
loaded from a computer and cannot play CDs. Both devices can accommodate
memory cards, tiny digital cards that can store billions of bytes of
information, so the amount of files you can carry with you is virtually
Both devices use the Double Talk synthesizer. In fact, both devices are
descendants of the Road Runner, a text-file reader.

Book Port

Physical Description

The Book Port measures 4 inches by 2.25 inches by 1 inch and weighs 6 ounces
with batteries. On its front surface is an 18-key keypad. The top 12 keys
a standard telephone keypad with a nib on the 5 key. Below these keys are
two more rows of 3 keys each. From left to right, these rows consist of keys
A, B, and C and D, E, and F. All keys are round, and the rows and columns
are spaced equally. The Book Port's case is black, and the keys are labeled
yellow for high contrast.
Photo of the Book Port.

Caption: The Book Port e-book reader from APH.

On the Book Port's top surface are the headphone jack and the USB (universal
serial bus) port. On the right side of the unit is the slot for a flash
card. On the back, you will find the battery compartment and a belt clip.
The Book Port takes two AA batteries.

There is no On-Off switch. You press the 2 key to start reading and press
the 2 key again to stop. The Book Port then switches itself off after an
of time that is adjustable by the user. There is no internal speaker, so you
must use headphones or an external speaker.


The Book Port's manual and a Quick Start guide are available on
audiocassette, on CD (to be read on your computer), on APH's web site, and
as a file on
the Book Port itself. When you take the Book Port out of the box, plug in
the headphones, and press the 2 key, Book Port begins reading its manual.
manual does a thorough job of explaining how to use the device but, at
times, it is repetitive.

Ease of Use

The Book Port is easy to use. It plays a wide variety of types of
files-text, HTML, BRF, MP3, WAV, DAISY 2 and 3, Microsoft Word 97 or later,
and RTF.

The part of using the Book Port that requires the most knowledge is how to
load files into it. Loading files involves installing the Book Port Transfer
software on your computer from the CD and connecting the Book Port to your
computer's USB port using the supplied cable. Once you do so, the computer
the Book Port as a new drive in Windows Explorer. An effort has been made to
make the transfer of files easy-tones are sounded as the files are loaded
into the Book Port from your computer, and the software walks you through
the transfer process. Your computer must have Windows Millennium, Windows
or Windows XP to run the transfer software.

The Book Port's top 12 keys have multiple functions. For example, the 2 key
is the Read/Pause key. If you hold down the 2 key until you hear a beep, the
time will be announced when you release it. The 7 and 9 keys move backward
and forward by page, respectively, when the Book Port is reading a file.
the unit is idle, these keys move backward and forward by letter, to allow
you to set bookmarks and spell words. The A through F keys do not have
functions. They control the reading speed and volume, as well as the
recording of memos.

The Book Port remembers your location in a file. When you resume reading or
return to a file you started to read previously, the Book Port starts
where you left off.


While reading a text file, you can navigate by line, sentence, paragraph, or
page. In audio files, you can navigate by sentence, paragraph, or a fixed
of time. Digital Talking Books allow even more choices for navigation,
depending on how they were created.

The 1 and 3 keys move backward and forward by sentence. When you hold the 1
or 3 key down until you hear a beep, you move to the beginning or end of the
current file, respectively. The 4 and 6 keys move backward and forward by
paragraph. You spell a word by pressing the 5 key until you hear a beep.
reading, the 7 and 9 keys move you one page backward or forward,
respectively. When idle, the 7 and 9 keys navigate by letter.

The 8 key announces statistics about the file you are reading. It says the
file name, size, and what percentage of the file has been read. When a file
not being read, the 8 key announces the current letter.

The Star and Pound keys navigate backward and forward through the list of
files, respectively. When you hear the name of the file you wish to read,
press the 2 key to begin reading. If you have read part of the chosen file
before, Book Port resumes reading where you left off.

Changing Settings

The Zero key toggles between the reading keypad and the settings keypad. In
the settings keypad, you can adjust various parameters of Book Port. In this
regard, the 2, 4, 6, and 8 keys act as arrow keys. The 2 and 8 keys move
from setting to setting. The 4 and 6 keys are used to change each setting.
settings include volume, pitch and speed of speech, choice of voice, amount
of punctuation read, and setting of date and time. The Book Port has a sleep
timer that is set in this keypad as well. The sleep timer sets an amount of
time after which the unit will stop reading.

The Book Port has no search command. You can use a several-step procedure to
mark a block of text and search for the next occurrence of that specific
To delete a file from Book Port, you press the B and E keys together. You
are then asked to confirm the deletion.

Recording Memos

Holding the B key down until a beep is heard moves you to the Memos folder.
Repeating this procedure returns you to your previous position. Pressing the
E key automatically starts recording a memo. You can use this function to
record telephone numbers, reminders, and the like. You then press E to pause
and press E again to resume recording. Pressing B stops the recording. Memos
are saved in a special Memo folder and are named by the day and time they
were recorded. They are saved as .PCM files and can be played and edited on
your computer. I did not like the fact that pressing one key automatically
starts recording a memo. It is too easy to accumulate a collection of
accidental memos. This problem could be fixed by requiring that two keys be
together to start recording.

Pressing keys 1 and 3 together locks the keypad, so you can carry Book Port
safely or listen to a file without interruption. Pressing the 2 and B keys
resets Book Port, the equivalent of rebooting your computer. (The Reset is
always a handy command to know for any computer device.)

The Bottom Line

The Book Port is a powerful reading tool in a small package. It allows you
to read books in many formats and listen to music in stereo wherever you
Its drawbacks are its lack of an internal speaker and the fact that the
files must be loaded from a computer.


Physical Description

The BookCourier measures 5 inches by 2.5 inches by 1 inch and weighs 6
ounces with batteries. On its front surface is a 15-key keypad. The top 12
keys are
a standard telephone keypad. The 5 key, the Play-Pause key, is larger than
the other keys and is concave. The 2, 4, 6, and 8 keys are rounded on the
These four rows of keys are evenly spaced. A fifth row of keys consists of
the Diamond, Plus, and Question Mark keys. This row is set farther apart
the other four rows of keys. There is no external speaker; you must use
headphones or attach a speaker. The BookCourier is black. A faceplate under
buttons is yellow and blue.
Photo of the BookCourier next to a pen, which is about the same length.

Caption: The BookCourier e-book reader from Springer Design.

On the BookCourier's top surface are the headphone jack and USB port. On the
right side of the unit is the slot for a flash memory card. On the back are
the battery compartment and a belt clip. The BookCourier runs on two AA


The BookCourier comes with online documentation. When you plug in headphones
and press any key, the unit begins reading its Quick Start guide. The User
Guide for the Transfer Tool, used for transferring files from your computer
to the BookCourier, is also online. By pressing the Question Mark key until
you hear a beep, you go to the Talking User Guide, or manual, which provides
a complete overview of the BookCourier's functions. However, this document
incorrectly describes the method for deleting a file. It tells you to locate
the file to be deleted in the library and press Shift-0 and then incorrectly
says to press Shift-Diamond to confirm. The correct command is to press
Shift-0 again to confirm the deletion.

The BookCourier also has a key-describer mode. If you press the Question
Mark key and then another key, you hear a description of the functions that

Ease of Use

It is easy to play files on the BookCourier. The most complicated part of
using the device is loading files from your computer to the BookCourier. You
install the transfer tool onto your computer from a CD and connect the
BookCourier to your computer's USB port. Once you do so, the computer
displays the
BookCourier as a new drive in Windows Explorer. You are walked through the
process of transferring files. Your computer must have Windows Millennium,
2000, or Windows XP to run the software.

The BookCourier's keys have multiple functions. As was mentioned earlier,
the 5 key is the Play/Pause key. However, if you hold the 5 key down until
hear a beep, the BookCourier then announces your location in the file that
is currently being read, your location in the file library, and so forth.

File Navigation

The 2, 4, 6, and 8 keys are used to navigate through files. You can move
forward or backward through text files by word; sentence; paragraph; and,
some files, page. You can fast-forward through a file by pressing the Shift
and 6 keys simultaneously and rewind by pressing Shift-4. It is possible to
spell individual words.

You can use BookCourier's Fast Forward and Fast Reverse functions while
listening to MP3 files. You cannot use text-navigation keys or adjust the
of MP3 files. The BookCourier also plays files that are downloaded from
Audible.com, an online audio-file subscription service. These files can be
newspapers, or radio shows; they do not use the BookCourier's built-in
speech synthesizer. Unlike MP3 files, you can use text-navigation keys with
from Audible.com, but the navigation is by time-one minute, five minutes,
and so forth. You can also read files from Bookshare.org, which are supplied
in DAISY or formatted braille, but these files must be converted to plain
text files before BookCourier will read them. Both Audible.com and
require membership to gain access to most of their content.

The BookCourier has no On-Off switch. It shuts itself off after 10 seconds
of inactivity. Pressing any key turns the unit on again. You can lock the
by pressing the 1 and 3 keys together; to unlock it, press the 1 and 3 keys
again. You may want to lock the unit when you are carrying it in your pocket
or backpack or when you want to listen to a long file without accidentally
pressing keys.

You access the BookCourier's file list by pressing the Star key. The unit
announces "Library." You can then navigate through stored folders and files
you would in Windows Explorer.

The Diamond key accesses the settings list. Here, you can set the time and
date, change Double Talk synthesizer voices, adjust the amount of
spoken, and so on. This is also where you set the sleep timer, which can be
set from 5 to 60 minutes in 5-minute increments.

Recording Memos

To record messages with the BookCourier, you press Shift-Pound to begin
recording and hold down the Pound key until you hear a beep to stop
recording. Recordings
are saved as .WAV files that are named using the day and time at which they
were recorded. This is a handy way to record a telephone number or other

The Bottom Line

The BookCourier provides a way to read text files and listen to MP3s in a
handheld device. Its navigation is intuitive. Its drawbacks are the need to
files from a computer and the limited range of file formats that it reads.

Manufacturer's Comments

Springer Design

"By summer of 2004, BookCourier will support DAISY files as well as text,
MP3, Audible, and BRF files. Along with the DAISY file support, you'll find
navigation features to allow you to jump though a document by chapter,
section, or any other increment defined in your DAISY file. In the current
BookCourier has a Check for Updates feature that allows you automatically to
download newer versions of the software from our web site. For example,
corrected the error in the User Guide instructions mentioned in this review.
So, you can easily download the corrected version of the User Guide directly
into your BookCourier using the Check for Updates feature. This update
feature also gives you access to new features as soon as they become

Table with 3 columns and 6 rows

Product Features
Book Port
4 inches by 2.25 inches by 1 inch
5 inches by 2.5 inches by 1 inch
6 ounces (with batteries)
6 ounces (with batteries)
Type of files played
ASCII text, HTML, BRF, MP3, WAV, DAISY 2 and 3, Microsoft Word 97 or later,
and RTF
ASCII text, MP3, and Audible.com
Double Talk
Double Talk
Built-in speaker
table end

Ratings Chart
Product Ratings

Product Information

Product: Book Port

Manufacturer: American Printing House for the Blind, P.O. Box 6085,
Louisville, KY 40206-0085; phone: 800-223-1839 (toll free) or 502-895-2405;
web site:

Price: $395.

Product: BookCourier

Manufacturer: Springer Design, 375 Diablo Ro
Shelley L. Rhodes and Judson, guiding golden
Guide Dogs For the Blind Inc.
Graduate Advisory Council

The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to
stare up the steps - we must step up the stairs.

      -- Vance Havner

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