Accessible phones

Hello All.

Whenever I visit groups of people to talk about accessibility, one of the questions I am always asked is which main stream phones are accessible to people who are blind or vision impaired.  People often want to go and buy from a shop near them and buy a phone that is relatively affordable that they can access straight off the shelf.  In general, main stream accessible phones have touch screens though they can be used with a Bluetooth keyboard.

The biggest choice that users must make is IPhone or Android?  This has in fact been the case for some time but there are now more affordable yet powerful options in both camps, so now seems a good time to consider what’s available and what it might cost.  I am not including phones designed for visually impaired people here as this subject is worthy    of a post on its own.

Apple IPhones come with a screenreader called VoiceOver built in.  They also have a voice assistant called Siri and a screen magnifier called Zooms.

Until recently, new IPhones generally cost over £500 or around £450 for an older model.

For those wishing to use the IPhone, prices are still in general somewhat higher than for equivalent phones running Android but there is a new kid on the block which is of considerable interest.  The IPhone SE is a phone with a 4 inch display. Externally it looks like the IPhone 5S which is over 3 years old but it includes many of the same features as the current IPhone model, the IPhone 6S.  This phone was created for those who want a smaller phone with the power and battery life of later models which are generally larger with larger screens.

The IPhone SE with 16 Gigabytes (GB) of storage costs £349 from the apple store.  This is a good option if you don’t install many apps and don’t intend to use your phone for listening to music, reading books or listening to pod casts.  Note that there is also an IPhone SE with 64 GB of storage costing £439 which is a good option for storing music and using lots of apps etc.  It’s better to spend money on the IPhone with the most storage you can afford with whichever model you go for since you can’t fit more memory to an IPhone after it has been bought.

You can still buy the IPhone 6 S as well as the IPhone 6S Plus.   These phones have 4.5 and 5.5 inch screens respectively.   Most people will find the screen on the IPhone SE to be quite acceptable,   but if you need the larger screen The IPhone 6 S now costs £539 for the 16 GB model so it’s more expensive than the 64 GB IPhone SE.

I have not listed all the models here, but I’m comparing like with like. As far as possible.  For more information visit http://www.apple.com/uk

All the IPhones available from the apple store now have a finger print reader which is used for security.  The finger print reader is in the home button and you can touch it to unlock your phone securely and pay for things using Apple Pay where available.

Android phones come with a screenreader called Talkback.  They also have magnification gestures which can be turned on and off.  Android phones vary greatly.  They have different versions of Android and with the exception of the Google Nexus range, it’s hard to predict when or if they will receive updates.  There are however android phones that are much cheaper than the IPhone and accessibility of android is improving.  To guarantee the latest version of Android I would suggest using any of the Google Nexus phones.  The google Nexus 5X is currently available for under £220 from amazon and this certainly represents great value.  It has 32 GB of storage as well as a finger print reader for tasks such as locking the phone and paying for things. Android Pay has now started appearing in the UK and though its availability is somewhat limited, it is likely to become more available over time.  At the moment, cheaper android phones do not have a finger print reader so Android pay is not available on these phones.

There is less information around about accessibility of android than apple, but there are various email lists where people can provide you with help should you need it.  Google also provides some help on it’s website at https://support.google.com/accessibility/android/?hl=en-GB#topic=6007234

The Motorola Moto G 4th generation has a great screen and fast processor.  It retails for just under £170 and is widely said to be the best budget phone around with great battery life and processor power.

Apple and Android both have voice assistants with strengths and weaknesses.   On the IPhone, Siri lets you control many of the features of the IPhone but you can’t do everything.  You can call people and create calendar entries as well as launching apps and setting alarms and timers but you can’t create contacts at the moment.    Siri will allow you to ask questions such as what is the weather like and many other things, though Google Search is widely thought to be the better assistant for finding out information and answering questions.  Google Search is not however able to control the phone itself.  There is an app called Voice Access which is produced by Google that lets you control the phone.  This app is currently in Beta testing which means that it is not yet considered a stable product ready for release but it looks very promising.

In conclusion then, if you want a phone that works out of the box that works without much customisation then the IPhone is probably the best though still the most expensive solution.  Android phones are however more accessible than they have ever been before and a great option for those who want to customise their phones and experiment a bit.