Humanware Victor Reader Trek GPS review
This section covers my review of the GPS functionality of the Victor Reader Trek, manufactured by Humanware. For sake of brevity, I henceforth refer to this device as Trek. Trek is of course more than just a GPS device. It also includes an offline book reader, internet radio, DAISY player, podcast functionality, and much more. These features are discussed in numerous blogs and podcasts elsewhere on the net, hence me not evaluating them here. The purpose of my review is to highlight the orientation functionality in the South African context, more specifically, in my geographic location.
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION OF TREK
The size of Trek compares favourably with modern smartphones, but it is probably a bit more than twice as thick. The layout of buttons and connectors can be described as follows:
- On the top left side there are three buttons, power on / off and volume up / down. The latter two are multi-functional. When changing modes with a short press of the power button, they adjust speed and tone. Under the offline bookshelf menu settings, the tone can be changed to adjust pitch instead.
- The top of Trek houses the SD card slot, the speaker and microphone, as well as the 3.5 MM jack for connecting headphones or earphones. Earphones with built-in microphone is shipped with Trek. Bluetooth is supported,so connection to Bluetooth headsets is possible for extra convenience. Trek ships with an 8 GB SD card. The manual states that the device can handle up to 32 GB SD cards, but according to the Product Manager at Humanware, up to 256 GB cards is supported. The device has 32 GB internal memory, of which half usually is used for the TomTom maps.
- The record button is located on the top right-hand side of Trek. This button can be used to record voice memos in the offline bookshelf mode, or to record a route in orientation mode. The latter is also known as bread crumbing.
- The micro USB port is found at the bottom of the device. This port is used for connecting the charger or connection to a USB port on a PC to copy files to the SD card.
- The back of Trek houses the user replaceable battery.
- The buttons on the face of Trek are divided in four groups, as follows:
- The top row, from left to right, the go-to button, the mode button for switching between offline bookshelf, online bookshelf and orientation, and the bookmark or landmark button.
- The telephone style keypad, 1 to 0 and the star and hash key. The 2, 4, 6 and 8 digits are clearly marked with half-moon shapes, while the 5 key is marked with two dots. The latter button is the "where am I" key for book information or current address and nearest crossing in orientation mode respectively. When in text mode, the telephone style keypad can be used to enter text when searching for text in a book or entering an address in orientation mode.
- A button for announcing the time and date, change time settings, or to set a sleep timer when reading a book.
- The bottom row, from left to right, the rewind, play and forward buttons. Once again, these buttons are multi-functional. For example, when entering text on the telephone style keypad, the rewind button serves as a backspace, while the forward button will read the text entered up to that point.
MY PERSONAL INTEREST IN TREK
My wife and I live in a small coastal town in the Southern Cape. Although it can be argued that navigation for a blind person in such a town should be easy, various factors have proven this not to be the case around here. The residential areas have no pavements, so one must do country walking for the biggest part. The street crossings are rounded and very gradual. Although we both have good mobility skills, we found that, walking with a guide dog, it is far too easy to miss a crossing, especially the three-way intersections. Over time we have explored numerous smartphone GPS apps, both on IOS and Android. Although these apps work fine in vehicle mode, none of them quite cracked it for us in pedestrian mode, often not announcing upcoming intersections or other important information on route. I will admit that I am usually cynical about so-called blind specific devices, but given our frustration, I was very interested in seeing what the Trek would offer compared to the smartphone apps we have access to in South Africa.
THE PROOF OF THE PUDDING
To say that Trek fulfils our GPS needs would be an understatement. We were so impressed with this device that, a few days after receiving mine, I ordered a second device for my wife. There is no smartphone app that is as accurate as Trek in pedestrian mode, at least, not those available for South African use. The device works consistently, never missing a beat announcing important information, whether navigating to a destination or simply announcing streets, intersections and three-way or four-way intersection types. The following features of Trek add to this positive experience:
- The TomTom maps are stored locally on the device, so no data is used while in orientation mode. The maps are usually updated three times a year and are automatically updated via Trek's built-in WI-FI when connected to a home network.
- While walking, landmarks can conveniently be recorded in your own voice along the way. The maximum duration for such a recording is four seconds, which is quite sufficient. These landmarks will be announced when passing the recorded co-ordinates in future. They can also be set as a destination to navigate to from any location. Voice recorded landmarks can afterwards be renamed or deleted as desired.
- Whether simply walking, or receiving turn-by-turn instructions to a destination, the digit 5 key reports one's current location and heading direction. Digit 6 will report the next intersection and distance to it. A long press of digit 5 reports points of interest in your vicinity. Navigating to one of these is as simple as selecting it with arrow keys and pressing the confirm key to start navigation.
- Bread crumbing is a very convenient way to capture a route using the best route to a destination. Once recorded, the route can be chosen in future and turn-by-turn instructions will be provided using the specifics of the previously recorded route.
- With the press of a button, a route can be reversed up to two levels. After navigating to a destination, one can instruct Trek to provide navigation back to the starting point. The device also stores the previous route, which can be reversed even after power down of the device.
- Trek can be locked in open area mode with a long press of the digit 6. In this mode, clockwise direction based instructions will be provided to an open area landmark, rather than the default instructions to the closest street address. This is extremely handy when navigating in, for example, a parking lot or camping area. Another long press of digit 6 will revert to the default setting.
- Based on the speed of travelling, Trek automatically switches between pedestrian and vehicle mode, which is one thing less to remember.
- Verbosity settings are available to determine exactly how much or little you wish to hear while walking or being navigated. This is a refreshing approach, as it can very quickly become frustrating to continuesly hear the town and postal code when in pedestrian mode, as some smartphone apps tend to do.
- Those interested in GPS will be familiar with the Galileo navigation system. The good news is that Trek's GPS receiver supports Galileo. Once this system is fully rolled out, Humanware will release a firmware upgrade for Trek to take advantage of the greatly enhanced accuracy, which for general use will be 1 meter or better.
- Last but not least. Although my wife and I both are proficient in using a touch screen smartphone, there is something to be said about physical keys on a device such as Trek. When out and about, it cannot be any easier to query your current location, the next upcoming intersection or next navigation instruction pressing a clearly marked physical key.
DEALERS AND USER GUIDE
Should you wish to read more about all Trek features, you can download the user guide (external link). If residing in South Africa, Albert Peters or Gerhard Erasmus at Edit Micro Systems can be contacted for a quotation. For a list of international suppliers, visit the Humanware website, external link.