My Experience with the QBraille XL
Written by Sarah Blake LaRose
June 27th, 2020
I recently had need to replace my VarioUltra 40 braille display, and I chose to purchase the QBraille XL from Hims. If the blindness organizations had conventions in person this year, vendors would be there with displays and show them to people who wanted to see them before buying one. There are no in-person conventions, and it can be difficult to imagine what a display is like from reading a product brochure. I bought this after reading, and my imagination was only partially correct.
I will do my best to describe it and say a bit about how I am using it. I want to do my best to paint a word picture that is equivalent to what one would see when looking at a photo.
When I hold the display, the power button is on the left side, toward the back. It can supposedly be pressed while the display is in its case, but the case does not have an opening for this, just a perferated thing that gives a little bit. I have not got the strength to make it press the button so I just remove the display, press the silly thing, and put it back in the case. More about the case later.
On the top of the display, accessible while it is resting in my lap or on a desk/table, is everything else I use every day. Closest to me is the row of 40 braille cells and behind this there are router buttons. Those familiar with braille displays know that one can press these to jump to any position on the row. This was a necessity for me since I do a lot of editing, and the Orbit does not have them. This particular display also has a marker every five cells, and I have missed this. My Brailliant 24 had it but my Vario did not.
At each end of the braille there are two buttons, one above the other. These scroll the braille up and down.
Behind the routing buttons is a row of keys: four keys that are standard to a QWERTY keyboard (function, ctrl, windows, alt or else Mac keys as defined), then a space where the braille spacebar is slightly behind, then three more QWERTY keys, and then the three bottom keys in the group of arrow keys that one generally finds on a computer keyboard.
Behind this row is the braille keyboard, which is eight dot plus the spacebar. It is ergonomic, so the keys for dots 7, 1, 4, and 8 are lower.
On the uppermost right side of the keyboard is a QWERTY sixpack. It is on its side so the keys are two wide and three high.
At the top of the keyboard, behind all the other keys and to the left of the sixpack, are the QWERTY escape and F1-F12 keys. These have different functions depending on whether you connect to PC, IOS, or are using the display’s apps.
At the left end of the display, under esc and F1, are two columns of keys. The column under esc has only two keys: pair and mode. These are keys used to control the way the display interacts with whatever device it is connected to. Under F1 are tab, caps lock, and shift.
I did not realize that I would actually use all this stuff. I didn’t want to buy a display with so many extra features. I am used to typing on my keyboard, don’t really care about braille input, and don’t like carrying around extra weight. But I did like the ability to edit Word docs on the go if I wanted to, the ability to read all kinds of formats, and the connectivity to six bluetooth devices.
This display requires an SDHC card inserted in order to use the notepad and reading apps. Its notepad provides access to txt, RTF, doc, docx, and PDF, assuming the PDF files have accessible text.
It has a separate DAISY reader app that provides access to Bookshare apps.
Its on-board braille tables can be changed to allow access to braille in various languages. I have not tried typing to see how the back translation is. It does not have any option to handle multilingual situations or ancient languages in the on-board apps. It will, of course, do this when functioning with a screen reader if the screen reader allows.
In addition to the notepad and DAISY reader, it also has a calculator, calendar, and stopwatch. The stopwatch may be of value to me in various situations.
By default it plays a short musical bit when the power comes on or off. This can be disabled.
Battery life is estimated at about 20 hours. As far as I can tell this estimate is fairly accurate.
Connecting this display to a device via bluetooth is not difficult, but it requires that the user understand there are two ways to connect. QBraille can be used solely as a bluetooth keyboard or as a braille display. Knowing which type of connection to use is important. The documentation could be a bit more clear.
Speaking of documentation, the QBraille XL comes with a braille quick reference. Do not mistake this for a manual. There is a full manual in Word format available from the Hims web site.
The case is a hard rubber with a soft interior. The right side of the case has openings that allow access to the SD card and the power connection. There is also an opening on the back for access to the hard reset button, which is recessed.
Sarah Blake LaRose