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Accessible Location and Navigation
"It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive."
Review of Kapten GPS
Last annotated September 9, 2011
Oh Kapten! My Kapten! Where am I?: A Review of the Kapten PLUS Personal Navigation Device by Jim Denham, AFB AccessWorld.
Building on the review from AFB AccessWorld, we would like to point out the following aspects of the Kapten Plus based on our testers experience:
Sendero's experienced technical staff evaluated Kapten over almost 3 months with the following comments. We wanted to make sure our initial experiences in London in the fall were consistent with prolonged use in the U.S. The first unit we received worked for a week before it had to be returned. The subsequent unit functioned but with similar results to our initial reviews.
Saturday 19th September 2009 with annotations November 17.
As we indicated in our September review below, we were quite surprised at the poor performance of the Kapten despite users in France and Spain seeming to like it. We wondered if perhaps their expectations were different than ours. Here are some additional points based on feedback from Kapsys and from a happy UK user who has not used it in a big city.
Kapsys indicated that the GPS antenna is on the right side of the Kapten and that it should not be operated in the hand but should rest in a pocket or on a necklace in order that the receiver could be facing the sky. This does not seem ideal for a pedestrian unit but at least it provides a possible explanation for our main concern that the unit didn't track very well even though we were told we had 5 to 7 satellites at the time.
Kapsys also confirmed that the unit uses the SIRF 3 chip set for its receiver same as the HumanWare Breeze although the Breeze is much bigger and may have a larger antenna. The published specifications and our tests indicate much better sensitivity and acquisition time on the receivers using the MTK chip set such as the iBlue and Qstarz compared with Sirf3 receivers.
The UK user explained some of the features and functions he felt we misrepresented. We will order a Kapten and have a number of users test it in different environments before clarifying those features. Features on all devices will evolve over time. Our major interest is in a unit's ability to track and provide feedback reasonably well. There are benefits of the little voice controlled Kapten but we'll see about the GPS fundamentals.
Three blind people and one sighted guide took Kapten for a spin and experienced the following:
The main benefits are
Price, size, public transit mode, FM radio and MP3 player. Voice recognition in quiet environments.
The weaknesses are:
No look around capability, poor GPS tracking ability, insufficient verbal prompting and incorrect route directions
The Kapten GPS unit is at first glance notably simple in its design, a small and compact unit with well defined easy to identify buttons. A circular key pad towards the top of the unit, encompassing up, down, left, right and a centre key referred to as the `K` key. Below which is a row of three buttons, dedicated to the features MP3 player, GPS and FM Radio, below the centre GPS button is also a telephone key.
On the left side of the unit near the bottom, is the two mill head phone jack socket and on the top right hand edge is the micro USB charger and data port. On the right hand side near the top is the volume control. There is also a keypad lock switch which is recessed on the top of the unit towards the left hand side.
Kapten comes complete with every wire and connector you could need, so there's no need to run out and buy anything else, which is a nice touch.
Kapten has a built-in GPS receiver which is both good and bad. It is good because the unit is small and self contained. It is bad because the GPS receiver is outdated soon after the product is released. This may account for some of the poor tracking we experienced.
Kapten has a built in compass but we were unable to get it to calibrate.
In addition to GPS, the Kapten has a built in FM Radio and MP3 player, together with the option to link up your blue tooth enabled handset to the device in order that you can receive and make calls through it. Note that your handset must also support this feature.
When calculating a route, the Kapten GPS initially requires users to select a mode of transit for their journey, this selection can be either made by pressing the `K` key at the time of hearing the relevant choice, or by verbally indicating a selection when prompted at the end of the available list. The choices of transport include four possibilities; Pedestrian, Bicycle, Motorcycle and Car.
When selecting any of these, users must then define where they wish to travel, the choices include; New address, favourites, last trips, contacts, k tags, Points of Interest, visits or public transport.
Within each option there are a range of further choices to choose from. One immediate issue is the lack of possibility to enter a business's name or simply an area, for example; When opting to calculate a route to a `New Address` the Kapten asks for the city name, when choosing London, for example, the unit asks for the street name, which doesn't help unless you know the exact address of where you wish to go, like wise addresses without street names, for example, tower buildings such as Canary Wharf present issues here.
The POI choices are confusing, as there are only a few obvious choices, such as Transport and Sports Activities, however restaurants and hotels appear nowhere to be found. The option for leisure and culture likewise is vague and uninformative as to what fits within it.
This is where one of the biggest draw backs becomes obvious with the Kapten. There is no option to back up a step. If you enter the wrong sub-menu and listen to the list of options. You then have to go right back to the start of the menu.
Kapten's POI categorizations are confusing to navigate. The range of choices include:
As previously stated, the biggest problem is that unless you know where to look and the exact name of the type of POI, as defined by Kapten, you have little chance of finding it without listening to the entire menu at a very slow speed and without being able to speed up the speech.
During the evaluation period which covered about 2 hours over the 17th and 18th of September, and an additional 3 hours of walking around London on the 19th, we had great trouble getting the Kapten to identify when we went off route. We could walk the opposite direction for several hundred yards and Kapten would keep saying to continue ahead in spite of the fact that our target turn was now behind us. On the 10 or so times we tried this we could not get Kapten to identify that we had gone off route and get it to recalculate or to alert us that we were off route. GPS coverage was good at 5 to 7 satellites according to the unit. This happened in a wide open area in the Docklands and also near Hyde Park. When moving around London, we had to find a very open location to gather an initial signal lock, which took well over ten minutes.
When navigating in pedestrian mode we noted a significant additional problem as the Kapten GPS offers very little audible feedback either confirming you're on route or indeed off it. Every 300 or so yards the unit would repeat the current latest instruction with a reduced measurement to the next turn.
On several occasions, we found the Kapten GPS to be confused as to what actual street we were on, giving instructions to turn onto the street we were in fact on at the time, and at other times informing us to turn onto streets which ran parallel with our current route, technically impossible.
Kapten is meant to be used with a headset microphone. There is a microphone in the midst of the cord which you push to talk. The voice recognition was quite good in medium to quiet locations. On noisy streets, the recognition was poor and the ability to hear the earphone was nearly impossible. Although the recognition was generally good, it was still a slow process to verbally prompt the unit with the relevant information in order to set an address or point of interest, much sloer than could be achieved with a keypad or keyboard.
This being said, there's little point in being able to plot a route based on voice input, if navigating your route makes little to no sense, is easily misleading and is apparently unaware when you deviate from it.
Note: an external speaker is provided with Kapten and the built-in microphone is not as reliable as the wired microphone. It can be unsafe for a blind person to wear headphones when walking.
Another significant draw back to the Kapten GPS was the lack of vicinity mode or look about function. Without these features, users are unable to adequately understand their environment and location choices.
This missing Look Around feature is one of Kapten's major drawbacks for a person who is blind or visually impaired, not a capability that a product designed for the sighted would require. All accessible GPS products designed for blind users have some sort of look around capability.
Another major weakness, Kapten does not possess the ability to hear the current location. It will announce the distance and direction to your next turn in a route but it will not announce the name of the street you are on or the one you are crossing.
Kapten offers no precise turn instruction. While Kapten told us to turn on x street, there was no mention as to whether it meant now or in a mile.
Although the low price and small size of Kapten makes it appear attractive, Kapten offers none of the features that blind and low vision users have come to know and require from their GPS devices such as a look around mode and reassurance of streets and directions along a route.
Kapten's voice prompts are clear during configuration, if not a little tedious and slow, but those who wish to be guided through the choices, may enjoy this simple user interface in the beginning but perhaps not after the novelty wears off.
We have heard so many comments about how well Kapten works, we were quite astounded at its poor tracking and lack of correct instructions. We kept thinking there must be something we were doing wrong but we were all experienced GPS and technology users. We could only surmise that Kapten assumes the user can see landmarks and signs to augment its minimal amount of verbal announcements. Without access to visual information in one's environment, Kapten is best used as an MP3 player and FM radio and not as a reliable GPS guidance product.
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