Accessible GPS Comparison by Mike May

Since, as the saying goes, "Not one size fits all", it is good that there are many accessible GPS systems now available to blind and visually impaired people. Sendero GPS has established itself as the Rolls Royce of accessible GPS since its first product release in 2000. Mike May, Charles LaPierre, the Sendero team and its partners, have expanded Sendero GPS to seven platforms. It is no longer a question if a blind person should have GPS but a question of which GPS to have.

Note: Sighted instructors should carefully consider the long term benefit of the blind user they might be instructing versus what may be easier for the sighted instructor to learn. Most sighted users will not be using the device on a regular basis. The tendency of the sighted instructor is to choose a unit he or she can easily operate rather than choosing the unit that is best suited for the blind person who uses the product regularly. Are we setting the bar of expectations appropriately? Who is going to be using the device once the training is over?

A primary consideration is the type of user interface, both for input and output. Is a keypad, Braille keyboard, QWERTY keyboard, or touch screen best? All the units have speech output and some can also have a Braille display. A Braille display increases productivity considerably but it also increases the price.

What other applications does the user want besides GPS and does he or she already have an accessible PDA or Smartphone? If so, there is just one GPS for each of the PDAs and that makes the decision simple both in terms of convenience and affordability.

The following bullets are meant to represent the distinguishing factors between products. There are certainly many benefits of each of the products not mentioned here. Other comparisons and product flyers are available to learn about all the features. These are some distinguishing highlights.

Questions to ask yourself when evaluating the various accessible GPS products:

Self, what keyboard do I prefer or can I get used to?

  1. The current QWERTY options are: BrailleNote Apex QT, VoiceNote Apex QT, Voice Sense QWERTY, Braille Sense U2 QWERTY or a Windows PC/tablet.
  2. The current Braille keyboard options are: Braille Sense U2 MINI, Braille Sense U2, Voice Sense BT, BrailleNote Apex BT and VoiceNote Apex BT.
  3. Touch screen options are: iPhone and Android phones

Self, would a Braille display be valuable to me and can I afford the additional cost?

The options for a PDA with built-in Braille display are: BrailleNote Apex BT or QT, Braille Sense U2 QT or BT and Braille Sense U2 Mini.

Although an outboard display can be added to a mobile phone or Voice Sense, this defeats the purpose of a small portable integrated device.

Self, portability is important. What are the devices from smallest to largest and what are their distinguishing features?

  1. The Seeing Eye GPS on iPhone devices, functions much like Sendero's other navigation applications with turn-by-turn routing, POI searching and LookAround capabilities. It does not have the productivity benefit of built-in display or keyboard.
  2. Nearby Explorer from APH is a GPS app designed specifically for blind users that runs on Android 2.2 or later. It comes with onboard maps and integrates with Google's Places and Transit services.
  3. Sendero GPS LookAround on iPhone and Android devices, unlike Sendero's other 5 full-featured navigation applications, LookAround does just that. It announces the nearest points of interest and your current location but it is not a replacement for a full turn-by-turn GPS.
  4. Manufactured by HumanWare, Trekker Breeze is a self-contained unit with 9 keys. Routes can be calculated to addresses, points of interest or by walking or driving the route and then saving it for later use. Under 2 million points of interest in North America. Uses the 2006 Sirf 3 GPS chip-set. 1.1 pounds.
  5. Voice Sense BT with Sense Navigation (powered by Sendero GPS) with a separate high sensitivity GPS receiver. 15 million points of interest in North America. It weighs only 13 ounces.
  6. Voice Sense QT with built in MTK high sensitivity GPS receiver. Sense Navigation GPS (Powered by Sendero GPS). 15 million points of interest in North America. 15 ounces.
  7. Braille Sense U2 Mini with Sense Navigation. 18 cell Braille display, Braille Keyboard only, most portable Braille display option. 15 million points of interest in North America. Weighs 0.93 pounds.
  8. VoiceNote Apex QT or BT with the comprehensive BrailleNote GPS software, maps and 15 million points of interest in North America. Weighs 1.4 pounds.
  9. BrailleNote Apex BT or QT running the comprehensive BrailleNote GPS software with maps and 15 million points in North America. Separate high sensitivity GPS receiver. 18 or 32 cell Braille display. Weighs 1.99 pounds.
  10. Braille Sense U2 QT or BT with Sense Navigation (powered by Sendero GPS). 32 cell Braille display. Separate high sensitivity GPS receiver. 15 million points of interest. Weighs 2 pounds.
  11. Sendero PC GPS runs on any PC running Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8, including Ultrabooks and Tablets (Windows 8 only). Weight variable and depends on PC. Tablets are lightest option, followed by Ultrabooks and then Laptops.

Self, price is important. What are the prices of the various options?

Here are the accessible GPS list prices not including the PDA starting with the least expensive.

  1. Sendero GPS LookAround, Free app for iPhone, allows for location spot checking, no routing capability.
  2. Seeing Eye GPS, Subscription 1-month $9.99, 1-year $69 or 3-year $129, requires iDevice (iPhone, iPad) must have cell coverage.
  3. Nearby Explorer, $99.00, requires Android device running v2.2 or later
  4. Sendero PC GPS, $498. Requires a PC running Windows XP, Vista, 7 or 8 with Bluetooth connectivity
  5. Trekker Breeze, $699.
  6. BrailleNote GPS EZ, $498 or BrailleNote GPS XL, $599. BrailleNote or VoiceNote separate.
  7. Sense Navigation EZ, $498 or Sense Navigation XL $1,198. Requires a Braille Sense or Voice Sense

Discontinued Accessible GPS products:

  1. BrailleNote PK 1.1 pounds, has an 18 character Braille display and speech output and a Braille style keyboard. It runs the comprehensive Sendero GPS software and uses the latest external high sensitivity GPS receiver. 15 million points of interest in North America. One of the smallest units having a Braille display. (no longer being manufactured but is available)
  2. Sendero Adventure GPS includes Windows Smart phone with keypad interface running Mobile Speak and Mobile Geo, (powered by Sendero GPS). 15 million points of interest. Since you have the phone anyway, adding the GPS software adds no size, only cost to the equation. No monthly fees for the GPS. Geo has the full power of Sendero's comprehensive software with LookAround capabilities. It is the only GPS with vibration alerts in addition to speech output. (limited availability)
  3. Pac Mate StreetTalk VIP running the comprehensive Sendero GPS software with maps and 15 million points in North America. $1499 to $1799, requires a Pac Mate Omni. (not updated since 2008)
  4. Wayfinder Access has been discontinued by the manufacturer in January 2010.
  5. Trekker Classic has been discontinued by HumanWare in May 2010.