Note: Review updated 1/18/23
For cell phone users who miss the tactile keypad and want the extra features of a smartphone, the BlindShell Classic 2 may be your next phone. The BlindShell Classic 2 has added some great hardware and software features to their original, very accessible phone.
A major difference between the BlindShell and other smartphones is the BlindShell has a keypad with large buttons. The keypad and menu buttons, located just below the display, are large print, high contrast, easy-to-feel buttons. As soon as you put your hands on the phone, you know it was designed for users with reduced or low vision. When you press and hold the power button and hear the phone start with a talking menu, you might wonder, “Why doesn’t every phone have text to speech as soon as you turn it on?”
BlindShell Classic 2 Now Includes BARD Mobile
BARD Mobile is now part of the BlindShell App Catalog! This means you can download and install the app, enter your username and password for BARD, and download books and magazines from the National Library Service (NLS). The BlindShell has plenty of storage space for audiobooks, but if you need additional storage, remember the BlindShell has a slot for an SD card.
Learn more about the new addition to the BlindShell Classic 2 and listen to their announcement on the Blind Abilities Podcast on the BlindShell BARD page. It has all the information and links you’ll need if you aren’t already a member of the National Library Service and you need a BARD username and password. For instructions on how to get started, check out this tutorial for installing the BARD Mobile App on the BlindShell phone.
Other New Features on the BlindShell Classic 2
This latest version of the BlindShell Classic introduces upgrades in both the hardware and design of the phone. Blindshell Classic 2 also includes new apps and software. The camera, for example, now boasts eight-megapixel images. The upgraded camera not only takes great pictures, but makes apps like Google Lookout, Be My Eyes, and Magnifying Glass, work as well as they do on those smartphones without buttons. Additionally, the speaker has been upgraded to offer greater volume and the navigation buttons redesigned to make the controls easier to use. The volume toggle is now on the side, as is the button used for dictation.
The overall design of the phone remains relatively unchanged. The top half of the phone is dedicated to the display, with the keypad and navigation buttons beneath it. A USB port for charging and file transfer and a headphone jack are located on the top and bottom edges.
- LED Flashlight. An LED flashlight is on the top edge of the phone. When the flashlight is enabled, the phone beeps regularly to remind you it is on.
- Near Field Communication (NFC) scanning (a form of contactless communication between devices like smartphones or tablets). Several NFC labels (included with the phone), allow individuals to make audio recordings that play when the phone encounters one of the labels. Labels can be erased and rerecorded, as needed.
- The BlindShell Beep labeling system. The BlindShell Beep is a thin, square electronic tag, about an inch wide, that is used with the Beepers App. Just attach the BlindShell Beep to a set of keys, purse, wallet, luggage—anything that has a tendency to get misplaced. When the Beepers App is enabled, the tag emits a continuous sound to help you locate it.
Classic Features That Remain
In addition to the new bells and whistles, the BlindShell Classic 2 keeps many of the features of the original BlindShell. Moving through the menu is straight forward, using an up and down key and the Confirm key or Back key. These last two keys are also used to answer or hang up a phone call.
Like other smartphones, the BlindShell comes with a number of useful apps installed and available from the main menu:
- Productivity Apps: Notes, Voice Recorder, Email, Calendar, a Book Reader, etc.
- Vision Aid Apps: Be My Eyes, Beepers, Color Indicator, Google Lookout, Magnifying Glass, NFC Object Tagging, and Localization.
The Localization app is a simple outdoor GPS app that will supply the closest address to you and enable you to save this information to notes or using a text or email.
The Magnifying Glass uses the camera to make the BlindShell a handheld video magnifier. It includes 15 magnification steps, adjusted using the up and down keys and can invert the colors on the image to add greater contrast.
New Internet Apps
Although the original BlindShell offered some internet connectivity, the Classic 2 adds much more. The Applications menu includes a new Internet Browser, and the Media menu adds YouTube and Podcast Player to the Internet Radio.
The Internet Browser uses the text to speech on the phone to navigate webpages–simply using the up and down keys and Confirm key to click on links. During the review, I was able to go to the local paper and read one of the articles with relative ease. YouTube worked similarly–whether using the browser or the App–to perform a search can using the dictation mode (activate using a long press on the right-side action button), or by typing in the search term using the keypad.
My Favorite Apps
As with the original BlindShell, my favorite apps are the Book Reader and the Internet Radio. The Book Reader offers many more book sources for international users. In the U.S., Librivox is a source for finding and downloading audiobooks. Adding books and music to the phone is also possible using f the USB cable.
The Internet Radio app has 102 channels you can search including all types of music genres, as well as Talk and Business. Using the search option, I discovered there were 12 listings for Radio Reading Services, a nice addition for anyone looking for newspaper and magazine articles.
Download Apps from the New App Catalog
For users wanting more apps, one of the biggest new features is the addition of the App Catalog. Many basic apps are pre-installed on the phone, and a number of them updated as soon as it was connected to a Wi-Fi network. Additional apps can be searched for, and downloaded from, the App Catalog, including Amazon Shopping, Facebook Messenger, Shazam (song recognition), Skype Lite, WhatsApp, and more. The apps are easy to install. Just press Confirm for the desired app, and it automatically downloads and installs! Although the BlindShell Classic 2 is an Android phone, it will not connect to the Google Play Store to download apps. Luckily, the App Catalog appears poised to grow with the addition of more popular apps.
Wrapping it Up
The BlindShell Classic 2 is a smartphone that may have some of the best features for many phone users—a tactile keypad. Additional features include text to speech as soon as the phone is powered on, and access to many of the most popular apps you would expect to find on a smartphone today, such as WhatsApp, YouTube, Internet Browser, dictation, and more. Like the original BlindShell, the Classic 2 is easy to use, with an intuitive menu and design features that make it very user friendly for individuals with reduced vision.
Blindshell has been continuously on the move. The Classic 2 now supports AIRA and our favorite personal assistant, Alexa! . If you haven’t already, Check out Jamie Pauls’ review of the Classic 2 in AccessWorld.
How to Purchase
The Blindshell Classic 2 works with the T-Mobil network and is available for $489 from the Blindshell website or U.S. retailer AT Guys. For more information and videos about the phone and its features, check out the BlindShell Support Page or Sam’s review of the BlindShell Classic 2 on the BlindLife.
Accessible Cell Phones with Keypads – VisionAware
AccessWorld Issue on Aging & Low Vision | OIB-TAC
Review of the BlindShell in the February 2020 edition of AccessWorld.