The purpose of electronic notetakers has gone greatly beyond simple note taking, maintaining the address book and using the calculator, the alarm and the timer. Similar to personal digital assistants (PDA’s), they are now specially designed for people who are blind or low vision. Depending on the manufacturer, their specific functions may vary, but in general they now have an interface similar to that of a computer. If a person knows how to use a computer, he will no longer need to spend time learning how to use a notetaker.
Like PDAs, notetakers allow users to type their documents and then transfer them to the computer or to another user of a similar notetaker or of a PDA via the infrared port. Users can also browse the internet, check email, and use the GPS (General Positioning System) which gives them directions to a given place. They can also play music or read any text recorded in the MP3 format. Some notetakers even have a cell phone capability, such that users are able to both write and receive text messages, just like sighted cell phone users.
Notetakers are divided into two categories: with Braille keyboard and the qwerty keyboard. The Braille keyboard tends to be smaller, since it only contains seven main keys (six Braille dots and a space bar) plus some additional function keys, while the qwerty keyboard is a “regular” keyboard that consists of 26 letters, plus additional characters, digits and function keys. The Braille keyboard is designed for users who are proficient in Braille; the qwerty keyboard is designed for those users (blind or low vision) who prefer to type on a keyboard that is similar to a computer keyboard.
Many low vision users have complained that they would like to be able to see what they are typing. Some manufacturers, therefore, have been working on a notetaker with a small display to accommodate the needs of those users. The most commonly used notetakers to date are the PacMate by Freedom Scientific, the BrailleNote by PulseData, and the MPO 5500 by ALVA.