OrCam Read - A new kind of Reading Pen

9 Nov 2020


OrCam, specialists in technology for visual impairment have recently released the OrCam read. This handheld device is not targeted at the visual impairment community, but to those who have difficulty reading such as dyslexics. As Neurodiversity specialists Enabling Technology have been approached to try it out. One of our resident dyslexics, Petra, has been having a play for a couple of weeks and has written this review.

Although my dyslexia is relatively mild, I also have Irlen syndrome which can make reading hard work. This means that if something is optional, I don’t read it, especially if it’s on paper. When it comes to reading on the computer, I have access to a variety of software such as Read and Write by TextHelp and Claro read. However, reading things such as newspapers and magazines that are on paper are more difficult. Traditional reading pens tend to use a scanner format where one needs to physically scan the pen along a line of text to read back, this is okay if you’ve just got a few things to read, like the question of an exam, however not useful for reading magazine articles.

The OrCam read is a new twist on the idea of the pen, using a laser you’re able to point at the page of text, take a snapshot and sit back as the pen reads the page back to you. I had a couple of magazines in the house that I’d not got round to reading so I charged up the OrCam read and settled down to read one of these. At first, I found it quite difficult to get the correct angle on the laser resulting in the OrCam read not being able to capture the text, or reading what sounded like gobbledygook. When the OrCam read captured the text correctly I found that the quality of the reading was excellent, I’m sure this would improve over time and with practice. I found that when the laser is in a landscape rectangle it makes reading a portrait magazine, divided into columns, complicated. Fortunately, the text box setting isn’t the only one, a few clicks and you can change it to an arrow pointer which can be placed over one column for that to be read.

Another potential benefit of the OrCam read is that it also has the option to read in several other languages, such as French, Spanish and Italian. It is important to note that it will not translate English into these languages but if you are reading text that is already written in another language you can change the settings to enable the device to read it back to in that language. If somebody is studying or working in a bilingual situation, or travelling abroad, this function could be extremely useful.

I found being hands-free as the text was being read was really useful as it allowed me to follow the text, and if I felt the need, I would have been able to highlight or make notes on the text. I feel that this would be extremely beneficial to dyslexic students, especially in higher education or postgraduate level where reading journals or library books etc. while making notes or highlighting is essential.

On the subject of being hands-free, there are also voice commands that can be used to navigate through the menus of the OrCam read, this allows you to change settings such as the language using your voice rather than clicking through a variety of buttons. You can also decrease or increase the volume, speed up or slow down the read back or connect to a Bluetooth device, as well as many other functions.

As for use within a work setting, I feel that, generally, the use may be limited at the moment, as most reading done in workplaces is in an electronic format meaning existing software as mentioned above would work sufficiently well. However, in a role where more reading on paper is necessary, I think the OrCam read would be an extremely useful tool.

The design of the OrCam read is excellent, it looks stylish, feels good in the hand and easy to operate. The design of the buttons makes it easy to navigate by touch and its simplicity makes it very intuitive to use. The battery life is also very good and didn’t need recharging for several days of occasional use.

During my time of trying out the OrCam read I met with a friend who is visually impaired and let him try it out. We were in a café and he used it to read the menu and check out the specials board. He was very impressed with how, not only did it read the normal text of the menu, but also with a certain level of accuracy (although not perfect) the cursive text on the specials board (we did end up with “not chocolate” rather than “hot chocolate” but concluded that perhaps the device had a diet setting!) Although not directly marketed towards the visual impairment community, my friend felt that people within his community would find it extremely useful, giving them a greater independence not only in a work setting but also in their everyday life.

There is also a OrCam Read Smart device which includes extra functions such as smart reading. This means that you would be able to highlight an entire page of text, for example a newspaper, and ask the device to read the headlines, and then to select a specific headline to read the story connected to that.

This device is not cheap however, the RRP for the standard OrCam Read device is £1,800.00 (ex. VAT) and the OrCam Read Smart, including the smart reading function, will be £2,000.00 (ex. VAT). However, they have just launched an introductory price promotion which makes the RRP for the smart version £1,500.00 (ex. VAT) until the end of 2020. For more information on getting your hands on one of these reader pens contact our office on info@enablingtechnology.com