Welcome to another exciting review! This time, we have probably the most innovative product out there for the blind in 2020! Honestly, we needed this product sooner, and in 2020, we finally have it! We present to you, the Mantis Q 40!
The Mantis Q 40 is a forty cell braille display made between two blindness companies who formed a partnership. These companies were HumanWare, and the American Printing House for the Blind (APH.) Both companies specialize in making products that help the blind and visually impaired achieve success in everyday goals in life independently and efficiently. This braille display, however, is not like the others that you may have seen. rather than having a braille keyboard, it has a QWERTY one. It can connect up to five bluetooth devices, and one USB connection. It also contains a few onboard applications like a basic editor, calculator, book reader, and the main feature, a terminal which is used to interface with other devices. In this review, we will ONLY be focusing on the terminal sside. Maybe in future articles, we can cover the other functions. The cost for this device is $2495. If you are in school, you can get it on quota fund. Honestly, this is a CHEAP device, compared to most braille displays out there. A lot of them start at $4000 for a forty cell.
In The Box
When you receive the Mantis and open it up, you will first find a braille getting started guide. Underneath, is where the magic is! Open the second layer of the box, and you will find the Mantis itself. Please note, the Mantis comes with a protective cover, but it is highly recommended you purchase the specially made case for it if you wish to carry it around. We don’t want this display to fall and break, do we? Underneath the mantis’s compartment, you will find a small box which contains a USB charging cable. This is a USB C cable, which means you do not need to worry about how it goes into the Mantis itself. There is also a power cube in there to charge the device. We highly recommend you charge it first before using it. You can also plug it into a computer, and it charges automatically, but it takes longer to charge. You can still use Mantis while it is charging if using the computer.
Physical Description of Mantis
So, you took out your Mantis, and cried a bit because you finally got it after waiting months for it, and marveled at the smell of the new device and case, because, nothing smells better than new technology and leather, if you got the case! Now, it is time to check out the orientation of this device. This device is about eleven inches in length, by 6 inches wide. It is like your standard laptop keyboard. Put the device on a table with the keyboard facing up. We’ll start at the front, and work our way towards the back, going from right to left.
On the front of the display, you will find five buttons. There are four long buttons and one circular button in the middle of the four. The four buttons are called “Thumb Keys.” This is because they control the braille display’s panning, and you use your thumbs to control them. Panning means the movement, that is, moving through a document, for example. From right to left, these are called “Next, Up, Down, and Previous.” The “Next,” and “Previous,” thumb keys are much shorter, and they move you by a line in a document. The “Up,” and “Down,” thumb keys are longer, and move you by a display width. That is, let’s say you have a sentence that will not fit on the forty cells. When you press “Down,” that will move you to the rest of the sentence. In the middle of the set of thumb keys, there is a circular button called, “Home.” This does exactly what it says. It takes space aliens home. Woops, wrong topic. I mean, it takes you back to the main menu from anywhere. If you are in the terminal app, you can switch connections using the “Home” button.
On the left hand side of the unit, you will find the USB A port, which is used to connect thumb drives. This device does support file editing and writing, so you can have a thumb drive for, let’s say, school assignments. The device already has sixteen gigabytes internally. I honestly wish it could support a number pad connected to this port, for those that enjoy using a number pad for numeric entry. Above this port, you will find the oval shaped “Power” button. Hold down the button for three seconds to power on and off. Press the button when turned on to just put it to sleep. When you press and hold the “Power” button to turn it on, you will see “Starting” show up on the braille display, with a spinning braille dot to the right of it. After a few seconds, you will then see, “Editor,” and you can now use the Mantis. To power it off, hold down the “Power” button untill you read, “Shut down?” you can either use the “Up” or “Down” arrow keys, or the “Next” and “Previous” thumb keys to move to the “Ok” button, and press “Enter” to shut it down. You will then read, “Shutting down.” After a while, all the braille cells will rise up slowly and feel spongy to the touch, confirming it is turned off. Behind the “Power” button, you will find the USB C port. Plug the small end of the supplied cable to the Mantis, and plug the bigger end to the computer.
On the back left side of the unit, you will find an SD card slot. Again, you can work with files on the Mantis. An SD card slot has been provided if you do not have a flash drive.
On the top panel, starting from the front and moving back, you will first find the braille display. This display has forty cells, and above it, you will see the famous cursor router keys. If you have owned a HumanWare braille display or notetaker of any kind that was made after 2009, Then the springy strip shape of the cursor buttons will be familiar to you. Above the cursor buttons, you will find the full sized QWERTY keyboard. It has all the keys you came to expect on a laptop. However, there is no six pack like the desktop keyboards. To perform the 6-pack functions, you would hold down the “Function” key, and press “Up and Down” arrows for “Page-up” and “Page-down,” and “Left” and “Right” arrows for “Home” and “End.” There is no “Insert” key. Since screen readers use this “Insert” key for a lot of its function, it is recommended you change the screen reader key to “Caps Lock” instead. Since there is no physical “Applications” key, (the right click function,) you must hold down the “Function” key, and press “Control” at the same time to perform this command. “Delete” is located to the right of the “F12” key. It is the key on the very top right hand corner. The “F4, F8,” and “F12” keys all have raised lines, apart from the home row. The keyboard is quite comfortable to type on, and the keys are spaced out really well. The arrow keys are on the bottom right hand corner. All keys are square shaped, except the arrows. Those are thinner rectangular shaped keys, and the “Down” key has a bump on it.
Terminal mode is the main feature of this device. This feature unlocks the full potential of this display. You can either connect via bluetooth or USB. Remember, you can have five bluetooth devices, and one USB connection.
The first thing you will need to do before doing anything with the terminal when using bluetooth, you must turn on this function, and add the connection. To do this, from the main menu, navigate to “Settings,” and press “Enter.” Remember, you can use the “Thumb Keys” or the “Up” and “Down” arrows to navigate. You can also press the first letter of the option you want. In here, find “Bluetooth.” Press “Enter” there, and you should see, “Bluetooth mode: Off.” Press “Enter” to turn this on. You should then see, “Activating Bluetooth.” After a few seconds, you will see “Bluetooth mode: on.” Press “Home,” to go back to the main menu, and locate “Terminal.” Press Enter on this, and locate “Add Bluetooth Connection.” It will then instruct you to pair the Mantis from your other device. So, go ahead and do this. See the setting up braille displays article for more information on pairing. IMPORTANT NOTE: if using iOS or iPad OS, rather than going through VoiceOver’s braille settings, you pair Mantis through the main Bluetooth settings (“settings, than bluetooth”). The device you are looking for is: “APH Mantis Q40 123456789000” (where “123456789000” is your device. ‘s serial number.) If pairing was done correctly, Mantis will show, “(Name) connected.” “Name” is the name of the device you attempted to connect. For example, if your device was “Plankton’s iPhone,” Mantis will show, “Plankton’s iPhone connected.” Once this is done, you will be returned to the terminal menu. From here, locate “Bluetooth Connection.” Press enter, and find your paired device, and press “Enter” again. You will then see, “Braille display.” You can press any key to dismiss that, or press something on your device, and you will have BOTH braille output and keyboard input.
Make sure the Mantis is connected to the PC or Mac prior to doing this. From the terminal menu of the Mantis, if you are planning to use a Mac computer, navigate to “USB connection type:” and press “Enter” to change it to “Mac.” Otherwise, you can skip this step, and navigate to “USB connection.” Press “Enter” here. From here, this procedure is VERY basic. You do NOT need to install any kind of software drivers on your computers. If you are running JAWS for Windows 2019 or below, however, you must download the Terminal Tools program and install that. Otherwise, it is just a matter of connecting the device to the computer, and restarting your screen reader. The keyboard works straight away when you first connect it, so there is no problem there. If you want braille, though, you would need to restart the screen reader. You should then have both braille and keyboard working properly.
Pros and Cons
On the Pros side:
- has a QWERTY keyboard and braille display
- can connect to the major operating systems except Android
The only con that should not be a show stopper is that it has no “Insert” key, nor a number pad.
Rating and Final Thoughts
I give the Mantis a 5 out of 5. For a unit that has both a braille display and full QWERTY keyboard, this is a very innovative, long overdo product. I feel like we will be seeing more of these pop up in the future. the future consists of more mainstream integration from assistive technology companies, and the Mantis has paved the way for this to be much easier. This product sold out like a fresh doughnut shop after two hours! The device is STILL out of stock, but I was fortunate to get one before more orders came to APH. It has pretty basic powerful applications. In fact, this article was written on the Mantis’ built-in editor! It works really well with iOS and Windows when I was breaking the unit in, and it can only get better from here! If you have any questions about this device, you can send us an email and we will be glad to answer anything about this device you would like to know! I may also publish some other how-to’s on using other features of this device. In the meantime, happy reading and typing!