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ZoomText Xtra 7.0

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ZoomText Xtra 7.0 - Level 2, Version 7.06

ZoomText's Creator:
Ai Squared
http://www.aisquared.com
P.O. Box 669
Manchester Center, VT 05255

A Note to Windows XP Users:

When I initially wrote this review in 2001, I evaluated version 7.06 of ZoomText on a computer running Windows 98. If you have this version of ZoomText, and are upgrading your computer to Windows XP - DO NOT INSTALL this verison on your Windows XP computer. I did, and almost killed my computer! While some programs that are designed to work on Windows 98 /NT systems will run on a Windows XP system, apparently this version is one that will not. Consequently, you will need to upgrade your version of ZoomText to one that was designed for use on a Windows XP system. This appears to be a known problem, which, according to the Ai Squared website, was corrected with the release of ZoomText version 7.11. The current version of ZoomText is 8.1, and it does work on Windows XP.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - July 17, 2001

ZoomText Xtra is an integrated magnification and screen reading software program designed for use by individuals with low vision. It comes with a variety of useful features that enable you to adjust how you view text on your computer, and it also allows you to have your entire computer screen read to you. ZoomText can be operated via the traditional mouse and pointer commanders, or operated solely via keyboard commands.

ZoomText comes complete with an in-depth tutorial program that walks you (and talks you) through the various features of the program, and how they are used. The program also comes with a detailed large print guide book that explains all the features of the program, short cuts, hot keys, and instructions on how to customize the program. This program also comes with a handy quick reference guide for the most commonly used features and hotkey combos.

Set Up:

To install ZoomText Xtra, all you have to do is insert the CD into your computer and simply follow the prompts. The prompts are spoken and displayed in large print. The set up was quick and painless and I had no problem installing the program. When ZoomText Xtra installs itself, it also installs two speech synthesizers, TruVoice and the Microsoft Speech Synthesis Engine. Besides using one of these two synthesizers, ZoomText also works with most PC synthesizers and you have the option of switching to any synthesizer that is compatible with ZoomText.

When I initially set up the program, I selected TruVoice as my default speech synthesizer. After I had the program up and running, I tried to switch it to run IBM's ViaVoice speech synthesizer, which I have on my computer. For some reason this caused my computer to freeze up. This is most likely a 'fixable' problem. However, as both the TruVoice and the Microsoft Speech Synthesis Engine work so well, I did not feel that it was worth the bother to call the Ai Squared's technical support to find out what was wrong.

Using the basic features of the program is fairly straightforward. As stated above, the program comes with a very nice tutorial program. This program offers a quick start overview that lasts about 12 minutes and it gives you enough information to get started. Once you have familiarized yourself with the basics, you can go back to the tutorial for more in-depth training in the various features of the program.

The Levels:

ZoomText Xtra currently consists of two levels. Level one contains the magnification feature, as well as many screen customizable options. Level two contains the screen reading features. Throughout, these two levels are completely integrated and work together effortlessly.

ZoomText gives you the ability to magnify your screen up to 16X and to customize how the screen is displayed. It also offers options that allow you to adjust your display settings so that the screen is easier to view. For example, there is a color filtering option that enables you to improve the color contrast. There is also an option that allows you to enhance the pointer so that it is easier to see. One very nice feature of this magnification program is that you can pan around the screen using the pointer or the mouse.

Both level one and level two have a document reader program (doc reader). This program will automatically read an entire document to you while displaying the text and highlighting the word being read. The program works by taking the selected document and reformatting it according to your specifications, and then reading it aloud.

Ai Squared is in the process of developing a third level that will include scanning and OCR features that will enable you to scan any printed document and then have the screen reader read it to you.

Screen Reading:

Level two features are primarily the screen reading options. Besides the doc reader, the level two features will read all your onscreen text, including menus and dialog boxes. It gives you the option of having a text read one letter, one word, or one line at a time - simply by moving the caret. You can also have an entire document, or portion there of, read to you. There is also a 'speak-it' tool that allows you to select a specific word to be read. A very nice feature that is included is a 'typing echo'. As you type, it will read out what you are typing, either by letter or word.

The screen reading features are highly customizable. You are offered a variety of voices to choose from. Once you make your selection, you can adjust the reader's voice, rate, and pitch. You can also adjust how much detail is provided when the program is reading menus and similar features.

I encountered a few minor problems when using the screen reader functions, but these may all be fixable. I've been using this program for about a month as part of this evaluation, and I'm still learning all the tricks of the trade, so to speak. I've been continually amazed at just how much this program can do. Nonetheless, here is a brief rundown on the problems that I encountered...

I found that while all of the ZoomText features worked properly when used with Microsoft products, such as Word, this was not the case with some other word processing software programs. For example, I found that when using ZoomText with Corel's WordPerfect, I could not get the 'doc reader' or 'caret reading' features to work. However, the 'GUI reader' and the 'typing echo' worked fine with WordPerfect. As well, you can read a WordPerfect document by copying it to the clip board and then pressing the hotkey combo Alt + Shift + B. You can also copy the WordPerfect text, and paste it to a program such as Notepad or Word, and then it can be read with the Doc reader or with the other ZoomText functions. While some of the screen reading functions did not work with WordPerfect, the magnification system worked wonderfully. I also had a very slight problem when reading PDF files. While the 'doc reader' worked fine, I could not get the caret reader, or the 'speak it' feature to work with the PDF's.

In order to run the tutorial, you have to have your system set at 1024 x 768 resolution. Once the tutorial is started, it runs 'enlarged'. In addition, the whole tutorial is spoken. However, with my computer adjusted to 1024 x 768, everything on my computer was so small that I could not make out which button I needed to click on to start the tutorial! As far as problems go, this was a very minor inconvenience, and it is well worth putting up with it in order to use the tutorials. I found the tutorials to be extremely informative, and they explained the functions of the program clearly.

ZoomText and the Internet:

I encountered a few problems using ZoomText for surfing the Internet, but for the most part these problems were due to the design of the particular webpage, and not ZoomText. Unfortunately, many websites have not been designed with accessability as a priority. All too many pages use ill-conceived frames or tables, or includes graphics without adding alternative text that can be read by a screen reader. And ZoomText, or any other screen reading product, cannot read a picture or a graphic if the alt text has not been inserted. On some of these graphic and frame intensive pages, the program froze up on me, but this was an infrequent occurrence. For the most part, all the pages that I visited, 'read' well with the ZoomText.

System Requirements to run ZoomText Xtra:

A PC with CD-ROM drive
A Pentium or high Processor
Minimum of 32MB Ram
It runs on Windows 95/98/2000 and Windows NT 4.0 (For NT, it is recommended that you have at least 64MB's of RAM)
Accelerated display Card
Windows sound card (This is only needed if you are going to use the level two features).

Summary:

Overall, I'd rate ZoomText as 'excellent', both for its magnifaction and its screen reading features. I had a few minor problems, but nothing serious. One very nice feature of ZoomText is that it comes with free, lifetime technical support so that if you have a problem, it can be quickly corrected. If you've never used this product before, I'd strongly recommend that you work through the tutorials in order to explore all the features available and to learn how to customize the program to meet your needs. The tutorials will also help familiarize you with all of the hot key combos that can be used to control the program.

Before buying ZoomText, you can download a free, 30 day trial version that will introduce you to the product.

If you just want a program with the magnification features, you can purchase a version of ZoomText that contains just the level one features. As well, Ai Squared, ZoomText's creator, also sells a version of the level one ZoomText that is designed for use with DOS. For additional product information, to download the trail versions, or to purchase ZoomText, please consult the Ai Squared website, located at: http://www.aisquared.com.

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