Last week I introduced myself and you to Google Home and the RealSam Information Hub. Rather than the name of some groovy new jazz-funk fusion band, this is the latest way to access all the great, specialist content of In-Your-Pocket but via a Google Home smart speaker, rather than through a smart phone device.
This has the advantage of enabling users to access even more online content through Google’s everyday search function, while still allowing BVI users easy access to the services we most want and need via RealSam’s bespoke information hub. And it’s all voice controlled!
Put simply, with my new device I can ask for and quickly access even more great entertainment and info.
So, having been introduced, I have spent the week getting better acquainted with my smart speaker.
The basic command for waking the device up is ‘Hey Google’, or ‘Okay Google’, and if you’ve matched it to your voice as described last week the device will recognise you and respond. This allows you to do all the usual things that you might have got used to with any smart device you may already be familiar with (such as an Amazon Echo or Siri on your iPhone).
As you’d expect it’s pretty intuitive. There is of course an element of trial and error, so I decided to have a bit of a play while I was sorting the washing and used the device as an on-demand jukebox, exploring what songs I could ask it to find online. If you’ve already got a service like Spotify or Apple Music, you can set the device up to access that, but I just threw out requests such as ‘Hey Google, play What a Beautiful Day by The Levellers on YouTube’ and spent a happy hour folding T-shirts and (with the help of Be My Eyes) pairing socks.
My only real frustration was that every so often I’d be offered a selection of results to choose from which required me to use the touch screen. However, as I mentioned last week, the device doesn’t have a screen reader (such as Siri or Cortana) which made doing so completely inaccessible. But that of course is where RealSam comes in!
Although it’s still early days, RealSam has already secured content from a wide range of organisations. These include leading UK charities such as Blind Veterans, Galloways, and Henshaws all of whom offer a wealth of information about services and support for blind and partially sighted people. Additionally, there are thousands of audiobooks to choose from, courtesy of Calibre and Torch Trust. And all of this is at your command in the simple, easy to use manner that I’ve come to love through In-Your-Pocket.
All you need to say is ‘Hey Google, talk to RealSam’ and the device takes you to the RealSam hub and prompts you to start a search. As with Pocket, the command words are ‘Find’, ‘Search’ or ‘List’. However, unlike Pocket, there is no ‘home’ button to interrupt the device when it reads out your search results, so you need either to say, ‘Hey Google’ and make your selection, or be patient and wait for the Google beep!
I decided that I needed a bit of Hercule Poirot in my life so said, ‘Okay Google, find books by Agatha Christie’. The device offered me books from three sources including Calibre, which was option three, and so I said ‘Okay Google. Select number 3’. I was then offered a whopping 66 titles by The Queen of Crime, and so to narrow the search further, I said ‘Okay Google, find books titled Mesopotamia’. After just a moment’s thought the device came back with just the result I wanted and I said, ‘Okay Google, play’ and was rewarded with the dulcet tones of Anna Massey narrating Murder in Mesopotamia which kept me very happy until it was time to make supper.
Navigating the book was exactly the same as with Pocket. ‘Pause’, ‘Jump back (or forward) 5 minutes’, ‘Speak faster’ etc all work, but remember you have to say ‘Okay Google’ or ‘Hey Google’ to get the device to listen.
I did worry that it might lose my place when I unplugged the device to bring it downstairs to start preparing supper, but while it doesn’t appear to have an internal battery that allows it to keep on playing when it’s not on the mains, it booted up quickly when I plugged it in again in the kitchen, and once I’d asked it to ‘Talk to RealSam’ again, and ‘Find recent books’, I was able to pick up where I’d left off, just as with Pocket.
And although there is no headphone jack, with the help of one of my daughters, I was able to connect my Bluetooth headphones and wander happily round the kitchen (wireless and unfettered) listening to an old favourite at my own (super-fast) speed. That way I finished the book in a day, although not quickly enough to mean that I was available to help with the washing-up!