Let me walk you through my experience with Windows Phone 8.1 and the new accessibility features. I ordered the Nokia Lumia 520 from the Microsoft Store at a pretty amazing price; roughly $60. I’m a low-vision user so with some effort I was able to get the phone up and running. Now out of the box it isn’t running the new OS 8.1, which introduces narrator.
Now here’s a little more about the phone. I ordered a pre-paid AT&T compatible phone and it came with a free case. It’s totally usable without putting in a SIM with a paid plan, in case you were worried. You just have to tap through a warning when it first boots; and then your never prompted again.
Now back to the accessibility side of the coin. I was surprised to find that out of the box there is a system level zoom comparable to the iOS zoom solution. Additionally, there’s a high-contrast mode. Will talk about how those features compare to the iOS version of zoom and inverted colors later when we tackle narrator.
To get Narrator, Cortana, and some new low-vision features you’ll have to update to the newest OS version 8.1. To do this you’ll need to get registered as a developer. Fortunately, Paul Thorrott’s Winsupersite.com blog outlines how to do this for free. You’ll of coarse need a Windows Live ID or create one to enter this program. This of coarse will be used to login and sync you phone with. If you’ve used SkyDrive (now OneDrive), Hotmail, Outlook.com, or another Microsoft service your likely good to go. Your next step is a piece of cake. And being an Apple Developer who’s had to authorize this and authorize that… I know what I’m talking about. You simply download an App and login using the account you just setup developer credentials on. The App is called “Preview for Developers”. Now after installing and logging into the App you’ll need to run the update. Be prepared to run it several times and have several reboots. Eventually it will tell you your ready for the 8.1 update. Oh, by the way, the update feature is inserted into the settings section so you’ll need to look there.
Once your updated to version 8.1 you can turn on Narrator. Unlike the Zoom or High-Contrast features; there is a key combination to activate it. Simply press and hold the Volume Up key and the Start button. You might need to review the gestures page on the website to get a feel for how Narrator operates on Windows Phone. But if your using it to go through the setup process you’ll find that a left and right swipe operate pretty similar to VoiceOver. Additionally there’s a up and down swipe that seem to allow you to navigate via containers. More on this in future posts because I might need to give a different analogy or comparison. Oh, and when using the keyboard just plan on doing a split tap like you would on VoiceOver on iOS.
Important: I did run into a troublesome bug. After updating to 8.1 I couldn’t turn Narrator on in the settings panel. It would kick an error saying I need to change my language and localization features to the Unite Kingdom. In the process it would kill Zoom and I’d have to go turn it on again; a real pain. But I followed the directions best I could from the error screen but nothing would work. Note to Microsoft: The error screen doesn’t even describe the settings menu layout properly under version 8.1. Anywho, I ended up talking to Pratik Patel on twitter (@ppatel) and he recommended a reset. Narrator turned on fine after the reset and having all the settings set to the USA. So hope that saves you a headache or two. For more on twitter follow the hashtag #WPAdventure.
Coming Soon: In future posts I’ll try and have a more in-depth comparison of Narrator and VoiceOver. Additionally, I’ll try and have a audio demo up for all to listen too.