About a month ago, we were sent the Wizcom Readingpen TS to review. With two middle school children I had some curiosity about how it might help them read easier.
The concept of the pen is simple – scan across a word or sentence. The pen converts the information to spoken words and if needed provides the definition, synonyms and Spanish version of the word. This is useful for anyone needing a little extra help with difficult words while reading a book. How does it work in practice?
The pen itself it powered by two AAA batteries (included). There’s also a set of 2.5 mm earbuds in the box which you’ll definitely be needing as the pen doesn’t support the standard (3.5mm) that most of us have grown accustomed to using with our iPods.
After scanning in a sentence the pen reads back the words. I found the audio volume to be very low unless I used the included earbuds.
The pen correctly read words provided you scanned slowly – and in a straight line. After a bit of practice (under 15 minutes), it was relatively easy to accurately scan an entire sentence. My 10 year old son also got the hang of scanning with the pen very quickly
There were some mistakes, but I found that it was usually because I’d scanned too quickly or not in a straight enough line for the pen to recognize the text.
The user guide claims the pen can recognize point sizes from 6 to 22 points and that it won’t accurately read read on white, white on red, blue on black or black on blue print coloring.
In practice I found the scanning process a bit tedious. Scanning the text and converting it to words was around 10 to 15 seconds per line. Multiply the time delay by 20 or 30 scans per reading session, and I think I’d be tempted to reach for an old fashioned dictionary.
There’s a 6 line LCD display that shows the definition of words as well as provides a menu for selecting other options. A stylus is included with the pen for making some menu selections. There’s unfortunately no back lighting so you’d best use the pen in a well lit area. I also had some problems reading the small type on the display even with the font set to the larger size.
I was able to scan from left to right — or right to left without much difference in accuracy. So long as I scanned slowly and in a straight line the pen was pretty accurate with (at most) only one or two incorrect words.
Once you’ve scanned the text, the pen will read it back. Here’s where I think there is a lot of room for improvement. The audio (without the included earphone) was very weak (low volume) and would not be easy to hear in a noisy room. For this reason using the included headset is recommended.
There are 5 different dictionaries included on the pen: American Heritage College Dictionary, American Heritage Children’s Dictionary, Roget’s II: The New Thesaurus, The American Heritage Children’s Thesaurus, Wizcom’s English-Spanish Dictionary.
After you’ve scanned in text you’ll have the choice to:
- Hear the word spelled out
- View the syllables
- Translate the word to spanish
- View the dictionary definition
- View synonyms
- View alternative words
Software and a data cable is included with the pen. By connecting the pen to a Windows XP/Vista computer and you’ll be able to download samples of text instead of scanning. The pen can also save text and upload it via the included cable.
In testing this with my son he was able to get the hang of using the pen very quickly. The interface seemed very intuitive, even for an impatient 10 year old. The pen isn’t inexpensive; Amazon offers it at $220, and this is for something that does little more than scan and read aloud a word.
In certain situations I think the pen application is useful – especially for someone learning English who needs to hear the words read to them. However for simply looking up definitions, a dictionary application used on a device like the iPod Touch would have more use.
What I Liked:
- Accurately scanned and read text aloud one line at a time
- Easily review definition, synonym, translations, etc of words
- Useful for someone learning English and wanting to hear words pronounced aloud
What Could Be Improved:
- Expensive at $221 (street)
- Time consuming to repeatedly scan words
- Alternative sources such as dictionary applications may be equally as helpful
- Sound from pen (without using headphones) was at a very low volume