Speak and spell

2nd January 2004 at 00:00
You use Wizcom's Reading Pen for writing, not for reading. You run this handheld scanner across a word and the optical character recognition (OCR) software looks it up in its built-in dictionary and, if it finds a match, not only offers a definition, but reads it out too.

That's the theory, but the practice is not quite so straightforward, partly because scanners are never completely accurate and partly because the perfection of technology falls down once you get a human being involved.

To be fair, the makers, Wizcom, acknowledge some problems, such as the fact that colour combinations, particularly blueblack and redwhite, don't scan well. Otherwise the pen works on font sizes from 6 to 22 points.

Other limitations are that, as with all scanners, it can misread letters if they are at all disjointed, and it struggles with words that are not in its dictionary.

As for the human being, he or she has to hold the pen at the right angle, start and finish scanning at a point about 1cm either side, and not move it too fast. Even then it can take more than one or two attempts to get a word accurately into the pen.

The medium also affects performance. Black, 12-point, laser-printed, Times New Roman characters on printer paper worked quite well, but newsprint less so.

Variations of this device have been available for about six years. What makes this "new" is an English accent, the introduction of the Concise Oxford Dictionary and increased user friendliness.

What it does is offer people with reading difficulties a prop for when they get stuck on a word or phrase. They can find out what it says and what it means. Although they will need practice, persistence and the ability to discriminate between the offerings of accurate and inaccurate scans in order to make full use of it.

Wizcom Reading Pen Scanner pen that can scan text and check it in dictionary.

Price: pound;198.99 (including VAT) Scanning Pens Shop Tel: 0800 1 613 713 (UK only) www.scanningpens.co.uk

Fitness for purpose *** Ease of use *** Features **** Quality **** Value for money ***

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