Test of Android 4.4 KitKat on the Moto G smartphone

Thursday, 16 January 2014 12:06pm

We’re entering an era where cost doesn’t mean we have to compromise on accessibility. Last year, Motorola announced its $US179 Moto G smartphone. Here, Dr Scott Hollier, who is legally blind, road tests the device and Android’s latest operating system, KitKat.

As we reported in November, the Moto G is arguably the world’s cheapest accessible phone. And while the operating system that runs on it, Google Android, is not quite as good as Apple iOS, there are simple tricks you can use to ensure lower-cost Android phones and tablets suit your needs.

Upgrading to KitKat

Once the upgrade process had completed, I was pleased to find that all my usual features were still installed. The TalkBack screen reader is installed by default, as is the full-screen magnifier introduced in Android 4.2. This meant I was able to set up the phone much quickly than previous devices. TalkBack was activated using the Explore by Touch tutorial which was helpful in brushing up on the various commands.

Using the Launcher

Navigating around KitKat with TalkBack turned on was speedy and smooth. The default launcher worked well with all icons and features being read out. After logging into my Google account I downloaded BIG Launcher, my favourite launcher app that simplifies the phone’s layout to six big buttons in high contrast. This app was also very quick and ran without any problems. TalkBack read out all my text messages, app names and contacts exactly as I needed them.

New phone dialler

One of the big upgrades in KitKat is the phone dialler, with Google changing the interface. The app worked well, and I was able to use Explore by Touch to hear the number I wanted, and then select it by removing my finger from the screen. The only tricky part was that the delete key worked a little differently in that you had to select it then double-tap, but after a bit of practice it worked okay.  All the numbers were read out correctly by TalkBack, unlike with some other Android phones I’ve used in the past.

Magnfiication gestures

Testing the magnification gestures also worked well. It seemed a little smoother in KitKat with a quick response to my triple-tap of the screen to launch the zoom, and then the pinch gesture easily enlarged or reduced the magnification as needed.  TalkBack continued to work well even when using the magnification gestures which was helpful.

The new Caption accessibility feature

The most significant accessibility addition though is the new ‘captions’ section within KitKat’s accessibility menu. Captions is a new feature that allows a Deaf or hearing impaired person to specify if they want captions on all videos played on the device, the language of the captions, the text size of the captions and whether the user prefers white-on-black or several other colour combinations.

 

While captions have been available in specific apps before such as YouTube, the addition of a global setting will make it much easier for developers in the future to make the feature more consistent. I tested YouTube to see if the global setting would work and sadly the captions still had to be turned on in the app itself, but potentially this will be improved with future app updates.

Cost and availability

While Kitkat is a worthy upgrade for anyone looking for an accessible Android phone, it’s worth noting again that the Moto G is a great choice as it’s now the cheapest  Android 4.4 phone by several hundred dollars, and its overall accessibility performance is rock-solid. Having previously used cheaper generic Android phone with not-so-stable installations of Android, the difference is significant and its performance I similar to that of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Google Nexus 5.  

Currently the availability of the Moto G in Australia is limited, but some carriers are promising to offer the phone sometime in January with a standalone handset buying outright price of less than $300.


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