- Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
- 08 Sep 2013 04:15:20 pm
We've received our new TI-84 Plus Orion talking calculator. It's coming with OS 2.55/ORk, and one of the first things we tried was to install it on other TI-84 Plus. It works perfectly, even on TI-84 Plus Silver Edition, revealing us a correctly displayed new model name, "Orion TI-84 Plus Silver Edition" instead of "Orion TI-84 Plus", an hypothetic future upgrade.
But of course without the talking module the OS brings nothing more than 2.55MP, and so that's why we're going to test it on a real TI-84 Plus Orion for you.
Table of contents
- Compatibility with peripherals
We've already talked about the Orion TI-84+ in several previous news when it's been seen at the 2013 T3 conference and when it got released, but here's an overview :
The TI-84 Plus Orion is actually a standard TI-84 Plus, installed with a modified OS 2.55 MP: In addition to standard functions, it communicates with the module that is physically attached (screwed) to the top of the calculator.
The Orion 84+ is destined to be used by blind or visually impaired people as it opens the doors to graphing calculators: speech synthesis for each key pressed, the ability to "read" what is displayed on the screen, "hearing" the graphs (see below for details), to vibrate in some cases (haptic feedback) ...
We had the chance to get a unit (thank you TI !), and here are some more info now
The calculator comes in its package alongside many accessories / additional content (or at least the one we received, we're not sure if it's a prototype ?) :
- high quality stereo headphones for private use
- AC adapter / charger
- leaflet showing other enhanced TI products for blind/visually impaired people (notably the Orion TI-36X, which we find very well done)
- (x*sin(x)) graphic, printed and embossed in Braille
The Orion TI-84 Plus calculator consists of a TI-84 Plus on top of which resides the actual Orion module. A dedicated, longer than usual slidecase (with APH / Orbit Research logos) protects both the calculator and its module, quite useful against unwanted keypresses when moving etc.
The 84 Plus Orion weighs of course a bit heavier than a standard 84
Dimensions : 9.3"x3.5"x1", or 23.62x8.9x2.54 cm.
Here are the main features we've explored so far ::
First, the module annouces (rate/voice changeable), in English of course, the keys you press. But in context, it is not necessarily a simple reading of the current key, it can detect that you are writing a number and will thus read the number itself and not the last digit typed (it also applies to the results of a calculation). If you are in the list editor or the table of a graph, it reads the values according to the coordinates of the current point, etc.. It is also able to read the words that are written or returned by a program. Iit is actually a real text-to-speech ("sonograph technology") that does the job
And the reading speed, or rather we should say the ability to quickly speak the keys pressed is impressive, there is no delay (it would have been annoying...).
We can't forget to talk about graphs :
When the calculator is in the process of graphing something like a function, the user knows it thanks to the audio feedback based on the ends of the curve (or at least, it's a easily reconizable noise that happens to fit what we was pltting at that time), and when the tracing is completed, the module describes the graph with a sound whose pitch fluctuates according to the variations of the curve (and a particular sound is produced when the x-axis is crossed). It's very well done !
You can see/hear it in the video below.
Let's also note that the module reminds the user that the calculator will turn off soon (APD - automatic power down annoucement)
We almost forgot : the module does also make the whole calculator vibrate, under certain conditions.
We still couldn't explore all the Orion features, but it's currently a very powerful and versatile module
The module itself has several keys (sound level, preferences , repeat, "Manual" screen reading, etc.), which make it even more useful.
The mini-USB port on the voice module allows recharging, as well as updating its firmware when connected to a computer. It is apparently not possible to exchange data with other calculators or a computer using this port, suggesting that the module is presenting itself to the calculator as an USB device and does not include an USB hub. To exchange data, you will therefore need to use the 2.5mm mini-jack cable (not provided), or remove the voice module (although this is not supposed to be done), so in both cases, it isn't very convenient...
The micro-USB port on the voice module, not mentioned in the documentation is still a mystery. The computer doesn't detect the module when this port is used. However, the website states it's in order to connect other devices, but with no further details (or maybe it's to connect the Braille printer that's talked about ? ). Anyway, no micro-USB adapter or cable is included.
And as mentioned above, the 3.5mm jack port is used to connect stereo headphones or speakers.
Compatibility with peripherals
We now propose you to test the compatibility of the TI-84 Plus Orion equipped with its module with some devices or accessories. As implied above, unless you remove the voice module (operation not originally planned as the module is screwed), you can exclude a priori all devices requiring the USB. But we still have some choice .
Let's start for example with the TI-Kickstand :
As you can see, this is a special cover/slidecase designed for the TI-84 Plus case types (which therefore also includes the TI-89 Titanium and TI-83 USB Black Plus.fr 2013), putting them in an inclined position, which is very comfortable. Normally two inclinations are possible thanks to a flap which is housed in one of two parallel slots in the back of the calc. Here, the voice module completely blocks the access to the top slot (because it's used to receive the screws attaching the module), but not the bottom slot, which allows to use the TI-kickstand, but only in its maximum angle position.
As a device which doesn't require the USB and uses the mini-Jack, we've got the TI-Keyboard. Are such key presses going to be handled the same way by the system and announced by the voice module like the calculator keys? Discover it in the video
In summary : the keyboard itself works very well through the 2.5mm jack port on the module, which is a good thing, but the module reactions are strange and depend upon what we are doing. The main (maybe unintended) advantage is that the keyboard typed keys aren't annonced, which would have made a great commotion if that was the case. But some texts tend to be read twice (two times in a row) by the module. We're going to report the bug and hope for an update
- The calculator is on sale for $599 from its official website: http://shop.aph.org/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Product_Orion%20TI-84%20Plus%20Talking%20Graphing%20Calculator_1-07340-00P_10001_11051
Too bad it's so expensive : ( But hey, for the visually impaired , we guess it's a good investment
- For the ones interested, it's possible to follow the evolution of the module versions :
- Full online documentation :
- A small downside that we noticed during my few experiments: it happens, probably very rarely in standard use, though : the module gets "out of sync" and thus the connection with the calculator is lost. It does not crash the calculator nor module, but it will no longer work with the calculator as expected. We simply have to reset it, then (keystroke calculator + restart) to make them function again we think some ASM programs can cause this more easily / often than during standard use.
But after all, these programs are not "made for" Orion and the frequency of use of such programs for a typical Orion user is probably zero.
- The calculator has a modified 2.55MP operating system (the changes adding the code dealing with the voice module), dubbed 2.55/ORk as already mentionned in a previous news. We also discover that it's including the old Boot Code 1.02. But nothing unusual a priori , since it's obviously an old hardware revision, P, while 1.03 Boot Code was introduced with hardware revision Q.
Co-writen by Adriweb and Critor