Office lens is a free app available on an iPhone, Android and Window smartphone that links to One Drive accounts and allows you to take photographs and put them straight into Microsoft Office applications. The really good thing about Office Lens is that when I take a picture of a presentation or whiteboard I can make sure it is exactly the right shape and is straight not set at an angle using the outline on the screen by selecting the document or whiteboard menu item.
Making sure the image is straight for OCR
That is really important if you are taking photos of text that you want to have read aloud later. If they appear out of focus or at an odd angle you will not be able to use Optical Character Recognition (OCR), to have the image converted to text so you can use a text to speech or screen reader application later on. Once you have taken your photo you choose which application you want to send it to and if this is Microsoft Word it will extract the text. The other options are your photos on the phone, OneNote, OneDrive, PowerPoint and Outlook or your phone mail if you want to send it as an email attachment. The app will also save it as a PDF.
Ready for exporting
The best thing I like about Office Lens is how it is linked to OneNote because I can collect all the images, notes and presentations, even photos of handwritten notes straight into my Notes folder and then I can search for them at any time, as I really have trouble remembering what I have heard in lectures etc and this process acts as a back up .
knfbReader by Sensotec nv – View of the iPhone screen with a scanned document and output
I received a free version of the app through my role on the British Dyslexia Association’s New Technologies Committee and I love it! For my own personal use (dyslexia rather than VI), I’ve historically relied on apps such as Prizmo or ClaroSpeak (with OCR addon). I started using this app a few months ago and for me this app is a big step up for two reasons:
1. Exceptionally fast user experience
2. Exceptional accuracy
1. Exceptionally fast user experience
The app’s purpose is essentially the same as Prizmo / ClaroSpeak (with OCR addon) / CapturaTalk. However, the main advantage for me is that the time from snapping the photo and to starting to hear it being read aloud is a couple of seconds on my old iPhone 4S, and instantaneous on my iPhone 6. They do this by:
a) Having an auto-read function, so as soon as it has text from the photo it reads aloud to you, without you having to press another button.
b) Starting to read before the whole page has been analysed. As soon as it’s recognised the first sentence it starts to read that aloud.
The user interface is really nice – open the app, hold it above the page and press one button! Then sit back and relax while the page is read to you. This is a big plus for day-to-day use.
2. Exceptional accuracy
From my non-scientific playing with the app, the OCR accuracy appears to be at least as good as (and I think better than) ClaroSpeak’s OCR addon, and it is much better than Prizmo.
So money-no-object it wins hands down for me – an ideal example of an app that does only one thing and does it very well. Cost £79.99 for the iPhone
“Many of our students like to use the ‘howjsay’ website as part of their pre-reading of lecture notes. It gives an accurate pronunciation of unfamiliar technical terms, which can be used to prepare students for quick recognition when a word is said in a lecture. It also provides a multi-sensory input which will increase spelling accuracy. In addition, it can help students confidence in preparation for a presentation. Pronunciation can be practised to hopefully minimise slips and increase fluency.
Students have commented that it has a consistently higher accuracy level than some of the usual text to speech programs, which can struggle with technical words that are not phonetically regular. It is particularly popular with our medics. It has a clear and uncluttered layout and has the added benefit of not being license restricted so it can be used on many different pieces of hardware. Finally, as it is free so is available to students who are not DSA funded.”
AudioNote is a fantastic note taking app. The official description from the app store tells you how you can synchronise notes and audio with each key point being linked to the moment when the lecturer talks about that subject. Because it works on a tablet or phone there is no need to wait for the laptop to boot up.
Bookmarks can be created throughout the audio recording to highlight important points for easy referencing. It allows you to take pictures and insert them into your notes and AudioNotes can be exported to Evernote, saved and organised there. A yellow background can be used instead of white for those with visual stress/sensitivity. It costs £2.99 and is available from the iTunes store.
“I don’t like pens and papers! Too much waste and extra cost. I’ve been using my iPad with a stylus and several note taking/drawing apps so far. I synchronise all my notes with iCloud (it was iWorld before Apple introduced iCloud) and I’m perfectly happy – so is my room as it doesn’t have stacks of paper and pens around :>)” Trinity – computer scientist
“I generally do not take notes in lectures, as I have this problem where I want my notes to make sense, so that if I was looking at them afresh, I would be able to understand them. Also, I want to concentrate on what the lecturer is saying. What I do is I use an Edirol R09HR digital audio recorder [now discontinued] to record the lectures, so that I can listen back to them if I did not get something the first time, and I also monitor the recording by using headphones, so it is almost like I am listening to the lecturer through a personal listening device.”
“I use the iPod touch voice record function to record lectures. In addition to paper notes, this provides a means of revisiting lecture material for revision, especially if concentration fails during the actual lecture especially if I am very tired during a lecture.”
The iPod touch voice memos “saved in a Recordings folder on iPod in the WAV file format. If you enable iPod for disk use, you can drag voice memos from the folder to copy them.”
The iTunes U app from the Apple Store has lots of open courses. It is very useful for my studies – you can listen to the course at the same time as looking at the slides in iBooks.
Henry – Web and Internet Science
It works on an iPhone and iPad – you need to register on the Apple store. Many of the courses are American. ‘Internet Economics’ as a lecture is an example from one of the courses and you have a podcast plus slides from Stanford University – “Future of the Internet by Ramesh Johari” You can speed up the voice up to 2x, pause the lecture and return to it later and rewind in short steps.