Thursday, 14 November 2013

Ablenet NEW Blue2 Bluetooth Switch Review

I finally found a couple of minutes in a busy week of ipad training to write a few words about the new ‘Blue2’ Bluetooth switch from Ablenet. I was really quite excited to get my hands on this as I've used the previous version of this switch many times in schools and in my training sessions and always found it to be robust and reliable.



The new switch looks very different from its predecessor. Gone are the ‘pedal’ switches and odd 'butterfly' shape of the old model, now replaced with shiny yellow and white square switches in a sleek black case, which looks really modern and not ‘special needs’ at all. This new 'cool' look is something which will be very important to many users with physical difficulties who use switches with iPads and other portable devices.

The Blue2 is powered by an in-built rechargeable battery which is charged from the mains. Ablenet helpfully include connectors for the UK, US, Europe and Australia / NZ so there's no messing about looking for an adapter. Charging took about an hour, after which it was good to go. I've been using the switch for about a week now and I haven’t needed to recharge it yet. This is helped in no small measure my the very useful ‘Sleep Mode’ which will turn off the Blue2 after 30 minutes of inactivity even if you forget to turn it off with the switch.


Having an in-built rechargeable battery and efficient power management is incredibly important when we are using these devices in a classroom environment. Who has time find a screwdriver and a couple of batteries, more often those slimline watch type batteries in the middle of lesson?


Connecting the Blue2 to your iPad is quick and straight forward. 
  • Turn on Bluetooth on your iPad.
  • Turn the Blue2 on and press the 'PAIR' Button.
  • Select Blue2 on your iPad and the switch will connect usually with a few seconds.

Before I get into all of the clever things you can do with the Blue2 using the new accessibility settings, it’s worth mentioning that for most of the apps we use in the classroom, the Blue2 will work WITHOUT having to fiddle with the new switch settings in IOS7. I’ve tried it with all of the switch accessible apps from Inclusive Technology, 'Special Stories' from SpecialiApps, the wonderful 'Sensory Light Box' from Cognable and loads more, and it works brilliantly. 



You’ll need to go into the app settings and choose 'switch' as the input method but that’s about it. No steep learning curve for colleagues new to iPads and switches and no big instruction manual to wade through. The only thing you may ever need to change is the 'mode' as some apps work with different key presses. You do this by pressing the MODE button on the Blue2. All of the apps I've tested worked with Mode 1. If the app you’re using isn't working, try changing to Mode 2 or 3 which should get it going.


For most of the students I work with, that’s all we need to do. With the Blue2, it’s is really easy to set up wireless switch access to the most popular switch accessible apps. If your students use specialist switches such as head switches, the Blue2 also has sockets to enable you to plug in and use these wirelessly with your ipad.

I’ll discuss how to use the Blue2 and some of its clever programming features in the second part of this blog, however if, like me you work with students who need switch access to popular apps that support switch skills development from cause and effect through to simple scanning, then the Blue2 is all you’ll need. Easy to set up and use, excellent power saving features, long battery life from a single charge and a modern look that doesn't scream ‘special needs’ makes the Blue2 the perfect classroom accessibility tool.

The Ablenet Blue2 is available from a number of suppliers in the UK including Liberator at £115 and Inclusive Technology at £103, which takes advantage of their offer of 20% off all Ablenet products until the end of April 2014. All prices are ex Vat.

Look out for the second part of my 'Blue2 review' where I'll look at how the Blue2 works with the new accessibility settings in IOS7.

"Blue2 review..." I'm a poet and I didn't know it!
  

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