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Android 9.0 Pie accessibility hands-on

Last month Google released the latest version of its Android operating system, continuing its trend to naming its releases in alphabetical order and after desserts. This time we see Pie added to the list. While the accessibility features are more incremental when compared to Android 8.0 Oreo, users of earlier versions of Android such as KitKat, Marshmallow and Nougat should consider the upgrade.

Device used for testing

Before getting into all the specifics that can be found in Android 9.0 Pie, I should mention a little about the device I’m using for this review. While it would be great to use Pie on the latest Google Pixel range of smartphones, I’m conscious that most people are unlikely to rush out and buy the latest smartphone every time a new one comes out so instead I’ve looked at upgrading one of my old smartphones around the house to see if that process brings the same accessibility benefits. As such, for this review I’m using an old Motorola Moto G updated to Pie thanks to the development community. For this review I’m using Lineage OS with the usual Google applications installed. While there may be some additional accessibility features available in other models, this review will give you an overview as to the accessibility features consistent across different devices running Pie.

Android Accessibility Suite

One important recent change is that several accessibility features for Android are no longer on the Play Store as individual features. They are now bundled into a single app called the Android Accessibility Suite. Google explains the features as follows:

Android Accessibility Suite includes the following services

  • The TalkBack screen reader adds spoken, audible, and vibration feedback to your device.
  • Switch Access lets you control your device with a switch.
  • Select to Speak lets you select something on your screen and hear it read or described aloud.

The benefit of this download suite model is it allows Google to continually update these parts of the accessibility features and adds functionality to older versions of Android that may not have had all these features pre-installed.

Android 9.0 Pie accessibility features

There are a wealth of accessibility features contained in Android 9.0 Pie, continuing the trend of accessibility improvements with each new Android version. While there’s not as many substantial changes overall from Oreo, the feature set is quite impressive.

Android Pie accessibility features screenshot 1 of 3

Specific accessibility features include:

  • Volume key shortcut: this allows you to set your favourite accessibility feature to be quickly enabled or disabled by holding the two volume keys together. This can be very useful if you rely on an accessibility feature such as talkback but then want to hand your phone to someone such as a family member to take a photo, requiring the accessibility feature to be temporarily disabled.
  • TalkBack screen reader: this is the primary way that people who are blind or vision impaired can use their Android device. While TalkBakc has been available since Android 4.0, it’s feature set continues to grow.
  • Select To Speak: this is another feature that provides some quick text-to-speech functionality for people that just want something on the screen to be quickly read out. This is achieved by simply selecting the relevant text.
  • Switch Keys: this feature provides additional support for people with a mobility impairment by enabling a series of commands to be implemented via switch mechanisms.
  • Text-to-speech output: this allows you to adjust the screen reader’s voice, speed and language settings.

    Android Pie accessibility features screenshot 2 of 3

  • Font size: easily adjust the size of the font across the whole operating system.
  • Display size: this can scale elements in Android to make the display larger or smaller.
  • Magnification: this is a full-screen magnifier that allows you to zoom in and out of an area on the screen by triple-tapping on the screen.
  • Large mouse cursor: if you are using a mouse, you can adjust the size of the pointer
  • Remove animations: this removes the effects such as fading in or fading out windows to make the interface easier to use.
  • Dwell timing: this feature can automate certain processes such as activating a mouse click if the mouse hovers over an area for a certain period of time.
  • Power Button Ends Call: as the name suggests, pressing the power button when a phone call is taking place will end the call so there is no need to find the equivalent option on the screen.

    Android Pie accessibility features screenshot 3 of 3

  • Auto-rotate screen: this can force the device to always remain either in portrait or landscape orientation mode.
  • Touch and hold delay: prevents accidental bumping of the device by setting a certain amount of time for a touch on the screen to activate a feature.
  • Vibration: toggles the vibration feedback on or off
  • Mono audio: makes the same audio information come out of both sides of the headphones so that no information is missed if a person has a hearing impairment in one ear.
  • Captions: shows captions on the screen when available should a video be played.

In addition there are some experimental features relating to colour correction and high contrast text designed specifically for people with a colour vision disability.

Useful TalkBack features

In addition to all the features listed, there are two other things that are only in Oreo and Pie that are worth mentioning. Firstly, the audio in Oreo and Pie for accessibility features such as TalkBack can now be adjusted separately to the media volume which makes it much easier to control. Secondly, a phone call can be answered by using two fingers to swipe up the screen instead of having to find the ‘answer’ button.

These features, when combined with the Power Button Ends Call and the helpful TalkBack tips that explain things from time to time make the device much easier to use on a daily basis.

Overall if you have an Android smartphone that is running Android 7.0 Nougat or earlier, I’d strongly recommend investigating if your device can be upgraded. If your device manufacturer doesn’t have an upgrade, it may be worth searching online to see if the community have created their own upgraded version so you can get the latest accessibility features similar to what I’ve done with my old smartphone. If you are currently using Android 8.0 or 8.1 Oreo, there’s not as much on offer in Pie but it is encouraging to see Google continuing to improve accessibility in its products.

Published inNewstips