Voxmate is an app itself that employs a simple interface to provide quick and easy access to a set of useful applications. It was created by a group of developers in Estonia, and was launched in September 2021.
The interface uses only four swipe gestures to do almost everything-up, down, left, and right. The up and down gestures are generally used to move through a menu or list. The right gesture is used to move to a submenu or activate an item, and the left gesture is generally used to go back. It was designed to be easy to learn and use for those who have never used or are uncomfortable with a smartphone.
Among other things, you can listen to radio stations, news and podcasts, play games, make phone calls, and send instant messages. At the moment, Voxmate is only available for Android but the developers are working on an iOS version.
Voxmate can be self-voicing or run with TalkBack. If used in conjunction with TalkBack, a second finger must be added to each of its simple gestures.
There is a free level which includes 20 applications and regular updates. You can also purchase a monthly or annual subscription. The paid version includes unlimited use, high-quality text-to-speech voices, and the ability to set Voxmate as a launcher, which means that Voxmate will replace the device's home screen so that each time you start your Android phone, the Voxmate main menu will appear.
Voxmate will work on any device running Android version 7.0, Nougat, or later. To use the phone features of Voxmate, you will need a data plan from a cellular provider. You will also need a Google mail account to log into Voxmate.
Installation and Setup
Voxmate is available in the Google Play store. When found there, the app is called "Voxmate: All-in-one App for the Blind." After installation, an Open button will appear allowing you to launch Voxmate.
When the app is run for the first time, the setup process is automatically initiated. You are informed that to exit, you can swipe down from the top and there is a Got It button which must be double-tapped.
The next screen is Setup Step 1 of 5. Here, you are told that Voxmate works best without TalkBack but that they can work side-by-side if you add an extra finger to all gestures. You are given the choice of Use Without Talkback or Use with Talkback.
In Setup Step 2 of 5, you are asked to log into a Google account. You are told that Google will share your name, e-mail address, and profile picture with Voxmate.
In Step 3, you are given an opportunity to subscribe at a monthly rate of \$3.49 or \$33.99 for an annual subscription. As of this writing, the developer is still offering an early access rate which is 75% off of the eventual price. The advantages of the paid subscription are having no time limit, the availability of high quality voices, and the ability to use Voxmate as an app launcher. Each of these subscription offerings is a radio button. At the very bottom of this screen is a Try for Free button. If you select one of the paid options, you are taken back to the Play store to complete your purchase. After completing the purchase, you can return to the Voxmate setup by double tapping the What's Next button at the bottom of the screen.
Step 4 is where you are asked to grant permissions. To do this now, you can select the "Grant Permissions" button, or, you can choose to "Skip this Step." If you choose to grant permissions, you are taken through several screens asking about each type of permission, microphone, camera, contacts, and so forth.
Even if you have elected to use Voxmate without TalkBack, it will continue to be active through the setup. At the end of the setup, you will be advised to turn Talkback off and the tutorial will automatically begin. After you are instructed in how to use the four directional gestures, you will be at Voxmate's Main Menu.
When you launch Voxmate, you will be at the top of the Main Menu. If TalkBack is running when you launch the app, you will be advised to turn it off, or set TalkBack compatibility mode in Voxmate's settings.
There are 20 apps on the main menu. Apps are organized in categories-Phone, Entertainment, Social, Games, Resources, Utilities, Early Access Feedback, and Settings.
In the phone category, there is:
Dial a Phone Number, and
In entertainment, you will find:
Listen to Audio Books,
Music on my Phone,
Listen to Podcasts, and
Tune into Radio.
The social category includes:
Game Club (play games with people online),
Play Quiz, and
The Knowledge Village, and
What's Nearby, and
Early Access Feedback is an area where the user can record a message to send feedback to the development team.
Login to Portal,
You can swipe up or down among the categories. When you reach a category that interest you, swipe right and then swipe up or down to move through the items in that category. When you reach the bottom of the list of items in a particular category, if you swipe down, the menu will wrap around to the beginning of that category.
Voxmate provides helpful hints as the user moves through its menus and options. The Help section in Settings includes tutorials, Frequently Asked Questions, and a Troubleshooting guide which invites the user to send a message to the developers or go to the troubleshooting page on the Voxmate website.
The Voxmate Portal
Before we take a closer look at a few apps, let's have a look at the Voxmate portal. This is a location on the Voxmate website where a user can adjust the apps and other items to suit their personal needs and interests. The huge advantage of the portal is that users who are not comfortable with smartphones or web browsers and just want to use the app can have someone else log into the portal and set Voxmate so it is specifically tailored for that user.
In the Settings category, selecting Login to Portal will bring up a message instructing you to go to my.voxmate.com and enter a 6-character code that is clearly spoken. The code is valid for ten minutes. This only needs to be done the first time you enter the portal. After that, you will be automatically logged in.
With a browser either on a phone or a computer, logging into the portal will take you to a page with three sections: General Settings, Voxmate Apps, and Plug-ins. General Settings includes most of the settings found on the device in Preferences such as speech speed, the touch keyboard, and TalkBack Compatibility mode.
There are also several settings that control the visual aspects of Voxmate. Show Spoken Text on Screen is enabled by default. Text is shown in large print. This can be disabled when not needed to save battery life. There are also four visual themes to choose from: Voxmate Default with Animations is the default. Options are Voxmate default, High Contrast, and White on Blue.
Voxmate Apps is where you can configure certain aspects of several of the apps. In Make Phone Calls, you can set the order of your contacts. In Audiobooks and Reddit, you can enter your login credentials. In Radio, you can setup your own list of stations. And there are other settings for Telegram, Mathdoku, and the Editor. Voxmate Plugins are third-party extensions to Voxmate that can enable functionality and integration with certain Voxmate apps. At the moment, Telegram is the only plug-in installed.
Let's take a closer look at several of the apps.
Dial a Phone Number. When you swipe right into the dialpad, the focus is placed on the 5. You can swipe in any of the four directions to get to the number you need and double tap on the digit to place it in your outgoing number. Each time you add a digit, the entire number so far is spoken. Swiping right at any time will call the number entered.
When the phone receives a call when Voxmate is running, the app announces who is calling and says "Swipe right to answer." When the call is finished, you can swipe left to hang up.
World News. This app lists dozens of news sources from around the world. Swiping right takes you to a list of sections for that news source such as Headlines, All Articles, Sports, Culture, etc. Swiping right again takes you to a list of articles in that section, and swiping right again begins to read the selected article.
Sudoku. Swiping right from Play Sudoku takes you to a short menu with Solve a Sudoku and How to Play. If you have played previously and not finished a game, Continue Playing will also be on this menu. Swiping right from Solve a Sudoku brings you to a menu of five complexity levels. Swiping right on the one you want takes you to the game grid. Swiping right opens the game grid with the focus in the center. The interface for this game was a bit complex but it is definitely playable.
The Future of Voxmate
Additional functions and features are being added to Voxmate frequently. In addition, Voxmate developers plan to open Voxmate to third-party developers. This will allow users to install apps that meet their specific needs, and be able to use them in the familiar Voxmate environment. For more information about Voxmate, visit the Voxmate website.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.