Steve Kelley

There is nothing like a good handheld or pocket magnifier to make things easier to read around the house, work, or at the store. Like many people with low vision my go-to magnifier is a small, Eschenbach magnifier that goes everywhere with me in a pocket. It’s used countless times a day with my smartphone, mail, notes, paper documents--you name it. Sometimes, the smartphone camera or app makes a quick alternative for a video magnifier, if better light or more contrast is needed. Both the smartphone and the pocket magnifier are handy and usually get the job done but leave a lot to be desired. If your passion is easy, portable access to print that can be highly customized to your reading needs, Eschenbach’s new video magnifier, the Smartlux Digital has features that may quickly convert you to a handheld video magnifier, and make you wonder how you ever got by with the other alternatives.

In the past, one of the drawbacks to many handheld video magnifiers has been the extra weight, compared to most optical handheld magnifiers. One of my first observations, out of the box, with the Smartlux is the light weight—only 8.5 ounces. In addition, the design is unique in that the video magnifier rests in the palm of your hand as you hold it. Much of the weight comes from the rechargeable Li-ion battery tucked into the end that rests in your hand. This is a very comfortable position to hold the magnifier, reduced the weight at the end of the magnifier, and provided easy access to the four tactile buttons that provide the controls. For the user who might prefer a more traditional handle, the Smartlux offers an optional handle that quickly slides on and off the curved, ergonomic end.

Press and hold the power button for about 2 seconds, to light up the 5 inch HD display, which like the new ergonomic design, is impressive. The HD display keeps images sharp and clear. More importantly, there’s almost no drag or ghosting as the Smartlux is moved back and forth. Focus adjusts instantaneous regardless of whether you’re looking at something several inches away or several feet. Two adjustable LED lights provide plenty of illumination up close. Distance viewing with the Smartlux, past 20 ft. is less optimal, and the image quality pixilates in dimmer light.

What’s in the box?

The Smartlux ships with several other extras:

  • Eschenbach includes a serious foam case for the Smartlux—sturdy and well padded.
  • A charging brick and USB cable, with several adapters for international electrical outlets.
  • A lanyard that connects to the Smartlux at the end where the battery is stored, to serve as a carrying strap or to put it around your neck.
  • User manuals in most popular languages.
  • Cleaning cloth.

Also included, but a bit less obvious at first, is a stand that folds out from beneath the Smartlux. When it’s fully opened the Smartlux can be used like a stand magnifier. In this mode, there’s no need to hold it, just set it on what you’re reading and slide it around the page as you read. The other position for the stand elevates the display enough that it can be used for some short writing tasks, like a signature or filling out a form. In addition to the optional handle, there are several other optional features that can be ordered with the Smartlux. A “bumper” that fits around the Smartlux to provide some protection if the magnifier is dropped. An HDMI cable is also available that connects the Smartlux to an external HDMI display for increased magnification or ease of viewing.

Basic operation

Overall, the Smartlux is simple to use, and has a more extensive menu to permit customization of features. The circular power button is on the end that rests in your palm. Between the power button and the display are four tactile buttons. If you are holding the Smartlux in your right hand the buttons, from top to bottom include:

  • Camera button to freeze an image or take a picture. The Smartlux comes with 8 GB of storage for pictures, and these can be transferred to a computer using the USB cable.
  • Plus (+) which will increase the magnification up to 15X.
  • Minus (-) to reduce magnification to the lowest level of 3X.   
  • Color filters, which Eschenbach refers to as False Color options. Although this button is limited to five options, there are a total of 14 different color combinations that can be preset for this button in the Settings menu. Also, pressing and holding this button will cycle through three LED light settings, from off at 0%, to 50% and 100%. 

On the edge of the display, opposite the handle, there is a menu button, positioned next to the USB input. The menu offers an extensive set of preferences that can be customized, including, but not limited to the color filters, a reading guideline, LED light brightness, etc. When the menu is opened, navigation is done using the plus or minus buttons, and selecting a choice using the camera button. Although the menu icons are large—three rows of five icons can fit on the display, there is no text-to-speech as items are selected. One of the menu options is for the Smartlux Quick Guide, available in many languages, which would also benefit from a text-to-speech option. The text can be magnified up to 8X, but doesn’t wrap on the Smartlux display when magnified. With the page magnified, pressing the Menu button allows the four main controls to be used to scroll left and right, top and bottom. It’s handy to have the user guide built in for quick reference, but navigating the pages is a bit clumsy.

One great feature included in the menu, is the ability to add a red reading guideline. This feature is not often found on video magnifiers and can make reading a bit easier for some users. This guideline can be positioned as either a horizontal or vertical line, and be repositioned in the Settings menu.

Magnification Simplified

With preferences set up, all the basic features of the Smartlux can be done easily using the four buttons near the power button. After turning the Smartlux on, adjust the light by holding down the color filters button. Select a color filter, if desired by cycling through the choices available for the best reading experience. Use the (+) or (-) buttons to increase or decrease magnification. To take a picture or freeze the image, just press the camera button once, and it will remain on the display. Press the camera button a second time and the display will return to live view and the image is stored in the Smartlux. To access saved images, or delete them, just go into the Menu and select the camera icon. The secondary camera menu offers options to cycle through stored images, magnify images, and delete unwanted ones.

Out of the box, the Smartlux is easy and intuitive to get started with. The many settings to customize user preferences through the menu, really enhance the ability to fine tune it for individual reading needs. The stand will make it much easier for some users to read longer material, like newspaper and magazine articles. The three hour battery life means the Smartlux will easily last through a trip to the library, reading the paper, or the on and off demands at work. Adding the HDMI port really increases the versatility, by connecting it to a larger monitor for greater magnification and a larger display. To get more information, watch a video of the new Smartlux Digital in action, or download a copy of the User Guide, check out the Smartlux Digital on Eschenbach’s website. The Smartlux Digital is available from retailers for $745.

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

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Steven Kelley
Article Topic
Product Reviews and Guides