Accessibility in Huawei Mate 9

Tuesday, 20 December, 2016

By Amóvil

The Huawei Mate 9 in golden

The Mate 9, Huawei’s newest flagship smartphone, stands out for its long battery life, innovative design and large size. This device is suitable for Deaf users or people with vision impairments. We were able to review it thanks to the collaboration of Movistar España.

General features and specifications

The Mate 9 is powered by Android 7.0 Nougat and runs on a powerful octacore Hisilicon Kirin 960 processor at 2.4 + 1.8 GHz.

This phone, which has been deemed a phablet by some reviewers because of its large size, is a very elegant unibody device that measures 156.9 x 78.9 x 7.9 mm and has a weight of 190 grams.

Its display is a 5.9 inches IPS LCD panel with 1080 x 1920 pixels resolution protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3.

It is also equipped with two cameras: a 20 megapixels dual-lens camera that sits on the back with Leica optics, autofocus and dual tone flash, and another one on the front with 8 megapixels ideal for videocalls.

Regarding connectivity, the phone comes with Bluetooth 4.2, A-GPS, NFC and Wifi Direct as well as a USB Type C reversible connector. It also includes 64 GB expandable up to 256 GB with a microSD Card and 4 GB of RAM.

Accessibility review

The Mate 9 comes with several interesting features that can improve the experience of users with disabilities. However, the order in which they appear is not very intuitive. They are distributed in different menus and sometimes it is hard to find them or remember their location.

This is particularly true for the accessibility settings menu. This menu has been placed under Advance Settings a subcategory of Settings. This location can be problematic for some users with disabilities. People who depend on assistive technology, such as screen readers, may have a hard time figuring out where accessibility settings are at.

In addition, the accessibility menu has a non-intuitive structure. Features are not divided by type of interaction or disability, and this can also be a problem to people who need assistive technology.

However, an aspect worth mentioning that can be helpful for some is that when an accessibility feature is enabled a message informing about it pops up. This message is accompanied by a quick access to disable the feature, in case it was activated by accident.

Vision

The Mate 9 comes with a version of TalkBack preinstalled that works well. In fact, this device is accessible to blind people.

It also includes several features that can improve access to people with low vision. Users can adjust the font size by opening Settings>Display>Font Size.

The application offers a sample text that shows the actual size of the font selected as the user slides the bar. Changes made will appear in all interfaces including the text beneath the icons. However, the Extrahuge size will only be displayed in Messaging, Contacts and Dialer.

The Mate 9 also comes with a screen magnifier (magnification gestures) and a feature to invert foreground and background colors for users who cannot see colors well. Although this feature is offered in an experimental mode, it works very well.

The View Mode and the Eye Comfort Mode are two additional features added by Huawei that can contribute to improve the experience of users with disabilities even though it seems that they were not designed for accessibility purposes.

The View Mode lets users adjust the size of icons on the display. Users can choose between small, medium and large sizes. To enable this option users must tap on Settings>Display> View Mode.

The Eye comfort mode decreases the amount of the blue light emitted from the screen to reduce eye strain. This feature can be activated on Settings>Display>Eye comfort mode.

Hearing

The Huawei Mate 9 is not hearing aid compatible so people with hearing disabilities who wear hearing aids or have a cochlear implant will not be able to handle phone calls with their devices set on the Telecoil mode. For this reason we cannot recommend the Mate 9 to these users. However, they might be able to handle phone calls with their hearing aids on M (microphone) mode, but will hear the ambient noise.

This phone is adequate for people with profound deafness. Like other smartphones in the market, it supports text messages, instant messaging and videocalls. The Mate 9 also displays captions for audiovisual content.

Dexterity

We are unable to recommend the Mate 9 to people with dexterity disabilities. One reason is that both power and volume keys are too hard to press. This affects people with little strength in the upper extremities who may not be able to handle these keys comfortably or at all.

The Mate 9 comes with Google Now which that lets users make phone calls or send messages with voice commands. However, controlling the entire device with their voices is not possible.

However, controlling this handset with writing stick is not possible. Huawei does not offer a feature that would reproduce side key functions from the display.

There is a feature named Floating Dock that seems promising but at this moment it cannot be considered an actual solution to these users. The Floating Dock works in a similar fashion to Samsung’s Assistant Menu or LG’s Touch Assistant which allow users with dexterity disabilities carry out actions such as taking screen captures with simple gestures or writing sticks.

When the Floating Dock is enabled, a light gray circle appears on the screen. It can be dragged to the left or right with one finger for easier access. When tapped it reveals 5 icons: the home, back and Recents keys that are also at the bottom of the display, a padlock (screen lock) and a brush (color optimization).

While this feature makes navigating this device easier, it has several accessibility issues that do not render it adequate to people with disabilities. As mentioned before, it does not offer an actual solution to the problems people with dexterity disabilities usually face. In addition, it has a white over gray color combination that makes it hard to people with low vision to see it and interact with it. Also, icons have no text underneath so some people may not be able to figure out their functions.

Another interesting feature available in the Mate 9 is Knuckle Gestures. This functionality could be useful to some users but it will depend on the nature of their disability. This app allows taking screen captures by double tapping with one knuckle on the display. This was quite easy to do and the systems responded as expected during the test.

This app also makes possible launching apps or scrolling down by drawing a letter on the display. However, it is not very useful partly because the screen is unable to tell between a finger and a knuckle touch.

Comprehension

We cannot recommend the Mate 9 to people with limited comprehension skills. An important barrier was observed is the design of the navigation keys located at the bottom of the display. It consists of a triangle, a square and a circle. This design can be confusing for there is nothing that would help these users readily know the functions of these keys.

However, the device provides an option to simplify the Home screen by selecting the Simple mode on Advance Settings. The screen will display a simpler layout and bigger icons. For more information about accessibility features available in this device, please consult our full accessibility report.

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