When I saw the ABBYY TextGrabber app in the Google play store selling for only $2.00, I bought a copy. The FineReader works really well on my PC with the scanned material and I was hoping the TextGrabber would work equally well on a smartphone. What I was hoping the TextGrabber to do is to let me take a photo of the text on a item and let the OCR generate a text file from the photo, after that I would let Talkback read the text to me. I was hoping I can use this mobile app in the stores so I can read nutritional fact, cooking direction, and any other info before buying that item. I knew the TextGrabber was designed to recognize text on flat paper, and I wanted to fine out whether it would recognize text on flat surfaces like text on front and back of various packages.
The TextGrabber was not designed for a blind user in mind. A person who use this app must have enough vision to position the camera about 12 inches away from the text to take a photo. The app's main user interface screen only has 2 large icons but they were not label, soTalkback unable to tell you their function. Anyway, the upper icon is a camera and the lower icon is a photo album. The operation of this app is very easy. After you tap the camera icon, you would position the camera and tap the shutter button to take a photo of the text that you want the OCR function to work on. After the photo was taken, tap the read button, the OCR would convert the image into a text file in few seconds. When the text file appear on the screen, you tap the screen to let Talkback read the text to you. The photo album has the photos you took before and the OCR can work on those photo as well. The TextGrabber app also have a language translation function which I won't test at this time.
After taking photos of many type of packages, the result was very disappointing. The TextGrabber's OCR function had problem recognize almost all the text at the front of the package. The OCR did do a little bit better with text at the side of back of the packages. I think this is not the fault of TextGrabber because it was not design for this purpose. Anyway, I can't use this app to ID items or get useful info from packages. This app is pretty much useless to me as a shopping aid. luckily it only cost me $2.00.
Here are few photos:
|Box of tea bags|
|Box of cereal|
|Bottle of prune juice|
|Can of SPAM|
The app didn't do that much better with regular printed material either, like junk mail, post card, menu, etc. If I have to guess, it had at most 50% accuracy. The best OCR result came from a perfectly flat paper, with high contrast text and good lighting. The ABBYY FineReader running in my PC had much better OCR result, I estimated at least 90% accuracy. I am sure the resolution of the camera and the skill of a user also affect the OCR result. I ran the test on my LG 22C smartphone which has a 5MP camera.
Look like I would need to find something else if I like to ID stuff on my own. I aware of few alternative solutions.
I knew another mobile OCR app called KNFB Reader. This app was specially designed for blind user. This app usually cost $100 but often on sale for around $75. I have no idea whether it would do any better reading text on packages. I don't want to spend that kind of money to find out at this time. If anyone has experience on this app, feel free to comment below. As far as I can tell, no OCR can read text on a curved surface, that mean I couldn't use it the read the cooking direction on can food.
KNFB Reader Demo Video
Another app have received a lot of media attention isTapTapSee. This app let you take a photo of an object, send the photo to the cloud, and tell you what the object in the photo in about 10 seconds. This app is great if all you want is to ID an object. The last I checked, this service is no longer free. Right now there are 2 price plan. One costs $8.00 to ID 100 images with no time limit. The other costs $9.00 per month with unlimited number of image.
TapTapSee Demo Video
If you need live help to ID a item, BeMyEyes is an app let that let a blind user and a sighted volunteer establish a video conference link on smartphone so the volunteer can tell the user what the camera is pointing at and provide additional info if needed. This is a free service.
BeMyEyes Demo video
The info at the directionsforme.com is what I was hoping in a mobile app. The website contains product info on thousands of food items, health care items and other misc items. You can search the info by product name or using an optional barcode scanner. Won't it be great if an app can use a smartphone's camera as a scanner and enter the UPC code directly into the database? Probably someone is working on that reight now, I hope.
I really hate RP, I have to jump through hoops just to get some simple info.