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Leaning Into the Fine Print

You may not have to squint or use reading glasses with this new software

Summary

  • Simply lean toward the monitor and the screen will zoom in on what you are viewing
  • Software was developed via the Quality of Life Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University
  • Product is available for Mac and PC users

 

A walk through this year's Consumer Electronics Show made it clear that software and hardware developers are paying a lot more attention to the boomer and seniors markets. But few integrate mainstream technology with this generation's special needs as effectively as Lean & Zoom software.

Basically, it uses your computer's built-in (or add-on) camera to zoom in on the screen as you lean into it. If, like many of us, your eyesight is less than perfect, you already lean toward the screen to read the fine print. Lean & Zoom tracks your head movement and expands screen content as you lean toward it. The process is entirely adjustable so you can get a lot of zoom for a little lean. This could help improve posture and reduce eyestrain.

Goodbye squinting. Goodbye reading glasses. Goodbye backache.

Two Modes, Two Platforms

You can adjust the software either to a continuous zoom, or to a series of graduated steps. In the continuous mode, you can choose between a fast and slow reaction. The stepped approach allows you more control. So, for example, you can set the system so a 10 percent lean toward the screen results in a 20 percent zoom. The second step might be a 20 percent lean for a 40 percent zoom. You can take it up to a 100 percent zoom. I found continuous zoom a little jumpy, but was quite happy with the stepped approach.

The software comes out of the Quality of Life Technology Center (QoLT) at Carnegie Mellon University, developed by Ph.D. student Chris Harrison. The university has set up a separate company to commercialize the product, and you can buy it at Leanandzoomllc.com for $27.99. The software is available for both Mac and PC.

I found the Mac version relatively easy to install, and quite stable to use. Because it overlays all of your programs, it behaves differently from most applications. The program shows up as a small icon on the upper right hand part of the screen, instead of the dock where you expect to find Mac programs. The documentation is a little sparse, but the company says better documentation is on the way.

My experience with the Windows 7 version (earlier versions of Windows are not supported) was not quite as smooth. Because the program draws on your camera and on screen magnification, there are lots of things that could be going on in your Windows computer that can conflict with Lean & Zoom. For example, it won't work if you have Skype running at the same time. It took a few calls to tech support and some tweaks on their part to get the software working. And again, documentation leaves something to be desired. They don't tell you that you have to hunt for the settings icon, which may be hidden on the lower right-hand corner of the screen.

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