A Case StudyHow Your Product Can Benefit From User Feedback

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Like many great ideas, ours was born of a problem. When I was a graduate student at MIT, I sat next to a classmate who is visually impaired. He would whisper to me to ask the time, even though he wore a watch — which prompted me to wonder how the blind tell time.

I later learned from my classmate that he had a talking watch that announced the time out loud when he pressed a button, but he rarely used it in public because he found it disruptive and embarrassing. After that conversation with my classmate, I went home and Googled “watch for the blind”. I couldn’t believe what I saw.

The only options for the visually impaired were the disruptive talking watch that my classmate had told me about and a tactile watch1 that required users to lift the face and touch the hands to read time. The latter option, I learned, was fairly fragile, and users could easily displace the hands.

I was shocked. Here we are in the 21st century, and we don’t have a product that makes it easy for everyone to tell time! Clocks and timepieces are all around us — from the microwave in your kitchen to the smartphone in your back pocket — but the digital display still fails to address one basic issue: We have to look at it.

Telling time, then, requires sight.

Our Methodology

I became determined to solve this problem. I began experimenting with prototypes, then brought those prototypes to users for feedback on how to improve the design.

This section explains the process we took, from concept to Kickstarter2. We’ll go through our initial prototyping process, then explain how user testing transformed the way we approached the design, and conclude by detailing how we developed the final product.

Our First Prototype

When I set out on this mission, I knew I needed to get feedback from users as early as possible. As soon as I had the design on paper, I looked for user groups. But I quickly learned that the traditional approach to research and development — using a drawing or video demo to solicit user feedback — was impossible for this project. Because our target users are blind, we had to make the product and take it to them.

We also knew that we needed to take a different approach than designers who had come before us, because the fragile hands that have been used on timepieces for the blind can easily be moved out of place. We began experimenting with ball bearings as indicators, held in place with magnets.

Our first prototype was about as simple as you can get and was made of the last material you’d expect: Legos. We used fewer than 20 Lego pieces, plus small magnets and two ball bearings. We brought that to user groups — more on that process below — and once we confirmed positive feedback on our concept design, we refined the prototypes by printing parts with laser-cutters and 3-D printers.

Image: Lego Prototype3
Our first prototype was made of fewer than 20 Lego pieces, plus small magnets and two ball bearings. (Large preview4)

We also added actual watch movements to make working prototypes. Making the prototype work at the actual size of a watch, with standard watch movements and a standard watch battery, was important to getting accurate feedback.

Image: An early prototype of The Bradley5
Another of our early prototypes was designed to fit your wrist. (Large preview6)

User Testing

To find quality user groups, I reached out to organizations that serve the blind and visually impaired and attended meetings with their members. Each time, I brought one or two prototypes of my tactile timepiece and let them try it on.

With only a few prototypes to go around in the initial phases, these presentations to groups of 20 or 30 members proved to be frustrating. A limited number of people were using the timepiece at any given time, with others waiting impatiently to try the product. So, I began meeting with users one on one at their homes and businesses instead. Those meetings tended to be far more fruitful because users could take their time with the product and offer comprehensive feedback.

Image: Video of User Testing7
This video8 shows our early research with the visually impaired, as well as some of our early prototypes and how users interacted with them.

Sound time-consuming? It was. But this user research, the process of meeting in person and creating prototypes, was also incredibly valuable — so valuable, in fact, that it completely transformed our approach to the design.

Sure, we made some small discoveries, like where to place the indicators. But the biggest thing we learned was something we didn’t expect. Through this process, we identified unique needs of our users that we hadn’t realized exist: We learned that they are as concerned with fashion and style as they are with function.

In almost every meeting with a person who is visually impaired, one of the first questions was always about the look, the material, the size and even the color of the watch — components that I hadn’t strongly considered in my original vision.

That user feedback changed everything.

The User Interview That Changed Our Vision

One woman who helped us works in the fashion industry and has a son who is visually impaired. As her son approached his 18th birthday, she wanted to buy him one of the only high-fashion accessories available to men, a nice watch. But she was dismayed to find that no fashionable watch for the blind exists. Everything she found was ugly or cheap or, worse, had a bulky design that called attention to the wearer’s disability.

This woman was thrilled to discover we were developing just the product she was looking for. She was so thrilled, in fact, that she borrowed a prototype to take home to her son.

The next day she returned to tell us that her son hadn’t even bothered to try on the watch. He didn’t want to wear a watch that was specifically for the blind, she said, no matter how convenient the technology.

In conversations with people who are visually impaired, we were surprised to hear this feedback again and again. They want to wear a watch that everyone else is wearing, not one specifically designed for someone with a disability. A product designed “for the blind” would accentuate the barriers and differences between the blind and the sighted. Wearers would be no better off with it than with the talking watch in the MIT classroom.

Similarly, we found that when presenting the timepiece to sighted users, portraying it as a “watch for the blind” that the sighted could wear as well garnered a rather lukewarm reaction. They were disenchanted with a product designed for the visually impaired.

When we instead introduced the watch to sighted users as an innovative, tactile timepiece that would help them tell time without having to look down at their wrist at inopportune moments — during long business meetings, less-than-magical dates or dinners with family — the response was much more enthusiastic.

So, we made a huge shift, transitioning from a timepiece for the blind to a high-fashion product designed to be inclusive, a product that would help everyone tell time easily. When users, whether visually impaired or sighted, fell in love with the fashionable design and innovative function of the timepiece first, then learning the motivation behind it later only boosted their interest.

Research, Insight and More Prototyping

As we gained insight from users, we continued to build prototypes, improving the design. Each time, we created a prototype that reflected what we’d learned.

After more than a year, we contracted a watch manufacturer to create a prototype that was more in line with what the actual timepiece would look and feel like. This prototype was made of the same materials that would go into the final product; so, more than ever before, our test groups were able to get a feel for how it would work and how it would feel on their wrist. We also modified many of our hand-made parts to be suitable for mass production.

All told, we went through 15 iterations in less than two years.

Below are three major improvements we made with each passing prototype.

1. Placement of Indicators

Early designs had both ball bearings — one for the minute and the other for the hour — on the face, like a traditional watch. But we learned from users that this made it difficult to distinguish the hour from the minute indicator. So, we moved one ball bearing to the side of the timepiece.

But which indicator would we move? We watched how test groups used the timepiece and realized that when someone checks the time, they typically already have a sense of the hour and are checking for the minute. That decided it for us: We left the minute indicator on the face of the timepiece and moved the hour to the side.

Image: Final prototype of The Bradley9
Our completed prototype had a ball bearing on the face and another on the side.

2. Using Magnets Strategically

We also used the prototyping process to address what until now has been a major issue with tactile timepieces, that users can unwittingly move the indicators out of place.

Because we weren’t using hands, as other products do, this was less likely, but still possible. We engineered the timepiece so that the magnets hold the ball bearings in place. If they’re bumped or moved, they might fall out of position, but a quick shake of the wrist would set them back to the correct positions.

Over time, we also developed raised marks on the face to indicate the hours, with major marks at 12:00, 3:00, 6:00 and 9:00 textured to make them easier to distinguish.

3. The Look of the Timepiece

Because users were highly concerned with how the watch looks, we put a lot of effort into making it fashionable. We chose durable titanium for the body, with a choice of two wristbands, one a stainless steel mesh, the other a leather and fabric combo. We even ran a poll on our Facebook page to see which of our wristband colors was most coveted by our community.

While we had first focused solely on function, we’d now integrated another component that was essential to success: aesthetics.

Image: The Bradley in various colors10
The body of ‘The Bradley’ is titanium, making it sleek, easy to clean and durable. Watch bands are available in a classic stainless steel mesh or in fabric and leather in three different colors.

Obtaining a Patent

When we realized we were truly onto something, we set out to obtain a patent — which led to a slew of other discoveries and ideas. We found designs for prototypes of tactile watches11 that already exist! None had truly succeeded in the marketplace, and most never even made it to market, but they served as inspiration nonetheless.

Image: Tactile patent design12
The first design patent on record to use magnets and ball bearings was issued in 1959. (View more detailed drawings of patent no. 2915874.13)

Image: Another tactile patent design14
Another utility patent issued in 1998, patent no. 5805531,15 is similar to the one above. When we dove into the legalities, we discovered that the earlier patent covers what the latter patent claims, so the earlier patent invalidates the latter.

We hope that our designs serve as inspiration for designers in the future, too. Once our patent is approved — it’s now pending — we plan to make it available for free to anyone who wants to improve on our design.

Compared to other watches, our design is different in two main ways.

Structurally, the watch works differently. It has one ball bearing on the face and one on the side, while all other designs have two indicators on the face. This is a subtle difference but an important one because it enables the timepiece to accurately tell time without the two magnets interfering with each other. As explained above, it also makes it easier for the user to distinguish between the hour and minute indicators.

Aesthetically, our timepiece looks fashionable. Other designs are focused mainly on function, but our timepiece is also a fashion accessory.

Our Pivot: We Stopped Designing A Watch For The Blind

To solve the problem I’d set out to tackle, I had to forget about it. I had to focus on designing an innovative and fashionable accessory that everyone would love — and that everyone could use, too. That’s how our company got its name16, Eone, and it’s how The Bradley became the timepiece it is today.

The minimalist tactile design of our timepiece addresses one simple issue we all face: Sometimes we aren’t able to look at our watch to tell time. Even if you’re lucky enough to have eyesight, you’ll no doubt find yourself in situations where looking at your watch would be rude or impossible. In these situations, touching your watch is a far superior solution.

While embracing this pivot last year, my team and I discovered Brad Snyder via YouTube17. Brad trained for the Paralympics after losing his eyesight from an IED in Afghanistan less than a year before, and he went on to win gold and silver medals in swimming in the 2012 London Paralympics. Brad’s determination, work ethic and positive attitude inspired us. And we had something big in common: We both aimed to show the world that blindness doesn’t make it impossible to achieve amazing things. Brad has since become both our official spokesperson and the namesake of our first timepiece18, The Bradley.

Our Pre-order Campaign On Kickstarter

Now that we’re ready to manufacture our first round of timepieces, we’ve turned to our users for support in funding the product that they helped us to develop. The response has been overwhelming! Months after investors balked at our request for funding, saying that the market for watches is too crowded, our supporters pre-ordered in droves.

We surpassed our funding goal of $40,000 on the first day of our Kickstarter campaign19, and in the end we raised more than $594,000 — ten times our initial goal — from more than 3,850 backers. We are so grateful to our supporters for helping us show that you can create a product with beautiful form, while still offering exceptional, inclusive design and function.

(al, ea, il)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.eone-time.com/blog/tactile-watch-histor/
  2. 2 http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/eone/the-bradley-a-timepiece-designed-to-touch-and-see
  3. 3 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/lego-prototype_mini.jpg
  4. 4 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/lego-prototype_mini.jpg
  5. 5 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/early-prototype-of-the-bradley_mini.jpg
  6. 6 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/early-prototype-of-the-bradley_mini.jpg
  7. 7 http://vimeo.com/65405609#
  8. 8 http://vimeo.com/65405609
  9. 9 http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/eone/the-bradley-a-timepiece-designed-to-touch-and-see
  10. 10 http://eone-time.com/shop.php
  11. 11 http://www.eone-time.com/blog/are-we-the-first/
  12. 12 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/TactilePatent1_mini.png
  13. 13 ”https://www.google.com/patents?id=UFNKAAAAEBAJ&pg=PA1&dq=2915874&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=2#v=onepage&q=2915874&f=false”
  14. 14 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/TactilePatent2_mini.png
  15. 15 https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pages/US5805531-2.png
  16. 16 http://www.eone-time.com/blog/the-story-behind-our-company-name-eone/
  17. 17 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7m9qgbovFy8
  18. 18 http://www.eone-time.com/blog/why-we-named-our-first-timepiece-after-brad-snyder/
  19. 19 http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/eone/the-bradley-a-timepiece-designed-to-touch-and-see

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Hyungsoo Kim is founder and CEO of eone timepieces. A firm believer in the importance of universal design, his goal is to create innovative products that are accessible to everyone. Hyungsoo holds an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management and a BA/MA in psychology from Wesleyan University. Visit eone's website to pre-order The Bradley.

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  1. 1

    Many, many years ago before I was even born and the pocket watch was popular. My grandfather had a blind man’s watch. The same button on top that was used to wind it and set the time, also acted as a switch to tell you what time it was by pushing down on it.

    When you pressed the switch, it would ding a number of times to tell you what hour it was and ding another set to tell you the minutes. It didn’t ding 3 times and then 50 times to tell you it’s 3:50. But I kind of recall, it abbreviated the min time by quarter hours.

    Keep in mind that this was before batteries were used in watches.

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    • 2

      It’s a quarter repeater, there’s also half-quarter, five-minute and minute repeater that able to speak time more accurate.

      Those things are really complex , expensive (especially if they’re wrist watches) and need a lot of care, hand winding everyday, will off by a few minute each week. This one is quartz that off by maximum 40s each month, battery for about a few months (the normal one with light hands can last for more than two years) and can tell time without making any sound, it’s great.

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      • 3

        Ah, cool. I know it had to be really expensive just from the look of it. When he purchased it, it had to be roughly around the 1950′s-60′s.

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  2. 4

    A great idea and a great product! Thanks for sharing your insights about the design process.

    Do you have any feedback from the visually impaired about the accuracy of the watch – meaning are they able to tell exact time from it or “accurate enough” (within a couple of minutes)?

    Adding a discrete vibrating buzzer on the case-back or bracelet (detectable only to the wearer) might be a good way to indicate exact time (perhaps hourly, or every 15 minutes)… have you guys considered something like that?

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    • 5

      Hyungsoo from Eone

      October 2, 2013 6:06 am

      Hi Slavko,
      Most of the users, both the blind and sighted, were able to tell time fairly accurately within 1~2 minutes. We did once thought of using the vibration mechanism, but that would take quite a bit of battery and we didn’t want the users to change the battery so frequently. There was a wristwatch by Tissot with vibration, but they don’t produce it anymore.

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  3. 6

    A great story.

    I wonder though. Being blind to a point of not being able to tell day or night, one could derive the hour and minute well enough, but not AM/PM, no? I understand that for the majority of times, being able to tell from your own body’s exhaustion level whether it is morning or night, but I was wondering if such an indicator was as desired from the user.

    Nonetheless, a very stylish and amazing timepiece. The indomitable human spirit knows no limitations! Kudos to those involved.

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    • 7

      Most blind people usually follow a strictly set out schedule like everyone else, like:

      Wake up -> work/school -> home -> sleep

      Except, of course not as simple as that. Since they know the timing of all of these things, they can usually use the current time and activity to figure out whether they are in the AM or PM.

      Now, if they take a nap or don’t follow this schedule for a day, I’m not so sure…

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    • 8

      Hyungsoo from Eone

      October 2, 2013 6:12 am

      Hi Aaron,
      1.2 test users out of 10 users in average indicated that they would want to have AM/PM indicator, but it would add too much complexity cost to our design. So, we couldn’t have AM/PM indicator on our first model but it’s definitely something we will keep thinking about:)

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  4. 9

    Hmm, I wonder if having a watch with one button that tells you the time, date, am/fm is still more practical.

    There could be a “scroll” button for volume and you could just put the watch right against your ear in those rare moments where you can’t disturb anyone and you absolutely need to know the time for some reason.

    Nice story though.

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    • 10

      Based on the feedback the author received, I’m not sure this would be a welcomed solution. A major concern of the blind users tested was drawing attention to themselves. Holding a watch up to ones ear isn’t a very subtle movement and would likely draw the exact kind of attention blind users would prefer to avoid.

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  5. 11

    I have to preface by saying that, this is a wonderful idea and design.

    1. Given that, my first impression from this article was “This is a watch for rich blind people who care a lot for fashion”. This was confirmed on seeing the price point of The Bradley, on the Eone website.

    Out of curiosity, would the watch have been more affordable to not-so-rich visually impaired people had you not focused on being fashionable and just delivered a functional watch that did not rely on sight? Did any of your UX research include low-income groups?

    For a company that aims to provide accessibility and believes in “good design is universal”, in my opinion, you do seem to be catering to the fashion-conscious rich people.

    2. I was going to comment that your website is not very accessible by screen readers, but from reading your blog, you do seem to be taking steps in that direction. Maybe the Smashing Community has some advice on that front.

    Like I said, this is a great idea and thanks for letting us in on your process.

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    • 12

      Hyungsoo from Eone

      October 2, 2013 6:21 am

      Hi Kartik,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! You’re right. That’s true that the pricing point of The Bradley is quite high to be affordable to ‘everyone’. This is something we are trying very hard to change, hopefully sooner than later. The main reason the price is high is because we wanted to make it durable and last long. The Bradley is made out of titanium and the watch movement we’re using is not a commonly used one. But we’re working on finding a more affordable material and watch movement that would give high durability.
      And we’re currently working on fixing the accessibility of our website. It will be fully accessible to screen reader users in about three weeks!

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      • 13

        Hyungsoo,

        That is good to know. I’m glad to see people thinking about accessibility beyond ramps, and screen readers.

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  6. 14

    I think that it is better to use 2 parralel tracks with 2 balls – for hours and for minutes, which are independent. In your model it is very hard to determine time in range of 5 minutes and with two balls it is not problem at all.

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    • 15

      Hyungsoo from Eone

      October 3, 2013 4:14 pm

      Hi Anna,
      Our timepiece does have two balls, one indicating the minute and another one indicating the hour, so you will be able to tell time as accurately as any other analogue watches. The reason we don’t have the two balls on the surface is that first, the mechanical structure of the watch movement doesn’t allow that, and second, having two balls on the surface was a bit confusing when you try to tell time by touching it.
      Our decision for placing the minute ball on the surface and the hour ball on the side was from user groups testing result. We realized that when people check time, we check the minute first because we usually have good sense of the hour. So, when people touch it (or see it), they know the minute immediately. Then, if you still want to check the hour, you check the hour ball bearing (by touching or seeing).
      But we’re not saying our design is perfect by no means! It still has lots to improve. We will do our best to improve the design in the future!

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  7. 16

    For $175 I’d expect a lot more…

    A rose gold bezel? The area where the hour marks are, inlaid with white marble? At least that would hide the greasy finger marks that are evident, even on your marketing material.

    Just because it has a titanium case does not make it aesthetically pleasing or “designer”.

    No offence, it’s a good watch. It’s just really not that “pretty”. It looks… unfinished.

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    • 17

      That’s definitely a personal taste issue. I’ve spent the last year looking for watches that fit my own style, is this is one of the few designs to which I’ve been strongly attracted. Considering the thickness of the timepiece necessary for its function, I imagine a lot of care went in to choosing materials that keep it light and comfortable.

      If I hadn’t already found a watch recently that suited me, I’d very strongly consider ordering this.

      And great story, by the way. I’ve recently been involved in my first usability testing experience, and it’s really fascinating. It’s really nice see read different perspectives.

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      • 18

        It is a taste thing, for sure. But if you’re aiming at mass appeal, you need to aim at mass taste. I’m not sure “thing that fell off the bottom of a lorry, whittled by children in a perfunctory manner” has mass appeal.

        I could be wrong… :)

        “Considering the thickness of the timepiece necessary for its function, I imagine a lot of care went in to choosing materials that keep it light and comfortable.”

        Ceramic would’ve been a lighter, harder wearing option. Less prone to being tarnished with fingerprint oil too…

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  8. 19

    What a great story! It really caught my attention and I appreciate the creativity of the work, even if all can’t afford it. Wonderfully told, kudos to you for the problem-solving and effort.

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  9. 20

    Has Bob priced watches lately? Seiko or Citizen watches average $300 to $400 for the low end at Macy’s and go up from there . Then there are the Tag Heuer and Movado “designer” watches that cost thousands. And beauty is in the eyes of the beholder… I think it has a very modern and sleek appearance.

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  10. 21

    hehe

    lovely!

    just the way a pitch can really sell ‘When we instead introduced the watch to sighted users as an innovative, tactile timepiece that would help them tell time without having to look down at their wrist at inopportune moments — during long business meetings, less-than-magical dates or dinners with family — the response was much more enthusiastic.’

    when we solve a problem, everything else follows

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  11. 22

    I don’t typically comment here (more lurking); but, this warranted commenting. Love the idea and execution. Great insight into your design process too. I’m not visually impaired; however, I’ll consider buying this. As you wrote, the story behind it just makes it even more interesting. Keep it up! I look forward to seeing your future work:)

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  12. 23

    Sadly, videos are not captioned for millions of deaf and hard of hearing people. But otherwise the invention is cool!

    0
  13. 24

    Your design is quite beautiful but makes it complicated for a blind person who never learned to tell time on a round clockface (analog). Why not just use braille lettering on a digital face?

    0
    • 25

      @anne meyer

      The Braille one
      - would not also be usable by everyone else: so, the opposite of “inclusive design”
      - even many blind don’t know Braille. Braille literacy is, unfortunately, pretty low. 20%?
      - I can be visually impaired without being blind. Would I see my watch well? No. Would I know Braille? No.

      Those are likely the reasons, because actually I’m sure others have considered a Braille watch as well.

      Edit: just thought of another consideration: analog watches work better cross-language as well. Braille can differ (at least in the various Grades) between languages, though I’m not sure if numbers-for-time differ so much.

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  14. 26

    My husband and I were actually able to get Bradley watches through the Kickstarter campaign. While they are a little on the large side for a woman to wear, it looks perfectly fine on my husband (who is legally blind). Some may feel that the full retail price point is on the high side, I disagree. My husband doesn’t read Braille and, before getting a Bradley, relied on talking watches. While the talking watches were inexpensive, they were not very durable at all. On average, we had to replace my husband’s watch every 3-4 months … Sometimes more often if it got wet in an unexpected rain storm or if he accidentally bumped it too hard on something. So, each year we ended up paying at least $80 USD or more replacing his watch. As sturdy as the Bradley feels and based on the materials used in its construction, I fully believe that it will last for many, many years which, in the long run, will end up being cheaper for us than staying with the less durable talking watches.

    As for the comment about finger prints or smudges on the face, we haven’t had any problems with this at all. It should be noted that the Bradley is water resistant to 59 meters. So, unlike Braille or talking watches, if it (or you) get dirty, you can wash up without ruining the watch.

    0

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