Review of Custom Boards by Smarty Ears

I was the lucky recipient of a code for the Premium version of this app, which currently costs $39.99. My review took longer than expected but I managed to finally squeeze it in. Apologies for the delay!

Bottom line: If you are a therapist, teacher or other professional who routinely uses visuals, I would highly recommend this app. For parents, if you use visuals a lot to communicate with your children, then read through the review and watch the video. If you use (or think you would use) the visuals shown, then download the free version of Custom Boards from iTunes. You can then either just buy the boards you want via in-app purchases, or you can go ahead and buy the Premium version of the app.

Rather than go through the mechanics of the app in great detail, I’ve included below a video from the developer, which goes through the basics of how the app works. There was a major update to the app at the beginning of June, after this video was recorded. I used the app both before and after that update and a number of the features added were ones I was hoping to see, so I’ll start by outlining the new features I really like.

New features I really like:

  • To see a complete list of new features in version 1.5, see the app’s iTunes description.
  • When creating a visual, in addition to adding images from the collection of 11,000 Smarty Symbols that come with the app or from your device’s camera roll, the user can now use Google to find an image from within the app. I love this feature and wish other developers would take note – it saves so much time when trying to find the right image.
  • For labelling visuals the app now provides a selection of different types of font, together with the option of placing the label either above or below the image. Current research indicates that placing the label above the image supports the development of reading skills; if the label is below the image then there is a tendency for the child to focus solely on the image to the exclusion of the label used.
  • The boards can now be saved onto a device’s camera roll which is fantastic for me, because via photostream that ensures that all the boards I create are automatically on all our iOS devices, as well as stored in iCloud. As I have my photo albums synced with my dropbox this also means I can access the visuals created from anywhere.
Here’s a calendar that I made summarizing our activities for last week. I used Smarty Symbols, photos from my iPad’s camera roll and images from Google.

What I liked about the app in general:

  • Making visuals is extremely quick and easy and you can make them on the fly just as easily as you can in advance. It took me less than five minutes to make this choice board so that Owen could choose a dvd:
  • Colour-coding of visuals – for those who use visuals for AAC purposes (using the Fitzgerald key for example), the ability to add colours to visuals is vital.
  • The boards look like the ones that the boys are used to using in therapy which really cuts down the learning curve in terms of their use. For example, here’s a ‘First Then’ board I quickly put together when someone wanted to skip chores and watch Thomas:
  • The boards are easy to share. In addition to being able to save them to your device’s camera roll you can print, save to pdf and email the visuals. So parents can easily share them with grandparents, child care providers, teachers and therapists.
  • This is a cost-effective and mobile way to make visuals. Even the Premium version is a lot cheaper than Boardmaker and you aren’t tied to a desktop.

My wish list for future updates:

In terms of making visuals, I would love to see the following features added:

  • The ability to ‘pinch’ an image to adjust it’s size relative to the label.
  • Be able to change the size of the font used.
  • Layering – i.e., adding more than one image to a visual.
  • Default settings – it would be great to be able to set as defaults the font I typically use, as well as have the label always appear above the image. Currently, I have to select these every time I make a visual.
  • Saving a visual. Currently, you can only save complete templates rather than individual visuals. I would love to be able to save the ones I make if I anticipate using them frequently in different boards. For example, the visual above for Thomas the Tank Engine.

With respect to boards, the following enhancements would be wonderful:

  • A ‘Not available’ overlay for an image. For example, rather than creating a new choice board, I would like to be able to edit a template and click on the option(s) that are not currently available. Below is a template I made so Owen could select his preferred option for a snack. It would be great to be able to quickly indicate that Ritz crackers (for example) were currently not available.
  • The addition of more editing features to templates including copy/paste and moving items. For example, when creating the calendar above, I couldn’t find a way to copy and paste the ‘Surrey Place’ visual which meant I had to create it five separate times. In addition, there is no way to easily re-order items. This is particularly important for me with respect to choice boards. I want to move visuals around the boards frequently so that I know if Owen is choosing ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ it’s because he knows the picture and the label, rather than remembering it’s the first item on the grid.
  • A way of customizing the boards themselves. For example, our calendars typically list Monday first, so having one that shows Sunday as the first day of the week is confusing for the boys (and me!). Another example would be the ‘Bingo’ board. I play ‘Bingo’ with the boys but a 4×4 grid is a little large for their current skill level – it would be great if I could adjust the size.
  • Adding a one-visual (1×1) board. There are currently signs that you can use to create these but signs cannot be customized in terms of colour choice.

I’ve given you more than one example of how I’ve used Custom Boards to create grids but there are over 100 boards in the Premium version of the app, including ones to make signs and labels, create activities, games, journals, schedules, calendars and so on. Even without my wish-list items, I think that teachers and therapists would use this app daily. For parents, I love that there is a free version of the app to try – this is always greatly appreciated (by therapists and teachers as well of course) when scant resources are already stretched thin. I highly recommend that everyone considering using an app to create visuals try the free version of Custom Boards and see if it would meet their needs in terms of creating visual supports.

What I love most about this app is how quick and easy it is to make templates – if the features on my wish-list were added they would make this process even quicker and easier, leading to an even stronger recommendation.

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2 Comments on “Review of Custom Boards by Smarty Ears”

  1. VW July 6, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

    Great informative review

    • OMum22 July 6, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

      Glad you found it helpful V.

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