For this review, I received a subscription to use Cash Reader: bill identifier, worth US $17.99 from the developer. The opinions expressed in the review however are my own. I received no other compensation related to this content.
Of the numerous ways the iPhone can improve the quality of life for people with disabilities, one of the most intriguing to me is currency identification. In the case of the US dollar, for example, all banknotes are the same size and feel exactly alike with no way to independently identify the denomination without seeing the print. However, with apps like Cash Reader and Microsoft Seeing AI, a user like myself can simply place a banknote under a smartphone camera and hear its denomination spoken.
For several years, I had used NantMobile Money Reader, formerly Looktel Money Reader for this purpose, but it has since been removed from the AppStore and is no-longer maintained. Due to the stagnation of this once promising product, I’ve Since transitioned to using Microsoft Seeing AI, and recently, Cash Reader: Bill Identifier. In this review, I will give an overview of this money reader app, as well as an objective comparison to Seeing AI.
Comparison between Cash Reader and Seeing AI
While both Cash Reader and Seeing AI are apps that aim to make the visual world more accessible to blind and low-vision users, there are several notable differences between the two.
To start, Cash Reader is a standalone currency identifier, meaning the only function it serves is to identify the denominations of banknotes. By contrast, Seeing AI is what many refer to as a, “Swiss Army knife,” of assistive apps, combining short text, document, product, and face recognition with light and color detection, as well as currency identification. Also, where all of the processing for Seeing AI is done remotely, Cash Reader downloads data for your currency of choice, meaning all processing is done on the device. If you are somewhere where your Internet connection is poor, currency identification with Cash Reader might come in handy, as no Internet connection is required to use it.
Another difference between the two money reader apps is that Seeing AI is completely free, whereas Cash Reader is subscription based. My theory for why one app is free and another requires a paid subscription is that Seeing AI is a research project by Microsoft, a very large corporation who most likely can comfortably afford the cost of developing and maintaining an app as well as the cloud servers that do the heavy lifting. By contrast, Cash Reader is developed by a team with a comparatively smaller budget to develop and maintain an app.
A potential advantage to Cash Reader is that as data is processed on device, readouts are significantly faster than with Seeing AI. Whether that is worth paying for a subscription to you is of course your call, but I’d definitely recommend checking out the 14-day free trial to get a sense of the benefit in speed and performance.
Before I conclude this section, I’d also like to give a brief mention to another free currency identifier app called EyeNote, which is intended exclusively for identifying US dollars. While this app is free and has the added advantage of determining whether a particular banknote is front or back side up, I have found its recognition speed to be lacking when compared to other money reader apps for iPhone.
Using Cash Reader
Once you download the app and select a subscription, you will be asked to select a default currency, in my case US dollars. From there, it will download the data for that currency and present the obligatory user agreement.
Once agreed to, the app’s main interface will be displayed, which is nothing but the name of the selected currency and a settings button. Don’t let that fool you, however, as this money reader app is very fast and powerful. In my experience, I could place a banknote under my
iPhone SE (2020)
camera, and hear the denomination spoken by
in approximately one-second or less. This is much faster than Seeing AI, and even faster than the now discontinued NantMobile Money Reader.
Using Cash Reader made me realize how much I missed the quick identification and simple interface of standalone currency identifiers like NantMobile Money Reader. While Seeing AI’s money reading abilities are quite capable, the speed of Cash Reader simply blows my mind.
When you select the settings button, a list of options, organized by heading, is displayed. In this review, I will cover a few notable customizations that, in my opinion, set Cash Reader apart from the competition. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of settings, as many of them are presumably intended for low-vision users. As I am totally blind, I am unable to test or comment on visual features.
In addition to identifying money by spoken feedback, Cash Reader can also convey denominations with a pattern of vibrations or haptics, depending on your preference.
One vibration or haptic will be given for the lowest denomination, two for the second lowest, and so on. You can configure this mode to always be enabled, always be disabled, or determined by the position of the hardware silent switch on the device; if the switch is toggled to silent mode, denominations will not be spoken, and if it isn’t, they will be spoken. This mode can be especially useful in public or loud environments, where you may not want to broadcast how much money you’re carrying around at the given time.
In addition to simply opening the app and placing a banknote of your default currency under the camera, you can also configure Siri shortcuts to open the app or identify alternative currencies using your voice. From this section of the settings, you can record a phrase that Siri will recognize to open the app or select an alternative currency for identification. For me, I recorded a shortcut to open the app and identify US dollars by engaging Siri and saying, “What’s the value of this bill?”
Of course, I can also tell Siri to open Cash Reader, so this feature holds little practical utility for me. However, I can see it being useful for people who, for example, need to identify multiple currencies and don’t want to dive into the app settings each time. Not having access to additional currency samples, however, I was not able to test how this works in practice.
Banknote announcement style
If you’re working with only one currency, it may not be necessary for VoiceOver to announce it for each bill. This area is where you can choose whether or not the name of the currency is spoken, or just the denomination, E.G., 20 American dollars versus simply 20.
Send photo for inspection
If you know Cash Reader is misidentifying money, you can send a photo of that particular banknote as well as the surrounding environment so that the developers can investigate the issue and improve recognition accuracy in the future. However, I have not yet, to my knowledge, encountered inaccurate bill identification, and thus haven’t used this feature.
Availability and Price
Cash Reader: Bill Identifier, is available on both iOS and Android. In US, however, the application costs US$17.99 for iPhone users and $16 for Android for lifetime usage. Users can alternatively subscribe to monthly or yearly packages, or use a 14-day free trial.
Download Cash Reader for iOS
Download Cash Reader for Android
The first time I remember using a currency identification app was in 2011, using the app then known as Looktel Money Reader on my new iPhone. Smartphone technology and accessibility has evolved by leaps and bounds since then, but the central principle of holding a banknote under a camera and hearing the denomination spoken by VoiceOver remains the same today.
However, this money reader app appears to be noticeably faster and more customizable than other apps I’ve tried. I’d also be interested to know the utility of the visual features, as that seems to be one unique differentiating factor of this money reader app for the blind. If you have any experience with this app or any currency identification apps, be they positive, negative or neutral, I’d like to know. Sound off in the comments.