Text-to-speech for ebooks on Android

My previous ereader was a Kindle Keyboard 3G, which had a nifty feature – it could read an ebook back to you. It used a computer-synthesized voice sounding a bit like Stephen Hawking, but it worked. Nancy and I used it as a substitute for audiobooks on a few car trips. Unfortunately, Amazon has removed the audio output from the Kindle Paperwhite that I have now, probably because Amazon now owns Audible and they want you to buy the audiobook edition of the book instead. That’s OK if you can afford it, but what about documents like the Instapaper-created ebooks that I use to read long web-based articles?  No satisfaction there.

After Nancy upgraded her Kindle Keyboard and mentioned the lack of audio, I decided to see what I could do about. Obviously a Kindle-based solution was out – the Kindle Paperwhite doesn’t even have an audio jack. But what about our phones? I did a bit of googling and this is what I found.

First Instapaper. I use it a lot. When I get to 10 articles, I download them as a Kindle ebook and use Amazon’s Send to Kindle Explorer plug-in to upload them to my Kindle. (The free version of Instapaper has a 10-article limit for downloads). I’ve been doing this for a couple of years, usually accumulating 10 articles in a couple of weeks. But oddly, I never got around to installing Instapaper on my phone. As it turns out, the Instapaper Android app has a Speak option that will read the text of an article in your Instapaper account back to you. I will probably use this a lot, as it’s perfect for commuting or walks at lunch.

Amazon’s Kinde app doesn’t include a text-t0-speech option. But there are other ereader apps. Google Play Books, which comes with Android phones has a Read Aloud feature that will read the text of a book back to you. Conveniently, it highlights the text it’s reading. The default voice is pretty robotic, but there are third-party text-to-speech libraries that give you better voices. On my Samung Galaxy S5, the first time I used the Read Aloud feature, the Samsung TTS (Text-t0-Speech) app popped up and asked me if I wanted to install a high-resolution voice file. I did so and the improvement in quality was immediately noticeable. The new female voice has much more expression and is far easier to listen to than the default app. I assume that other voice files are available, but so far I haven’t found how to load them.

I haven’t looked at third-party ereader apps yet. Google Play Books meets my needs for now. The paid version of Moon+ supports text-to-speech, for example, and it supports the .mobi format, used by Amazon’s Kindle.

When I was a teenager, the library in Sault Ste. Marie acquired a Kurzweil reading machine. It cost about $50,000. We’ve now reached the point where the equivalent is available to anyone with a modern smartphone. We live in wonderful times.

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